Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XII. Warrior’s Reward

Morbus is a walled city. It is practically impregnable to men armed only with swords. For seven days Ay-mad tried to take it, but all his warriors could do was to beat futilely upon the great wooden gates while the defending warriors dropped heavy stones on their heads. At night we withdrew, and the defenders probably went to sleep with a sense of perfect security. On the eighth day Ay-mad called a conference of his dwars. “We are getting nowhere,” he said. “We could pound on those gates for a thousand years and do nothing more important than make dents in them. How are we to take Morbus? If we conquer the world we must capture Morbus and Ras Thavas.”

“You cannot conquer the world,” I said, “but you can take Morbus.”

“Why can’t we conquer the world?” he demanded.

“It is too large, and there are too many great nations to be overcome.”

“What do you know about the world?” he demanded. “You are only a hormad who has never been outside of Morbus.”

“You will see that I am right, if you try to conquer the world; but it would be easy to take the city of Morbus.”

“And how?” he asked.

I told him in a few words how I should do it were I in command. He looked at me for a long time, thinking the matter out. “It is too simple,” he said; then he turned on the others. “Why have none of you thought of this before?” he demanded. “Tor-dur-bar is the only man of brains among you.”

All that night a thousand hormads were engaged in building long ladders, all that night and the next day. We had a thousand of them, and when both moons had passed below the horizon on the second night a hundred thousand hormads crept toward the walls of Morbus with their long ladders. In a thousand places all around the city we raised our ladders to the top of the walls, and at a given signal a hundred men scaled each ladder and dropped into the city streets.

The rest was easy. We took the sleeping city with the loss of only a few warriors; and Ay-mad, with his dwars, entered the council chamber. The first thing that he did was to have all but one throne removed from the dais; then, seated there, he had the six jeds dragged before him. They were a sheepish, terrified lot.

“How do you wish to die?” he asked, “or would you rather have your brains returned to the skulls of hormads from whence they came?”

“That cannot be done,” said the Fifth Jed, “but if it could, I would rather go to the vats. I do not wish to be a hormad again.”

“Why can’t it be done?” demanded Ay-mad. “What Ras Thavas has done so many times, he can do again.”

“There is no Ras Thavas,” said the Fifth Jed. “He has disappeared.”

The effect that that statement had upon me may well be imagined. If it were true, I was doomed to lifetime imprisonment in the monstrous carcass of a hormad. There could be no escape, for Vad Varo of Duhor was as far removed from me as though he had been back upon his own planet of Jasoom; and he was the only other man in the world who could restore my brain to its rightful body if Ras Thavas were dead. With the new Jeddak of Morbus seeking to conquer the world, all men would be our enemies. I could not call upon any man to save me.

And what of Janai? I should always be repulsive to her, and so I could never tell her the truth. It were far better that she believe me dead than that she should know that my brain was forever buried behind this loathsome, inhuman mask. How could one with an exterior like mine speak of love? And love was not for hormads.

In a daze, I heard Ay-mad ask what had become of Ras Thavas and the Fifth Jed reply, “No one knows. He has simply disappeared. As he could not escape from the city without detection, we believe that some of the hormads sliced him up and threw him into one of his own culture vats in revenge.”

Ay-mad was furious, for without Ras Thavas his dream of world conquest was shattered. “This is the work of my enemies,” he cried. “Some of you six jeds had a hand in this. You have destroyed Ras Thavas or hidden him. Take them away! Put them in separate dungeons in the pits. The one who confesses first shall have his life and his liberty, The rest shall die. I give you one day to decide.”

After the six jeds had been dragged away Ay-mad offered amnesty to all of their officers who would swear allegiance to him, an invitation which was refused by none, since refusal could mean nothing but death. After this formality, which took a matter of some hours, was completed, Ay-mad publicly acknowledged that the success of his operations against Morbus was due to me; and told me that he would grant me any favor that I might ask and that in addition to that he was appointing me an odwar, a military rank analogous to that of general in the armies of the planet Earth.

“And now,” continued Ay-mad, “choose the favor that you would ask.”

“That I should like to do in private,” I said, “for the favor I wish to ask can be of no interest to any but you and me.”

“Very well,” he said. “I grant you a private audience immediately upon the conclusion of this one.”

It was with some impatience that I awaited the conclusion of the session in the council chamber, and when at last Ay-mad arose and motioned me to follow him I breathed a sigh of relief. He led me into a small apartment directly behind the dais and seated himself behind a large desk..

“Now,” he said, “what is the favor you wish to ask?”

“I am going to ask two,” I replied. “I should like to be placed in full charge of the laboratory building.”

“I see no objection to that,” he interrupted. “But why such a strange request?”

“There is the body of a red man there to which I should like to have my brain transferred if Ras Thavas is ever found,” I explained, “and if I am in full charge of the laboratory building I can protect the body and make sure that Ras Thavas performs the operation.”

“Very well,” he said, “your request is granted. What is the other?”

“I want you to give me the girl, Janai.”

His face clouded at that. “What do you want of a girl?” he demanded. “You are only a hormad.”

“Some day I may be a red man.”

“But why the girl, Janai? What do you know of her? I didn’t know you had ever seen her.”

“I was with the party that captured her. She is the only woman I have ever seen that I wanted.”

“I couldn’t give her to you if I had a mind to,” he said. “She, too, has disappeared. While I was fighting with the First Jed she must have escaped from the room—we were fighting in the apartment in which the women were being held -and she has not been seen since.”

“Will you give her to me if she is found?”

“I want her myself.”

“But you have the pick of many others. I have seen beautiful women in the palace; and among them there must be one who would make you a splendid wife, a suitable consort for a jeddak. This, of all the favors I might ask, I wish the most.”

“She would rather die than belong to a hideous monster like you,” he said.

“Well, grant me this, then: that if she is found the decision be left to her.”

He laughed. “That I agree to willingly. You don’t think, do you, that she would choose you in preference to a jeddak, a monster in preference to a man?”

“I have been told that women are unpredictable. I am willing to take the chance and abide by her decision, if you are.”

“Then it is agreed,” he said, and he was quite good natured about it, so certain was he of the outcome; “but you are not getting much in the way of reward for the services you have rendered me. I thought you would at least ask for a palace of your own and many servants.”

“I asked for the two things I wish most,” I said, “and I am content.”

“Well, you may have the palace and the servants whenever you wish them, for by your own proposition you will never have the girl, even if she be found.”

As soon as he dismissed me I hurried to the apartment where I had left Janai, and my heart was in my mouth for fear that I should not find her there. I had to be careful that no one saw me enter the storeroom that led to her hiding place, for I did not want Ay-mad ever to discover that I had known all along where she was hidden. Fortunately the corridor was empty, and I entered the storeroom unseen. Going to the door of Janai’s room, I knocked. There was no answer.

“Janai!” I called. “It is I, Tor-dur-bar. Are you there?”

Then I heard the bolt being withdrawn, and the door swung open. There she stood!

My heart almost stopped for very relief. And she was so beautiful! It seemed that each new time I saw her she had become more beautiful.

“You are back,” she said. “I began to fear that you would never come. Do you bring word from Vor Daj?”

So she was thinking of Vor Daj! On such slight sustenance does love thrive. I entered the room and closed the door.

“Vor Daj sends greetings,” I said. “He thinks of nothing but you and your welfare.”

“But he cannot come to me?”

“No. He is a prisoner in the laboratory building, but he has charged me to look after you. Now I can do so better than before for many changes have taken place in Morbus since I last saw you. I am an odwar now, and my influence with the new jeddak is considerable.”

“I have been hearing sounds of fighting,” she said. “Tell me what has happened.”

I told her briefly and that the Third Jed was now jeddak. “Then I am lost,” she said, “for he is all powerful.”

“Perhaps that is your salvation,” I told her. “To reward me for the services I had rendered him, the new jeddak made me an odwar and promised to grant me any favor I asked.”

“And what did you ask of him?”

“You.”

I could almost feel the shudder that ran through her frame as she looked at my hideous face and deformed body. “Please!” she begged. “You said you were my friend, that you were the friend of Vor Daj. He would not wish you to have me, I am sure.”

“I only asked for you that I might protect you for Vor Daj,” I said.

“How does Vor Daj know that I would have him?” she demanded.

“He doesn’t know. He only hopes that I may protect you from others. I have not said, have I, that Vor Daj wishes you for himself?” I could not resist saying that just to match her seeming indifference to Vor Daj. Her chin went up a little, and that pleased me. I know something of women and their reactions.

“What did the Third Jed say when you asked for me?” she inquired.

“He is jeddak now, and he calls himself Ay-mad,” I explained, “He said that you would not have me; so I have come to lay the whole matter before you. It is for you to decide. I think that Vor Daj loves you. You must choose between him and Ay-mad. Ay-mad will ask you to make the choice between him and me; but the choice will really be between him and Vor Daj, only Ay-mad won’t know that. If you choose me, Ay-mad will be insulted and angry; but I believe that he will keep his bargain. Then I shall take you to quarters near my own and protect you until such time as you and Vor Daj can escape from Morbus. I can also assure you that Vor Daj will hold you to no promise afterward. His only thought now is to help you.”

“I was sure that he would be like that,” she said, “and you may be sure that when the choice is given me I shall choose you rather than Ay-mad.”

“Even though by choosing him you could become a jeddara?” I asked.

“Even so,” she said.