VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


I Find Dejah







From: A Princess Of Mars

The major-domo to whom I reported had been given instructions to
station me near the person of the jeddak, who, in time of war, is
always in great danger of assassination, as the rule that all is fair
in war seems to constitute the entire ethics of Martian conflict.

He therefore escorted me immediately to the apartment in which Than
Kosis then was. The ruler was engaged in conversation with his son,
Sab Than, and several courtiers of his household, and did not perceive
my entrance.

The walls of the apartment were completely hung with splendid
tapestries which hid any windows or doors which may have pierced them.
The room was lighted by imprisoned rays of sunshine held between the
ceiling proper and what appeared to be a ground-glass false ceiling a
few inches below.

My guide drew aside one of the tapestries, disclosing a passage which
encircled the room, between the hangings and the walls of the chamber.
Within this passage I was to remain, he said, so long as Than Kosis was
in the apartment. When he left I was to follow. My only duty was to
guard the ruler and keep out of sight as much as possible. I would be
relieved after a period of four hours. The major-domo then left me.

The tapestries were of a strange weaving which gave the appearance of
heavy solidity from one side, but from my hiding place I could perceive
all that took place within the room as readily as though there had been
no curtain intervening.

Scarcely had I gained my post than the tapestry at the opposite end of
the chamber separated and four soldiers of The Guard entered,
surrounding a female figure. As they approached Than Kosis the
soldiers fell to either side and there standing before the jeddak and
not ten feet from me, her beautiful face radiant with smiles, was Dejah
Thoris.

Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga, advanced to meet her, and hand in hand
they approached close to the jeddak. Than Kosis looked up in surprise,
and, rising, saluted her.

"To what strange freak do I owe this visit from the Princess of Helium,
who, two days ago, with rare consideration for my pride, assured me
that she would prefer Tal Hajus, the green Thark, to my son?"

Dejah Thoris only smiled the more and with the roguish dimples playing
at the corners of her mouth she made answer:

"From the beginning of time upon Barsoom it has been the prerogative of
woman to change her mind as she listed and to dissemble in matters
concerning her heart. That you will forgive, Than Kosis, as has your
son. Two days ago I was not sure of his love for me, but now I am, and
I have come to beg of you to forget my rash words and to accept the
assurance of the Princess of Helium that when the time comes she will
wed Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga."

"I am glad that you have so decided," replied Than Kosis. "It is far
from my desire to push war further against the people of Helium, and,
your promise shall be recorded and a proclamation to my people issued
forthwith."

"It were better, Than Kosis," interrupted Dejah Thoris, "that the
proclamation wait the ending of this war. It would look strange indeed
to my people and to yours were the Princess of Helium to give herself
to her country's enemy in the midst of hostilities."

"Cannot the war be ended at once?" spoke Sab Than. "It requires but
the word of Than Kosis to bring peace. Say it, my father, say the word
that will hasten my happiness, and end this unpopular strife."

"We shall see," replied Than Kosis, "how the people of Helium take to
peace. I shall at least offer it to them."

Dejah Thoris, after a few words, turned and left the apartment, still
followed by her guards.

Thus was the edifice of my brief dream of happiness dashed, broken, to
the ground of reality. The woman for whom I had offered my life, and
from whose lips I had so recently heard a declaration of love for me,
had lightly forgotten my very existence and smilingly given herself to
the son of her people's most hated enemy.

Although I had heard it with my own ears I could not believe it. I
must search out her apartments and force her to repeat the cruel truth
to me alone before I would be convinced, and so I deserted my post and
hastened through the passage behind the tapestries toward the door by
which she had left the chamber. Slipping quietly through this opening
I discovered a maze of winding corridors, branching and turning in
every direction.

Running rapidly down first one and then another of them I soon became
hopelessly lost and was standing panting against a side wall when I
heard voices near me. Apparently they were coming from the opposite
side of the partition against which I leaned and presently I made out
the tones of Dejah Thoris. I could not hear the words but I knew that
I could not possibly be mistaken in the voice.

Moving on a few steps I discovered another passageway at the end of
which lay a door. Walking boldly forward I pushed into the room only
to find myself in a small antechamber in which were the four guards who
had accompanied her. One of them instantly arose and accosted me,
asking the nature of my business.

"I am from Than Kosis," I replied, "and wish to speak privately with
Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium."

"And your order?" asked the fellow.

I did not know what he meant, but replied that I was a member of The
Guard, and without waiting for a reply from him I strode toward the
opposite door of the antechamber, behind which I could hear Dejah
Thoris conversing.

But my entrance was not to be so easily accomplished. The guardsman
stepped before me, saying,

"No one comes from Than Kosis without carrying an order or the
password. You must give me one or the other before you may pass."

"The only order I require, my friend, to enter where I will, hangs at
my side," I answered, tapping my long-sword; "will you let me pass in
peace or no?"

For reply he whipped out his own sword, calling to the others to join
him, and thus the four stood, with drawn weapons, barring my further
progress.

"You are not here by the order of Than Kosis," cried the one who had
first addressed me, "and not only shall you not enter the apartments of
the Princess of Helium but you shall go back to Than Kosis under guard
to explain this unwarranted temerity. Throw down your sword; you
cannot hope to overcome four of us," he added with a grim smile.

My reply was a quick thrust which left me but three antagonists and I
can assure you that they were worthy of my metal. They had me backed
against the wall in no time, fighting for my life. Slowly I worked my
way to a corner of the room where I could force them to come at me only
one at a time, and thus we fought upward of twenty minutes; the
clanging of steel on steel producing a veritable bedlam in the little
room.

The noise had brought Dejah Thoris to the door of her apartment, and
there she stood throughout the conflict with Sola at her back peering
over her shoulder. Her face was set and emotionless and I knew that
she did not recognize me, nor did Sola.

Finally a lucky cut brought down a second guardsman and then, with only
two opposing me, I changed my tactics and rushed them down after the
fashion of my fighting that had won me many a victory. The third fell
within ten seconds after the second, and the last lay dead upon the
bloody floor a few moments later. They were brave men and noble
fighters, and it grieved me that I had been forced to kill them, but I
would have willingly depopulated all Barsoom could I have reached the
side of my Dejah Thoris in no other way.

Sheathing my bloody blade I advanced toward my Martian Princess, who
still stood mutely gazing at me without sign of recognition.

"Who are you, Zodangan?" she whispered. "Another enemy to harass me in
my misery?"

"I am a friend," I answered, "a once cherished friend."

"No friend of Helium's princess wears that metal," she replied, "and
yet the voice! I have heard it before; it is not--it cannot be--no,
for he is dead."

"It is, though, my Princess, none other than John Carter," I said. "Do
you not recognize, even through paint and strange metal, the heart of
your chieftain?"

As I came close to her she swayed toward me with outstretched hands,
but as I reached to take her in my arms she drew back with a shudder
and a little moan of misery.

"Too late, too late," she grieved. "O my chieftain that was, and whom
I thought dead, had you but returned one little hour before--but now it
is too late, too late."

"What do you mean, Dejah Thoris?" I cried. "That you would not have
promised yourself to the Zodangan prince had you known that I lived?"

"Think you, John Carter, that I would give my heart to you yesterday
and today to another? I thought that it lay buried with your ashes in
the pits of Warhoon, and so today I have promised my body to another to
save my people from the curse of a victorious Zodangan army."

"But I am not dead, my princess. I have come to claim you, and all
Zodanga cannot prevent it."

"It is too late, John Carter, my promise is given, and on Barsoom that
is final. The ceremonies which follow later are but meaningless
formalities. They make the fact of marriage no more certain than does
the funeral cortege of a jeddak again place the seal of death upon him.
I am as good as married, John Carter. No longer may you call me your
princess. No longer are you my chieftain."

"I know but little of your customs here upon Barsoom, Dejah Thoris, but
I do know that I love you, and if you meant the last words you spoke to
me that day as the hordes of Warhoon were charging down upon us, no
other man shall ever claim you as his bride. You meant them then, my
princess, and you mean them still! Say that it is true."

"I meant them, John Carter," she whispered. "I cannot repeat them now
for I have given myself to another. Ah, if you had only known our
ways, my friend," she continued, half to herself, "the promise would
have been yours long months ago, and you could have claimed me before
all others. It might have meant the fall of Helium, but I would have
given my empire for my Tharkian chief."

Then aloud she said: "Do you remember the night when you offended me?
You called me your princess without having asked my hand of me, and
then you boasted that you had fought for me. You did not know, and I
should not have been offended; I see that now. But there was no one to
tell you what I could not, that upon Barsoom there are two kinds of
women in the cities of the red men. The one they fight for that they
may ask them in marriage; the other kind they fight for also, but never
ask their hands. When a man has won a woman he may address her as his
princess, or in any of the several terms which signify possession. You
had fought for me, but had never asked me in marriage, and so when you
called me your princess, you see," she faltered, "I was hurt, but even
then, John Carter, I did not repulse you, as I should have done, until
you made it doubly worse by taunting me with having won me through
combat."

"I do not need ask your forgiveness now, Dejah Thoris," I cried. "You
must know that my fault was of ignorance of your Barsoomian customs.
What I failed to do, through implicit belief that my petition would be
presumptuous and unwelcome, I do now, Dejah Thoris; I ask you to be my
wife, and by all the Virginian fighting blood that flows in my veins
you shall be."

"No, John Carter, it is useless," she cried, hopelessly, "I may never
be yours while Sab Than lives."

"You have sealed his death warrant, my princess--Sab Than dies."

"Nor that either," she hastened to explain. "I may not wed the man who
slays my husband, even in self-defense. It is custom. We are ruled by
custom upon Barsoom. It is useless, my friend. You must bear the
sorrow with me. That at least we may share in common. That, and the
memory of the brief days among the Tharks. You must go now, nor ever
see me again. Good-bye, my chieftain that was."

Disheartened and dejected, I withdrew from the room, but I was not
entirely discouraged, nor would I admit that Dejah Thoris was lost to
me until the ceremony had actually been performed.

As I wandered along the corridors, I was as absolutely lost in the
mazes of winding passageways as I had been before I discovered Dejah
Thoris' apartments.

I knew that my only hope lay in escape from the city of Zodanga, for
the matter of the four dead guardsmen would have to be explained, and
as I could never reach my original post without a guide, suspicion
would surely rest on me so soon as I was discovered wandering aimlessly
through the palace.

Presently I came upon a spiral runway leading to a lower floor, and
this I followed downward for several stories until I reached the
doorway of a large apartment in which were a number of guardsmen. The
walls of this room were hung with transparent tapestries behind which I
secreted myself without being apprehended.

The conversation of the guardsmen was general, and awakened no interest
in me until an officer entered the room and ordered four of the men to
relieve the detail who were guarding the Princess of Helium. Now, I
knew, my troubles would commence in earnest and indeed they were upon
me all too soon, for it seemed that the squad had scarcely left the
guardroom before one of their number burst in again breathlessly,
crying that they had found their four comrades butchered in the
antechamber.

In a moment the entire palace was alive with people. Guardsmen,
officers, courtiers, servants, and slaves ran helter-skelter through
the corridors and apartments carrying messages and orders, and
searching for signs of the assassin.

This was my opportunity and slim as it appeared I grasped it, for as a
number of soldiers came hurrying past my hiding place I fell in behind
them and followed through the mazes of the palace until, in passing
through a great hall, I saw the blessed light of day coming in through
a series of larger windows.

Here I left my guides, and, slipping to the nearest window, sought for
an avenue of escape. The windows opened upon a great balcony which
overlooked one of the broad avenues of Zodanga. The ground was about
thirty feet below, and at a like distance from the building was a wall
fully twenty feet high, constructed of polished glass about a foot in
thickness. To a red Martian escape by this path would have appeared
impossible, but to me, with my earthly strength and agility, it seemed
already accomplished. My only fear was in being detected before
darkness fell, for I could not make the leap in broad daylight while
the court below and the avenue beyond were crowded with Zodangans.

Accordingly I searched for a hiding place and finally found one by
accident, inside a huge hanging ornament which swung from the ceiling
of the hall, and about ten feet from the floor. Into the capacious
bowl-like vase I sprang with ease, and scarcely had I settled down
within it than I heard a number of people enter the apartment. The
group stopped beneath my hiding place and I could plainly overhear
their every word.

"It is the work of Heliumites," said one of the men.

"Yes, O Jeddak, but how had they access to the palace? I could believe
that even with the diligent care of your guardsmen a single enemy might
reach the inner chambers, but how a force of six or eight fighting men
could have done so unobserved is beyond me. We shall soon know,
however, for here comes the royal psychologist."

Another man now joined the group, and, after making his formal
greetings to his ruler, said:

"O mighty Jeddak, it is a strange tale I read in the dead minds of your
faithful guardsmen. They were felled not by a number of fighting men,
but by a single opponent."

He paused to let the full weight of this announcement impress his
hearers, and that his statement was scarcely credited was evidenced by
the impatient exclamation of incredulity which escaped the lips of Than
Kosis.

"What manner of weird tale are you bringing me, Notan?" he cried.

"It is the truth, my Jeddak," replied the psychologist. "In fact the
impressions were strongly marked on the brain of each of the four
guardsmen. Their antagonist was a very tall man, wearing the metal of
one of your own guardsmen, and his fighting ability was little short of
marvelous for he fought fair against the entire four and vanquished
them by his surpassing skill and superhuman strength and endurance.
Though he wore the metal of Zodanga, my Jeddak, such a man was never
seen before in this or any other country upon Barsoom.


"The mind of the Princess of Helium whom I have examined and questioned
was a blank to me, she has perfect control, and I could not read one
iota of it. She said that she witnessed a portion of the encounter,
and that when she looked there was but one man engaged with the
guardsmen; a man whom she did not recognize as ever having seen."

"Where is my erstwhile savior?" spoke another of the party, and I
recognized the voice of the cousin of Than Kosis, whom I had rescued
from the green warriors. "By the metal of my first ancestor," he went
on, "but the description fits him to perfection, especially as to his
fighting ability."

"Where is this man?" cried Than Kosis. "Have him brought to me at
once. What know you of him, cousin? It seemed strange to me now that
I think upon it that there should have been such a fighting man in
Zodanga, of whose name, even, we were ignorant before today. And his
name too, John Carter, who ever heard of such a name upon Barsoom!"

Word was soon brought that I was nowhere to be found, either in the
palace or at my former quarters in the barracks of the air-scout
squadron. Kantos Kan, they had found and questioned, but he knew
nothing of my whereabouts, and as to my past, he had told them he knew
as little, since he had but recently met me during our captivity among
the Warhoons.

"Keep your eyes on this other one," commanded Than Kosis. "He also is
a stranger and likely as not they both hail from Helium, and where one
is we shall sooner or later find the other. Quadruple the air patrol,
and let every man who leaves the city by air or ground be subjected to
the closest scrutiny."

Another messenger now entered with word that I was still within the
palace walls.

"The likeness of every person who has entered or left the palace
grounds today has been carefully examined," concluded the fellow, "and
not one approaches the likeness of this new padwar of the guards, other
than that which was recorded of him at the time he entered."

"Then we will have him shortly," commented Than Kosis contentedly, "and
in the meanwhile we will repair to the apartments of the Princess of
Helium and question her in regard to the affair. She may know more
than she cared to divulge to you, Notan. Come."

They left the hall, and, as darkness had fallen without, I slipped
lightly from my hiding place and hastened to the balcony. Few were in
sight, and choosing a moment when none seemed near I sprang quickly to
the top of the glass wall and from there to the avenue beyond the
palace grounds.





Next: Lost In The Sky

Previous: An Air Scout For Zodanga



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 425