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At The Moment Of Marriage







From: The Chessmen Of Mars

The silence of the tomb lay heavy about him as O-Tar, Jeddak of
Manator, opened his eyes in the chamber of O-Mai. Recollection of
the frightful apparition that had confronted him swept to his
consciousness. He listened, but heard naught. Within the range of
his vision there was nothing apparent that might cause alarm.
Slowly he lifted his head and looked about. Upon the floor beside
the couch lay the thing that had at first attracted his attention
and his eyes closed in terror as he recognized it for what it
was; but it moved not, nor spoke. O-Tar opened his eyes again and
rose to his feet. He was trembling in every limb. There was
nothing on the dais from which he had seen the thing arise.

O-Tar backed slowly from the room. At last he gained the outer
corridor. It was empty. He did not know that it had emptied
rapidly as the loud scream with which his own had mingled had
broken upon the startled ears of the warriors who had been sent
to spy upon him. He looked at the timepiece set in a massive
bracelet upon his left forearm. The ninth zode was nearly half
gone. O-Tar had lain for an hour unconscious. He had spent an
hour in the chamber of O-Mai and he was not dead! He had looked
upon the face of his predecessor and was still sane! He shook
himself and smiled. Rapidly he subdued his rebelliously shaking
nerves, so that by the time he reached the tenanted portion of
the palace he had gained control of himself. He walked with chin
high and something of a swagger. To the banquet hall he went,
knowing that his chiefs awaited him there and as he entered they
arose and upon the faces of many were incredulity and amaze, for
they had not thought to see O-Tar the jeddak again after what the
spies had told them of the horrid sounds issuing from the chamber
of O-Mai. Thankful was O-Tar that he had gone alone to that
chamber of fright, for now no one could deny the tale that he
should tell.

E-Thas rushed forward to greet him, for E-Thas had seen black
looks directed toward him as the tals slipped by and his
benefactor failed to return.

"O brave and glorious jeddak!" cried the major-domo. "We rejoice
at your safe return and beg of you the story of your adventure."

"It was naught," exclaimed O-Tar. "I searched the chambers
carefully and waited in hiding for the return of the slave,
Turan, if he were temporarily away; but he came not. He is not
there and I doubt if he ever goes there. Few men would choose to
remain long in such a dismal place."

"You were not attacked?" asked E-Thas. "You heard no screams, nor
moans?"

"I heard hideous noises and saw phantom figures; but they fled
before me so that never could I lay hold of one, and I looked
upon the face of O-Mai and I am not mad. I even rested in the
chamber beside his corpse."

In a far corner of the room a bent and wrinkled old man hid a
smile behind a golden goblet of strong brew.

"Come! Let us drink!" cried O-Tar and reached for the dagger, the
pommel of which he was accustomed to use to strike the gong which
summoned slaves, but the dagger was not in its scabbard. O-Tar
was puzzled. He knew that it had been there just before he
entered the chamber of O-Mai, for he had carefully felt of all
his weapons to make sure that none was missing. He seized instead
a table utensil and struck the gong, and when the slaves came
bade them bring the strongest brew for O-Tar and his chiefs.
Before the dawn broke many were the expressions of admiration
bellowed from drunken lips--admiration for the courage of their
jeddak; but some there were who still looked glum.

* * * * *

Came at last the day that O-Tar would take the Princess Tara of
Helium to wife. For hours slaves prepared the unwilling bride.
Seven perfumed baths occupied three long and weary hours, then
her whole body was anointed with the oil of pimalia blossoms and
massaged by the deft fingers of a slave from distant Dusar. Her
harness, all new and wrought for the occasion was of the white
hide of the great white apes of Barsoom, hung heavily with
platinum and diamonds--fairly encrusted with them. The glossy
mass of her jet hair had been built into a coiffure of stately
and becoming grandeur, into which diamond-headed pins were stuck
until the whole scintillated as the stars in heaven upon a
moonless night.

But it was a sullen and defiant bride that they led from the high
tower toward the throne room of O-Tar. The corridors were filled
with slaves and warriors, and the women of the palace and the
city who had been commanded to attend the ceremony. All the power
and pride, wealth and beauty of Manator were there.

Slowly Tara, surrounded by a heavy guard of honor, moved along
the marble corridors filled with people. At the entrance to The
Hall of Chiefs E-Thas, the major-domo, received her. The Hall was
empty except for its ranks of dead chieftains upon their dead
mounts. Through this long chamber E-Thas escorted her to the
throne room which also was empty, the marriage ceremony in
Manator differing from that of other countries of Barsoom. Here
the bride would await the groom at the foot of the steps leading
to the throne. The guests followed her in and took their places,
leaving the central aisle from The Hall of Chiefs to the throne
clear, for up this O-Tar would approach his bride alone after a
short solitary communion with the dead behind closed doors in The
Hall of Chiefs. It was the custom.

The guests had all filed through The Hall of Chiefs; the doors at
both ends had been closed. Presently those at the lower end of
the hall opened and O-Tar entered. His black harness was
ornamented with rubies and gold; his face was covered by a
grotesque mask of the precious metal in which two enormous rubies
were set for eyes, though below them were narrow slits through
which the wearer could see. His crown was a fillet supporting
carved feathers of the same metal as the mask. To the least
detail his regalia was that demanded of a royal bridegroom by the
customs of Manator, and now in accordance with that same custom
he came alone to The Hall of Chiefs to receive the blessings and
the council of the great ones of Manator who had preceded him.

As the doors at the lower end of the Hall closed behind him O-Tar
the Jeddak stood alone with the great dead. By the dictates of
ages no mortal eye might look upon the scene enacted within that
sacred chamber. As the mighty of Manator respected the traditions
of Manator, let us, too, respect those traditions of a proud and
sensitive people. Of what concern to us the happenings in that
solemn chamber of the dead?

Five minutes passed. The bride stood silently at the foot of the
throne. The guests spoke together in low whispers until the room
was filled with the hum of many voices. At length the doors
leading into The Hall of Chiefs swung open, and the resplendent
bridegroom stood framed for a moment in the massive opening. A
hush fell upon the wedding guests. With measured and impressive
step the groom approached the bride. Tara felt the muscles of her
heart contract with the apprehension that had been growing upon
her as the coils of Fate settled more closely about her and no
sign came from Turan. Where was he? What, indeed, could he
accomplish now to save her? Surrounded by the power of O-Tar with
never a friend among them, her position seemed at last without
vestige of hope.

"I still live!" she whispered inwardly in a last brave attempt to
combat the terrible hopelessness that was overwhelming her, but
her fingers stole for reassurance to the slim blade that she had
managed to transfer, undetected, from her old harness to the new.
And now the groom was at her side and taking her hand was leading
her up the steps to the throne, before which they halted and
stood facing the gathering below. Came then, from the back of the
room a procession headed by the high dignitary whose office it
was to make these two man and wife, and directly behind him a
richly-clad youth bearing a silken pillow on which lay the golden
handcuffs connected by a short length of chain-of-gold with which
the ceremony would be concluded when the dignitary clasped a
handcuff about the wrist of each symbolizing their indissoluble
union in the holy bonds of wedlock.

Would Turan's promised succor come too late? Tara listened to the
long, monotonous intonation of the wedding service. She heard the
virtues of O-Tar extolled and the beauties of the bride. The
moment was approaching and still no sign of Turan. But what could
he accomplish should he succeed in reaching the throne room,
other than to die with her? There could be no hope of rescue.

The dignitary lifted the golden handcuffs from the pillow upon
which they reposed. He blessed them and reached for Tara's wrist.
The time had come! The thing could go no further, for alive or
dead, by all the laws of Barsoom she would be the wife of O-Tar
of Manator the instant the two were locked together. Even should
rescue come then or later she could never dissolve those bonds
and Turan would be lost to her as surely as though death
separated them.

Her hand stole toward the hidden blade, but instantly the hand of
the groom shot out and seized her wrist. He had guessed her
intention. Through the slits in the grotesque mask she could see
his eyes upon her and she guessed the sardonic smile that the
mask hid. For a tense moment the two stood thus. The people below
them kept breathless silence for the play before the throne had
not passed un-noticed.

Dramatic as was the moment it was suddenly rendered trebly so by
the noisy opening of the doors leading to The Hall of Chiefs. All
eyes turned in the direction of the interruption to see another
figure framed in the massive opening--a half-clad figure buckling
the half-adjusted harness hurriedly in place--the figure of
O-Tar, Jeddak of Manator.

"Stop!" he screamed, springing forward along the aisle toward the
throne. "Seize the impostor!"

All eyes shot to the figure of the groom before the throne. They
saw him raise his hand and snatch off the golden mask, and Tara
of Helium in wide-eyed incredulity looked up into the face of
Turan the panthan.

"Turan the slave," they cried then. "Death to him! Death to him!"

"Wait!" shouted Turan, drawing his sword, as a dozen warriors
leaped forward.

"Wait!" screamed another voice, old and cracked, as I-Gos, the
ancient taxidermist, sprang from among the guests and reached the
throne steps ahead of the foremost warriors.

At sight of the old man the warriors paused, for age is held in
great veneration among the peoples of Barsoom, as is true,
perhaps, of all peoples whose religion is based to any extent
upon ancestor worship. But O-Tar gave no heed to him, leaping
instead swiftly toward the throne. "Stop, coward!" cried I-Gos.

The people looked at the little old man in amazement. "Men of
Manator," he cackled in his thin, shrill voice, "wouldst be ruled
by a coward and a liar?"

"Down with him!" shouted O-Tar.

"Not until I have spoken," retorted I-Gos. "It is my right. If I
fail my life is forfeit--that you all know and I know. I demand
therefore to be heard. It is my right!"

"It is his right," echoed the voices of a score of warriors in
various parts of the chamber.

"That O-Tar is a coward and a liar I can prove," continued I-Gos.
"He said that he faced bravely the horrors of the chamber of
O-Mai and saw nothing of the slave Turan. I was there, hiding
behind the hangings, and I saw all that transpired. Turan had
been hiding in the chamber and was even then lying upon the couch
of O-Mai when O-Tar, trembling with fear, entered the room.
Turan, disturbed, arose to a sitting position at the same time
voicing a piercing shriek. O-Tar screamed and swooned."

"It is a lie!" cried O-Tar.

"It is not a lie and I can prove it," retorted I-Gos. "Didst
notice the night that he returned from the chambers of O-Mai and
was boasting of his exploit, that when he would summon slaves to
bring wine he reached for his dagger to strike the gong with its
pommel as is always his custom? Didst note that, any of you? And
that he had no dagger? O-Tar, where is the dagger that you
carried into the chamber of O-Mai? You do not know; but I know.
While you lay in the swoon of terror I took it from your harness
and hid it among the sleeping silks upon the couch of O-Mai.
There it is even now, and if any doubt it let them go thither and
there they will find it and know the cowardice of their jeddak."

"But what of this impostor?" demanded one. "Shall he stand with
impunity upon the throne of Manator whilst we squabble about our
ruler?"

"It is through his bravery that you have learned the cowardice of
O-Tar," replied I-Gos, "and through him you will be given a
greater jeddak."

"We will choose our own jeddak. Seize and slay the slave!" There
were cries of approval from all parts of the room. Gahan was
listening intently, as though for some hoped-for sound. He saw
the warriors approaching the dais, where he now stood with drawn
sword and with one arm about Tara of Helium. He wondered if his
plans had miscarried after all. If they had it would mean death
for him, and he knew that Tara would take her life if he fell.
Had he, then, served her so futilely after all his efforts?

Several warriors were urging the necessity for sending at once to
the chamber of O-Mai to search for the dagger that would prove,
if found, the cowardice of O-Tar. At last three consented to go.
"You need not fear," I-Gos assured them. "There is naught there
to harm you. I have been there often of late and Turan the slave
has slept there for these many nights. The screams and moans that
frightened you and O-Tar were voiced by Turan to drive you away
from his hiding place." Shamefacedly the three left the apartment
to search for O-Tar's dagger.

And now the others turned their attention once more to Gahan.
They approached the throne with bared swords, but they came
slowly for they had seen this slave upon the Field of Jetan and
they knew the prowess of his arm. They had reached the foot of
the steps when from far above there sounded a deep boom, and
another, and another, and Turan smiled and breathed a sigh of
relief. Perhaps, after all, it had not come too late. The
warriors stopped and listened as did the others in the chamber.
Now there broke upon their ears a loud rattle of musketry and it
all came from above as though men were fighting upon the roofs of
the palace.

"What is it?" they demanded, one of the other.

"A great storm has broken over Manator," said one.

"Mind not the storm until you have slain the creature who dares
stand upon the throne of your jeddak," demanded O-Tar. "Seize
him!"

Even as he ceased speaking the arras behind the throne parted and
a warrior stepped forth upon the dais. An exclamation of surprise
and dismay broke from the lips of the warriors of O-Tar.
"U-Thor!" they cried. "What treason is this?"

"It is no treason," said U-Thor in his deep voice. "I bring you a
new jeddak for all of Manator. No lying poltroon, but a
courageous man whom you all love."

He stepped aside then and another emerged from the corridor
hidden by the arras. It was A-Kor, and at sight of him there rose
exclamations of surprise, of pleasure, and of anger, as the
various factions recognized the coup d'etat that had been
arranged so cunningly. Behind A-Kor came other warriors until the
dais was crowded with them--all men of Manator from the city of
Manatos.

O-Tar was exhorting his warriors to attack, when a bloody and
disheveled padwar burst into the chamber through a side entrance.
"The city has fallen!" he cried aloud. "The hordes of Manatos
pour through The Gate of Enemies. The slaves from Gathol have
arisen and destroyed the palace guards. Great ships are landing
warriors upon the palace roof and in the Fields of Jetan. The men
of Helium and Gathol are marching through Manator. They cry aloud
for the Princess of Helium and swear to leave Manator a blazing
funeral pyre consuming the bodies of all our people. The skies
are black with ships. They come in great processions from the
east and from the south."

And then once more the doors from The Hall of Chiefs swung wide
and the men of Manator turned to see another figure standing upon
the threshold--a mighty figure of a man with white skin, and
black hair, and gray eyes that glittered now like points of steel
and behind him The Hall of Chiefs was filled with fighting men
wearing the harness of far countries. Tara of Helium saw him and
her heart leaped in exultation, for it was John Carter, Warlord
of Barsoom, come at the head of a victorious host to the rescue
of his daughter, and at his side was Djor Kantos to whom she had
been betrothed.

The Warlord eyed the assemblage for a moment before he spoke.
"Lay down your arms, men of Manator," he said. "I see my daughter
and that she lives, and if no harm has befallen her no blood need
be shed. Your city is filled with the fighting men of U-Thor, and
those from Gathol and from Helium. The palace is in the hands of
the slaves from Gathol, beside a thousand of my own warriors who
fill the halls and chambers surrounding this room. The fate of
your jeddak lies in your own hands. I have no wish to interfere.
I come only for my daughter and to free the slaves from Gathol. I
have spoken!" and without waiting for a reply and as though the
room had been filled with his own people rather than a hostile
band he strode up the broad main aisle toward Tara of Helium.

The chiefs of Manator were stunned. They looked to O-Tar; but he
could only gaze helplessly about him as the enemy entered from
The Hall of Chiefs and circled the throne room until they had
surrounded the entire company. And then a dwar of the army of
Helium entered.

"We have captured three chiefs," he reported to The Warlord, "who
beg that they be permitted to enter the throne room and report to
their fellows some matter which they say will decide the fate of
Manator."

"Fetch them," ordered The Warlord.

They came, heavily guarded, to the foot of the steps leading to
the throne and there they stopped and the leader turned toward
the others of Manator and raising high his right hand displayed a
jeweled dagger. "We found it," he said, "even where I-Gos said
that we would find it," and he looked menacingly upon O-Tar.

"A-Kor, jeddak of Manator!" cried a voice, and the cry was taken
up by a hundred hoarse-throated warriors.

"There can be but one jeddak in Manator," said the chief who held
the dagger; his eyes still fixed upon the hapless O-Tar he
crossed to where the latter stood and holding the dagger upon an
outstretched palm proffered it to the discredited ruler. "There
can be but one jeddak in Manator," he repeated meaningly.

O-Tar took the proffered blade and drawing himself to his full
height plunged it to the guard into his breast, in that single
act redeeming himself in the esteem of his people and winning an
eternal place in The Hall of Chiefs.

As he fell all was silence in the great room, to be broken
presently by the voice of U-Thor. "O-Tar is dead!" he cried. "Let
A-Kor rule until the chiefs of all Manator may be summoned to
choose a new jeddak. What is your answer?"

"Let A-Kor rule! A-Kor, Jeddak of Manator!" The cries filled the
room and there was no dissenting voice.

A-Kor raised his sword for silence. "It is the will of A-Kor," he
said, "and that of the Great Jed of Manatos, and the commander of
the fleet from Gathol, and of the illustrious John Carter,
Warlord of Barsoom, that peace lie upon the city of Manator and
so I decree that the men of Manator go forth and welcome the
fighting men of these our allies as guests and friends and show
them the wonders of our ancient city and the hospitality of
Manator. I have spoken." And U-Thor and John Carter dismissed
their warriors and bade them accept the hospitality of Manator.
As the room emptied Djor Kantos reached the side of Tara of
Helium. The girl's happiness at rescue had been blighted by sight
of this man whom her virtuous heart told her she had wronged. She
dreaded the ordeal that lay before her and the dishonor that she
must admit before she could hope to be freed from the
understanding that had for long existed between them. And now
Djor Kantos approached and kneeling raised her fingers to his
lips.

"Beautiful daughter of Helium," he said, "how may I tell you the
thing that I must tell you--of the dishonor that I have all
unwittingly done you? I can but throw myself upon your generosity
for forgiveness; but if you demand it I can receive the dagger as
honorably as did O-Tar."

"What do you mean?" asked Tara of Helium. "What are you talking
about--why speak thus in riddles to one whose heart is already
breaking?"

Her heart already breaking! The outlook was anything but
promising, and the young padwar wished that he had died before
ever he had had to speak the words he now must speak.

"Tara of Helium," he continued, "we all thought you dead. For a
long year have you been gone from Helium. I mourned you truly and
then, less than a moon since, I wed with Olvia Marthis." He
stopped and looked at her with eyes that might have said: "Now,
strike me dead!"

"Oh, foolish man!" cried Tara. "Nothing you could have done could
have pleased me more. Djor Kantos, I could kiss you!"

"I do not think that Olvia Marthis would mind," he said, his face
now wreathed with smiles. As they spoke a body of men had entered
the throne room and approached the dais. They were tall men
trapped in plain harness, absolutely without ornamentation. Just
as their leader reached the dais Tara had turned to Gahan,
motioning him to join them.

"Djor Kantos," she said, "I bring you Turan the panthan, whose
loyalty and bravery have won my love."

John Carter and the leader of the new come warriors, who were
standing near, looked quickly at the little group. The former
smiled an inscrutable smile, the latter addressed the Princess of
Helium. "'Turan the panthan!'" he cried. "Know you not, fair
daughter of Helium, that this man you call panthan is Gahan, Jed
of Gathol?"

For just a moment Tara of Helium looked her surprise; and then
she shrugged her beautiful shoulders as she turned her head to
cast her eyes over one of them at Gahan of Gathol.

"Jed or panthan," she said; "what difference does it make what
one's slave has been?" and she laughed roguishly into the smiling
face of her lover.

* * * * *

His story finished, John Carter rose from the chair opposite me,
stretching his giant frame like some great forest-bred lion.

"You must go?" I cried, for I hated to see him leave and it
seemed that he had been with me but a moment.

"The sky is already red beyond those beautiful hills of yours,"
he replied, "and it will soon be day."

"Just one question before you go," I begged.

"Well?" he assented, good-naturedly.

"How was Gahan able to enter the throne room garbed in O-Tar's
trappings?" I asked.

"It was simple--for Gahan of Gathol," replied The Warlord. "With
the assistance of I-Gos he crept into The Hall of Chiefs before
the ceremony, while the throne room and Hall of Chiefs were
vacated to receive the bride. He came from the pits through the
corridor that opened behind the arras at the rear of the throne,
and passing into The Hall of Chiefs took his place upon the back
of a riderless thoat, whose warrior was in I-Gos' repair room.
When O-Tar entered and came near him Gahan fell upon him and
struck him with the butt of a heavy spear. He thought that he had
killed him and was surprised when O-Tar appeared to denounce
him."

"And Ghek? What became of Ghek?" I insisted.

"After leading Val Dor and Floran to Tara's disabled flier which
they repaired, he accompanied them to Gathol from where a message
was sent to me in Helium. He then led a large party including
A-Kor and U-Thor from the roof, where our ships landed them, down
a spiral runway into the palace and guided them to the throne
room. We took him back to Helium with us, where he still lives,
with his single rykor which we found all but starved to death in
the pits of Manator. But come! No more questions now."

I accompanied him to the east arcade where the red dawn was
glowing beyond the arches.

"Good-bye!" he said.

"I can scarce believe that it is really you," I exclaimed.
"Tomorrow I will be sure that I have dreamed all this."

He laughed and drawing his sword scratched a rude cross upon the
concrete of one of the arches.

"If you are in doubt tomorrow," he said, "come and see if you
dreamed this."

A moment later he was gone.




JETAN, OR MARTIAN CHESS

For those who care for such things, and would like to try the
game, I give the rules of Jetan as they were given me by John
Carter. By writing the names and moves of the various pieces on
bits of paper and pasting them on ordinary checkermen the game
may be played quite as well as with the ornate pieces used upon
Mars.

THE BOARD: Square board consisting of one hundred alternate black
and orange squares.

THE PIECES: In order, as they stand upon the board in the first
row, from left to right of each player.

Warrior: 2 feathers; 2 spaces straight in any direction or
combination.

Padwar: 2 feathers; 2 spaces diagonal in any direction or
combination.

Dwar: 3 feathers; 3 spaces straight in any direction or
combination.

Flier: 3 bladed propellor; 3 spaces diagonal in any direction or
combination; and may jump intervening pieces.

Chief: Diadem with ten jewels; 3 spaces in any direction;
straight or diagonal or combination.

Princess: Diadem with one jewel; same as Chief, except may jump
intervening pieces.

Flier: See above.

Dwar: See above.

Padwar: See above.

Warrior: See above.

And in the second row from left to right:

Thoat: Mounted warrior 2 feathers; 2 spaces, one straight and one
diagonal in any direction.

Panthans: (8 of them): 1 feather; 1 space, forward, side, or
diagonal, but not backward.

Thoat: See above.

The game is played with twenty black pieces by one player and
twenty orange by his opponent, and is presumed to have originally
represented a battle between the Black race of the south and the
Yellow race of the north. On Mars the board is usually arranged
so that the Black pieces are played from the south and the Orange
from the north.

The game is won when any piece is placed on same square with
opponent's Princess, or a Chief takes a Chief.

The game is drawn when either Chief is taken by a piece other
than the opposing Chief, or when both sides are reduced to three
pieces, or less, of equal value and the game is not won in the
ensuing ten moves, five apiece.

The Princess may not move onto a threatened square, nor may she
take an opposing piece. She is entitled to one ten-space move at
any time during the game. This move is called the escape.

Two pieces may not occupy the same square except in the final
move of a game where the Princess is taken.

When a player, moving properly and in order, places one of his
pieces upon a square occupied by an opponent piece, the opponent
piece is considered to have been killed and is removed from the
game.

The moves explained. Straight moves mean due north, south, east,
or west; diagonal moves mean northeast, southeast, southwest, or
northwest. A Dwar might move straight north three spaces, or
north one space and east two spaces, or any similar combination
of straight moves, so long as he did not cross the same square
twice in a single move. This example explains combination moves.

The first move may be decided in any way that is agreeable to
both players; after the first game the winner of the preceding
game moves first if he chooses, or may instruct his opponent to
make the first move.

Gambling: The Martians gamble at Jetan in several ways. Of course
the outcome of the game indicates to whom the main stake belongs;
but they also put a price upon the head of each piece, according
to its value, and for each piece that a player loses he pays its
value to his opponent.





Next: The Sword And The Atopen

Previous: A Risk For Love



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