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A Hero In Kaol







From: Warlord Of Mars

It was daylight when I was awakened by the sound of stealthy movement
near by.

As I opened my eyes Woola, too, moved and, coming up to his haunches,
stared through the intervening brush toward the road, each hair
upon his neck stiffly erect.

At first I could see nothing, but presently I caught a glimpse of
a bit of smooth and glossy green moving among the scarlet and purple
and yellow of the vegetation.

Motioning Woola to remain quietly where he was, I crept forward to
investigate, and from behind the bole of a great tree I saw a long
line of the hideous green warriors of the dead sea bottoms hiding
in the dense jungle beside the road.

As far as I could see, the silent line of destruction and death
stretched away from the city of Kaol. There could be but one
explanation. The green men were expecting an exodus of a body of
red troops from the nearest city gate, and they were lying there
in ambush to leap upon them.

I owed no fealty to the Jeddak of Kaol, but he was of the same race
of noble red men as my own princess, and I would not stand supinely
by and see his warriors butchered by the cruel and heartless demons
of the waste places of Barsoom.

Cautiously I retraced my steps to where I had left Woola, and warning
him to silence, signaled him to follow me. Making a considerable
detour to avoid the chance of falling into the hands of the green
men, I came at last to the great wall.

A hundred yards to my right was the gate from which the troops
were evidently expected to issue, but to reach it I must pass the
flank of the green warriors within easy sight of them, and, fearing
that my plan to warn the Kaolians might thus be thwarted, I decided
upon hastening toward the left, where another gate a mile away
would give me ingress to the city.

I knew that the word I brought would prove a splendid passport to
Kaol, and I must admit that my caution was due more to my ardent
desire to make my way into the city than to avoid a brush with the
green men. As much as I enjoy a fight, I cannot always indulge
myself, and just now I had more weighty matters to occupy my time
than spilling the blood of strange warriors.

Could I but win beyond the city's wall, there might be opportunity
in the confusion and excitement which were sure to follow my
announcement of an invading force of green warriors to find my way
within the palace of the jeddak, where I was sure Matai Shang and
his party would be quartered.

But scarcely had I taken a hundred steps in the direction of the
farther gate when the sound of marching troops, the clank of metal,
and the squealing of thoats just within the city apprised me of the
fact that the Kaolians were already moving toward the other gate.

There was no time to be lost. In another moment the gate would be
opened and the head of the column pass out upon the death-bordered
highway.

Turning back toward the fateful gate, I ran rapidly along the edge
of the clearing, taking the ground in the mighty leaps that had
first made me famous upon Barsoom. Thirty, fifty, a hundred feet
at a bound are nothing for the muscles of an athletic Earth man
upon Mars.

As I passed the flank of the waiting green men they saw my eyes
turned upon them, and in an instant, knowing that all secrecy was
at an end, those nearest me sprang to their feet in an effort to
cut me off before I could reach the gate.

At the same instant the mighty portal swung wide and the head of
the Kaolian column emerged. A dozen green warriors had succeeded
in reaching a point between me and the gate, but they had but little
idea who it was they had elected to detain.

I did not slacken my speed an iota as I dashed among them, and as
they fell before my blade I could not but recall the happy memory
of those other battles when Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, mightiest
of Martian green men, had stood shoulder to shoulder with me through
long, hot Martian days, as together we hewed down our enemies until
the pile of corpses about us rose higher than a tall man's head.

When several pressed me too closely, there before the carved gateway
of Kaol, I leaped above their heads, and fashioning my tactics
after those of the hideous plant men of Dor, struck down upon my
enemies' heads as I passed above them.

From the city the red warriors were rushing toward us, and from
the jungle the savage horde of green men were coming to meet them.
In a moment I was in the very center of as fierce and bloody a
battle as I had ever passed through.

These Kaolians are most noble fighters, nor are the green men of
the equator one whit less warlike than their cold, cruel cousins of
the temperate zone. There were many times when either side might
have withdrawn without dishonor and thus ended hostilities, but
from the mad abandon with which each invariably renewed hostilities
I soon came to believe that what need not have been more than a
trifling skirmish would end only with the complete extermination

of one force or the other.

With the joy of battle once roused within me, I took keen delight
in the fray, and that my fighting was noted by the Kaolians was
often evidenced by the shouts of applause directed at me.

If I sometimes seem to take too great pride in my fighting ability, it
must be remembered that fighting is my vocation. If your vocation
be shoeing horses, or painting pictures, and you can do one or
the other better than your fellows, then you are a fool if you are
not proud of your ability. And so I am very proud that upon two
planets no greater fighter has ever lived than John Carter, Prince
of Helium.

And I outdid myself that day to impress the fact upon the natives
of Kaol, for I wished to win a way into their hearts--and their
city. Nor was I to be disappointed in my desire.

All day we fought, until the road was red with blood and clogged
with corpses. Back and forth along the slippery highway the tide
of battle surged, but never once was the gateway to Kaol really in
danger.

There were breathing spells when I had a chance to converse with
the red men beside whom I fought, and once the jeddak, Kulan Tith
himself, laid his hand upon my shoulder and asked my name.

"I am Dotar Sojat," I replied, recalling a name given me by the
Tharks many years before, from the surnames of the first two of
their warriors I had killed, which is the custom among them.

"You are a mighty warrior, Dotar Sojat," he replied, "and when
this day is done I shall speak with you again in the great audience
chamber."

And then the fight surged upon us once more and we were separated,
but my heart's desire was attained, and it was with renewed vigor
and a joyous soul that I laid about me with my long-sword until
the last of the green men had had enough and had withdrawn toward
their distant sea bottom.

Not until the battle was over did I learn why the red troops had
sallied forth that day. It seemed that Kulan Tith was expecting
a visit from a mighty jeddak of the north--a powerful and the only
ally of the Kaolians, and it had been his wish to meet his guest
a full day's journey from Kaol.

But now the march of the welcoming host was delayed until the
following morning, when the troops again set out from Kaol. I had
not been bidden to the presence of Kulan Tith after the battle,
but he had sent an officer to find me and escort me to comfortable
quarters in that part of the palace set aside for the officers of
the royal guard.

There, with Woola, I had spent a comfortable night, and rose much
refreshed after the arduous labors of the past few days. Woola
had fought with me through the battle of the previous day, true to
the instincts and training of a Martian war dog, great numbers of
which are often to be found with the savage green hordes of the
dead sea bottoms.

Neither of us had come through the conflict unscathed, but the
marvelous, healing salves of Barsoom had sufficed, overnight, to
make us as good as new.

I breakfasted with a number of the Kaolian officers, whom I found
as courteous and delightful hosts as even the nobles of Helium, who
are renowned for their ease of manners and excellence of breeding.
The meal was scarcely concluded when a messenger arrived from Kulan
Tith summoning me before him.

As I entered the royal presence the jeddak rose, and stepping from
the dais which supported his magnificent throne, came forward to
meet me--a mark of distinction that is seldom accorded to other
than a visiting ruler.

"Kaor, Dotar Sojat!" he greeted me. "I have summoned you to receive
the grateful thanks of the people of Kaol, for had it not been for
your heroic bravery in daring fate to warn us of the ambuscade we
must surely have fallen into the well-laid trap. Tell me more of
yourself--from what country you come, and what errand brings you
to the court of Kulan Tith."

"I am from Hastor," I said, for in truth I had a small palace in
that southern city which lies within the far-flung dominions of
the Heliumetic nation.

"My presence in the land of Kaol is partly due to accident, my
flier being wrecked upon the southern fringe of your great forest.
It was while seeking entrance to the city of Kaol that I discovered
the green horde lying in wait for your troops."

If Kulan Tith wondered what business brought me in a flier to the
very edge of his domain he was good enough not to press me further
for an explanation, which I should indeed have had difficulty in
rendering.

During my audience with the jeddak another party entered the
chamber from behind me, so that I did not see their faces until
Kulan Tith stepped past me to greet them, commanding me to follow
and be presented.

As I turned toward them it was with difficulty that I controlled
my features, for there, listening to Kulan Tith's eulogistic words
concerning me, stood my arch-enemies, Matai Shang and Thurid.

"Holy Hekkador of the Holy Therns," the jeddak was saying, "shower
thy blessings upon Dotar Sojat, the valorous stranger from distant
Hastor, whose wondrous heroism and marvelous ferocity saved the
day for Kaol yesterday."

Matai Shang stepped forward and laid his hand upon my shoulder.
No slightest indication that he recognized me showed upon his
countenance--my disguise was evidently complete.

He spoke kindly to me and then presented me to Thurid. The black,
too, was evidently entirely deceived. Then Kulan Tith regaled
them, much to my amusement, with details of my achievements upon
the field of battle.

The thing that seemed to have impressed him most was my remarkable
agility, and time and again he described the wondrous way in which
I had leaped completely over an antagonist, cleaving his skull wide
open with my long-sword as I passed above him.

I thought that I saw Thurid's eyes widen a bit during the narrative,
and several times I surprised him gazing intently into my face
through narrowed lids. Was he commencing to suspect? And then
Kulan Tith told of the savage calot that fought beside me, and
after that I saw suspicion in the eyes of Matai Shang--or did I
but imagine it?

At the close of the audience Kulan Tith announced that he would
have me accompany him upon the way to meet his royal guest, and
as I departed with an officer who was to procure proper trappings
and a suitable mount for me, both Matai Shang and Thurid seemed most
sincere in professing their pleasure at having had an opportunity
to know me. It was with a sigh of relief that I quitted the chamber,
convinced that nothing more than a guilty conscience had prompted
my belief that either of my enemies suspected my true identity.

A half-hour later I rode out of the city gate with the column that
accompanied Kulan Tith upon the way to meet his friend and ally.
Though my eyes and ears had been wide open during my audience with
the jeddak and my various passages through the palace, I had seen
or heard nothing of Dejah Thoris or Thuvia of Ptarth. That they
must be somewhere within the great rambling edifice I was positive,
and I should have given much to have found a way to remain behind
during Kulan Tith's absence, that I might search for them.

Toward noon we came in touch with the head of the column we had
set out to meet.

It was a gorgeous train that accompanied the visiting jeddak, and
for miles it stretched along the wide, white road to Kaol. Mounted
troops, their trappings of jewel and metal-incrusted leather
glistening in the sunlight, formed the vanguard of the body, and
then came a thousand gorgeous chariots drawn by huge zitidars.

These low, commodious wagons moved two abreast, and on either side
of them marched solid ranks of mounted warriors, for in the chariots
were the women and children of the royal court. Upon the back
of each monster zitidar rode a Martian youth, and the whole scene
carried me back to my first days upon Barsoom, now twenty-two years
in the past, when I had first beheld the gorgeous spectacle of a
caravan of the green horde of Tharks.

Never before today had I seen zitidars in the service of red men.
These brutes are huge mastodonian animals that tower to an immense
height even beside the giant green men and their giant thoats;
but when compared to the relatively small red man and his breed
of thoats they assume Brobdingnagian proportions that are truly
appalling.

The beasts were hung with jeweled trappings and saddlepads of gay
silk, embroidered in fanciful designs with strings of diamonds,
pearls, rubies, emeralds, and the countless unnamed jewels of Mars,
while from each chariot rose a dozen standards from which streamers,
flags, and pennons fluttered in the breeze.

Just in front of the chariots the visiting jeddak rode alone upon
a pure white thoat--another unusual sight upon Barsoom--and after
them came interminable ranks of mounted spearmen, riflemen, and
swordsmen. It was indeed a most imposing sight.

Except for the clanking of accouterments and the occasional squeal
of an angry thoat or the low guttural of a zitidar, the passage of
the cavalcade was almost noiseless, for neither thoat nor zitidar
is a hoofed animal, and the broad tires of the chariots are of an
elastic composition, which gives forth no sound.

Now and then the gay laughter of a woman or the chatter of children
could be heard, for the red Martians are a social, pleasure-loving
people--in direct antithesis to the cold and morbid race of green
men.

The forms and ceremonials connected with the meeting of the two
jeddaks consumed an hour, and then we turned and retraced our way
toward the city of Kaol, which the head of the column reached just
before dark, though it must have been nearly morning before the
rear guard passed through the gateway.

Fortunately, I was well up toward the head of the column, and after
the great banquet, which I attended with the officers of the royal
guard, I was free to seek repose. There was so much activity and
bustle about the palace all during the night with the constant
arrival of the noble officers of the visiting jeddak's retinue
that I dared not attempt to prosecute a search for Dejah Thoris,
and so, as soon as it was seemly for me to do so, I returned to my
quarters.

As I passed along the corridors between the banquet hall and the
apartments that had been allotted me, I had a sudden feeling that
I was under surveillance, and, turning quickly in my tracks, caught
a glimpse of a figure which darted into an open doorway the instant
I wheeled about.

Though I ran quickly back to the spot where the shadower had
disappeared I could find no trace of him, yet in the brief glimpse
that I had caught I could have sworn that I had seen a white face
surmounted by a mass of yellow hair.

The incident gave me considerable food for speculation, since if I
were right in the conclusion induced by the cursory glimpse I had
had of the spy, then Matai Shang and Thurid must suspect my identity,
and if that were true not even the service I had rendered Kulan
Tith could save me from his religious fanaticism.

But never did vague conjecture or fruitless fears for the future
lie with sufficient weight upon my mind to keep me from my rest,
and so tonight I threw myself upon my sleeping silks and furs and
passed at once into dreamless slumber.

Calots are not permitted within the walls of the palace proper,
and so I had had to relegate poor Woola to quarters in the stables
where the royal thoats are kept. He had comfortable, even luxurious
apartments, but I would have given much to have had him with me;
and if he had been, the thing which happened that night would not
have come to pass.

I could not have slept over a quarter of an hour when I was suddenly
awakened by the passing of some cold and clammy thing across my
forehead. Instantly I sprang to my feet, clutching in the direction I
thought the presence lay. For an instant my hand touched against
human flesh, and then, as I lunged headforemost through the
darkness to seize my nocturnal visitor, my foot became entangled
in my sleeping silks and I fell sprawling to the floor.

By the time I had resumed my feet and found the button which
controlled the light my caller had disappeared. Careful search of
the room revealed nothing to explain either the identity or business
of the person who had thus secretly sought me in the dead of night.

That the purpose might be theft I could not believe, since thieves
are practically unknown upon Barsoom. Assassination, however, is
rampant, but even this could not have been the motive of my stealthy
friend, for he might easily have killed me had he desired.

I had about given up fruitless conjecture and was on the point
of returning to sleep when a dozen Kaolian guardsmen entered my
apartment. The officer in charge was one of my genial hosts of
the morning, but now upon his face was no sign of friendship.

"Kulan Tith commands your presence before him," he said. "Come!"





Next: New Allies

Previous: On The Kaolian Road



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