Edgar Rice Burroughs.

A Princess of Mars online

. (page 10 of 16)
Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars → online text (page 10 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the prisoners be left alone before him. Slowly the chieftains, the
warriors and the women melted away into the shadows of the surrounding
chambers, and Dejah Thoris and Sola stood alone before the jeddak of
the Tharks.

One chieftain alone had hesitated before departing; I saw him standing
in the shadows of a mighty column, his fingers nervously toying with
the hilt of his great-sword and his cruel eyes bent in implacable
hatred upon Tal Hajus. It was Tars Tarkas, and I could read his
thoughts as they were an open book for the undisguised loathing upon
his face. He was thinking of that other woman who, forty years ago,
had stood before this beast, and could I have spoken a word into his
ear at that moment the reign of Tal Hajus would have been over; but
finally he also strode from the room, not knowing that he left his own
daughter at the mercy of the creature he most loathed.

Tal Hajus arose, and I, half fearing, half anticipating his intentions,
hurried to the winding runway which led to the floors below. No one
was near to intercept me, and I reached the main floor of the chamber
unobserved, taking my station in the shadow of the same column that
Tars Tarkas had but just deserted. As I reached the floor Tal Hajus
was speaking.

"Princess of Helium, I might wring a mighty ransom from your people
would I but return you to them unharmed, but a thousand times rather
would I watch that beautiful face writhe in the agony of torture; it
shall be long drawn out, that I promise you; ten days of pleasure were
all too short to show the love I harbor for your race. The terrors of
your death shall haunt the slumbers of the red men through all the ages
to come; they will shudder in the shadows of the night as their fathers
tell them of the awful vengeance of the green men; of the power and
might and hate and cruelty of Tal Hajus. But before the torture you
shall be mine for one short hour, and word of that too shall go forth
to Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, your grandfather, that he may grovel
upon the ground in the agony of his sorrow. Tomorrow the torture will
commence; tonight thou art Tal Hajus'; come!"

He sprang down from the platform and grasped her roughly by the arm,
but scarcely had he touched her than I leaped between them. My
short-sword, sharp and gleaming was in my right hand; I could have
plunged it into his putrid heart before he realized that I was upon
him; but as I raised my arm to strike I thought of Tars Tarkas, and,
with all my rage, with all my hatred, I could not rob him of that sweet
moment for which he had lived and hoped all these long, weary years,
and so, instead, I swung my good right fist full upon the point of his
jaw. Without a sound he slipped to the floor as one dead.

In the same deathly silence I grasped Dejah Thoris by the hand, and
motioning Sola to follow we sped noiselessly from the chamber and to
the floor above. Unseen we reached a rear window and with the straps
and leather of my trappings I lowered, first Sola and then Dejah Thoris
to the ground below. Dropping lightly after them I drew them rapidly
around the court in the shadows of the buildings, and thus we returned
over the same course I had so recently followed from the distant
boundary of the city.

We finally came upon my thoats in the courtyard where I had left them,
and placing the trappings upon them we hastened through the building to
the avenue beyond. Mounting, Sola upon one beast, and Dejah Thoris
behind me upon the other, we rode from the city of Thark through the
hills to the south.

Instead of circling back around the city to the northwest and toward
the nearest waterway which lay so short a distance from us, we turned
to the northeast and struck out upon the mossy waste across which, for
two hundred dangerous and weary miles, lay another main artery leading
to Helium.

No word was spoken until we had left the city far behind, but I could
hear the quiet sobbing of Dejah Thoris as she clung to me with her dear
head resting against my shoulder.

"If we make it, my chieftain, the debt of Helium will be a mighty one;
greater than she can ever pay you; and should we not make it," she
continued, "the debt is no less, though Helium will never know, for you
have saved the last of our line from worse than death."

I did not answer, but instead reached to my side and pressed the little
fingers of her I loved where they clung to me for support, and then, in
unbroken silence, we sped over the yellow, moonlit moss; each of us
occupied with his own thoughts. For my part I could not be other than
joyful had I tried, with Dejah Thoris' warm body pressed close to mine,
and with all our unpassed danger my heart was singing as gaily as
though we were already entering the gates of Helium.

Our earlier plans had been so sadly upset that we now found ourselves
without food or drink, and I alone was armed. We therefore urged our
beasts to a speed that must tell on them sorely before we could hope to
sight the ending of the first stage of our journey.

We rode all night and all the following day with only a few short
rests. On the second night both we and our animals were completely
fagged, and so we lay down upon the moss and slept for some five or six
hours, taking up the journey once more before daylight. All the
following day we rode, and when, late in the afternoon we had sighted
no distant trees, the mark of the great waterways throughout all
Barsoom, the terrible truth flashed upon us - we were lost.

Evidently we had circled, but which way it was difficult to say, nor
did it seem possible with the sun to guide us by day and the moons and
stars by night. At any rate no waterway was in sight, and the entire
party was almost ready to drop from hunger, thirst and fatigue. Far
ahead of us and a trifle to the right we could distinguish the outlines
of low mountains. These we decided to attempt to reach in the hope
that from some ridge we might discern the missing waterway. Night fell
upon us before we reached our goal, and, almost fainting from weariness
and weakness, we lay down and slept.

I was awakened early in the morning by some huge body pressing close to
mine, and opening my eyes with a start I beheld my blessed old Woola
snuggling close to me; the faithful brute had followed us across that
trackless waste to share our fate, whatever it might be. Putting my
arms about his neck I pressed my cheek close to his, nor am I ashamed
that I did it, nor of the tears that came to my eyes as I thought of
his love for me. Shortly after this Dejah Thoris and Sola awakened,
and it was decided that we push on at once in an effort to gain the

We had gone scarcely a mile when I noticed that my thoat was commencing
to stumble and stagger in a most pitiful manner, although we had not
attempted to force them out of a walk since about noon of the preceding
day. Suddenly he lurched wildly to one side and pitched violently to
the ground. Dejah Thoris and I were thrown clear of him and fell upon
the soft moss with scarcely a jar; but the poor beast was in a pitiable
condition, not even being able to rise, although relieved of our
weight. Sola told me that the coolness of the night, when it fell,
together with the rest would doubtless revive him, and so I decided not
to kill him, as was my first intention, as I had thought it cruel to
leave him alone there to die of hunger and thirst. Relieving him of
his trappings, which I flung down beside him, we left the poor fellow
to his fate, and pushed on with the one thoat as best we could. Sola
and I walked, making Dejah Thoris ride, much against her will. In this
way we had progressed to within about a mile of the hills we were
endeavoring to reach when Dejah Thoris, from her point of vantage upon
the thoat, cried out that she saw a great party of mounted men filing
down from a pass in the hills several miles away. Sola and I both
looked in the direction she indicated, and there, plainly discernible,
were several hundred mounted warriors. They seemed to be headed in a
southwesterly direction, which would take them away from us.

They doubtless were Thark warriors who had been sent out to capture us,
and we breathed a great sigh of relief that they were traveling in the
opposite direction. Quickly lifting Dejah Thoris from the thoat, I
commanded the animal to lie down and we three did the same, presenting
as small an object as possible for fear of attracting the attention of
the warriors toward us.

We could see them as they filed out of the pass, just for an instant,
before they were lost to view behind a friendly ridge; to us a most
providential ridge; since, had they been in view for any great length
of time, they scarcely could have failed to discover us. As what
proved to be the last warrior came into view from the pass, he halted
and, to our consternation, threw his small but powerful fieldglass to
his eye and scanned the sea bottom in all directions. Evidently he was
a chieftain, for in certain marching formations among the green men a
chieftain brings up the extreme rear of the column. As his glass swung
toward us our hearts stopped in our breasts, and I could feel the cold
sweat start from every pore in my body.

Presently it swung full upon us and - stopped. The tension on our
nerves was near the breaking point, and I doubt if any of us breathed
for the few moments he held us covered by his glass; and then he
lowered it and we could see him shout a command to the warriors who had
passed from our sight behind the ridge. He did not wait for them to
join him, however, instead he wheeled his thoat and came tearing madly
in our direction.

There was but one slight chance and that we must take quickly. Raising
my strange Martian rifle to my shoulder I sighted and touched the
button which controlled the trigger; there was a sharp explosion as the
missile reached its goal, and the charging chieftain pitched backward
from his flying mount.

Springing to my feet I urged the thoat to rise, and directed Sola to
take Dejah Thoris with her upon him and make a mighty effort to reach
the hills before the green warriors were upon us. I knew that in the
ravines and gullies they might find a temporary hiding place, and even
though they died there of hunger and thirst it would be better so than
that they fell into the hands of the Tharks. Forcing my two revolvers
upon them as a slight means of protection, and, as a last resort, as an
escape for themselves from the horrid death which recapture would
surely mean, I lifted Dejah Thoris in my arms and placed her upon the
thoat behind Sola, who had already mounted at my command.

"Good-bye, my princess," I whispered, "we may meet in Helium yet. I
have escaped from worse plights than this," and I tried to smile as I

"What," she cried, "are you not coming with us?"

"How may I, Dejah Thoris? Someone must hold these fellows off for a
while, and I can better escape them alone than could the three of us

She sprang quickly from the thoat and, throwing her dear arms about my
neck, turned to Sola, saying with quiet dignity: "Fly, Sola! Dejah
Thoris remains to die with the man she loves."

Those words are engraved upon my heart. Ah, gladly would I give up my
life a thousand times could I only hear them once again; but I could
not then give even a second to the rapture of her sweet embrace, and
pressing my lips to hers for the first time, I picked her up bodily and
tossed her to her seat behind Sola again, commanding the latter in
peremptory tones to hold her there by force, and then, slapping the
thoat upon the flank, I saw them borne away; Dejah Thoris struggling to
the last to free herself from Sola's grasp.

Turning, I beheld the green warriors mounting the ridge and looking for
their chieftain. In a moment they saw him, and then me; but scarcely
had they discovered me than I commenced firing, lying flat upon my
belly in the moss. I had an even hundred rounds in the magazine of my
rifle, and another hundred in the belt at my back, and I kept up a
continuous stream of fire until I saw all of the warriors who had been
first to return from behind the ridge either dead or scurrying to cover.

My respite was short-lived however, for soon the entire party,
numbering some thousand men, came charging into view, racing madly
toward me. I fired until my rifle was empty and they were almost upon
me, and then a glance showing me that Dejah Thoris and Sola had
disappeared among the hills, I sprang up, throwing down my useless gun,
and started away in the direction opposite to that taken by Sola and
her charge.

If ever Martians had an exhibition of jumping, it was granted those
astonished warriors on that day long years ago, but while it led them
away from Dejah Thoris it did not distract their attention from
endeavoring to capture me.

They raced wildly after me until, finally, my foot struck a projecting
piece of quartz, and down I went sprawling upon the moss. As I looked
up they were upon me, and although I drew my long-sword in an attempt
to sell my life as dearly as possible, it was soon over. I reeled
beneath their blows which fell upon me in perfect torrents; my head
swam; all was black, and I went down beneath them to oblivion.



It must have been several hours before I regained consciousness and I
well remember the feeling of surprise which swept over me as I realized
that I was not dead.

I was lying among a pile of sleeping silks and furs in the corner of a
small room in which were several green warriors, and bending over me
was an ancient and ugly female.

As I opened my eyes she turned to one of the warriors, saying,

"He will live, O Jed."

"'Tis well," replied the one so addressed, rising and approaching my
couch, "he should render rare sport for the great games."

And now as my eyes fell upon him, I saw that he was no Thark, for his
ornaments and metal were not of that horde. He was a huge fellow,
terribly scarred about the face and chest, and with one broken tusk and
a missing ear. Strapped on either breast were human skulls and
depending from these a number of dried human hands.

His reference to the great games of which I had heard so much while
among the Tharks convinced me that I had but jumped from purgatory into

After a few more words with the female, during which she assured him
that I was now fully fit to travel, the jed ordered that we mount and
ride after the main column.

I was strapped securely to as wild and unmanageable a thoat as I had
ever seen, and, with a mounted warrior on either side to prevent the
beast from bolting, we rode forth at a furious pace in pursuit of the
column. My wounds gave me but little pain, so wonderfully and rapidly
had the applications and injections of the female exercised their
therapeutic powers, and so deftly had she bound and plastered the

Just before dark we reached the main body of troops shortly after they
had made camp for the night. I was immediately taken before the
leader, who proved to be the jeddak of the hordes of Warhoon.

Like the jed who had brought me, he was frightfully scarred, and also
decorated with the breastplate of human skulls and dried dead hands
which seemed to mark all the greater warriors among the Warhoons, as
well as to indicate their awful ferocity, which greatly transcends even
that of the Tharks.

The jeddak, Bar Comas, who was comparatively young, was the object of
the fierce and jealous hatred of his old lieutenant, Dak Kova, the jed
who had captured me, and I could not but note the almost studied
efforts which the latter made to affront his superior.

He entirely omitted the usual formal salutation as we entered the
presence of the jeddak, and as he pushed me roughly before the ruler he
exclaimed in a loud and menacing voice.

"I have brought a strange creature wearing the metal of a Thark whom it
is my pleasure to have battle with a wild thoat at the great games."

"He will die as Bar Comas, your jeddak, sees fit, if at all," replied
the young ruler, with emphasis and dignity.

"If at all?" roared Dak Kova. "By the dead hands at my throat but he
shall die, Bar Comas. No maudlin weakness on your part shall save him.
O, would that Warhoon were ruled by a real jeddak rather than by a
water-hearted weakling from whom even old Dak Kova could tear the metal
with his bare hands!"

Bar Comas eyed the defiant and insubordinate chieftain for an instant,
his expression one of haughty, fearless contempt and hate, and then
without drawing a weapon and without uttering a word he hurled himself
at the throat of his defamer.

I never before had seen two green Martian warriors battle with nature's
weapons and the exhibition of animal ferocity which ensued was as
fearful a thing as the most disordered imagination could picture. They
tore at each others' eyes and ears with their hands and with their
gleaming tusks repeatedly slashed and gored until both were cut fairly
to ribbons from head to foot.

Bar Comas had much the better of the battle as he was stronger, quicker
and more intelligent. It soon seemed that the encounter was done
saving only the final death thrust when Bar Comas slipped in breaking
away from a clinch. It was the one little opening that Dak Kova
needed, and hurling himself at the body of his adversary he buried his
single mighty tusk in Bar Comas' groin and with a last powerful effort
ripped the young jeddak wide open the full length of his body, the
great tusk finally wedging in the bones of Bar Comas' jaw. Victor and
vanquished rolled limp and lifeless upon the moss, a huge mass of torn
and bloody flesh.

Bar Comas was stone dead, and only the most herculean efforts on the
part of Dak Kova's females saved him from the fate he deserved. Three
days later he walked without assistance to the body of Bar Comas which,
by custom, had not been moved from where it fell, and placing his foot
upon the neck of his erstwhile ruler he assumed the title of Jeddak of

The dead jeddak's hands and head were removed to be added to the
ornaments of his conqueror, and then his women cremated what remained,
amid wild and terrible laughter.

The injuries to Dak Kova had delayed the march so greatly that it was
decided to give up the expedition, which was a raid upon a small Thark
community in retaliation for the destruction of the incubator, until
after the great games, and the entire body of warriors, ten thousand in
number, turned back toward Warhoon.

My introduction to these cruel and bloodthirsty people was but an index
to the scenes I witnessed almost daily while with them. They are a
smaller horde than the Tharks but much more ferocious. Not a day
passed but that some members of the various Warhoon communities met in
deadly combat. I have seen as high as eight mortal duels within a
single day.

We reached the city of Warhoon after some three days march and I was
immediately cast into a dungeon and heavily chained to the floor and
walls. Food was brought me at intervals but owing to the utter
darkness of the place I do not know whether I lay there days, or weeks,
or months. It was the most horrible experience of all my life and that
my mind did not give way to the terrors of that inky blackness has been
a wonder to me ever since. The place was filled with creeping,
crawling things; cold, sinuous bodies passed over me when I lay down,
and in the darkness I occasionally caught glimpses of gleaming, fiery
eyes, fixed in horrible intentness upon me. No sound reached me from
the world above and no word would my jailer vouchsafe when my food was
brought to me, although I at first bombarded him with questions.

Finally all the hatred and maniacal loathing for these awful creatures
who had placed me in this horrible place was centered by my tottering
reason upon this single emissary who represented to me the entire horde
of Warhoons.

I had noticed that he always advanced with his dim torch to where he
could place the food within my reach and as he stooped to place it upon
the floor his head was about on a level with my breast. So, with the
cunning of a madman, I backed into the far corner of my cell when next
I heard him approaching and gathering a little slack of the great chain
which held me in my hand I waited his coming, crouching like some beast
of prey. As he stooped to place my food upon the ground I swung the
chain above my head and crashed the links with all my strength upon his
skull. Without a sound he slipped to the floor, stone dead.

Laughing and chattering like the idiot I was fast becoming I fell upon
his prostrate form my fingers feeling for his dead throat. Presently
they came in contact with a small chain at the end of which dangled a
number of keys. The touch of my fingers on these keys brought back my
reason with the suddenness of thought. No longer was I a jibbering
idiot, but a sane, reasoning man with the means of escape within my
very hands.

As I was groping to remove the chain from about my victim's neck I
glanced up into the darkness to see six pairs of gleaming eyes fixed,
unwinking, upon me. Slowly they approached and slowly I shrank back
from the awful horror of them. Back into my corner I crouched holding
my hands palms out, before me, and stealthily on came the awful eyes
until they reached the dead body at my feet. Then slowly they
retreated but this time with a strange grating sound and finally they
disappeared in some black and distant recess of my dungeon.



Slowly I regained my composure and finally essayed again to attempt to
remove the keys from the dead body of my former jailer. But as I
reached out into the darkness to locate it I found to my horror that it
was gone. Then the truth flashed on me; the owners of those gleaming
eyes had dragged my prize away from me to be devoured in their
neighboring lair; as they had been waiting for days, for weeks, for
months, through all this awful eternity of my imprisonment to drag my
dead carcass to their feast.

For two days no food was brought me, but then a new messenger appeared
and my incarceration went on as before, but not again did I allow my
reason to be submerged by the horror of my position.

Shortly after this episode another prisoner was brought in and chained
near me. By the dim torch light I saw that he was a red Martian and I
could scarcely await the departure of his guards to address him. As
their retreating footsteps died away in the distance, I called out
softly the Martian word of greeting, kaor.

"Who are you who speaks out of the darkness?" he answered

"John Carter, a friend of the red men of Helium."

"I am of Helium," he said, "but I do not recall your name."

And then I told him my story as I have written it here, omitting only
any reference to my love for Dejah Thoris. He was much excited by the
news of Helium's princess and seemed quite positive that she and Sola
could easily have reached a point of safety from where they left me.
He said that he knew the place well because the defile through which
the Warhoon warriors had passed when they discovered us was the only
one ever used by them when marching to the south.

"Dejah Thoris and Sola entered the hills not five miles from a great
waterway and are now probably quite safe," he assured me.

My fellow prisoner was Kantos Kan, a padwar (lieutenant) in the navy of
Helium. He had been a member of the ill-fated expedition which had
fallen into the hands of the Tharks at the time of Dejah Thoris'
capture, and he briefly related the events which followed the defeat of
the battleships.

Badly injured and only partially manned they had limped slowly toward
Helium, but while passing near the city of Zodanga, the capital of
Helium's hereditary enemies among the red men of Barsoom, they had been
attacked by a great body of war vessels and all but the craft to which
Kantos Kan belonged were either destroyed or captured. His vessel was
chased for days by three of the Zodangan war ships but finally escaped
during the darkness of a moonless night.

Thirty days after the capture of Dejah Thoris, or about the time of our
coming to Thark, his vessel had reached Helium with about ten survivors
of the original crew of seven hundred officers and men. Immediately
seven great fleets, each of one hundred mighty war ships, had been
dispatched to search for Dejah Thoris, and from these vessels two
thousand smaller craft had been kept out continuously in futile search

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsA Princess of Mars → online text (page 10 of 16)