Swords of Mars (Barsoom #8)

Page 8

It still lacked half a zode of the time that I was to meet Rapas, and for the moment at least I was not concerned with him—my business was with Uldak.

As soon as Rapas had passed me upon the opposite side of the street, I came out of my hiding place and walked rapidly in the direction that Uldak had taken.

As I reached the intersection of the two streets, I saw the assassin a little distance ahead of me. He was walking slowly, evidently merely killing time until he might be certain that the hour had arrived when I was to meet Rapas at the eating place.

Keeping to the opposite side of the street, I followed the man for a considerable distance until he entered a quarter that seemed to be deserted – I did not wish an audience for what I was about to do.

Crossing the avenue, I increased my gait; and the distance between us rapidly lessened until I was but a few paces behind him. I had moved very quietly, and he was not aware that anyone was near him. Only a few paces separated us when I spoke.

“You are looking for me?” I inquired.

He wheeled instantly, and his right hand flew to the hilt of his sword. He eyed me narrowly. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“Perhaps I have made a mistake,” I said; “you are Uldak, are you not?”

“What of it?” he demanded.

I shrugged. “Nothing much, except that I understand that you have been sent to kill me. My name is Vandor.”

As I ceased speaking, I whipped out my sword. He looked utterly astonished as I announced my identity, but there was nothing for him to do but defend himself, and as he drew his weapon he gave a nasty little laugh.

“You must be a fool,” he said. “Anyone who is not a fool would run away and hide if he knew that Uldak was looking for him.”

Evidently the man thought himself a great swordsman. I might have confused him by revealing my identity to him, for it might take the heart out of any Barsoomian warrior to know that he was facing John Carter; but I did not tell him. I merely engaged him and felt him out for a moment to ascertain if he could make good his boast.

He was, indeed, an excellent swordsman and, as I had expected, tricky and entirely unscrupulous. Most of these assassins are entirely without honor; they are merely killers.

At the very first he fought fairly enough because he thought that he could easily overcome me; but when he saw that he could not, he tried various shady expedients and finally he attempted the unpardonable thing with his free hand, he sought to draw his pistol.

Knowing his kind, I had naturally expected something of the sort; and in the instant that his fingers closed upon the butt of the weapon I struck his sword aside and brought the point of my own heavily upon his left wrist, nearly severing his hand.

With a scream of rage and pain, he fell back; and then I was upon him in earnest.

He yelled for mercy now and cried that he was not Uldak; that I had made a mistake, and begged me to let him go. Then the coward turned to flee, and I was forced to do that which I most disliked to do; but if I were to carry out my plan I could not let him live, and so I leaped close and ran my sword through his heart from behind.

Uldak lay dead upon his face.

As I drew my sword from his body, I looked quickly about me. No one was within sight. I turned the man over upon his back and with the point of my sword made a cross upon his breast above his heart.

 

V.— THE BRAIN

Rapas was waiting for me when I entered the eating- place. He looked very self-satisfied and contented.

“You are right on time,” he said. “Did you find anything to amuse you in the night life of Zodanga?”

“Yes,” I assured him. “I enjoyed myself immensely. And you?”

“I spent a most profitable evening. I made excellent connections; and, my dear Vandor, I did not forget you.”

“How nice of you,” I said.

“Yes, you shall have reason to remember this evening as long as you live,” he exclaimed, and then he burst into laughter.

“You must tell me about it,” I said.

“No, not now,” he replied, “It must remain a secret for a time. You will know all about it soon enough, and now let us eat. It is my treat tonight. I shall pay for everything.”

The miserable rat of a man seemed to have swelled with importance now that he felt himself almost a full-fledged member of Ur Jan’s guild of assassins.

“Very well,” I said, “this shall be your treat,” for I thought it would add to my enjoyment of the joke to let the poor fool foot the bill, and to make it still more amusing I ordered the most expensive dishes that I could find.

When I had entered the eating-place, Rapas had already seated himself facing the entrance; and he was continually glancing at it. Whenever anyone entered, I could see the look of expectation on his face change to one of disappointment.

We spoke of various unimportant things as we ate; and as the meal progressed, I could not but note his growing impatience and concern.

“What is the matter, Rapas?” I inquired after a while. “You seem suddenly nervous. You are always watching the entrance. Are you expecting someone?”

He got himself in hand then, very quickly; but he cast a single searching glance at me through narrowed lids. “No, no,” he said, “I was expecting no one; but I have enemies. It is always necessary for me to be watchful.”

His explanation was plausible enough, though I knew of course that it was not the right one. I could have told him that he was watching for someone who would never come, but I did not.

Rapas dragged the meal out as long as he could, and the later it grew, the more nervous he became and the more often his glance remained upon the entrance. At last I made a move to go, but he detained me. “Let us stop a little longer,” he said. “You are in no hurry, are you?”

“I should be getting back,” I replied. “Fal Sivas may require my services.”

“No,” he told me, “not before morning.”

“But I must have some sleep,” I insisted.

“You will get plenty of sleep,” he said; “don’t worry.”

“Well, if I am going to, I had better start for bed,” I said, and with that I arose.

He tried to detain me, but I had extracted about all the pleasure out of the evening that I thought it held for me, and so I insisted upon leaving.

Reluctantly he arose from the table. “I will walk a little way with you,” he said.

We were near the door leading to the avenue when two men entered. They were discussing something rather excitedly as they greeted the proprietor.

“The Warlord’s agents are at work again,” said one of them.

“How is that?” asked the proprietor.

“They have just found the body of one of Ur Jan’s assassins in the Avenue of the Green Throat—the cross of the Warlord was above his heart.”

“More power to the Warlord,” said the proprietor. “Zodanga would be better off if we were rid of all of them.”

“By what name was the dead man known?” asked Rapas, with considerable more concern, I imagine, than he would have cared to reveal.

“Why, some man in the crowd said that he believed his name was Uldak,” replied one of the two men who had brought the news.

Rapas paled.

“Was he a friend of yours, Rapas?” I asked.

The Ulsio started. “Oh, no,” he said. “I did not know him. Let us be going.”

Together we walked out into the avenue and started in the direction of the House of Fal Sivas. We walked shoulder to shoulder through the lighted district near the eating-place. Rapas was very quiet and seemed nervous. I watched him out of the comer of my eye and tried to read his mind, but he was on guard and had closed it against me.

Oftentimes I have an advantage over Martians in that I can read their minds, though they can never read mine. Why that is, I do not know. Mind reading is a very commonplace accomplishment on Mars, but to safeguard themselves against its dangers, all Martians have cultivated the ability to close their minds to others at will—a defense mechanism of such long standing as to have become almost a universal characteristic; so that only occasionally can one be caught off his guard.

As we entered the darker avenues, however, it became apparent that Rapas was trying to drop behind me; and then I did not have to read his mind to know what was in it—Uldak had failed, and now The Rat had an opportunity to cover himself with glory and win the esteem of Ur Jan by carrying out the assignment of Uldak.

If a man has a sense of humor, a situation such as this can be very enjoyable, as, indeed, it was to me. Here I was walking along a dark avenue with a man who intended to murder me at the first opportunity, and it was necessary for me to thwart his plans without letting him know that I suspected them; for I did not want to kill Rapas the Ulsio, at least not at present. I felt that I could make use of him in one way or another without his ever suspecting that he was aiding me.

“Come,” I said, at last, “why do you lag? Are you getting tired?” And I linked my left arm through his sword arm, and thus we continued on toward the house of Fal Sivas.

After a short distance, at the intersection of two avenues, Rapas disengaged himself. “I am leaving you here,” he said; “I am not going back to the house of Fal Sivas tonight.”

“Very well, my friend,” I said; “but I shall be seeing you soon again, I hope.”

“Yes,” he replied, “soon.”

“Tomorrow night, possibly,” I suggested, “or if not tomorrow night, the night after. Whenever I am at liberty, I shall come to the eating-house; and perhaps I shall find you there.”

“Very well,” he said; “I eat there every night.”

“May you sleep well, Rapas.”

“May you sleep well, Vandor.” Then he turned into the avenue at our left, and I proceeded on my way.

I thought that he might follow me, but he did not, and so I came at last to the house of Fal Sivas.

Hamas admitted me, and after passing a few words with him I went directly to my quarters where, in answer to my signal, Zanda admitted me.

The girl told me that the house had been very quiet during the night, and that no one had disturbed her or attempted to enter our quarters. She had prepared my sleeping silks and furs; and, as I was rather tired, I soon sought them.

Immediately after breakfast the next morning, I went on duty again at the door of Fal Sivas’s study. I had been there but a short time when he summoned me to his person.

“What of last night?” he asked. “What luck did you have? I see that you are here alive; so I take it that you did not succeed in reaching the meeting-place of the assassins.”

“On the contrary, I did,” I told him. “I was in the room next to them and saw them all.”

“What did you learn?”

“Not much. When the door was closed, I could hear nothing. It was open only a short time.”

“What did you hear while it was open?” he asked.

“They knew that you had employed me as your body guard.”

“What!” he demanded. “How could they have known that?”

I shook my head. “There must be a leak,” I told him.

“A traitor!” he exclaimed.

I did not tell him about Rapas. I was afraid that he would have him killed, and I did not want him killed while he might be of use to me.

“What else did you hear?” he demanded.

“Ur Jan ordered that I be killed.”

“You must be careful,” said Fal Sivas. “Perhaps you had better not go out again at night.”