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Flight And Pursuit

From: The Gods Of Mars

I could not have been unconscious more than a few seconds, and yet I
know that I was unconscious, for the next thing I realized was that a
growing radiance was illuminating the corridor about me and the eyes
were gone.

I was unharmed except for a slight bruise upon my forehead where it had
struck the stone flagging as I fell.

I sprang to my feet to ascertain the cause of the light. It came from
a torch in the hand of one of a party of four green warriors, who were
coming rapidly down the corridor toward me. They had not yet seen me,
and so I lost no time in slipping into the first intersecting corridor
that I could find. This time, however, I did not advance so far away
from the main corridor as on the other occasion that had resulted in my
losing Tars Tarkas and his guards.

The party came rapidly toward the opening of the passageway in which I
crouched against the wall. As they passed by I breathed a sigh of
relief. I had not been discovered, and, best of all, the party was the
same that I had followed into the pits. It consisted of Tars Tarkas
and his three guards.

I fell in behind them and soon we were at the cell in which the great
Thark had been chained. Two of the warriors remained without while the
man with the keys entered with the Thark to fasten his irons upon him
once more. The two outside started to stroll slowly in the direction
of the spiral runway which led to the floors above, and in a moment
were lost to view beyond a turn in the corridor.

The torch had been stuck in a socket beside the door, so that its rays
illuminated both the corridor and the cell at the same time. As I saw
the two warriors disappear I approached the entrance to the cell, with
a well-defined plan already formulated.

While I disliked the thought of carrying out the thing that I had
decided upon, there seemed no alternative if Tars Tarkas and I were to
go back together to my little camp in the hills.

Keeping near the wall, I came quite close to the door to Tars Tarkas'
cell, and there I stood with my longsword above my head, grasped with
both hands, that I might bring it down in one quick cut upon the skull
of the jailer as he emerged.

I dislike to dwell upon what followed after I heard the footsteps of
the man as he approached the doorway. It is enough that within another
minute or two, Tars Tarkas, wearing the metal of a Warhoon chief, was
hurrying down the corridor toward the spiral runway, bearing the
Warhoon's torch to light his way. A dozen paces behind him followed
John Carter, Prince of Helium.

The two companions of the man who lay now beside the door of the cell
that had been Tars Tarkas' had just started to ascend the runway as the
Thark came in view.

"Why so long, Tan Gama?" cried one of the men.

"I had trouble with a lock," replied Tars Tarkas. "And now I find that
I have left my short-sword in the Thark's cell. Go you on, I'll return
and fetch it."

"As you will, Tan Gama," replied he who had before spoken. "We shall
see you above directly."

"Yes," replied Tars Tarkas, and turned as though to retrace his steps
to the cell, but he only waited until the two had disappeared at the
floor above. Then I joined him, we extinguished the torch, and
together we crept toward the spiral incline that led to the upper
floors of the building.

At the first floor we found that the hallway ran but halfway through,
necessitating the crossing of a rear room full of green folk, ere we
could reach the inner courtyard, so there was but one thing left for us
to do, and that was to gain the second floor and the hallway through
which I had traversed the length of the building.

Cautiously we ascended. We could hear the sounds of conversation
coming from the room above, but the hall still was unlighted, nor was
any one in sight as we gained the top of the runway. Together we
threaded the long hall and reached the balcony overlooking the
courtyard, without being detected.

At our right was the window letting into the room in which I had seen
Tan Gama and the other warriors as they started to Tars Tarkas' cell
earlier in the evening. His companions had returned here, and we now
overheard a portion of their conversation.

"What can be detaining Tan Gama?" asked one.

"He certainly could not be all this time fetching his shortsword from
the Thark's cell," spoke another.

"His short-sword?" asked a woman. "What mean you?"

"Tan Gama left his short-sword in the Thark's cell," explained the
first speaker, "and left us at the runway, to return and get it."

"Tan Gama wore no short-sword this night," said the woman. "It was
broken in to-day's battle with the Thark, and Tan Gama gave it to me to
repair. See, I have it here," and as she spoke she drew Tan Gama's
short-sword from beneath her sleeping silks and furs.

The warriors sprang to their feet.

"There is something amiss here," cried one.

"'Tis even what I myself thought when Tan Gama left us at the runway,"
said another. "Methought then that his voice sounded strangely."

"Come! let us hasten to the pits."

We waited to hear no more. Slinging my harness into a long single
strap, I lowered Tars Tarkas to the courtyard beneath, and an instant
later dropped to his side.

We had spoken scarcely a dozen words since I had felled Tan Gama at the
cell door and seen in the torch's light the expression of utter
bewilderment upon the great Thark's face.

"By this time," he had said, "I should have learned to wonder at
nothing which John Carter accomplishes." That was all. He did not
need to tell me that he appreciated the friendship which had prompted
me to risk my life to rescue him, nor did he need to say that he was
glad to see me.

This fierce green warrior had been the first to greet me that day, now
twenty years gone, which had witnessed my first advent upon Mars. He
had met me with levelled spear and cruel hatred in his heart as he
charged down upon me, bending low at the side of his mighty thoat as I
stood beside the incubator of his horde upon the dead sea bottom beyond
Korad. And now among the inhabitants of two worlds I counted none a
better friend than Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of the Tharks.

As we reached the courtyard we stood in the shadows beneath the balcony
for a moment to discuss our plans.

"There be five now in the party, Tars Tarkas," I said; "Thuvia, Xodar,
Carthoris, and ourselves. We shall need five thoats to bear us."

"Carthoris!" he cried. "Your son?"

"Yes. I found him in the prison of Shador, on the Sea of Omean, in the
land of the First Born."

"I know not any of these places, John Carter. Be they upon Barsoom?"

"Upon and below, my friend; but wait until we shall have made good our
escape, and you shall hear the strangest narrative that ever a
Barsoomian of the outer world gave ear to. Now we must steal our
thoats and be well away to the north before these fellows discover how
we have tricked them."

In safety we reached the great gates at the far end of the courtyard,
through which it was necessary to take our thoats to the avenue beyond.
It is no easy matter to handle five of these great, fierce beasts,
which by nature are as wild and ferocious as their masters and held in
subjection by cruelty and brute force alone.

As we approached them they sniffed our unfamiliar scent and with
squeals of rage circled about us. Their long, massive necks upreared
raised their great, gaping mouths high above our heads. They are
fearsome appearing brutes at best, but when they are aroused they are
fully as dangerous as they look. The thoat stands a good ten feet at
the shoulder. His hide is sleek and hairless, and of a dark slate
colour on back and sides, shading down his eight legs to a vivid yellow
at the huge, padded, nailless feet; the belly is pure white. A broad,
flat tail, larger at the tip than at the root, completes the picture of
this ferocious green Martian mount--a fit war steed for these warlike

As the thoats are guided by telepathic means alone, there is no need
for rein or bridle, and so our object now was to find two that would
obey our unspoken commands. As they charged about us we succeeded in
mastering them sufficiently to prevent any concerted attack upon us,
but the din of their squealing was certain to bring investigating
warriors into the courtyard were it to continue much longer.

At length I was successful in reaching the side of one great brute, and
ere he knew what I was about I was firmly seated astride his glossy
back. A moment later Tars Tarkas had caught and mounted another, and
then between us we herded three or four more toward the great gates.

Tars Tarkas rode ahead and, leaning down to the latch, threw the
barriers open, while I held the loose thoats from breaking back to the
herd. Then together we rode through into the avenue with our stolen
mounts and, without waiting to close the gates, hurried off toward the
southern boundary of the city.

Thus far our escape had been little short of marvellous, nor did our
good fortune desert us, for we passed the outer purlieus of the dead
city and came to our camp without hearing even the faintest sound of

Here a low whistle, the prearranged signal, apprised the balance of our
party that I was returning, and we were met by the three with every
manifestation of enthusiastic rejoicing.

But little time was wasted in narration of our adventure. Tars Tarkas
and Carthoris exchanged the dignified and formal greetings common upon
Barsoom, but I could tell intuitively that the Thark loved my boy and
that Carthoris reciprocated his affection.

Xodar and the green Jeddak were formally presented to each other. Then
Thuvia was lifted to the least fractious thoat, Xodar and Carthoris
mounted two others, and we set out at a rapid pace toward the east. At
the far extremity of the city we circled toward the north, and under
the glorious rays of the two moons we sped noiselessly across the dead
sea bottom, away from the Warhoons and the First Born, but to what new
dangers and adventures we knew not.

Toward noon of the following day we halted to rest our mounts and
ourselves. The beasts we hobbled, that they might move slowly about
cropping the ochre moss-like vegetation which constitutes both food and
drink for them on the march. Thuvia volunteered to remain on watch
while the balance of the party slept for an hour.

It seemed to me that I had but closed my eyes when I felt her hand upon
my shoulder and heard her soft voice warning me of a new danger.

"Arise, O Prince," she whispered. "There be that behind us which has
the appearance of a great body of pursuers."

The girl stood pointing in the direction from whence we had come, and
as I arose and looked, I, too, thought that I could detect a thin dark
line on the far horizon. I awoke the others. Tars Tarkas, whose giant
stature towered high above the rest of us, could see the farthest.

"It is a great body of mounted men," he said, "and they are travelling
at high speed."

There was no time to be lost. We sprang to our hobbled thoats, freed
them, and mounted. Then we turned our faces once more toward the north
and took our flight again at the highest speed of our slowest beast.

For the balance of the day and all the following night we raced across
that ochre wilderness with the pursuers at our back ever gaining upon
us. Slowly but surely they were lessening the distance between us.
Just before dark they had been close enough for us to plainly
distinguish that they were green Martians, and all during the long
night we distinctly heard the clanking of their accoutrements behind us.

As the sun rose on the second day of our flight it disclosed the
pursuing horde not a half-mile in our rear. As they saw us a fiendish
shout of triumph rose from their ranks.

Several miles in advance lay a range of hills--the farther shore of the
dead sea we had been crossing. Could we but reach these hills our
chances of escape would be greatly enhanced, but Thuvia's mount,
although carrying the lightest burden, already was showing signs of
exhaustion. I was riding beside her when suddenly her animal staggered
and lurched against mine. I saw that he was going down, but ere he
fell I snatched the girl from his back and swung her to a place upon my
own thoat, behind me, where she clung with her arms about me.

This double burden soon proved too much for my already overtaxed beast,
and thus our speed was terribly diminished, for the others would
proceed no faster than the slowest of us could go. In that little
party there was not one who would desert another; yet we were of
different countries, different colours, different races, different
religions--and one of us was of a different world.

We were quite close to the hills, but the Warhoons were gaining so
rapidly that we had given up all hope of reaching them in time. Thuvia
and I were in the rear, for our beast was lagging more and more.
Suddenly I felt the girl's warm lips press a kiss upon my shoulder.
"For thy sake, O my Prince," she murmured. Then her arms slipped from
about my waist and she was gone.

I turned and saw that she had deliberately slipped to the ground in the
very path of the cruel demons who pursued us, thinking that by
lightening the burden of my mount it might thus be enabled to bear me
to the safety of the hills. Poor child! She should have known John
Carter better than that.

Turning my thoat, I urged him after her, hoping to reach her side and
bear her on again in our hopeless flight. Carthoris must have glanced
behind him at about the same time and taken in the situation, for by
the time I had reached Thuvia's side he was there also, and, springing
from his mount, he threw her upon its back and, turning the animal's
head toward the hills, gave the beast a sharp crack across the rump
with the flat of his sword. Then he attempted to do the same with mine.

The brave boy's act of chivalrous self-sacrifice filled me with pride,
nor did I care that it had wrested from us our last frail chance for
escape. The Warhoons were now close upon us. Tars Tarkas and Xodar
had discovered our absence and were charging rapidly to our support.
Everything pointed toward a splendid ending of my second journey to
Barsoom. I hated to go out without having seen my divine Princess, and
held her in my arms once again; but if it were not writ upon the book
of Fate that such was to be, then would I take the most that was coming
to me, and in these last few moments that were to be vouchsafed me
before I passed over into that unguessed future I could at least give
such an account of myself in my chosen vocation as would leave the
Warhoons of the South food for discourse for the next twenty

As Carthoris was not mounted, I slipped from the back of my own mount
and took my place at his side to meet the charge of the howling devils
bearing down upon us. A moment later Tars Tarkas and Xodar ranged
themselves on either hand, turning their thoats loose that we might all
be on an equal footing.

The Warhoons were perhaps a hundred yards from us when a loud explosion
sounded from above and behind us, and almost at the same instant a
shell burst in their advancing ranks. At once all was confusion. A
hundred warriors toppled to the ground. Riderless thoats plunged
hither and thither among the dead and dying. Dismounted warriors were
trampled underfoot in the stampede which followed. All semblance of
order had left the ranks of the green men, and as they looked far above
our heads to trace the origin of this unexpected attack, disorder
turned to retreat and retreat to a wild panic. In another moment they
were racing as madly away from us as they had before been charging down
upon us.

We turned to look in the direction from whence the first report had
come, and there we saw, just clearing the tops of the nearer hills, a
great battleship swinging majestically through the air. Her bow gun
spoke again even as we looked, and another shell burst among the
fleeing Warhoons.

As she drew nearer I could not repress a wild cry of elation, for upon
her bows I saw the device of Helium.

Next: Under Arrest

Previous: The Eyes In The Dark

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