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A Fair Goddess







From: The Gods Of Mars

For an instant the black pirate and I remained motionless, glaring into
each other's eyes. Then a grim smile curled the handsome lips above
me, as an ebony hand came slowly in sight from above the edge of the
deck and the cold, hollow eye of a revolver sought the centre of my
forehead.

Simultaneously my free hand shot out for the black throat, just within
reach, and the ebony finger tightened on the trigger. The pirate's
hissing, "Die, cursed thern," was half choked in his windpipe by my
clutching fingers. The hammer fell with a futile click upon an empty
chamber.

Before he could fire again I had pulled him so far over the edge of the
deck that he was forced to drop his firearm and clutch the rail with
both hands.

My grasp upon his throat effectually prevented any outcry, and so we
struggled in grim silence; he to tear away from my hold, I to drag him
over to his death.

His face was taking on a livid hue, his eyes were bulging from their
sockets. It was evident to him that he soon must die unless he tore
loose from the steel fingers that were choking the life from him. With
a final effort he threw himself further back upon the deck, at the same
instant releasing his hold upon the rail to tear frantically with both
hands at my fingers in an effort to drag them from his throat.

That little second was all that I awaited. With one mighty downward
surge I swept him clear of the deck. His falling body came near to
tearing me from the frail hold that my single free hand had upon the
anchor chain and plunging me with him to the waters of the sea below.

I did not relinquish my grasp upon him, however, for I knew that a
single shriek from those lips as he hurtled to his death in the silent
waters of the sea would bring his comrades from above to avenge him.

Instead I held grimly to him, choking, ever choking, while his frantic
struggles dragged me lower and lower toward the end of the chain.

Gradually his contortions became spasmodic, lessening by degrees until
they ceased entirely. Then I released my hold upon him and in an
instant he was swallowed by the black shadows far below.

Again I climbed to the ship's rail. This time I succeeded in raising
my eyes to the level of the deck, where I could take a careful survey
of the conditions immediately confronting me.

The nearer moon had passed below the horizon, but the clear effulgence
of the further satellite bathed the deck of the cruiser, bringing into
sharp relief the bodies of six or eight black men sprawled about in
sleep.

Huddled close to the base of a rapid fire gun was a young white girl,
securely bound. Her eyes were widespread in an expression of horrified
anticipation and fixed directly upon me as I came in sight above the
edge of the deck.

Unutterable relief instantly filled them as they fell upon the mystic
jewel which sparkled in the centre of my stolen headpiece. She did not
speak. Instead her eyes warned me to beware the sleeping figures that
surrounded her.

Noiselessly I gained the deck. The girl nodded to me to approach her.
As I bent low she whispered to me to release her.

"I can aid you," she said, "and you will need all the aid available
when they awaken."

"Some of them will awake in Korus," I replied smiling.

She caught the meaning of my words, and the cruelty of her answering
smile horrified me. One is not astonished by cruelty in a hideous
face, but when it touches the features of a goddess whose
fine-chiselled lineaments might more fittingly portray love and beauty,
the contrast is appalling.

Quickly I released her.

"Give me a revolver," she whispered. "I can use that upon those your
sword does not silence in time."

I did as she bid. Then I turned toward the distasteful work that lay
before me. This was no time for fine compunctions, nor for a chivalry
that these cruel demons would neither appreciate nor reciprocate.

Stealthily I approached the nearest sleeper. When he awoke he was well
on his journey to the bosom of Korus. His piercing shriek as
consciousness returned to him came faintly up to us from the black
depths beneath.

The second awoke as I touched him, and, though I succeeded in hurling
him from the cruiser's deck, his wild cry of alarm brought the
remaining pirates to their feet. There were five of them.

As they arose the girl's revolver spoke in sharp staccato and one sank
back to the deck again to rise no more.

The others rushed madly upon me with drawn swords. The girl evidently
dared not fire for fear of wounding me, but I saw her sneak stealthily
and cat-like toward the flank of the attackers. Then they were on me.

For a few minutes I experienced some of the hottest fighting I had ever
passed through. The quarters were too small for foot work. It was
stand your ground and give and take. At first I took considerably more
than I gave, but presently I got beneath one fellow's guard and had the
satisfaction of seeing him collapse upon the deck.

The others redoubled their efforts. The crashing of their blades upon
mine raised a terrific din that might have been heard for miles through
the silent night. Sparks flew as steel smote steel, and then there was
the dull and sickening sound of a shoulder bone parting beneath the
keen edge of my Martian sword.

Three now faced me, but the girl was working her way to a point that
would soon permit her to reduce the number by one at least. Then
things happened with such amazing rapidity that I can scarce comprehend
even now all that took place in that brief instant.

The three rushed me with the evident purpose of forcing me back the few
steps that would carry my body over the rail into the void below. At
the same instant the girl fired and my sword arm made two moves. One
man dropped with a bullet in his brain; a sword flew clattering across
the deck and dropped over the edge beyond as I disarmed one of my
opponents and the third went down with my blade buried to the hilt in
his breast and three feet of it protruding from his back, and falling
wrenched the sword from my grasp.

Disarmed myself, I now faced my remaining foeman, whose own sword lay
somewhere thousands of feet below us, lost in the Lost Sea.

The new conditions seemed to please my adversary, for a smile of
satisfaction bared his gleaming teeth as he rushed at me bare-handed.
The great muscles which rolled beneath his glossy black hide evidently
assured him that here was easy prey, not worth the trouble of drawing
the dagger from his harness.

I let him come almost upon me. Then I ducked beneath his outstretched
arms, at the same time sidestepping to the right. Pivoting on my left
toe, I swung a terrific right to his jaw, and, like a felled ox, he
dropped in his tracks.

A low, silvery laugh rang out behind me.

"You are no thern," said the sweet voice of my companion, "for all your
golden locks or the harness of Sator Throg. Never lived there upon all
Barsoom before one who could fight as you have fought this night. Who
are you?"

"I am John Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of
Helium," I replied. "And whom," I added, "has the honour of serving
been accorded me?"

She hesitated a moment before speaking. Then she asked:

"You are no thern. Are you an enemy of the therns?"

"I have been in the territory of the therns for a day and a half.
During that entire time my life has been in constant danger. I have
been harassed and persecuted. Armed men and fierce beasts have been
set upon me. I had no quarrel with the therns before, but can you
wonder that I feel no great love for them now? I have spoken."

She looked at me intently for several minutes before she replied. It
was as though she were attempting to read my inmost soul, to judge my
character and my standards of chivalry in that long-drawn, searching
gaze.

Apparently the inventory satisfied her.

"I am Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, Holy Hekkador of the Holy
Therns, Father of Therns, Master of Life and Death upon Barsoom,
Brother of Issus, Prince of Life Eternal."

At that moment I noticed that the black I had dropped with my fist was
commencing to show signs of returning consciousness. I sprang to his
side. Stripping his harness from him I securely bound his hands behind
his back, and after similarly fastening his feet tied him to a heavy
gun carriage.

"Why not the simpler way?" asked Phaidor.

"I do not understand. What 'simpler way'?" I replied.

With a slight shrug of her lovely shoulders she made a gesture with her
hands personating the casting of something over the craft's side.

"I am no murderer," I said. "I kill in self-defence only."

She looked at me narrowly. Then she puckered those divine brows of
hers, and shook her head. She could not comprehend.

Well, neither had my own Dejah Thoris been able to understand what to
her had seemed a foolish and dangerous policy toward enemies. Upon
Barsoom, quarter is neither asked nor given, and each dead man means so
much more of the waning resources of this dying planet to be divided
amongst those who survive.

But there seemed a subtle difference here between the manner in which
this girl contemplated the dispatching of an enemy and the
tender-hearted regret of my own princess for the stern necessity which
demanded it.

I think that Phaidor regretted the thrill that the spectacle would have
afforded her rather than the fact that my decision left another enemy
alive to threaten us.

The man had now regained full possession of his faculties, and was
regarding us intently from where he lay bound upon the deck. He was a
handsome fellow, clean limbed and powerful, with an intelligent face
and features of such exquisite chiselling that Adonis himself might
have envied him.

The vessel, unguided, had been moving slowly across the valley; but now
I thought it time to take the helm and direct her course. Only in a
very general way could I guess the location of the Valley Dor. That it
was far south of the equator was evident from the constellations, but I
was not sufficiently a Martian astronomer to come much closer than a
rough guess without the splendid charts and delicate instruments with
which, as an officer in the Heliumite Navy, I had formerly reckoned the
positions of the vessels on which I sailed.

That a northerly course would quickest lead me toward the more settled
portions of the planet immediately decided the direction that I should
steer. Beneath my hand the cruiser swung gracefully about. Then the
button which controlled the repulsive rays sent us soaring far out into
space. With speed lever pulled to the last notch, we raced toward the
north as we rose ever farther and farther above that terrible valley of
death.

As we passed at a dizzy height over the narrow domains of the therns
the flash of powder far below bore mute witness to the ferocity of the
battle that still raged along that cruel frontier. No sound of
conflict reached our ears, for in the rarefied atmosphere of our great
altitude no sound wave could penetrate; they were dissipated in thin
air far below us.

It became intensely cold. Breathing was difficult. The girl, Phaidor,
and the black pirate kept their eyes glued upon me. At length the girl
spoke.

"Unconsciousness comes quickly at this altitude," she said quietly.
"Unless you are inviting death for us all you had best drop, and that
quickly."

There was no fear in her voice. It was as one might say: "You had
better carry an umbrella. It is going to rain."

I dropped the vessel quickly to a lower level. Nor was I a moment too
soon. The girl had swooned.

The black, too, was unconscious, while I, myself, retained my senses, I
think, only by sheer will. The one on whom all responsibility rests is
apt to endure the most.

We were swinging along low above the foothills of the Otz. It was
comparatively warm and there was plenty of air for our starved lungs,
so I was not surprised to see the black open his eyes, and a moment
later the girl also.

"It was a close call," she said.

"It has taught me two things though," I replied.

"What?"

"That even Phaidor, daughter of the Master of Life and Death, is
mortal," I said smiling.

"There is immortality only in Issus," she replied. "And Issus is for
the race of therns alone. Thus am I immortal."

I caught a fleeting grin passing across the features of the black as he
heard her words. I did not then understand why he smiled. Later I was
to learn, and she, too, in a most horrible manner.

"If the other thing you have just learned," she continued, "has led to
as erroneous deductions as the first you are little richer in knowledge
than you were before."

"The other," I replied, "is that our dusky friend here does not hail
from the nearer moon--he was like to have died at a few thousand feet
above Barsoom. Had we continued the five thousand miles that lie
between Thuria and the planet he would have been but the frozen memory
of a man."

Phaidor looked at the black in evident astonishment.

"If you are not of Thuria, then where?" she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders and turned his eyes elsewhere, but did not
reply.

The girl stamped her little foot in a peremptory manner.

"The daughter of Matai Shang is not accustomed to having her queries
remain unanswered," she said. "One of the lesser breed should feel
honoured that a member of the holy race that was born to inherit life
eternal should deign even to notice him."

Again the black smiled that wicked, knowing smile.

"Xodar, Dator of the First Born of Barsoom, is accustomed to give
commands, not to receive them," replied the black pirate. Then,
turning to me, "What are your intentions concerning me?"

"I intend taking you both back to Helium," I said. "No harm will come
to you. You will find the red men of Helium a kindly and magnanimous
race, but if they listen to me there will be no more voluntary
pilgrimages down the river Iss, and the impossible belief that they
have cherished for ages will be shattered into a thousand pieces."

"Are you of Helium?" he asked.

"I am a Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium," I
replied, "but I am not of Barsoom. I am of another world."

Xodar looked at me intently for a few moments.

"I can well believe that you are not of Barsoom," he said at length.
"None of this world could have bested eight of the First Born
single-handed. But how is it that you wear the golden hair and the
jewelled circlet of a Holy Thern?" He emphasized the word holy with a
touch of irony.

"I had forgotten them," I said. "They are the spoils of conquest," and
with a sweep of my hand I removed the disguise from my head.

When the black's eyes fell on my close-cropped black hair they opened
in astonishment. Evidently he had looked for the bald pate of a thern.

"You are indeed of another world," he said, a touch of awe in his
voice. "With the skin of a thern, the black hair of a First Born and
the muscles of a dozen Dators it was no disgrace even for Xodar to
acknowledge your supremacy. A thing he could never do were you a
Barsoomian," he added.

"You are travelling several laps ahead of me, my friend," I
interrupted. "I glean that your name is Xodar, but whom, pray, are the
First Born, and what a Dator, and why, if you were conquered by a
Barsoomian, could you not acknowledge it?"

"The First Born of Barsoom," he explained, "are the race of black men
of which I am a Dator, or, as the lesser Barsoomians would say, Prince.
My race is the oldest on the planet. We trace our lineage, unbroken,
direct to the Tree of Life which flourished in the centre of the Valley
Dor twenty-three million years ago.

"For countless ages the fruit of this tree underwent the gradual
changes of evolution, passing by degrees from true plant life to a
combination of plant and animal. In the first stages the fruit of the
tree possessed only the power of independent muscular action, while the
stem remained attached to the parent plant; later a brain developed in
the fruit, so that hanging there by their long stems they thought and
moved as individuals.

"Then, with the development of perceptions came a comparison of them;
judgments were reached and compared, and thus reason and the power to
reason were born upon Barsoom.

"Ages passed. Many forms of life came and went upon the Tree of Life,
but still all were attached to the parent plant by stems of varying
lengths. At length the fruit tree consisted in tiny plant men, such as
we now see reproduced in such huge dimensions in the Valley Dor, but
still hanging to the limbs and branches of the tree by the stems which
grew from the tops of their heads.

"The buds from which the plant men blossomed resembled large nuts about
a foot in diameter, divided by double partition walls into four
sections. In one section grew the plant man, in another a
sixteen-legged worm, in the third the progenitor of the white ape and
in the fourth the primaeval black man of Barsoom.

"When the bud burst the plant man remained dangling at the end of his
stem, but the three other sections fell to the ground, where the
efforts of their imprisoned occupants to escape sent them hopping about
in all directions.

"Thus as time went on, all Barsoom was covered with these imprisoned
creatures. For countless ages they lived their long lives within their
hard shells, hopping and skipping about the broad planet; falling into
rivers, lakes, and seas, to be still further spread about the surface
of the new world.

"Countless billions died before the first black man broke through his
prison walls into the light of day. Prompted by curiosity, he broke
open other shells and the peopling of Barsoom commenced.

"The pure strain of the blood of this first black man has remained
untainted by admixture with other creatures in the race of which I am a
member; but from the sixteen-legged worm, the first ape and renegade
black man has sprung every other form of animal life upon Barsoom.

"The therns," and he smiled maliciously as he spoke, "are but the
result of ages of evolution from the pure white ape of antiquity. They
are a lower order still. There is but one race of true and immortal
humans on Barsoom. It is the race of black men.

"The Tree of Life is dead, but before it died the plant men learned to
detach themselves from it and roam the face of Barsoom with the other
children of the First Parent.

"Now their bisexuality permits them to reproduce themselves after the
manner of true plants, but otherwise they have progressed but little in
all the ages of their existence. Their actions and movements are
largely matters of instinct and not guided to any great extent by
reason, since the brain of a plant man is but a trifle larger than the
end of your smallest finger. They live upon vegetation and the blood
of animals, and their brain is just large enough to direct their
movements in the direction of food, and to translate the food
sensations which are carried to it from their eyes and ears. They have
no sense of self-preservation and so are entirely without fear in the
face of danger. That is why they are such terrible antagonists in
combat."

I wondered why the black man took such pains to discourse thus at
length to enemies upon the genesis of life Barsoomian. It seemed a
strangely inopportune moment for a proud member of a proud race to
unbend in casual conversation with a captor. Especially in view of the
fact that the black still lay securely bound upon the deck.

It was the faintest straying of his eye beyond me for the barest
fraction of a second that explained his motive for thus dragging out my
interest in his truly absorbing story.

He lay a little forward of where I stood at the levers, and thus he
faced the stern of the vessel as he addressed me. It was at the end of
his description of the plant men that I caught his eye fixed
momentarily upon something behind me.

Nor could I be mistaken in the swift gleam of triumph that brightened
those dark orbs for an instant.

Some time before I had reduced our speed, for we had left the Valley
Dor many miles astern, and I felt comparatively safe.

I turned an apprehensive glance behind me, and the sight that I saw
froze the new-born hope of freedom that had been springing up within me.

A great battleship, forging silent and unlighted through the dark
night, loomed close astern.





Next: The Depths Of Omean

Previous: The Black Pirates Of Barsoom



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