Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom #9)

Chapter XXV. Prince in a Zoo

Monotonous days came and went, relieved only by conversation with the red man in the adjoining cage, and by visits twice a day from the young slave from Duhor, whose name was Orm-O.

Quite a friendship developed between the red man from Helium and I. His name was Ur Raj; and when he told me it, I recalled having met him several years before.

He was from Hastor, a city on the frontier of the empire, and had been a padwar aboard one of the warships stationed there. I asked him if he remembered an officer named Vor Daj, and he said he remembered him very well.

“Do you know him?” he inquired.

“Intimately,” I replied. “In fact, there is nobody in the world whom I know so well.”

“But how do you know him?” he demanded.

“He was at Morbus with John Carter,” I replied.

“He was a splendid officer,” he said. “I recall having a long conversation with him when the grand fleet came to Hastor.”

“You and he discussed an invention that you were working upon that would detect and locate enemy ships at a great distance, identifying them by the sound of their motors. You had discovered that no two motors gave forth the same vibrations, and you had developed an instrument that recorded these vibrations accurately at great distances. You also introduced him to a very beautiful young lady whom you hoped to take as your mate.”

Ur Raj’s eyes went wide in astonishment. “But how in the world could you know of these matters?” he demanded. “You must have been very intimate with him indeed if he narrated to you the gist of conversations that took place years before with a comparative stranger.”

“He told neither me nor any other about your invention,” I replied, “because he promised you that he would not say anything about it until you had fully developed it and offered it to the navy of Helium.”

“But then if he did not tell you, how could you know these things?” he demanded.

“That, you may never know,” I replied; “but you may rest assured that Vor Daj never abused your confidence.”

I believe that Ur Raj was a little in awe of me after that, believing that I had some supernatural or occult powers. I used to catch him gazing at me intently as he squatted upon the floor of his cage, doubtless trying to fathom what seemed an inexplicable mystery to him.

The slave boy, Orm-O, became quite friendly, telling me all that he could learn about Janai, which was little or nothing. I gathered from him that she was in no immediate danger, as Jal Had’s oldest wife had taken her under her protection.

Jal Had had several wives; and this first wife he feared above all things on earth. She had long objected to sharing the affections of Jal Had with other women; and she did not intend that the number should be increased, especially by the acquisition of so beautiful a young woman as Janai.

“It is rumored,” said Orm-O. “that she will put Janai out of the way at the first opportunity. She is hesitating now only because of the fear that Jal Had, in his rage, would destroy her if she did so; but she may find a way to accomplish it without bringing suspicion upon herself. In fact, she has several times recently received Gantun Gur, the assassin of Amhor, who recently returned from captivity. I can tell you that I should not like to be Janai, especially if Gantun Gur listens too long to Vanuma and accepts a commission from her.”

This information caused me considerable concern for the welfare of Janai. Of course, I felt quite certain that Gantun Gur would not kill her; but that would not keep Vanuma from finding some other means, if she had determined to destroy Janai. I asked Orm-O. to warn Janai, and he said that he would if he ever had an opportunity.

The danger threatening Janai was constantly on my mind, and my inability to aid her drove me almost to distraction. If there were only something that I might do. But there was nothing. I seemed to be utterly helpless, and Janai’s situation equally hopeless.

Sometimes we had dull days at the zoo; but as a rule there was a steady stream of people passing along the avenue between the cages, and almost always there was a little crowd gathered in front of my cage when the avenue was not jammed by those who came and stood looking at me for, hours at a stretch. There were always new faces; but there were those that I had learned to recognize because they came so often; and then one day I saw Gantun Gur in the crowd. He shouldered his way toward me, eliciting much grumbling and some hard words; but when someone recognized him and his name was passed around, the spectators gave way before him, for no one wished to antagonize the assassin of Amhor. What a reputation the original must have gained!

“Kaor, Tor-dur-bar,” he said, coming close to the cage.

“Kaor, Gantun Gur,” I replied. “It is good to see you again; and I wish that I might speak to you privately.”

“I will come back,” he said, “after the visitors are expelled. You see, I am something of a privileged character in Amhor and around the palace. No one wishes to antagonize me, not even Jal Had.”

I thought that the day would never end, that the visitors would never leave. The hours dragged interminably; but at last the guards drove the public out, and the carts containing food for the beasts were wheeled down the avenue. Then Orm-O came with his hamper of scraps; but there was no sign of Gantun Gur. I wondered if he had again deserted me, or if his boasted privilege was a myth. I was particularly anxious to see him, because I had finally evolved a plan which I thought might prove beneficial for Janai. I asked Orm-O for some word of her, but he only shook his head and said that he had not seen her around the palace for days.

“Perhaps Vanuma has had her destroyed,” I suggested, fearfully.

“Perhaps,” he said. “The last I heard was that she was not treating Janai so well as she had in the beginning. Some say that she whips her every night now.”

I couldn’t imagine Vanuma or anyone else whipping Janai, for she was not the type to take a whipping meekly.

It was almost dark and I had given up all hope of Gantun Gur, when I saw him approach my cage. “Kaor, Tor-dur-bar!” he said. “I was delayed; no less a person than Jal Had himself. He came to me in conversation.”

“Whom does he wish killed now?” asked Ur Raj.

“He only wished to be certain that I was not planning on killing him,” replied Gantun Gur. “Do you know that I would rather be what I am, head of the Assassins’ Guild, than to be Prince of Amhor! My power is unlimited; everyone fears me, for, while I am known, all my assassins are not; and even those who might plot against me fear to do so lest my spies learn of it.”

“You have come a long way from the Laboratory Building, Gantun Gur,” I said, with a smile. “But tell me, does Janai still live? Is she well? Is she safe?”

“She lives and is well, but she is not safe; she never can be safe in Amhor. At least her life will never be safe as long as Vanuma lives. Of course, I do not need to tell you that, neither I nor any of my assassins will destroy Janai; but Vanuma may find someone else to do it, or even do it herself in desperation; so I have come to the conclusion that the best thing that I can do is to have Vanuma assassinated.”

“No, no,” I objected. “The moment Vanuma were out of the way, there would be none to protect Janai from Jal Had.”

“That is right,” said Gantun Gur, scratching his head. “I had not taken that phase of the matter into consideration. As a matter of fact, it would not be so bad for Janai, for then she would become Princess of Amhor; and from what I have seen of Jal Had’s other wife, Janai would rule undisputed queen.

“But she does not wish to marry Jal Had,” I said. “Vor Daj loves her. We must save her for him.”

“Vor Daj,” said Gantun Gur, “lying as one dead in the pits beneath the Laboratory Building of Morbus, certainly surrounded and perhaps long since devoured by the horror that spreads from Vat Room No. 4. No, no, Tor-dur-bar, while I admire your loyalty to Vor Daj, I think that it is wasted. Neither you, nor I, nor Janai will ever see him again.”

“Nevertheless, we must do what we can to save Janai for him; for I, for one, have not given up hope that Vor Daj some day will be rescued.”

“Well, have you a plan, then?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “I have.”

“What is it?” he demanded.

“Get word to Vanuma, even if you have to tell her yourself, that Jal Had has learned that she is attempting to hire assassins to destroy Janai, and that he has sworn that if Janai dies, no matter what the cause, he will immediately destroy Vanuma.”

“Not a bad idea,” said Gantun Gur. “I can get that word to her immediately through one of her female slaves.”

“I shall breathe more easily when I know that you have done it,” I said.

I certainly slept better that night than I had for a long time, because I felt that, temporarily at least, Janai was safe. It was well for my peace of mind that I did not know what the next morning was to bring.