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Green Men And White Apes







From: Thuvia, Maid Of Mars

A Torquasian sword smote a glancing blow across the forehead of
Carthoris. He had a fleeting vision of soft arms about his neck,
and warm lips close to his before he lost consciousness.

How long he lay there senseless he could not guess; but when he
opened his eyes again he was alone, except for the bodies of the
dead green men and Dusarians, and the carcass of a great banth that
lay half across his own.

Thuvia was gone, nor was the body of Kar Komak among the dead.

Weak from loss of blood, Carthoris made his way slowly toward
Aaanthor, reaching its outskirts at dark.

He wanted water more than any other thing, and so he kept on up
a broad avenue toward the great central plaza, where he knew the
precious fluid was to be found in a half-ruined building opposite
the great palace of the ancient jeddak, who once had ruled this
mighty city.

Disheartened and discouraged by the strange sequence of events
that seemed fore-ordained to thwart his every attempt to serve
the Princess of Ptarth, he paid little or no attention to his
surroundings, moving through the deserted city as though no great
white apes lurked in the black shadows of the mystery-haunted piles
that flanked the broad avenues and the great plaza.

But if Carthoris was careless of his surroundings, not so other
eyes that watched his entrance into the plaza, and followed his slow
footsteps toward the marble pile that housed the tiny, half-choked
spring whose water one might gain only by scratching a deep hole
in the red sand that covered it.

And as the Heliumite entered the small building a dozen mighty,
grotesque figures emerged from the doorway of the palace to speed
noiselessly across the plaza toward him.

For half an hour Carthoris remained in the building, digging for
water and gaining the few much-needed drops which were the fruits
of his labour. Then he rose and slowly left the structure. Scarce
had he stepped beyond the threshold than twelve Torquasian warriors
leaped upon him.

No time then to draw long-sword; but swift from his harness flew
his long, slim dagger, and as he went down beneath them more than
a single green heart ceased beating at the bite of that keen point.

Then they overpowered him and took his weapons away; but only nine
of the twelve warriors who had crossed the plaza returned with
their prize.

They dragged their prisoner roughly to the palace pits, where
in utter darkness they chained him with rusty links to the solid
masonry of the wall.

"To-morrow Thar Ban will speak with you," they said. "Now
he sleeps. But great will be his pleasure when he learns who has
wandered amongst us--and great will be the pleasure of Hortan Gur
when Thar Ban drags before him the mad fool who dared prick the
great jeddak with his sword."

Then they left him to the silence and the darkness.

For what seemed hours Carthoris squatted upon the stone floor of
his prison, his back against the wall in which was sunk the heavy
eye-bolt that secured the chain which held him.

Then, from out of the mysterious blackness before him, there
came to his ears the sound of naked feet moving stealthily upon
stone--approaching nearer and nearer to where he lay, unarmed and
defenceless.

Minutes passed--minutes that seemed hours--during which time
periods of sepulchral silence would be followed by a repetition of
the uncanny scraping of naked feet slinking warily upon him.

At last he heard a sudden rush of unshod soles across the empty
blackness, and at a little distance a scuffling sound, heavy
breathing, and once what he thought the muttered imprecation of
a man battling against great odds. Then the clanging of a chain,
and a noise as of the snapping back against stone of a broken link.

Again came silence. But for a moment only. Now he heard once
more the soft feet approaching him. He thought that he discerned
wicked eyes gleaming fearfully at him through the darkness. He
knew that he could hear the heavy breathing of powerful lungs.

Then came the rush of many feet toward him, and the THINGS were
upon him.

Hands terminating in manlike fingers clutched at his throat and
arms and legs. Hairy bodies strained and struggled against his
own smooth hide as he battled in grim silence against these horrid
foemen in the darkness of the pits of ancient Aaanthor.

Thewed like some giant god was Carthoris of Helium, yet in the
clutches of these unseen creatures of the pit's Stygian night he
was helpless as a frail woman.

Yet he battled on, striking futile blows against great, hispid
breasts he could not see; feeling thick, squat throats beneath his
fingers; the drool of saliva upon his cheek, and hot, foul breath
in his nostrils.

Fangs, too, mighty fangs, he knew were close, and why they did not
sink into his flesh he could not guess.

At last he became aware of the mighty surging of a number of his
antagonists back and forth upon the great chain that held him, and
presently came the same sound that he had heard at a little distance
from him a short time before he had been attacked--his chain had
parted and the broken end snapped back against the stone wall.

Now he was seized upon either side and dragged at a rapid pace through
the dark corridors--toward what fate he could not even guess.

At first he had thought his foes might be of the tribe of Torquas,
but their hairy bodies belied that belief. Now he was at last
quite sure of their identity, though why they had not killed and
devoured him at once he could not imagine.

After half an hour or more of rapid racing through the underground
passages that are a distinguishing feature of all Barsoomian cities,
modern as well as ancient, his captors suddenly emerged into the
moonlight of a courtyard, far from the central plaza.

Immediately Carthoris saw that he was in the power of a tribe of
the great white apes of Barsoom. All that had caused him doubt
before as to the identity of his attackers was the hairiness of
their breasts, for the white apes are entirely hairless except for
a great shock bristling from their heads.

Now he saw the cause of that which had deceived him--across the
chest of each of them were strips of hairy hide, usually of banth,
in imitation of the harness of the green warriors who so often
camped at their deserted city.

Carthoris had read of the existence of tribes of apes that seemed
to be progressing slowly toward higher standards of intelligence.
Into the hands of such, he realized, he had fallen; but--what were
their intentions toward him?

As he glanced about the courtyard, he saw fully fifty of the hideous
beasts, squatting on their haunches, and at a little distance from
him another human being, closely guarded.

As his eyes met those of his fellow-captive a smile lit the other's
face, and: "Kaor, red man!" burst from his lips. It was Kar Komak,
the bowman.

"Kaor!" cried Carthoris, in response. "How came you here, and what
befell the princess?"

"Red men like yourself descended in mighty ships that sailed the
air, even as the great ships of my distant day sailed the five seas,"
replied Kar Komak. "They fought with the green men of Torquas.
They slew Komal, god of Lothar. I thought they were your friends,
and I was glad when finally those of them who survived the battle
carried the red girl to one of the ships and sailed away with her
into the safety of the high air.

"Then the green men seized me, and carried me to a great, empty
city, where they chained me to a wall in a black pit. Afterward
came these and dragged me hither. And what of you, red man?"

Carthoris related all that had befallen him, and as the two men
talked the great apes squatted about them watching them intently.

"What are we to do now?" asked the bowman.

"Our case looks rather hopeless," replied Carthoris ruefully.
"These creatures are born man-eaters. Why they have not already
devoured us I cannot imagine--there!" he whispered. "See? The
end is coming."

Kar Komak looked in the direction Carthoris indicated to see a huge
ape advancing with a mighty bludgeon.

"It is thus they like best to kill their prey," said Carthoris.

"Must we die without a struggle?" asked Kar Komak.

"Not I," replied Carthoris, "though I know how futile our best
defence must be against these mighty brutes! Oh, for a long-sword!"

"Or a good bow," added Kar Komak, "and a utan of bowmen."

At the words Carthoris half sprang to his feet, only to be dragged
roughly down by his guard.

"Kar Komak!" he cried. "Why cannot you do what Tario and Jav did?
They had no bowmen other than those of their own creation. You
must know the secret of their power. Call forth your own utan,
Kar Komak!"

The Lotharian looked at Carthoris in wide-eyed astonishment as the
full purport of the suggestion bore in upon his understanding.

"Why not?" he murmured.

The savage ape bearing the mighty bludgeon was slinking toward
Carthoris. The Heliumite's fingers were working as he kept his
eyes upon his executioner. Kar Komak bent his gaze penetratingly
upon the apes. The effort of his mind was evidenced in the sweat
upon his contracted brows.

The creature that was to slay the red man was almost within arm's
reach of his prey when Carthoris heard a hoarse shout from the opposite
side of the courtyard. In common with the squatting apes and the
demon with the club he turned in the direction of the sound, to see
a company of sturdy bowmen rushing from the doorway of a near-by
building.

With screams of rage the apes leaped to their feet to meet the
charge. A volley of arrows met them half-way, sending a dozen
rolling lifeless to the ground. Then the apes closed with their
adversaries. All their attention was occupied by the attackers--even
the guard had deserted the prisoners to join in the battle.

"Come!" whispered Kar Komak. "Now may we escape while their
attention is diverted from us by my bowmen."

"And leave those brave fellows leaderless?" cried Carthoris, whose
loyal nature revolted at the merest suggestion of such a thing.

Kar Komak laughed.

"You forget," he said, "that they are but thin air--figments of my
brain. They will vanish, unscathed, when we have no further need
for them. Praised be your first ancestor, redman, that you thought
of this chance in time! It would never have occurred to me to imagine
that I might wield the same power that brought me into existence."

"You are right," said Carthoris. "Still, I hate to leave them,
though there is naught else to do," and so the two turned from
the courtyard, and making their way into one of the broad avenues,
crept stealthily in the shadows of the building toward the great
central plaza upon which were the buildings occupied by the green
warriors when they visited the deserted city.

When they had come to the plaza's edge Carthoris halted.

"Wait here," he whispered. "I go to fetch thoats, since on foot
we may never hope to escape the clutches of these green fiends."

To reach the courtyard where the thoats were kept it was necessary
for Carthoris to pass through one of the buildings which surrounded
the square. Which were occupied and which not he could not even
guess, so he was compelled to take considerable chances to gain
the enclosure in which he could hear the restless beasts squealing
and quarrelling among themselves.

Chance carried him through a dark doorway into a large chamber in
which lay a score or more green warriors wrapped in their sleeping
silks and furs. Scarce had Carthoris passed through the short
hallway that connected the door of the building and the great room
beyond it than he became aware of the presence of something or some
one in the hallway through which he had but just passed.

He heard a man yawn, and then, behind him, he saw the figure of a
sentry rise from where the fellow had been dozing, and stretching
himself resume his wakeful watchfulness.

Carthoris realized that he must have passed within a foot of the
warrior, doubtless rousing him from his slumber. To retreat now
would be impossible. Yet to cross through that roomful of sleeping
warriors seemed almost equally beyond the pale of possibility.

Carthoris shrugged his broad shoulders and chose the lesser evil.
Warily he entered the room. At his right, against the wall,
leaned several swords and rifles and spears--extra weapons which
the warriors had stacked here ready to their hands should there
be a night alarm calling them suddenly from slumber. Beside each
sleeper lay his weapon--these were never far from their owners from
childhood to death.

The sight of the swords made the young man's palm itch. He stepped
quickly to them, selecting two short-swords--one for Kar Komak,
the other for himself; also some trappings for his naked comrade.

Then he started directly across the centre of the apartment among
the sleeping Torquasians.

Not a man of them moved until Carthoris had completed more than half
of the short though dangerous journey. Then a fellow directly in
his path turned restlessly upon his sleeping silks and furs.

The Heliumite paused above him, one of the short-swords in readiness
should the warrior awaken. For what seemed an eternity to the young
prince the green man continued to move uneasily upon his couch,
then, as though actuated by springs, he leaped to his feet and
faced the red man.

Instantly Carthoris struck, but not before a savage grunt escaped
the other's lips. In an instant the room was in turmoil. Warriors
leaped to their feet, grasping their weapons as they rose, and
shouting to one another for an explanation of the disturbance.

To Carthoris all within the room was plainly visible in the dim
light reflected from without, for the further moon stood directly
at zenith; but to the eyes of the newly-awakened green men objects
as yet had not taken on familiar forms--they but saw vaguely the
figures of warriors moving about their apartment.

Now one stumbled against the corpse of him whom Carthoris had
slain. The fellow stooped and his hand came in contact with the
cleft skull. He saw about him the giant figures of other green
men, and so he jumped to the only conclusion that was open to him.

"The Thurds!" he cried. "The Thurds are upon us! Rise, warriors
of Torquas, and drive home your swords within the hearts of Torquas'
ancient enemies!"

Instantly the green men began to fall upon one another with naked
swords. Their savage lust of battle was aroused. To fight, to
kill, to die with cold steel buried in their vitals! Ah, that to
them was Nirvana.

Carthoris was quick to guess their error and take advantage of it.
He knew that in the pleasure of killing they might fight on long
after they had discovered their mistake, unless their attention
was distracted by sight of the real cause of the altercation, and
so he lost no time in continuing across the room to the doorway
upon the opposite side, which opened into the inner court, where
the savage thoats were squealing and fighting among themselves.

Once here he had no easy task before him. To catch and mount one
of these habitually rageful and intractable beasts was no child's
play under the best of conditions; but now, when silence and time
were such important considerations, it might well have seemed quite
hopeless to a less resourceful and optimistic man than the son of
the great warlord.

From his father he had learned much concerning the traits of these
mighty beasts, and from Tars Tarkas, also, when he had visited that
great green jeddak among his horde at Thark. So now he centred
upon the work in hand all that he had ever learned about them from
others and from his own experience, for he, too, had ridden and
handled them many times.

The temper of the thoats of Torquas appeared even shorter than their
vicious cousins among the Tharks and Warhoons, and for a time it
seemed unlikely that he should escape a savage charge on the part
of a couple of old bulls that circled, squealing, about him; but
at last he managed to get close enough to one of them to touch the
beast. With the feel of his hand upon the sleek hide the creature
quieted, and in answer to the telepathic command of the red man
sank to its knees.

In a moment Carthoris was upon its back, guiding it toward the
great gate that leads from the courtyard through a large building
at one end into an avenue beyond.

The other bull, still squealing and enraged, followed after his
fellow. There was no bridle upon either, for these strange creatures
are controlled entirely by suggestion--when they are controlled at
all.

Even in the hands of the giant green men bridle reins would be
hopelessly futile against the mad savagery and mastodonic strength
of the thoat, and so they are guided by that strange telepathic
power with which the men of Mars have learned to communicate in a
crude way with the lower orders of their planet.

With difficulty Carthoris urged the two beasts to the gate, where,
leaning down, he raised the latch. Then the thoat that he was
riding placed his great shoulder to the skeel-wood planking, pushed
through, and a moment later the man and the two beasts were swinging
silently down the avenue to the edge of the plaza, where Kar Komak
hid.

Here Carthoris found considerable difficulty in subduing the second
thoat, and as Kar Komak had never before ridden one of the beasts,
it seemed a most hopeless job; but at last the bowman managed to
scramble to the sleek back, and again the two beasts fled softly
down the moss-grown avenues toward the open sea-bottom beyond the
city.

All that night and the following day and the second night they
rode toward the north-east. No indication of pursuit developed,
and at dawn of the second day Carthoris saw in the distance the
waving ribbon of great trees that marked one of the long Barsoomian
water-ways.

Immediately they abandoned their thoats and approached the cultivated
district on foot. Carthoris also discarded the metal from his
harness, or such of it as might serve to identify him as a Heliumite,
or of royal blood, for he did not know to what nation belonged this
waterway, and upon Mars it is always well to assume every man and
nation your enemy until you have learned the contrary.

It was mid-forenoon when the two at last entered one of the roads
that cut through the cultivated districts at regular intervals,
joining the arid wastes on either side with the great, white,
central highway that follows through the centre from end to end of
the far-reaching, threadlike farm lands.

The high wall surrounding the fields served as a protection against
surprise by raiding green hordes, as well as keeping the savage
banths and other carnivora from the domestic animals and the human
beings upon the farms.

Carthoris stopped before the first gate he came to, pounding for
admission. The young man who answered his summons greeted the
two hospitably, though he looked with considerable wonder upon the
white skin and auburn hair of the bowman.

After he had listened for a moment to a partial narration of their
escape from the Torquasians, he invited them within, took them to
his house and bade the servants there prepare food for them.

As they waited in the low-ceiled, pleasant living room of the
farmhouse until the meal should be ready, Carthoris drew his host
into conversation that he might learn his nationality, and thus
the nation under whose dominion lay the waterway where circumstance
had placed him.

"I am Hal Vas," said the young man, "son of Vas Kor, of Dusar, a
noble in the retinue of Astok, Prince of Dusar. At present I am
Dwar of the Road for this district."

Carthoris was very glad that he had not disclosed his identity, for
though he had no idea of anything that had transpired since he had
left Helium, or that Astok was at the bottom of all his misfortunes,
he well knew that the Dusarian had no love for him, and that he
could hope for no assistance within the dominions of Dusar.

"And who are you?" asked Hal Vas. "By your appearance I take you
for a fighting man, but I see no insignia upon your harness. Can
it be that you are a panthan?"

Now, these wandering soldiers of fortune are common upon Barsoom,
where most men love to fight. They sell their services wherever
war exists, and in the occasional brief intervals when there is
no organized warfare between the red nations, they join one of the
numerous expeditions that are constantly being dispatched against
the green men in protection of the waterways that traverse the
wilder portions of the globe.

When their service is over they discard the metal of the nation
they have been serving until they shall have found a new master.
In the intervals they wear no insignia, their war-worn harness and
grim weapons being sufficient to attest their calling.

The suggestion was a happy one, and Carthoris embraced the chance
it afforded to account satisfactorily for himself. There was, however,
a single drawback. In times of war such panthans as happened to
be within the domain of a belligerent nation were compelled to don
the insignia of that nation and fight with her warriors.

As far as Carthoris knew Dusar was not at war with any other
nation, but there was never any telling when one red nation would
be flying at the throat of a neighbour, even though the great and
powerful alliance at the head of which was his father, John Carter,
had managed to maintain a long peace upon the greater portion of
Barsoom.

A pleasant smile lighted Hal Vas' face as Carthoris admitted his
vocation.

"It is well," exclaimed the young man, "that you chanced to come
hither, for here you will find the means of obtaining service in
short order. My father, Vas Kor, is even now with me, having come
hither to recruit a force for the new war against Helium."





Next: To Save Dusar

Previous: Kar Komak The Bowman



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