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At The Gale's Mercy







From: The Chessmen Of Mars

Tara of Helium did not return to her father's guests, but awaited
in her own apartments the word from Djor Kantos which she knew
must come, begging her to return to the gardens. She would then
refuse, haughtily. But no appeal came from Djor Kantos. At first
Tara of Helium was angry, then she was hurt, and always she was
puzzled. She could not understand. Occasionally she thought of
the Jed of Gathol and then she would stamp her foot, for she was
very angry indeed with Gahan. The presumption of the man! He had
insinuated that he read love for him in her eyes. Never had she
been so insulted and humiliated. Never had she so thoroughly
hated a man. Suddenly she turned toward Uthia.

"My flying leather!" she commanded.

"But the guests!" exclaimed the slave girl. "Your father, The
Warlord, will expect you to return."

"He will be disappointed," snapped Tara of Helium.

The slave hesitated. "He does not approve of your flying alone,"
she reminded her mistress.

The young princess sprang to her feet and seized the unhappy
slave by the shoulders, shaking her. "You are becoming
unbearable, Uthia," she cried. "Soon there will be no alternative
than to send you to the public slave-market. Then possibly you
will find a master to your liking."

Tears came to the soft eyes of the slave girl. "It is because I
love you, my princess," she said softly. Tara of Helium melted.
She took the slave in her arms and kissed her.

"I have the disposition of a thoat, Uthia," she said. "Forgive
me! I love you and there is nothing that I would not do for you
and nothing would I do to harm you. Again, as I have so often in
the past, I offer you your freedom."

"I do not wish my freedom if it will separate me from you, Tara
of Helium," replied Uthia. "I am happy here with you--I think
that I should die without you."

Again the girls kissed. "And you will not fly alone, then?"
questioned the slave.

Tara of Helium laughed and pinched her companion. "You persistent
little pest," she cried. "Of course I shall fly--does not Tara of
Helium always do that which pleases her?"

Uthia shook her head sorrowfully. "Alas! she does," she admitted.
"Iron is the Warlord of Barsoom to the influences of all but two.
In the hands of Dejah Thoris and Tara of Helium he is as potters'
clay."

"Then run and fetch my flying leather like the sweet slave you
are," directed the mistress.

* * * * *

Far out across the ochre sea-bottoms beyond the twin cities of
Helium raced the swift flier of Tara of Helium. Thrilling to the
speed and the buoyancy and the obedience of the little craft the
girl drove toward the northwest. Why she should choose that
direction she did not pause to consider. Perhaps because in that
direction lay the least known areas of Barsoom, and, ergo,
Romance, Mystery, and Adventure. In that direction also lay far
Gathol; but to that fact she gave no conscious thought.

She did, however, think occasionally of the jed of that distant
kingdom, but the reaction to these thoughts was scarcely
pleasurable. They still brought a flush of shame to her cheeks
and a surge of angry blood to her heart. She was very angry with
the Jed of Gathol, and though she should never see him again she
was quite sure that hate of him would remain fresh in her memory
forever. Mostly her thoughts revolved about another--Djor Kantos.
And when she thought of him she thought also of Olvia Marthis of
Hastor. Tara of Helium thought that she was jealous of the fair
Olvia and it made her very angry to think that. She was angry
with Djor Kantos and herself, but she was not angry at all with
Olvia Marthis, whom she loved, and so of course she was not
jealous really. The trouble was, that Tara of Helium had failed
for once to have her own way. Djor Kantos had not come running
like a willing slave when she had expected him, and, ah, here was
the nub of the whole thing! Gahan, Jed of Gathol, a stranger, had
been a witness to her humiliation. He had seen her unclaimed at
the beginning of a great function and he had had to come to her
rescue to save her, as he doubtless thought, from the inglorious
fate of a wall-flower. At the recurring thought, Tara of Helium
could feel her whole body burning with scarlet shame and then she
went suddenly white and cold with rage; whereupon she turned her
flier about so abruptly that she was all but torn from her
lashings upon the flat, narrow deck. She reached home just before
dark. The guests had departed. Quiet had descended upon the
palace. An hour later she joined her father and mother at the
evening meal.

"You deserted us, Tara of Helium," said John Carter. "It is not
what the guests of John Carter should expect."

"They did not come to see me," replied Tara of Helium. "I did not
ask them."

"They were no less your guests," replied her father.

The girl rose, and came and stood beside him and put her arms
about his neck.

"My proper old Virginian," she cried, rumpling his shock of black
hair.

"In Virginia you would be turned over your father's knee and
spanked," said the man, smiling.

She crept into his lap and kissed him. "You do not love me any
more," she announced. "No one loves me," but she could not
compose her features into a pout because bubbling laughter
insisted upon breaking through.

"The trouble is there are too many who love you," he said. "And
now there is another."

"Indeed!" she cried. "What do you mean?"

"Gahan of Gathol has asked permission to woo you."

The girl sat up very straight and tilted her chin in the air. "I
would not wed with a walking diamond-mine," she said. "I will not
have him."

"I told him as much," replied her father, "and that you were as
good as betrothed to another. He was very courteous about it; but
at the same time he gave me to understand that he was accustomed
to getting what he wanted and that he wanted you very much. I
suppose it will mean another war. Your mother's beauty kept
Helium at war for many years, and--well, Tara of Helium, if I
were a young man I should doubtless be willing to set all Barsoom
afire to win you, as I still would to keep your divine mother,"
and he smiled across the sorapus table and its golden service at
the undimmed beauty of Mars' most beautiful woman.

"Our little girl should not yet be troubled with such matters,"
said Dejah Thoris. "Remember, John Carter, that you are not
dealing with an Earth child, whose span of life would be more
than half completed before a daughter of Barsoom reached actual
maturity."

"But do not the daughters of Barsoom sometimes marry as early as
twenty?" he insisted.

"Yes, but they will still be desirable in the eyes of men after
forty generations of Earth folk have returned to dust--there is
no hurry, at least, upon Barsoom. We do not fade and decay here
as you tell me those of your planet do, though you, yourself,
belie your own words. When the time seems proper Tara of Helium
shall wed with Djor Kantos, and until then let us give the matter
no further thought."

"No," said the girl, "the subject irks me, and I shall not marry
Djor Kantos, or another--I do not intend to wed."

Her father and mother looked at her and smiled. "When Gahan of
Gathol returns he may carry you off," said the former.

"He has gone?" asked the girl.

"His flier departs for Gathol in the morning," John Carter
replied.

"I have seen the last of him then," remarked Tara of Helium with
a sigh of relief.

"He says not," returned John Carter.

The girl dismissed the subject with a shrug and the conversation
passed to other topics. A letter had arrived from Thuvia of
Ptarth, who was visiting at her father's court while Carthoris,
her mate, hunted in Okar. Word had been received that the Tharks
and Warhoons were again at war, or rather that there had been an
engagement, for war was their habitual state. In the memory of
man there had been no peace between these two savage green
hordes--only a single temporary truce. Two new battleships had
been launched at Hastor. A little band of holy therns was
attempting to revive the ancient and discredited religion of
Issus, who they claimed still lived in spirit and had
communicated with them. There were rumors of war from Dusar. A
scientist claimed to have discovered human life on the further
moon. A madman had attempted to destroy the atmosphere plant.
Seven people had been assassinated in Greater Helium during the
last ten zodes, (the equivalent of an Earth day).

Following the meal Dejah Thoris and The Warlord played at jetan,
the Barsoomian game of chess, which is played upon a board of a
hundred alternate black and orange squares. One player has twenty
black pieces, the other, twenty orange pieces. A brief
description of the game may interest those Earth readers who care
for chess, and will not be lost upon those who pursue this
narrative to its conclusion, since before they are done they will
find that a knowledge of jetan will add to the interest and the
thrills that are in store for them.

The men are placed upon the board as in chess upon the first two
rows next the players. In order from left to right on the line of
squares nearest the players, the jetan pieces are Warrior,
Padwar, Dwar, Flier, Chief, Princess, Flier, Dwar, Padwar,
Warrior. In the next line all are Panthans except the end pieces,
which are called Thoats, and represent mounted warriors.

The Panthans, which are represented as warriors with one feather,
may move one space in any direction except backward; the Thoats,
mounted warriors with three feathers, may move one straight and
one diagonal, and may jump intervening pieces; Warriors, foot
soldiers with two feathers, straight in any direction, or
diagonally, two spaces; Padwars, lieutenants wearing two
feathers, two diagonal in any direction, or combination; Dwars,
captains wearing three feathers, three spaces straight in any
direction, or combination; Fliers, represented by a propellor
with three blades, three spaces in any direction, or combination,
diagonally, and may jump intervening pieces; the Chief, indicated
by a diadem with ten jewels, three spaces in any direction,
straight, or diagonal; Princess, diadem with a single jewel, same
as Chief, and can jump intervening pieces.

The game is won when a player places any of his pieces on the
same square with his opponent's Princess, or when a Chief takes a
Chief. It is drawn when a Chief is taken by any opposing piece
other than the opposing Chief; or when both sides have been
reduced to three pieces, or less, of equal value, and the game is
not terminated in the following ten moves, five apiece. This is
but a general outline of the game, briefly stated.

It was this game that Dejah Thoris and John Carter were playing
when Tara of Helium bid them good night, retiring to her own
quarters and her sleeping silks and furs. "Until morning, my
beloved," she called back to them as she passed from the
apartment, nor little did she guess, nor her parents, that this
might indeed be the last time that they would ever set eyes upon
her.

The morning broke dull and gray. Ominous clouds billowed
restlessly and low. Beneath them torn fragments scudded toward
the northwest. From her window Tara of Helium looked out upon
this unusual scene. Dense clouds seldom overcast the Barsoomian
sky. At this hour of the day it was her custom to ride one of
those small thoats that are the saddle animals of the red
Martians, but the sight of the billowing clouds lured her to a
new adventure. Uthia still slept and the girl did not disturb
her. Instead, she dressed quietly and went to the hangar upon the
roof of the palace directly above her quarters where her own
swift flier was housed. She had never driven through the clouds.
It was an adventure that always she had longed to experience. The
wind was strong and it was with difficulty that she maneuvered
the craft from the hangar without accident, but once away it
raced swiftly out above the twin cities. The buffeting winds
caught and tossed it, and the girl laughed aloud in sheer joy of
the resultant thrills. She handled the little ship like a
veteran, though few veterans would have faced the menace of such
a storm in so light a craft. Swiftly she rose toward the clouds,
racing with the scudding streamers of the storm-swept fragments,
and a moment later she was swallowed by the dense masses
billowing above. Here was a new world, a world of chaos unpeopled
except for herself; but it was a cold, damp, lonely world and she
found it depressing after the novelty of it had been dissipated,
by an overpowering sense of the magnitude of the forces surging
about her. Suddenly she felt very lonely and very cold and very
little. Hurriedly, therefore, she rose until presently her craft
broke through into the glorious sunlight that transformed the
upper surface of the somber element into rolling masses of
burnished silver. Here it was still cold, but without the
dampness of the clouds, and in the eye of the brilliant sun her
spirits rose with the mounting needle of her altimeter. Gazing at
the clouds, now far beneath, the girl experienced the sensation
of hanging stationary in mid-heaven; but the whirring of her
propellor, the wind beating upon her, the high figures that rose
and fell beneath the glass of her speedometer, these told her
that her speed was terrific. It was then that she determined to
turn back.

The first attempt she made above the clouds, but it was
unsuccessful. To her surprise she discovered that she could not
even turn against the high wind, which rocked and buffeted the
frail craft. Then she dropped swiftly to the dark and wind-swept
zone between the hurtling clouds and the gloomy surface of the
shadowed ground. Here she tried again to force the nose of the
flier back toward Helium, but the tempest seized the frail thing
and hurled it remorselessly about, rolling it over and over and
tossing it as it were a cork in a cataract. At last the girl
succeeded in righting the flier, perilously close to the ground.
Never before had she been so close to death, yet she was not
terrified. Her coolness had saved her, that and the strength of
the deck lashings that held her. Traveling with the storm she was
safe, but where was it bearing her? She pictured the apprehension
of her father and mother when she failed to appear at the morning
meal. They would find her flier missing and they would guess that
somewhere in the path of the storm it lay a wrecked and tangled
mass upon her dead body, and then brave men would go out in
search of her, risking their lives; and that lives would be lost
in the search, she knew, for she realized now that never in her
life-time had such a tempest raged upon Barsoom.

She must turn back! She must reach Helium before her mad lust for
thrills had cost the sacrifice of a single courageous life! She
determined that greater safety and likelihood of success lay
above the clouds, and once again she rose through the chilling,
wind-tossed vapor. Her speed again was terrific, for the wind
seemed to have increased rather than to have lessened. She sought
gradually to check the swift flight of her craft, but though she
finally succeeded in reversing her motor the wind but carried her
on as it would. Then it was that Tara of Helium lost her temper.
Had her world not always bowed in acquiescence to her every wish?
What were these elements that they dared to thwart her? She would
demonstrate to them that the daughter of The Warlord was not to
be denied! They would learn that Tara of Helium might not be
ruled even by the forces of nature!

And so she drove her motor forward again and then with her firm,
white teeth set in grim determination she drove the steering
lever far down to port with the intention of forcing the nose of
her craft straight into the teeth of the wind, and the wind
seized the frail thing and toppled it over upon its back, and
twisted and turned it and hurled it over and over; the propellor
raced for an instant in an air pocket and then the tempest seized
it again and twisted it from its shaft, leaving the girl helpless
upon an unmanageable atom that rose and fell, and rolled and
tumbled--the sport of the elements she had defied. Tara of
Helium's first sensation was one of surprise--that she had failed
to have her own way. Then she commenced to feel concern--not for
her own safety but for the anxiety of her parents and the dangers
that the inevitable searchers must face. She reproached herself
for the thoughtless selfishness that had jeopardized the peace
and safety of others. She realized her own grave danger, too; but
she was still unterrified, as befitted the daughter of Dejah
Thoris and John Carter. She knew that her buoyancy tanks might
keep her afloat indefinitely, but she had neither food nor water,
and she was being borne toward the least-known area of Barsoom.
Perhaps it would be better to land immediately and await the
coming of the searchers, rather than to allow herself to be
carried still further from Helium, thus greatly reducing the
chances of early discovery; but when she dropped toward the
ground she discovered that the violence of the wind rendered an
attempt to land tantamount to destruction and she rose again,
rapidly.

Carried along a few hundred feet above the ground she was better
able to appreciate the Titanic proportions of the storm than when
she had flown in the comparative serenity of the zone above the
clouds, for now she could distinctly see the effect of the wind
upon the surface of Barsoom. The air was filled with dust and
flying bits of vegetation and when the storm carried her across
an irrigated area of farm land she saw great trees and stone
walls and buildings lifted high in air and scattered broadcast
over the devastated country; and then she was carried swiftly on
to other sights that forced in upon her consciousness a rapidly
growing conviction that after all Tara of Helium was a very small
and insignificant and helpless person. It was quite a shock to
her self-pride while it lasted, and toward evening she was ready
to believe that it was going to last forever. There had been no
abatement in the ferocity of the tempest, nor was there
indication of any. She could only guess at the distance she had
been carried for she could not believe in the correctness of the
high figures that had been piled upon the record of her odometer.
They seemed unbelievable and yet, had she known it, they were
quite true--in twelve hours she had flown and been carried by the
storm full seven thousand haads. Just before dark she was carried
over one of the deserted cities of ancient Mars. It was Torquas,
but she did not know it. Had she, she might readily have been
forgiven for abandoning the last vestige of hope, for to the
people of Helium Torquas seems as remote as do the South Sea
Islands to us. And still the tempest, its fury unabated, bore her
on.

All that night she hurtled through the dark beneath the clouds,
or rose to race through the moonlit void beneath the glory of
Barsoom's two satellites. She was cold and hungry and altogether
miserable, but her brave little spirit refused to admit that her
plight was hopeless even though reason proclaimed the truth. Her
reply to reason, sometime spoken aloud in sudden defiance,
recalled the Spartan stubbornness of her sire in the face of
certain annihilation: "I still live!"

That morning there had been an early visitor at the palace of The
Warlord. It was Gahan, Jed of Gathol. He had arrived shortly
after the absence of Tara of Helium had been noted, and in the
excitement he had remained unannounced until John Carter had
happened upon him in the great reception corridor of the palace
as The Warlord was hurrying out to arrange for the dispatch of
ships in search of his daughter.

Gahan read the concern upon the face of The Warlord. "Forgive me
if I intrude, John Carter," he said. "I but came to ask the
indulgence of another day since it would be fool-hardy to attempt
to navigate a ship in such a storm."

"Remain, Gahan, a welcome guest until you choose to leave us,"
replied The Warlord; "but you must forgive any seeming
inattention upon the part of Helium until my daughter is restored
to us."

"You daughter! Restored! What do you mean?" exclaimed the
Gatholian. "I do not understand."

"She is gone, together with her light flier. That is all we know.
We can only assume that she decided to fly before the morning
meal and was caught in the clutches of the tempest. You will
pardon me, Gahan, if I leave you abruptly--I am arranging to send
ships in search of her;" but Gahan, Jed of Gathol, was already
speeding in the direction of the palace gate. There he leaped
upon a waiting thoat and followed by two warriors in the metal of
Gathol, he dashed through the avenues of Helium toward the palace
that had been set aside for his entertainment.





Next: The Headless Humans

Previous: Tara In A Tantrum



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