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A Prisoner With Power







From: A Princess Of Mars

As I entered and saluted, Lorquas Ptomel signaled me to advance, and,
fixing his great, hideous eyes upon me, addressed me thus:

"You have been with us a few days, yet during that time you have by
your prowess won a high position among us. Be that as it may, you are
not one of us; you owe us no allegiance.

"Your position is a peculiar one," he continued; "you are a prisoner
and yet you give commands which must be obeyed; you are an alien and
yet you are a Tharkian chieftain; you are a midget and yet you can kill
a mighty warrior with one blow of your fist. And now you are reported
to have been plotting to escape with another prisoner of another race;
a prisoner who, from her own admission, half believes you are returned
from the valley of Dor. Either one of these accusations, if proved,
would be sufficient grounds for your execution, but we are a just
people and you shall have a trial on our return to Thark, if Tal Hajus
so commands.

"But," he continued, in his fierce guttural tones, "if you run off with
the red girl it is I who shall have to account to Tal Hajus; it is I
who shall have to face Tars Tarkas, and either demonstrate my right to
command, or the metal from my dead carcass will go to a better man, for
such is the custom of the Tharks.

"I have no quarrel with Tars Tarkas; together we rule supreme the
greatest of the lesser communities among the green men; we do not wish
to fight between ourselves; and so if you were dead, John Carter, I
should be glad. Under two conditions only, however, may you be killed
by us without orders from Tal Hajus; in personal combat in
self-defense, should you attack one of us, or were you apprehended in
an attempt to escape.

"As a matter of justice I must warn you that we only await one of these
two excuses for ridding ourselves of so great a responsibility. The
safe delivery of the red girl to Tal Hajus is of the greatest
importance. Not in a thousand years have the Tharks made such a
capture; she is the granddaughter of the greatest of the red jeddaks,
who is also our bitterest enemy. I have spoken. The red girl told us
that we were without the softer sentiments of humanity, but we are a
just and truthful race. You may go."

Turning, I left the audience chamber. So this was the beginning of
Sarkoja's persecution! I knew that none other could be responsible for
this report which had reached the ears of Lorquas Ptomel so quickly,
and now I recalled those portions of our conversation which had touched
upon escape and upon my origin.

Sarkoja was at this time Tars Tarkas' oldest and most trusted female.
As such she was a mighty power behind the throne, for no warrior had
the confidence of Lorquas Ptomel to such an extent as did his ablest
lieutenant, Tars Tarkas.

However, instead of putting thoughts of possible escape from my mind,
my audience with Lorquas Ptomel only served to center my every faculty
on this subject. Now, more than before, the absolute necessity for
escape, in so far as Dejah Thoris was concerned, was impressed upon me,
for I was convinced that some horrible fate awaited her at the
headquarters of Tal Hajus.

As described by Sola, this monster was the exaggerated personification
of all the ages of cruelty, ferocity, and brutality from which he had
descended. Cold, cunning, calculating; he was, also, in marked
contrast to most of his fellows, a slave to that brute passion which
the waning demands for procreation upon their dying planet has almost
stilled in the Martian breast.

The thought that the divine Dejah Thoris might fall into the clutches
of such an abysmal atavism started the cold sweat upon me. Far better
that we save friendly bullets for ourselves at the last moment, as did
those brave frontier women of my lost land, who took their own lives
rather than fall into the hands of the Indian braves.

As I wandered about the plaza lost in my gloomy forebodings Tars Tarkas
approached me on his way from the audience chamber. His demeanor
toward me was unchanged, and he greeted me as though we had not just
parted a few moments before.

"Where are your quarters, John Carter?" he asked.

"I have selected none," I replied. "It seemed best that I quartered
either by myself or among the other warriors, and I was awaiting an
opportunity to ask your advice. As you know," and I smiled, "I am not
yet familiar with all the customs of the Tharks."

"Come with me," he directed, and together we moved off across the plaza
to a building which I was glad to see adjoined that occupied by Sola
and her charges.

"My quarters are on the first floor of this building," he said, "and
the second floor also is fully occupied by warriors, but the third
floor and the floors above are vacant; you may take your choice of
these.

"I understand," he continued, "that you have given up your woman to the
red prisoner. Well, as you have said, your ways are not our ways, but
you can fight well enough to do about as you please, and so, if you
wish to give your woman to a captive, it is your own affair; but as a
chieftain you should have those to serve you, and in accordance with
our customs you may select any or all the females from the retinues of
the chieftains whose metal you now wear."

I thanked him, but assured him that I could get along very nicely
without assistance except in the matter of preparing food, and so he
promised to send women to me for this purpose and also for the care of
my arms and the manufacture of my ammunition, which he said would be
necessary. I suggested that they might also bring some of the sleeping
silks and furs which belonged to me as spoils of combat, for the nights
were cold and I had none of my own.

He promised to do so, and departed. Left alone, I ascended the winding
corridor to the upper floors in search of suitable quarters. The
beauties of the other buildings were repeated in this, and, as usual, I
was soon lost in a tour of investigation and discovery.

I finally chose a front room on the third floor, because this brought
me nearer to Dejah Thoris, whose apartment was on the second floor of
the adjoining building, and it flashed upon me that I could rig up some
means of communication whereby she might signal me in case she needed
either my services or my protection.

Adjoining my sleeping apartment were baths, dressing rooms, and other
sleeping and living apartments, in all some ten rooms on this floor.
The windows of the back rooms overlooked an enormous court, which
formed the center of the square made by the buildings which faced the
four contiguous streets, and which was now given over to the quartering
of the various animals belonging to the warriors occupying the
adjoining buildings.

While the court was entirely overgrown with the yellow, moss-like
vegetation which blankets practically the entire surface of Mars, yet
numerous fountains, statuary, benches, and pergola-like contraptions
bore witness to the beauty which the court must have presented in
bygone times, when graced by the fair-haired, laughing people whom
stern and unalterable cosmic laws had driven not only from their homes,
but from all except the vague legends of their descendants.

One could easily picture the gorgeous foliage of the luxuriant Martian
vegetation which once filled this scene with life and color; the
graceful figures of the beautiful women, the straight and handsome men;
the happy frolicking children--all sunlight, happiness and peace. It
was difficult to realize that they had gone; down through ages of
darkness, cruelty, and ignorance, until their hereditary instincts of
culture and humanitarianism had risen ascendant once more in the final
composite race which now is dominant upon Mars.

My thoughts were cut short by the advent of several young females
bearing loads of weapons, silks, furs, jewels, cooking utensils, and
casks of food and drink, including considerable loot from the air
craft. All this, it seemed, had been the property of the two
chieftains I had slain, and now, by the customs of the Tharks, it had
become mine. At my direction they placed the stuff in one of the back
rooms, and then departed, only to return with a second load, which they
advised me constituted the balance of my goods. On the second trip
they were accompanied by ten or fifteen other women and youths, who, it
seemed, formed the retinues of the two chieftains.

They were not their families, nor their wives, nor their servants; the
relationship was peculiar, and so unlike anything known to us that it
is most difficult to describe. All property among the green Martians
is owned in common by the community, except the personal weapons,
ornaments and sleeping silks and furs of the individuals. These alone
can one claim undisputed right to, nor may he accumulate more of these
than are required for his actual needs. The surplus he holds merely as
custodian, and it is passed on to the younger members of the community
as necessity demands.

The women and children of a man's retinue may be likened to a military
unit for which he is responsible in various ways, as in matters of
instruction, discipline, sustenance, and the exigencies of their
continual roamings and their unending strife with other communities and
with the red Martians. His women are in no sense wives. The green
Martians use no word corresponding in meaning with this earthly word.
Their mating is a matter of community interest solely, and is directed
without reference to natural selection. The council of chieftains of
each community control the matter as surely as the owner of a Kentucky
racing stud directs the scientific breeding of his stock for the
improvement of the whole.

In theory it may sound well, as is often the case with theories, but
the results of ages of this unnatural practice, coupled with the
community interest in the offspring being held paramount to that of the
mother, is shown in the cold, cruel creatures, and their gloomy,
loveless, mirthless existence.

It is true that the green Martians are absolutely virtuous, both men
and women, with the exception of such degenerates as Tal Hajus; but
better far a finer balance of human characteristics even at the expense
of a slight and occasional loss of chastity.

Finding that I must assume responsibility for these creatures, whether
I would or not, I made the best of it and directed them to find
quarters on the upper floors, leaving the third floor to me. One of
the girls I charged with the duties of my simple cuisine, and directed
the others to take up the various activities which had formerly
constituted their vocations. Thereafter I saw little of them, nor did
I care to.





Next: Love-making On Mars

Previous: With Dejah Thoris



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