Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XXIII. Captives of Amhor

Vast expanses of the Great Marshes were uninhabitable by man, and for a week we passed through dismal wastes where not even the savage aborigines could live; but we encountered other menaces in the form of great reptiles and gigantic insects, some of the latter being of enormous proportions with a wing-spread well over thirty feet. Equipped with powerful jaws and rapier-like stingers, and sometimes with both, as some of them were, one of these monsters could easily have annihilated us; but fortunately we were never attacked. The smaller reptiles of the Marshes were their natural prey and we witnessed many an encounter in which the insects always came off victorious.

A week after we left Gooli we were paddling one day across one of the numerous lakes that dot the Marshes when, low above the horizon ahead of us, we saw a great battleship moving slowly in our direction. Instantly my heart leaped with joy.

“John Carter!” I cried. “He has come at last. Janai, you are saved.”

“And Ras Thavas will be with him,” she said, “and we can go back to Morbus and resurrect the body of Vor Daj.”

“Once again he will live, and move, and love,” I said, carried away by the relief and happiness which this anticipation engendered.

“But suppose it is not John Carter?” she asked.

“It must be, Janai, for what other civilized man would be cruising above this hideous waste?”

We stopped paddling and watched the great airship approach. It was cruising very low, scarcely a hundred feet above the ground and moving quite slowly. As it came nearer, I stood up in the canoe and waved to attract attention, even though I knew that they could not fail to see us for they were coming directly toward us.

The ship bore no insignia to proclaim its nationality, but this is not unusual in Martian navies where a lone vessel is entering into potential enemy country.

The lines of the ship too, were quite unfamiliar to me; that is, I could not identify the vessel. It was evidently one of the older ships of the line many of which were still in commission on the frontiers of Helium. I could not understand why John Carter had chosen such a craft in preference to one of the swift, new types but I knew that he must have a very good reason which it was not mine to question.

As the ship drew nearer it dropped still lower; so I knew that we had been observed; and finally it came to rest just above us. Landing tackle was lowered to us through a keel port, and I quickly made it fast to Janai’s body so that she could be raised comfortably to the ship. While I was engaged in this, another tackle was lowered for me; and soon we were both being hoisted toward the vessel.

The instant that we were hoisted into the hold of the vessel, and I had a chance to note the sailors who surrounded us, I realized that this was no ship of Helium for the men wore the harness of another country.

Janai turned toward me with frightened eyes. “Neither John Carter nor Ras Thavas are on this ship,” she whispered; “it is no ship of Helium, but one of the ships of Jal Had, Prince of Amhor. I should have been as well off in Morbus as I shall be now, if they discover my identity.”

“You must not let them know,” I said. “You are from Helium; remember that.” She nodded in understanding.

The officers and sailors who surrounded us were far more interested in me than they were in Janai, commenting freely upon my hideousness.

We were immediately taken to the upper deck and before the officer in command.

He looked at me in ill-disguised repugnance.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “And where do you come from?”

“I am a hormad from Morbus,” I replied, “and my companion is a girl from Helium, a friend of John Carter, Warlord of Mars.”

He looked at Janai long and earnestly for a moment. Then a nasty little smile touched his lips. “When did you change your nationality, Janai?” he asked. “You needn’t attempt to deny your identity, Janai; I know you. I would know that face anywhere among millions, for your portrait hangs in my cabin as it hangs in the cabin of the commander of every ship of Amhor; and great is to be the reward of him who brings you back to Jal Had, the Prince.”

“She is under the protection of the Warlord of Mars,” I said. “No matter what reward Jal Had has offered you, John Carter will give you more if you return Janai to Helium.”

“Who is this thing?” the commander demanded of Janai, nodding his head toward me. “Weren’t you his prisoner?”

“No,” she replied. “He is my friend. He has risked his life many times to save me, and he was trying to take me to Helium when you captured us. Please do not take me back to Amhor. I am sure that, if Tor-dur-bar says it is true, John Carter will pay you well if you bring us both to Helium.”

“And be tortured to death by Jal Had when I get back to Amhor?” demanded the commander. “No sir! Back to Amhor you go; and I shall probably get an extra reward when I deliver this freak to Jal Had. It will make a valuable addition to his collection, and greatly amuse and entertain the citizens of Amhor. If you behave yourself, Janai, you will be treated well by Jal Had. Do not be such a little fool as you were before. After all, it will not be so bad to be the Princess of Amhor.”

“I would as lief mate with Ay-mad of Morbus,” said the girl; “and sooner than that, I would die.”

The commander shrugged. “That is your own affair,” he said. “You will have plenty of time to think the matter over before we reach Amhor, and I advise you to think it over well and change your mind.” He then gave instructions that quarters were to be assigned to us and that we were to be carefully watched but not confined if we behaved ourselves.

As we were being conducted toward a companionway that led below, I saw a man dart suddenly across the deck and leap overboard. He had done it so quickly that no one could intercept him; and though the commander had witnessed it no effort was made to save him, and the ship continued on its way. I asked the officer accompanying us who the man was and why he had leaped overboard.

“He was a prisoner who evidently preferred death to slavery in Amhor,” he explained.

We were still very low above the surface of the lake, and one of the sailors who had run to the rail when the man had leaped overboard called back that the fellow was swimming toward our abandoned canoe.

“He won’t last long in the Great Toonolian Marshes,” commented the officer, as we descended toward our quarters.

Janai was given the best cabin on the boat; for they expected that she would be Princess of Amhor, and they wished to treat her well and curry her favor. I was relieved to know that at least until we reached Amhor she would be accorded every courtesy and consideration.

I was taken to a small cabin which accommodated two and was already occupied by another man. His back was toward me as I entered, as he was gazing out of a porthole. The officer closed the door behind me and departed, and I was left alone with my new companion. As the door slammed, he turned and faced me; and each of us voiced an exclamation of surprise. My roommate was Tun Gan. He looked a little frightened, when he recognized me, as his conscience must have been troubling him because of his desertion of me.

“So it is you?” I said.

“Yes, and I suppose you will want to kill me now,” he replied; “but do not blame me too much. Pandar and I discussed it. We did not wish to desert you; but we knew that we should all die if we returned to Morbus, while if he and I went on in the canoe we at least might have a chance to escape.”

“I do not blame you,” I said. “Perhaps under identical circumstances I should have done the same thing. As it turned out, it was better that you deserted me, for because of it I was able to reach Morbus in a few hours and rescue Janai when she arrived with the party that had captured her; but how do you happen to be aboard this ship?”

“Pandar and I were captured about a week ago; and perhaps it was just as well, for we were being pursued by natives when this ship dropped down, frightening the natives away. We should doubtless have been captured and killed, otherwise; and I for one was glad to come aboard, but Pandar was not. He did not wish to go to Amhor, and slavery. All that he lived for was to get back to Phundahl.”

“And where is Pandar now?” I asked.

“He just leaped overboard; I was watching him when you came in. He swam to the canoe, which I presume is the one you were taken from, and he is already paddling along on his way to Phundahl.”

“I hope he reaches it,” I said.

“He will not,” prophesied Tun Gan. “I do not believe that any man alive can pass alone through the horrors of this hellish swamp.”

“You have already come a long way,” I reminded him.

“Yes, but who knows what lies ahead?”

“And you are not averse to going to Amhor?” I asked.

“Why should I be?” he asked, in turn. “They think I am Gantun Gur, the assassin of Amhor; and they treat me with great respect.”

“Amazing!” I exclaimed. “For the moment I had forgotten that you had taken the body of Gantun Gur. Do you think that you can live up to it and continue to deceive them?”

“I think that I can,” he replied. “My brain is not as dull as that of most hormads. I have told them that I received a head injury that has made me forget a great deal of my past life; and so far, they have not doubted me.”

“They never will doubt you,” I said; “because they cannot conceive that the brain of another creature has been grafted into the skull of Gantun Gur.”

“Then if you do not tell them, they will never know,” he said, “for I certainly shall not tell them; so please remember to call me by my new name. What are you smiling at?”

“The situation is amusing. Neither one of us is himself. I have your body, and you have the body of another man.”

“But who were you, whose brain is in my body?” he demanded. “I have often wondered about that.”

“Continue to wonder,” I replied; “for you may never know.”

He looked at me keenly for a long moment. Suddenly his face brightened. “Now I know,” he said. “How stupid of me not to have guessed before.”

“You know nothing,” I snapped; “and if I were you, I should not even guess.”

He nodded. “Very well, Tor-dur-bar, it shall be as you wish.”

To change the subject, I remarked, “I wonder what this ship from Amhor is doing sailing around alone over the Great Toonolian Marshes?”

“Jal Had, the Prince of Amhor, has a hobby for collecting wild beasts. They say that he has a great number of them, ‘and this ship has been searching the Great Toonolian Marshes for new specimens.”

“So they were not searching for Janai, then?”

“No. Was that Janai with you when you were captured? I got only a glimpse of two figures as our ship passed above you.

“Yes, Janai is aboard; and now I am faced with the problem of getting her off the ship before we reach Amhor.”

“Well, perhaps you will be able to accomplish it,” he said. “They ground the ship occasionally to hunt for new specimens, and the discipline is lax. As a matter of fact, they do not seem to guard us at all. That is why Pandar found it so easy to escape.”

But no opportunity for escape was offered us, as the ship turned her nose directly for Amhor the moment that the commander realized that he had Janai aboard; nor did she once touch ground, nor again fly close to it.

Amhor lies about seven hundred and fifty earth miles directly north of the point at which our capture took place, which distance the ship covered in about seven and a half hours.

During this time I saw nothing of Janai, as she remained in her cabin.

We arrived above Amhor in the middle of the night, and we lay there floating above the city until morning, surrounded by patrol boats as a protection and guard for the precious cargo which we carried. Jal Had was asleep when we arrived, and no one had dared disturb him, I could tell by little things that I overheard that he had a sinister reputation and that everyone was very much afraid of him.

About the second zode a royal craft came along side and took Janai aboard, and I was helpless to prevent it; for they had removed me from Gantun Gur’s cabin on our arrival above the city, and locked me in another one in the hold of the ship. I was filled with despondency, for I felt that now I should not only never regain my body, but never again see Janai. I did not care what became of me, and prayed only for death.