“I caused them to fit arrows to their bows for the first time. I made them take aim at the hearts of the green men. I made the green men see all this, and then I made them see the arrows fly, and I made them think that the points pierced their hearts.
“It was all that was necessary. By hundreds they toppled from our walls, and when my fellows saw what I had done they were quick to follow my example, so that presently the hordes of Torquas had retreated beyond the range of our arrows.
“We might have killed them at any distance, but one rule of war we have maintained from the first—the rule of realism. We do nothing, or rather we cause our bowmen to do nothing within sight of the enemy that is beyond the understanding of the foe. Otherwise they might guess the truth, and that would be the end of us.
“But after the Torquasians had retreated beyond bowshot, they turned upon us with their terrible rifles, and by constant popping at us made life miserable within our walls.
“So then I bethought the scheme to hurl our bowmen through the gates upon them. You have seen this day how well it works. For ages they have come down upon us at intervals, but always with the same results.”
“And all this is due to your intellect, Jav?” asked Carthoris. “I should think that you would be high in the councils of your people.”
“I am,” replied Jav, proudly. “I am next to Tario.”
“But why, then, your cringing manner of approaching the throne?”
“Tario demands it. He is jealous of me. He only awaits the slightest excuse to feed me to Komal. He fears that I may some day usurp his power.”
Carthoris suddenly sprang from the table.
“Jav!” he exclaimed. “I am a beast! Here I have been eating my fill, while the Princess of Ptarth may perchance be still without food. Let us return and find some means of furnishing her with nourishment.”
The Lotharian shook his head.
“Tario would not permit it,” he said. “He will, doubtless, make an etherealist of her.”
“But I must go to her,” insisted Carthoris. “You say that there are no women in Lothar. Then she must be among men, and if this be so I intend to be near where I may defend her if the need arises.”
“Tario will have his way,” insisted Jav. “He sent you away and you may not return until he sends for you.”
“Then I shall go without waiting to be sent for.”
“Do not forget the bowmen,” cautioned Jav.
“I do not forget them,” replied Carthoris, but he did not tell Jav that he remembered something else that the Lotharian had let drop—something that was but a conjecture, possibly, and yet one well worth pinning a forlorn hope to, should necessity arise.
Carthoris started to leave the room. Jav stepped before him, barring his way.
“I have learned to like you, red man,” he said; “but do not forget that Tario is still my jeddak, and that Tario has commanded that you remain here.”
Carthoris was about to reply, when there came faintly to the ears of both a woman’s cry for help.
With a sweep of his arm the Prince of Helium brushed the Lotharian aside, and with drawn sword sprang into the corridor without.
THE HALL OF DOOM
As Thuvia of Ptarth saw Carthoris depart from the presence of Tario, leaving her alone with the man, a sudden qualm of terror seized her.
There was an air of mystery pervading the stately chamber. Its furnishings and appointments bespoke wealth and culture, and carried the suggestion that the room was often the scene of royal functions which filled it to its capacity.
And yet nowhere about her, in antechamber or corridor, was there sign of any other being than herself and the recumbent figure of Tario, the jeddak, who watched her through half-closed eyes from the gorgeous trappings of his regal couch.
For a time after the departure of Jav and Carthoris the man eyed her intently. Then he spoke.
“Come nearer,” he said, and, as she approached: “Whose creature are you? Who has dared materialize his imaginings of woman? It is contrary to the customs and the royal edicts of Lothar. Tell me, woman, from whose brain have you sprung? Jav’s? No, do not deny it. I know that it could be no other than that envious realist. He seeks to tempt me. He would see me fall beneath the spell of your charms, and then he, your master, would direct my destiny and—my end. I see it all! I see it all!”
The blood of indignation and anger had been rising to Thuvia’s face. Her chin was up, a haughty curve upon her perfect lips.
“I know naught,” she cried, “of what you are prating! I am Thuvia, Princess of Ptarth. I am no man’s ‘creature.’ Never before to-day did I lay eyes upon him you call Jav, nor upon your ridiculous city, of which even the greatest nations of Barsoom have never dreamed.
“My charms are not for you, nor such as you. They are not for sale or barter, even though the price were a real throne. And as for using them to win your worse than futile power—” She ended her sentence with a shrug of her shapely shoulders, and a little scornful laugh.
When she had finished Tario was sitting upon the edge of his couch, his feet upon the floor. He was leaning forward with eyes no longer half closed, but wide with a startled expression in them.
He did not seem to note the LESE MAJESTE of her words and manner. There was evidently something more startling and compelling about her speech than that.
Slowly he came to his feet.
“By the fangs of Komal!” he muttered. “But you are REAL! A REAL woman! No dream! No vain and foolish figment of the mind!”
He took a step toward her, with hands outstretched.
“Come!” he whispered. “Come, woman! For countless ages have I dreamed that some day you would come. And now that you are here I can scarce believe the testimony of my eyes. Even now, knowing that you are real, I still half dread that you may be a lie.”
Thuvia shrank back. She thought the man mad. Her hand stole to the jewelled hilt of her dagger. The man saw the move, and stopped. A cunning expression entered his eyes. Then they became at once dreamy and penetrating as they fairly bored into the girl’s brain.
Thuvia suddenly felt a change coming over her. What the cause of it she did not guess; but somehow the man before her began to assume a new relationship within her heart.
No longer was he a strange and mysterious enemy, but an old and trusted friend. Her hand slipped from the dagger’s hilt. Tario came closer. He spoke gentle, friendly words, and she answered him in a voice that seemed hers and yet another’s.
He was beside her now. His hand was up her shoulder. His eyes were down-bent toward hers. She looked up into his face. His gaze seemed to bore straight through her to some hidden spring of sentiment within her.
Her lips parted in sudden awe and wonder at the strange revealment of her inner self that was being laid bare before her consciousness. She had known Tario for ever. He was more than friend to her. She moved a little closer to him. In one swift flood of light she knew the truth. She loved Tario, Jeddak of Lothar! She had always loved him.
The man, seeing the success of his strategy, could not restrain a faint smile of satisfaction. Whether there was something in the expression of his face, or whether from Carthoris of Helium in a far chamber of the palace came a more powerful suggestion, who may say? But something there was that suddenly dispelled the strange, hypnotic influence of the man.
As though a mask had been torn from her eyes, Thuvia suddenly saw Tario as she had formerly seen him, and, accustomed as she was to the strange manifestations of highly developed mentality which are common upon Barsoom, she quickly guessed enough of the truth to know that she was in grave danger.
Quickly she took a step backward, tearing herself from his grasp. But the momentary contact had aroused within Tario all the long-buried passions of his loveless existence.
With a muffled cry he sprang upon her, throwing his arms about her and attempting to drag her lips to his.
“Woman!” he cried. “Lovely woman! Tario would make you queen of Lothar. Listen to me! Listen to the love of the last of the jeddaks of Barsoom.”
Thuvia struggled to free herself from his embrace.
“Stop, creature!” she cried. “Stop! I do not love you. Stop, or I shall scream for help!”
Tario laughed in her face.
“‘Scream for help,'” he mimicked. “And who within the halls of Lothar is there who might come in answer to your call? Who would dare enter the presence of Tario, unsummoned?”
“There is one,” she replied, “who would come, and, coming, dare to cut you down upon your own throne, if he thought that you had offered affront to Thuvia of Ptarth!”
“Who, Jav?” asked Tario.
“Not Jav, nor any other soft-skinned Lotharian,” she replied; “but a real man, a real warrior—Carthoris of Helium!”
Again the man laughed at her.
“You forget the bowmen,” he reminded her. “What could your red warrior accomplish against my fearless legions?”
Again he caught her roughly to him, dragging her towards his couch.
“If you will not be my queen,” he said, “you shall be my slave.”
“Neither!” cried the girl.
As she spoke the single word there was a quick move of her right hand; Tario, releasing her, staggered back, both hands pressed to his side. At the same instant the room filled with bowmen, and then the jeddak of Lothar sank senseless to the marble floor.
At the instant that he lost consciousness the bowmen were about to release their arrows into Thuvia’s heart. Involuntarily she gave a single cry for help, though she knew that not even Carthoris of Helium could save her now.
Then she closed her eyes and waited for the end. No slender shafts pierced her tender side. She raised her lids to see what stayed the hand of her executioners.
The room was empty save for herself and the still form of the jeddak of Lothar lying at her feet, a little pool of crimson staining the white marble of the floor beside him. Tario was unconscious.
Thuvia was amazed. Where were the bowmen? Why had they not loosed their shafts? What could it all mean?
An instant before the room had been mysteriously filled with armed men, evidently called to protect their jeddak; yet now, with the evidence of her deed plain before them, they had vanished as mysteriously as they had come, leaving her alone with the body of their ruler, into whose side she had slipped her long, keen blade.
The girl glanced apprehensively about, first for signs of the return of the bowmen, and then for some means of escape.
The wall behind the dais was pierced by two small doorways, hidden by heavy hangings. Thuvia was running quickly towards one of these when she heard the clank of a warrior’s metal at the end of the apartment behind her.
Ah, if she had but an instant more of time she could have reached that screening arras and, perchance, have found some avenue of escape behind it; but now it was too late—she had been discovered!
With a feeling that was akin to apathy she turned to meet her fate, and there, before her, running swiftly across the broad chamber to her side, was Carthoris, his naked long-sword gleaming in his hand.
For days she had doubted the intentions of the Heliumite. She had thought him a party to her abduction. Since Fate had thrown them together she had scarce favoured him with more than the most perfunctory replies to his remarks, unless at such times as the weird and uncanny happenings at Lothar had surprised her out of her reserve.
She knew that Carthoris of Helium would fight for her; but whether to save her for himself or another, she was in doubt.
He knew that she was promised to Kulan Tith, Jeddak of Kaol, but if he had been instrumental in her abduction, his motives could not be prompted by loyalty to his friend, or regard for her honour.
And yet, as she saw him coming across the marble floor of the audience chamber of Tario of Lothar, his fine eyes filled with apprehension for her safety, his splendid figure personifying all that is finest in the fighting men of martial Mars, she could not believe that any faintest trace of perfidy lurked beneath so glorious an exterior.