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the tones of Dejah Thoris. I could not hear the words but I knew that
I could not possibly be mistaken in the voice.

Moving on a few steps I discovered another passageway at the end of
which lay a door. Walking boldly forward I pushed into the room only
to find myself in a small antechamber in which were the four guards who
had accompanied her. One of them instantly arose and accosted me,
asking the nature of my business.

"I am from Than Kosis," I replied, "and wish to speak privately with
Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium."

"And your order?" asked the fellow.

I did not know what he meant, but replied that I was a member of The
Guard, and without waiting for a reply from him I strode toward the
opposite door of the antechamber, behind which I could hear Dejah
Thoris conversing.

But my entrance was not to be so easily accomplished. The guardsman
stepped before me, saying,

"No one comes from Than Kosis without carrying an order or the
password. You must give me one or the other before you may pass."

"The only order I require, my friend, to enter where I will, hangs at
my side," I answered, tapping my long-sword; "will you let me pass in
peace or no?"

For reply he whipped out his own sword, calling to the others to join
him, and thus the four stood, with drawn weapons, barring my further
progress.

"You are not here by the order of Than Kosis," cried the one who had
first addressed me, "and not only shall you not enter the apartments of
the Princess of Helium but you shall go back to Than Kosis under guard
to explain this unwarranted temerity. Throw down your sword; you
cannot hope to overcome four of us," he added with a grim smile.

My reply was a quick thrust which left me but three antagonists and I
can assure you that they were worthy of my metal. They had me backed
against the wall in no time, fighting for my life. Slowly I worked my
way to a corner of the room where I could force them to come at me only
one at a time, and thus we fought upward of twenty minutes; the
clanging of steel on steel producing a veritable bedlam in the little
room.

The noise had brought Dejah Thoris to the door of her apartment, and
there she stood throughout the conflict with Sola at her back peering
over her shoulder. Her face was set and emotionless and I knew that
she did not recognize me, nor did Sola.

Finally a lucky cut brought down a second guardsman and then, with only
two opposing me, I changed my tactics and rushed them down after the
fashion of my fighting that had won me many a victory. The third fell
within ten seconds after the second, and the last lay dead upon the
bloody floor a few moments later. They were brave men and noble
fighters, and it grieved me that I had been forced to kill them, but I
would have willingly depopulated all Barsoom could I have reached the
side of my Dejah Thoris in no other way.

Sheathing my bloody blade I advanced toward my Martian Princess, who
still stood mutely gazing at me without sign of recognition.

"Who are you, Zodangan?" she whispered. "Another enemy to harass me in
my misery?"

"I am a friend," I answered, "a once cherished friend."

"No friend of Helium's princess wears that metal," she replied, "and
yet the voice! I have heard it before; it is not - it cannot be - no,
for he is dead."

"It is, though, my Princess, none other than John Carter," I said. "Do
you not recognize, even through paint and strange metal, the heart of
your chieftain?"

As I came close to her she swayed toward me with outstretched hands,
but as I reached to take her in my arms she drew back with a shudder
and a little moan of misery.

"Too late, too late," she grieved. "O my chieftain that was, and whom
I thought dead, had you but returned one little hour before - but now it
is too late, too late."

"What do you mean, Dejah Thoris?" I cried. "That you would not have
promised yourself to the Zodangan prince had you known that I lived?"

"Think you, John Carter, that I would give my heart to you yesterday
and today to another? I thought that it lay buried with your ashes in
the pits of Warhoon, and so today I have promised my body to another to
save my people from the curse of a victorious Zodangan army."

"But I am not dead, my princess. I have come to claim you, and all
Zodanga cannot prevent it."

"It is too late, John Carter, my promise is given, and on Barsoom that
is final. The ceremonies which follow later are but meaningless
formalities. They make the fact of marriage no more certain than does
the funeral cortege of a jeddak again place the seal of death upon him.
I am as good as married, John Carter. No longer may you call me your
princess. No longer are you my chieftain."

"I know but little of your customs here upon Barsoom, Dejah Thoris, but
I do know that I love you, and if you meant the last words you spoke to
me that day as the hordes of Warhoon were charging down upon us, no
other man shall ever claim you as his bride. You meant them then, my
princess, and you mean them still! Say that it is true."

"I meant them, John Carter," she whispered. "I cannot repeat them now
for I have given myself to another. Ah, if you had only known our
ways, my friend," she continued, half to herself, "the promise would
have been yours long months ago, and you could have claimed me before
all others. It might have meant the fall of Helium, but I would have
given my empire for my Tharkian chief."

Then aloud she said: "Do you remember the night when you offended me?
You called me your princess without having asked my hand of me, and
then you boasted that you had fought for me. You did not know, and I
should not have been offended; I see that now. But there was no one to
tell you what I could not, that upon Barsoom there are two kinds of
women in the cities of the red men. The one they fight for that they
may ask them in marriage; the other kind they fight for also, but never
ask their hands. When a man has won a woman he may address her as his
princess, or in any of the several terms which signify possession. You
had fought for me, but had never asked me in marriage, and so when you
called me your princess, you see," she faltered, "I was hurt, but even
then, John Carter, I did not repulse you, as I should have done, until
you made it doubly worse by taunting me with having won me through
combat."

"I do not need ask your forgiveness now, Dejah Thoris," I cried. "You
must know that my fault was of ignorance of your Barsoomian customs.
What I failed to do, through implicit belief that my petition would be
presumptuous and unwelcome, I do now, Dejah Thoris; I ask you to be my
wife, and by all the Virginian fighting blood that flows in my veins
you shall be."

"No, John Carter, it is useless," she cried, hopelessly, "I may never
be yours while Sab Than lives."

"You have sealed his death warrant, my princess - Sab Than dies."

"Nor that either," she hastened to explain. "I may not wed the man who
slays my husband, even in self-defense. It is custom. We are ruled by
custom upon Barsoom. It is useless, my friend. You must bear the
sorrow with me. That at least we may share in common. That, and the
memory of the brief days among the Tharks. You must go now, nor ever
see me again. Good-bye, my chieftain that was."

Disheartened and dejected, I withdrew from the room, but I was not
entirely discouraged, nor would I admit that Dejah Thoris was lost to
me until the ceremony had actually been performed.

As I wandered along the corridors, I was as absolutely lost in the
mazes of winding passageways as I had been before I discovered Dejah
Thoris' apartments.

I knew that my only hope lay in escape from the city of Zodanga, for
the matter of the four dead guardsmen would have to be explained, and
as I could never reach my original post without a guide, suspicion
would surely rest on me so soon as I was discovered wandering aimlessly
through the palace.

Presently I came upon a spiral runway leading to a lower floor, and
this I followed downward for several stories until I reached the
doorway of a large apartment in which were a number of guardsmen. The
walls of this room were hung with transparent tapestries behind which I
secreted myself without being apprehended.

The conversation of the guardsmen was general, and awakened no interest
in me until an officer entered the room and ordered four of the men to
relieve the detail who were guarding the Princess of Helium. Now, I
knew, my troubles would commence in earnest and indeed they were upon
me all too soon, for it seemed that the squad had scarcely left the
guardroom before one of their number burst in again breathlessly,
crying that they had found their four comrades butchered in the
antechamber.

In a moment the entire palace was alive with people. Guardsmen,
officers, courtiers, servants, and slaves ran helter-skelter through
the corridors and apartments carrying messages and orders, and
searching for signs of the assassin.

This was my opportunity and slim as it appeared I grasped it, for as a
number of soldiers came hurrying past my hiding place I fell in behind
them and followed through the mazes of the palace until, in passing
through a great hall, I saw the blessed light of day coming in through
a series of larger windows.

Here I left my guides, and, slipping to the nearest window, sought for
an avenue of escape. The windows opened upon a great balcony which
overlooked one of the broad avenues of Zodanga. The ground was about
thirty feet below, and at a like distance from the building was a wall
fully twenty feet high, constructed of polished glass about a foot in
thickness. To a red Martian escape by this path would have appeared
impossible, but to me, with my earthly strength and agility, it seemed
already accomplished. My only fear was in being detected before
darkness fell, for I could not make the leap in broad daylight while
the court below and the avenue beyond were crowded with Zodangans.

Accordingly I searched for a hiding place and finally found one by
accident, inside a huge hanging ornament which swung from the ceiling
of the hall, and about ten feet from the floor. Into the capacious
bowl-like vase I sprang with ease, and scarcely had I settled down
within it than I heard a number of people enter the apartment. The
group stopped beneath my hiding place and I could plainly overhear
their every word.

"It is the work of Heliumites," said one of the men.

"Yes, O Jeddak, but how had they access to the palace? I could believe
that even with the diligent care of your guardsmen a single enemy might
reach the inner chambers, but how a force of six or eight fighting men
could have done so unobserved is beyond me. We shall soon know,
however, for here comes the royal psychologist."

Another man now joined the group, and, after making his formal
greetings to his ruler, said:

"O mighty Jeddak, it is a strange tale I read in the dead minds of your
faithful guardsmen. They were felled not by a number of fighting men,
but by a single opponent."

He paused to let the full weight of this announcement impress his
hearers, and that his statement was scarcely credited was evidenced by
the impatient exclamation of incredulity which escaped the lips of Than
Kosis.

"What manner of weird tale are you bringing me, Notan?" he cried.

"It is the truth, my Jeddak," replied the psychologist. "In fact the
impressions were strongly marked on the brain of each of the four
guardsmen. Their antagonist was a very tall man, wearing the metal of
one of your own guardsmen, and his fighting ability was little short of
marvelous for he fought fair against the entire four and vanquished
them by his surpassing skill and superhuman strength and endurance.
Though he wore the metal of Zodanga, my Jeddak, such a man was never
seen before in this or any other country upon Barsoom.

"The mind of the Princess of Helium whom I have examined and questioned
was a blank to me, she has perfect control, and I could not read one
iota of it. She said that she witnessed a portion of the encounter,
and that when she looked there was but one man engaged with the
guardsmen; a man whom she did not recognize as ever having seen."

"Where is my erstwhile savior?" spoke another of the party, and I
recognized the voice of the cousin of Than Kosis, whom I had rescued
from the green warriors. "By the metal of my first ancestor," he went
on, "but the description fits him to perfection, especially as to his
fighting ability."

"Where is this man?" cried Than Kosis. "Have him brought to me at
once. What know you of him, cousin? It seemed strange to me now that
I think upon it that there should have been such a fighting man in
Zodanga, of whose name, even, we were ignorant before today. And his
name too, John Carter, who ever heard of such a name upon Barsoom!"

Word was soon brought that I was nowhere to be found, either in the
palace or at my former quarters in the barracks of the air-scout
squadron. Kantos Kan, they had found and questioned, but he knew
nothing of my whereabouts, and as to my past, he had told them he knew
as little, since he had but recently met me during our captivity among
the Warhoons.

"Keep your eyes on this other one," commanded Than Kosis. "He also is
a stranger and likely as not they both hail from Helium, and where one
is we shall sooner or later find the other. Quadruple the air patrol,
and let every man who leaves the city by air or ground be subjected to
the closest scrutiny."

Another messenger now entered with word that I was still within the
palace walls.

"The likeness of every person who has entered or left the palace
grounds today has been carefully examined," concluded the fellow, "and
not one approaches the likeness of this new padwar of the guards, other
than that which was recorded of him at the time he entered."

"Then we will have him shortly," commented Than Kosis contentedly, "and
in the meanwhile we will repair to the apartments of the Princess of
Helium and question her in regard to the affair. She may know more
than she cared to divulge to you, Notan. Come."

They left the hall, and, as darkness had fallen without, I slipped
lightly from my hiding place and hastened to the balcony. Few were in
sight, and choosing a moment when none seemed near I sprang quickly to
the top of the glass wall and from there to the avenue beyond the
palace grounds.




CHAPTER XXIII

LOST IN THE SKY


Without effort at concealment I hastened to the vicinity of our
quarters, where I felt sure I should find Kantos Kan. As I neared the
building I became more careful, as I judged, and rightly, that the
place would be guarded. Several men in civilian metal loitered near
the front entrance and in the rear were others. My only means of
reaching, unseen, the upper story where our apartments were situated
was through an adjoining building, and after considerable maneuvering I
managed to attain the roof of a shop several doors away.

Leaping from roof to roof, I soon reached an open window in the
building where I hoped to find the Heliumite, and in another moment I
stood in the room before him. He was alone and showed no surprise at
my coming, saying he had expected me much earlier, as my tour of duty
must have ended some time since.

I saw that he knew nothing of the events of the day at the palace, and
when I had enlightened him he was all excitement. The news that Dejah
Thoris had promised her hand to Sab Than filled him with dismay.

"It cannot be," he exclaimed. "It is impossible! Why no man in all
Helium but would prefer death to the selling of our loved princess to
the ruling house of Zodanga. She must have lost her mind to have
assented to such an atrocious bargain. You, who do not know how we of
Helium love the members of our ruling house, cannot appreciate the
horror with which I contemplate such an unholy alliance."

"What can be done, John Carter?" he continued. "You are a resourceful
man. Can you not think of some way to save Helium from this disgrace?"

"If I can come within sword's reach of Sab Than," I answered, "I can
solve the difficulty in so far as Helium is concerned, but for personal
reasons I would prefer that another struck the blow that frees Dejah
Thoris."

Kantos Kan eyed me narrowly before he spoke.

"You love her!" he said. "Does she know it?"

"She knows it, Kantos Kan, and repulses me only because she is promised
to Sab Than."

The splendid fellow sprang to his feet, and grasping me by the shoulder
raised his sword on high, exclaiming:

"And had the choice been left to me I could not have chosen a more
fitting mate for the first princess of Barsoom. Here is my hand upon
your shoulder, John Carter, and my word that Sab Than shall go out at
the point of my sword for the sake of my love for Helium, for Dejah
Thoris, and for you. This very night I shall try to reach his quarters
in the palace."

"How?" I asked. "You are strongly guarded and a quadruple force
patrols the sky."

He bent his head in thought a moment, then raised it with an air of
confidence.

"I only need to pass these guards and I can do it," he said at last.
"I know a secret entrance to the palace through the pinnacle of the
highest tower. I fell upon it by chance one day as I was passing above
the palace on patrol duty. In this work it is required that we
investigate any unusual occurrence we may witness, and a face peering
from the pinnacle of the high tower of the palace was, to me, most
unusual. I therefore drew near and discovered that the possessor of
the peering face was none other than Sab Than. He was slightly put out
at being detected and commanded me to keep the matter to myself,
explaining that the passage from the tower led directly to his
apartments, and was known only to him. If I can reach the roof of the
barracks and get my machine I can be in Sab Than's quarters in five
minutes; but how am I to escape from this building, guarded as you say
it is?"

"How well are the machine sheds at the barracks guarded?" I asked.

"There is usually but one man on duty there at night upon the roof."

"Go to the roof of this building, Kantos Kan, and wait me there."

Without stopping to explain my plans I retraced my way to the street
and hastened to the barracks. I did not dare to enter the building,
filled as it was with members of the air-scout squadron, who, in common
with all Zodanga, were on the lookout for me.

The building was an enormous one, rearing its lofty head fully a
thousand feet into the air. But few buildings in Zodanga were higher
than these barracks, though several topped it by a few hundred feet;
the docks of the great battleships of the line standing some fifteen
hundred feet from the ground, while the freight and passenger stations
of the merchant squadrons rose nearly as high.

It was a long climb up the face of the building, and one fraught with
much danger, but there was no other way, and so I essayed the task.
The fact that Barsoomian architecture is extremely ornate made the feat
much simpler than I had anticipated, since I found ornamental ledges
and projections which fairly formed a perfect ladder for me all the way
to the eaves of the building. Here I met my first real obstacle. The
eaves projected nearly twenty feet from the wall to which I clung, and
though I encircled the great building I could find no opening through
them.

The top floor was alight, and filled with soldiers engaged in the
pastimes of their kind; I could not, therefore, reach the roof through
the building.

There was one slight, desperate chance, and that I decided I must
take - it was for Dejah Thoris, and no man has lived who would not risk
a thousand deaths for such as she.

Clinging to the wall with my feet and one hand, I unloosened one of the
long leather straps of my trappings at the end of which dangled a great
hook by which air sailors are hung to the sides and bottoms of their
craft for various purposes of repair, and by means of which landing
parties are lowered to the ground from the battleships.

I swung this hook cautiously to the roof several times before it
finally found lodgment; gently I pulled on it to strengthen its hold,
but whether it would bear the weight of my body I did not know. It
might be barely caught upon the very outer verge of the roof, so that
as my body swung out at the end of the strap it would slip off and
launch me to the pavement a thousand feet below.

An instant I hesitated, and then, releasing my grasp upon the
supporting ornament, I swung out into space at the end of the strap.
Far below me lay the brilliantly lighted streets, the hard pavements,
and death. There was a little jerk at the top of the supporting eaves,
and a nasty slipping, grating sound which turned me cold with
apprehension; then the hook caught and I was safe.

Clambering quickly aloft I grasped the edge of the eaves and drew
myself to the surface of the roof above. As I gained my feet I was
confronted by the sentry on duty, into the muzzle of whose revolver I
found myself looking.

"Who are you and whence came you?" he cried.

"I am an air scout, friend, and very near a dead one, for just by the
merest chance I escaped falling to the avenue below," I replied.

"But how came you upon the roof, man? No one has landed or come up
from the building for the past hour. Quick, explain yourself, or I
call the guard."

"Look you here, sentry, and you shall see how I came and how close a
shave I had to not coming at all," I answered, turning toward the edge
of the roof, where, twenty feet below, at the end of my strap, hung all
my weapons.

The fellow, acting on impulse of curiosity, stepped to my side and to
his undoing, for as he leaned to peer over the eaves I grasped him by
his throat and his pistol arm and threw him heavily to the roof. The
weapon dropped from his grasp, and my fingers choked off his attempted
cry for assistance. I gagged and bound him and then hung him over the
edge of the roof as I myself had hung a few moments before. I knew it
would be morning before he would be discovered, and I needed all the
time that I could gain.

Donning my trappings and weapons I hastened to the sheds, and soon had
out both my machine and Kantos Kan's. Making his fast behind mine I
started my engine, and skimming over the edge of the roof I dove down
into the streets of the city far below the plane usually occupied by
the air patrol. In less than a minute I was settling safely upon the
roof of our apartment beside the astonished Kantos Kan.

I lost no time in explanation, but plunged immediately into a
discussion of our plans for the immediate future. It was decided that
I was to try to make Helium while Kantos Kan was to enter the palace
and dispatch Sab Than. If successful he was then to follow me. He set
my compass for me, a clever little device which will remain steadfastly
fixed upon any given point on the surface of Barsoom, and bidding each
other farewell we rose together and sped in the direction of the palace
which lay in the route which I must take to reach Helium.

As we neared the high tower a patrol shot down from above, throwing its
piercing searchlight full upon my craft, and a voice roared out a
command to halt, following with a shot as I paid no attention to his
hail. Kantos Kan dropped quickly into the darkness, while I rose
steadily and at terrific speed raced through the Martian sky followed
by a dozen of the air-scout craft which had joined the pursuit, and
later by a swift cruiser carrying a hundred men and a battery of
rapid-fire guns. By twisting and turning my little machine, now rising
and now falling, I managed to elude their search-lights most of the
time, but I was also losing ground by these tactics, and so I decided
to hazard everything on a straight-away course and leave the result to
fate and the speed of my machine.

Kantos Kan had shown me a trick of gearing, which is known only to the
navy of Helium, that greatly increased the speed of our machines, so
that I felt sure I could distance my pursuers if I could dodge their
projectiles for a few moments.

As I sped through the air the screeching of the bullets around me
convinced me that only by a miracle could I escape, but the die was
cast, and throwing on full speed I raced a straight course toward
Helium. Gradually I left my pursuers further and further behind, and I
was just congratulating myself on my lucky escape, when a well-directed


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