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From: The Chessmen Of Mars

Ghek, in his happier days third foreman of the fields of Luud,
sat nursing his anger and his humiliation. Recently something had
awakened within him the existence of which he had never before
even dreamed. Had the influence of the strange captive woman
aught to do with this unrest and dissatisfaction? He did not
know. He missed the soothing influence of the noise she called
singing. Could it be that there were other things more desirable
than cold logic and undefiled brain power? Was well balanced
imperfection more to be sought after then, than the high
development of a single characteristic? He thought of the great,
ultimate brain toward which all kaldanes were striving. It would
be deaf, and dumb, and blind. A thousand beautiful strangers
might sing and dance about it, but it could derive no pleasure
from the singing or the dancing since it would possess no
perceptive faculties. Already had the kaldanes shut themselves
off from most of the gratifications of the senses. Ghek wondered
if much was to be gained by denying themselves still further, and
with the thought came a question as to the whole fabric of their
theory. After all perhaps the girl was right; what purpose could
a great brain serve sealed in the bowels of the earth?

And he, Ghek, was to die for this theory. Luud had decreed it.
The injustice of it overwhelmed him with rage. But he was
helpless. There was no escape. Beyond the enclosure the banths
awaited him; within, his own kind, equally as merciless and
ferocious. Among them there was no such thing as love, or
loyalty, or friendship--they were just brains. He might kill
Luud; but what would that profit him? Another king would be
loosed from his sealed chamber and Ghek would be killed. He did
not know it but he would not even have the poor satisfaction of
satisfied revenge, since he was not capable of feeling so
abstruse a sentiment.

Ghek, mounted upon his rykor, paced the floor of the tower
chamber in which he had been ordered to remain. Ordinarily he
would have accepted the sentence of Luud with perfect equanimity,
since it was but the logical result of reason; but now it seemed
different. The stranger woman had bewitched him. Life appeared a
pleasant thing--there were great possibilities in it. The dream
of the ultimate brain had receded into a tenuous haze far in the
background of his thoughts.

At that moment there appeared in the doorway of the chamber a red
warrior with naked sword. He was a male counterpart of the
prisoner whose sweet voice had undermined the cold, calculating
reason of the kaldane.

"Silence!" admonished the newcomer, his straight brows gathered
in an ominous frown and the point of his longsword playing
menacingly before the eyes of the kaldane. "I seek the woman,
Tara of Helium. Where is she? If you value your life speak
quickly and speak the truth."

If he valued his life! It was a truth that Ghek had but just
learned. He thought quickly. After all, a great brain is not
without its uses. Perhaps here lay escape from the sentence of
Luud.

"You are of her kind?" he asked. "You come to rescue her?"

"Yes."

"Listen, then. I have befriended her, and because of this I am to
die. If I help you to liberate her, will you take me with you?"

Gahan of Gathol eyed the weird creature from crown to foot--the
perfect body, the grotesque head, the expressionless face. Among
such as these had the beautiful daughter of Helium been held
captive for days and weeks.

"If she lives and is unharmed," he said, "I will take you with
us."

"When they took her from me she was alive and unharmed," replied
Ghek. "I cannot say what has befallen her since. Luud sent for
her."

"Who is Luud? Where is he? Lead me to him." Gahan spoke quickly
in tones vibrant with authority.

"Come, then," said Ghek, leading the way from the apartment and
down a stairway toward the underground burrows of the kaldanes.
"Luud is my king. I will take you to his chambers."

"Hasten!" urged Gahan.

"Sheathe your sword," warned Ghek, "so that should we pass others
of my kind I may say to them that you are a new prisoner with
some likelihood of winning their belief."

Gahan did as he was bid, but warning the kaldane that his hand
was ever ready at his dagger's hilt.

"You need have no fear of treachery," said Ghek "My only hope of
life lies in you."

"And if you fail me," Gahan admonished him, "I can promise you as
sure a death as even your king might guarantee you."

Ghek made no reply, but moved rapidly through the winding
subterranean corridors until Gahan began to realize how truly was
he in the hands of this strange monster. If the fellow should
prove false it would profit Gahan nothing to slay him, since
without his guidance the red man might never hope to retrace his
way to the tower and freedom.

Twice they met and were accosted by other kaldanes; but in both
instances Ghek's simple statement that he was taking a new
prisoner to Luud appeared to allay all suspicion, and then at
last they came to the ante-chamber of the king.

"Here, now, red man, thou must fight, if ever," whispered Ghek.
"Enter there!" and he pointed to a doorway before them.

"And you?" asked Gahan, still fearful of treachery.

"My rykor is powerful," replied the kaldane. "I shall accompany
you and fight at your side. As well die thus as in torture later
at the will of Luud. Come!"

But Gahan had already crossed the room and entered the chamber
beyond. Upon the opposite side of the room was a circular opening
guarded by two warriors. Beyond this opening he could see two
figures struggling upon the floor, and the fleeting glimpse he
had of one of the faces suddenly endowed him with the strength of
ten warriors and the ferocity of a wounded banth. It was Tara of
Helium, fighting for her honor or her life.

The warriors, startled by the unexpected appearance of a red man,
stood for a moment in dumb amazement, and in that moment Gahan of
Gathol was upon them, and one was down, a sword-thrust through
its heart.

"Strike at the heads," whispered the voice of Ghek in Gahan's
ear. The latter saw the head of the fallen warrior crawl quickly
within the aperture leading to the chamber where he had seen Tara
of Helium in the clutches of a headless body. Then the sword of
Ghek struck the kaldane of the remaining warrior from its rykor
and Gahan ran his sword through the repulsive head.

Instantly the red warrior leaped for the aperture, while close
behind him came Ghek.

"Look not upon the eyes of Luud," warned the kaldane, "or you are
lost."

Within the chamber Gahan saw Tara of Helium in the clutches of a
mighty body, while close to the wall upon the opposite side of
the apartment crouched the hideous, spider-like Luud. Instantly
the king realized the menace to himself and sought to fasten his
eyes upon the eyes of Gahan, and in doing so he was forced to
relax his concentration upon the rykor in whose embraces Tara
struggled, so that almost immediately the girl found herself able
to tear away from the awful, headless thing.

As she rose quickly to her feet she saw for the first time the
cause of the interruption of Luud's plans. A red warrior! Her
heart leaped in rejoicing and thanksgiving. What miracle of fate
had sent him to her? She did not recognize him, though, this
travel-worn warrior in the plain harness which showed no single
jewel. How could she have guessed him the same as the scintillant
creature of platinum and diamonds that she had seen for a brief
hour under such different circumstances at the court of her
august sire?

Luud saw Ghek following the strange warrior into the chamber.
"Strike him down, Ghek!" commanded the king. "Strike down the
stranger and your life shall be yours."

Gahan glanced at the hideous face of the king.

"Seek not his eyes," screamed Tara in warning; but it was too
late. Already the horrid hypnotic gaze of the king kaldane had
seized upon the eyes of Gahan. The red warrior hesitated in his
stride. His sword point drooped slowly toward the floor. Tara
glanced toward Ghek. She saw the creature glaring with his
expressionless eyes upon the broad back of the stranger. She saw
the hand of the creature's rykor creeping stealthily toward the
hilt of its dagger.

And then Tara of Helium raised her eyes aloft and poured forth
the notes of Mars' most beautiful melody, The Song of Love.

Ghek drew his dagger from its sheath. His eyes turned toward the
singing girl. Luud's glance wavered from the eyes of the man to
the face of Tara, and the instant that the latter's song
distracted his attention from his victim, Gahan of Gathol shook
himself and as with a supreme effort of will forced his eyes to
the wall above Luud's hideous head. Ghek raised his dagger above
his right shoulder, took a single quick step forward, and struck.
The girl's song ended in a stifled scream as she leaped forward
with the evident intention of frustrating the kaldane's purpose;
but she was too late, and well it was, for an instant later she
realized the purpose of Ghek's act as she saw the dagger fly from
his hand, pass Gahan's shoulder, and sink full to the guard in
the soft face of Luud.

"Come!" cried the assassin, "we have no time to lose," and
started for the aperture through which they had entered the
chamber; but in his stride he paused as his glance was arrested
by the form of the mighty rykor lying prone upon the floor--a
king's rykor; the most beautiful, the most powerful, that the
breeders of Bantoom could produce. Ghek realized that in his
escape he could take with him but a single rykor, and there was
none in Bantoom that could give him better service than this
giant lying here. Quickly he transferred himself to the shoulders
of the great, inert hulk. Instantly the latter was transformed to
a sentient creature, filled with pulsing life and alert energy.

"Now," said the kaldane, "we are ready. Let whoso would revert to
nothingness impede me." Even as he spoke he stooped and crawled
into the chamber beyond, while Gahan, taking Tara by the arm,
motioned her to follow. The girl looked him full in the eyes for
the first time. "The Gods of my people have been kind," she said;
"you came just in time. To the thanks of Tara of Helium shall be
added those of The Warlord of Barsoom and his people. Thy reward
shall surpass thy greatest desires."

Gahan of Gathol saw that she did not recognize him, and quickly
he checked the warm greeting that had been upon his lips.

"Be thou Tara of Helium or another," he replied, "is immaterial,
to serve thus a red woman of Barsoom is in itself sufficient
reward."

As they spoke the girl was making her way through the aperture
after Ghek, and presently all three had quitted the apartments of
Luud and were moving rapidly along the winding corridors toward
the tower. Ghek repeatedly urged them to greater speed, but the
red men of Barsoom were never keen for retreat, and so the two
that followed him moved all too slowly for the kaldane.

"There are none to impede our progress," urged Gahan, "so why tax
the strength of the Princess by needless haste?"

"I fear not so much opposition ahead, for there are none there
who know the thing that has been done in Luud's chambers this
night; but the kaldane of one of the warriors who stood guard
before Luud's apartment escaped, and you may count it a truth
that he lost no time in seeking aid. That it did not come before
we left is due solely to the rapidity with which events
transpired in the king's* room. Long before we reach the tower
they will be upon us from behind, and that they will come in
numbers far superior to ours and with great and powerful rykors I
well know."

* I have used the word king in describing the rulers or chiefs of
the Bantoomian swarms, since the word itself is unpronounceable
in English, nor does jed or jeddak of the red Martian tongue have
quite the same meaning as the Bantoomian word, which has
practically the same significance as the English word queen as
applied to the leader of a swarm of bees.--J. C.


Nor was Ghek's prophecy long in fulfilment. Presently the sounds
of pursuit became audible in the distant clanking of
accouterments and the whistling call to arms of the kaldanes.

"The tower is but a short distance now," cried Ghek. "Make haste
while yet you may, and if we can barricade it until the sun rises
we may yet escape."

"We shall need no barricades for we shall not linger in the
tower," replied Gahan, moving more rapidly as he realized from
the volume of sound behind them the great number of their
pursuers.

"But we may not go further than the tower tonight," insisted
Ghek. "Beyond the tower await the banths and certain death."

Gahan smiled. "Fear not the banths," he assured them. "Can we but
reach the enclosure a little ahead of our pursuers we have naught
to fear from any evil power within this accursed valley."

Ghek made no reply, nor did his expressionless face denote either
belief or skepticism. The girl looked into the face of the man
questioningly. She did not understand.

"Your flier," he said. "It is moored before the tower."

Her face lighted with pleasure and relief. "You found it!" she
exclaimed. "What fortune!"

"It was fortune indeed," he replied. "Since it not only told that
you were a prisoner here; but it saved me from the banths as I
was crossing the valley from the hills to this tower into which I
saw them take you this afternoon after your brave attempt at
escape."

"How did you know it was I?" she asked, her puzzled brows
scanning his face as though she sought to recall from past
memories some scene in which he figured.

"Who is there but knows of the loss of the Princess Tara of
Helium?" he replied. "And when I saw the device upon your flier I
knew at once, though I had not known when I saw you among them in
the fields a short time earlier. Too great was the distance for
me to make certain whether the captive was man or woman. Had
chance not divulged the hiding place of your flier I had gone my
way, Tara of Helium. I shudder to think how close was the chance
at that. But for the momentary shining of the sun upon the
emblazoned device on the prow of your craft, I had passed on
unknowing."

The girl shuddered. "The Gods sent you," she whispered
reverently.

"The Gods sent me, Tara of Helium," he replied.

"But I do not recognize you," she said. "I have tried to recall
you, but I have failed. Your name, what may it be?"

"It is not strange that so great a princess should not recall the
face of every roving panthan of Barsoom," he replied with a
smile.

"But your name?" insisted the girl.

"Call me Turan," replied the man, for it had come to him that if
Tara of Helium recognized him as the man whose impetuous avowal
of love had angered her that day in the gardens of The Warlord,
her situation might be rendered infinitely less bearable than
were she to believe him a total stranger. Then, too, as a simple
panthan* he might win a greater degree of her confidence by his
loyalty and faithfulness and a place in her esteem that seemed to
have been closed to the resplendent Jed of Gathol.

* Soldier of Fortune; free-lance warrior.


They had reached the tower now, and as they entered it from the
subterranean corridor a backward glance revealed the van of their
pursuers--hideous kaldanes mounted upon swift and powerful
rykors. As rapidly as might be the three ascended the stairways
leading to the ground level, but after them, even more rapidly,
came the minions of Luud. Ghek led the way, grasping one of
Tara's hands the more easily to guide and assist her, while Gahan
of Gathol followed a few paces in their rear, his bared sword
ready for the assault that all realized must come upon them now
before ever they reached the enclosure and the flier.

"Let Ghek drop behind to your side," said Tara, "and fight with
you."

"There is but room for a single blade in these narrow corridors,"
replied the Gatholian. "Hasten on with Ghek and win to the deck
of the flier. Have your hand upon the control, and if I come far
enough ahead of these to reach the dangling cable you can rise at
my word and I can clamber to the deck at my leisure; but if one
of them emerges first into the enclosure you will know that I
shall never come, and you will rise quickly and trust to the Gods
of our ancestors to give you a fair breeze in the direction of a
more hospitable people."

Tara of Helium shook her head. "We will not desert you, panthan,"
she said.

Gahan, ignoring her reply, spoke above her head to Ghek. "Take
her to the craft moored within the enclosure," he commanded. "It
is our only hope. Alone, I may win to its deck; but have I to
wait upon you two at the last moment the chances are that none of
us will escape. Do as I bid." His tone was haughty and
arrogant--the tone of a man who has commanded other men from
birth, and whose will has been law. Tara of Helium was both
angered and vexed. She was not accustomed to being either
commanded or ignored, but with all her royal pride she was no
fool, and she knew the man was right, that he was risking his
life to save hers, so she hastened on with Ghek as she was bid,
and after the first flush of anger she smiled, for the
realization came to her that this fellow was but a rough
untutored warrior, skilled not in the finer usages of cultured
courts. His heart was right, though; a brave and loyal heart, and
gladly she forgave him the offense of his tone and manner. But
what a tone! Recollection of it gave her sudden pause. Panthans
were rough and ready men. Often they rose to positions of high
command, so it was not the note of authority in the fellow's
voice that seemed remarkable; but something else--a quality that
was indefinable, yet as distinct as it was familiar. She had
heard it before when the voice of her great-grandsire, Tardos
Mors, Jeddak of Helium, had risen in command; and in the voice of
her grandfather, Mors Kajak, the jed; and in the ringing tones of
her illustrious sire, John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, when he
addressed his warriors.

But now she had no time to speculate upon so trivial a thing, for
behind her came the sudden clash of arms and she knew that Turan,
the panthan, had crossed swords with the first of their pursuers.
As she glanced back he was still visible beyond a turn in the
stairway, so that she could see the quick swordplay that ensued.
Daughter of a world's greatest swordsman, she knew well the
finest points of the art. She saw the clumsy attack of the
kaldane and the quick, sure return of the panthan. As she looked
down from above upon his almost naked body, trapped only in the
simplest of unadorned harness, and saw the play of the lithe
muscles beneath the red-bronze skin, and witnessed the quick and
delicate play of his sword point, to her sense of obligation was
added a spontaneous admission of admiration that was but the
natural tribute of a woman to skill and bravery and, perchance,
some trifle to manly symmetry and strength.

Three times the panthan's blade changed its position--once to
fend a savage cut; once to feint; and once to thrust. And as he
withdrew it from the last position the kaldane rolled lifeless
from its stumbling rykor and Turan sprang quickly down the steps
to engage the next behind, and then Ghek had drawn Tara upward
and a turn in the stairway shut the battling panthan from her
view; but still she heard the ring of steel on steel, the clank
of accouterments and the shrill whistling of the kaldanes. Her
heart moved her to turn back to the side of her brave defender;
but her judgment told her that she could serve him best by being
ready at the control of the flier at the moment he reached the
enclosure.





Next: Adrift Over Strange Regions

Previous: A Repellent Sight



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