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Kar Komak The Bowman







From: Thuvia, Maid Of Mars

As Carthoris moved through the forest toward the distant cliffs
with Thuvia's hand still tight pressed in his, he wondered a little
at the girl's continued silence, yet the contact of her cool palm
against his was so pleasant that he feared to break the spell of
her new-found reliance in him by speaking.

Onward through the dim wood they passed until the shadows of the
quick coming Martian night commenced to close down upon them. Then
it was that Carthoris turned to speak to the girl at his side.

They must plan together for the future. It was his idea to pass
through the cliffs at once if they could locate the passage, and
he was quite positive that they were now close to it; but he wanted
her assent to the proposition.

As his eyes rested upon her, he was struck by her strangely ethereal
appearance. She seemed suddenly to have dissolved into the tenuous
substance of a dream, and as he continued to gaze upon her, she
faded slowly from his sight.

For an instant he was dumbfounded, and then the whole truth flashed
suddenly upon him. Jav had caused him to believe that Thuvia was
accompanying him through the wood while, as a matter of fact, he
had detained the girl for himself!

Carthoris was horrified. He cursed himself for his stupidity, and
yet he knew that the fiendish power which the Lotharian had invoked
to confuse him might have deceived any.

Scarce had he realized the truth than he had started to retrace
his steps toward Lothar, but now he moved at a trot, the Earthly
thews that he had inherited from his father carrying him swiftly
over the soft carpet of fallen leaves and rank grass.

Thuria's brilliant light flooded the plain before the walled city
of Lothar as Carthoris broke from the wood opposite the great gate
that had given the fugitives egress from the city earlier in the
day.

At first he saw no indication that there was another than himself
anywhere about. The plain was deserted. No myriad bowmen camped
now beneath the overhanging verdure of the giant trees. No gory
heaps of tortured dead defaced the beauty of the scarlet sward.
All was silence. All was peace.

The Heliumite, scarce pausing at the forest's verge, pushed
on across the plain toward the city, when presently he descried a
huddled form in the grass at his feet.

It was the body of a man, lying prone. Carthoris turned the figure
over upon its back. It was Jav, but torn and mangled almost beyond
recognition.

The prince bent low to note if any spark of life remained, and as
he did so the lids raised and dull, suffering eyes looked up into
his.

"The Princess of Ptarth!" cried Carthoris. "Where is she? Answer
me, man, or I complete the work that another has so well begun."

"Komal," muttered Jav. "He sprang upon me . . . and would have
devoured me but for the girl. Then they went away together into
the wood--the girl and the great banth . . . her fingers twined in
his tawny mane."

"Which way went they?" asked Carthoris.

"There," replied Jav faintly, "toward the passage through the
cliffs."

The Prince of Helium waited to hear no more, but springing to his
feet, raced back again into the forest.

It was dawn when he reached the mouth of the dark tunnel that would
lead him to the other world beyond this valley of ghostly memories
and strange hypnotic influences and menaces.

Within the long, dark passages he met with no accident or obstacle,
coming at last into the light of day beyond the mountains, and
no great distance from the southern verge of the domains of the
Torquasians, not more than one hundred and fifty haad at the most.

From the boundary of Torquas to the city of Aaanthor is a distance
of some two hundred haads, so that the Heliumite had before him a
journey of more than one hundred and fifty Earth miles between him
and Aaanthor.

He could at best but hazard a chance guess that toward Aaanthor
Thuvia would take her flight. There lay the nearest water, and
there might be expected some day a rescuing party from her father's
empire; for Carthoris knew Thuvan Dihn well enough to know that he
would leave no stone unturned until he had tracked down the truth
as to his daughter's abduction, and learned all that there might
be to learn of her whereabouts.

He realized, of course, that the trick which had laid suspicion
upon him would greatly delay the discovery of the truth, but little
did he guess to what vast proportions had the results of the villainy
of Astok of Dusar already grown.

Even as he emerged from the mouth of the passage to look across
the foothills in the direction of Aaanthor, a Ptarth battle fleet
was winging its majestic way slowly toward the twin cities of
Helium, while from far distant Kaol raced another mighty armada to
join forces with its ally.

He did not know that in the face of the circumstantial evidence
against him even his own people had commenced to entertain suspicions
that he might have stolen the Ptarthian princess.

He did not know of the lengths to which the Dusarians had gone to
disrupt the friendship and alliance which existed between the three
great powers of the eastern hemisphere--Helium, Ptarth and Kaol.

How Dusarian emissaries had found employment in important posts in
the foreign offices of the three great nations, and how, through these
men, messages from one jeddak to another were altered and garbled
until the patience and pride of the three rulers and former friends
could no longer endure the humiliations and insults contained in
these falsified papers--not any of this he knew.

Nor did he know how even to the last John Carter, Warlord of Mars,
had refused to permit the jeddak of Helium to declare war against
either Ptarth or Kaol, because of his implicit belief in his son,
and that eventually all would be satisfactorily explained.

And now two great fleets were moving upon Helium, while the Dusarian
spies at the court of Tardos Mors saw to it that the twin cities
remained in ignorance of their danger.

War had been declared by Thuvan Dihn, but the messenger who had
been dispatched with the proclamation had been a Dusarian who had
seen to it that no word of warning reached the twin cities of the
approach of a hostile fleet.

For several days diplomatic relations had been severed between
Helium and her two most powerful neighbors, and with the departure
of the ministers had come a total cessation of wireless communication
between the disputants, as is usual upon Barsoom.

But of all this Carthoris was ignorant. All that interested him
at present was the finding of Thuvia of Ptarth. Her trail beside
that of the huge banth had been well marked to the tunnel, and was
once more visible leading southward into the foothills.

As he followed rapidly downward toward the dead sea-bottom, where
he knew he must lose the spoor in the resilient ochre vegetation,
he was suddenly surprised to see a naked man approaching him from
the north-east.

As the fellow drew closer, Carthoris halted to await his coming.
He knew that the man was unarmed, and that he was apparently a
Lotharian, for his skin was white and his hair auburn.

He approached the Heliumite without sign of fear, and when quite
close called out the cheery Barsoomian "kaor" of greeting.

"Who are you?" asked Carthoris.

"I am Kar Komak, odwar of the bowmen," replied the other. "A
strange thing has happened to me. For ages Tario has been bringing
me into existence as he needed the services of the army of his
mind. Of all the bowmen it has been Kar Komak who has been oftenest
materialized.

"For a long time Tario has been concentrating his mind upon my
permanent materialization. It has been an obsession with him that
some day this thing could be accomplished and the future of Lothar
assured. He asserted that matter was nonexistent except in the
imagination of man--that all was mental, and so he believed that
by persisting in his suggestion he could eventually make of me a
permanent suggestion in the minds of all creatures.

"Yesterday he succeeded, but at such a time! It must have come all
unknown to him, as it came to me without my knowledge, as, with my
horde of yelling bowmen, I pursued the fleeing Torquasians back to
their ochre plains.

"As darkness settled and the time came for us to fade once more
into thin air, I suddenly found myself alone upon the edge of the
great plain which lies yonder at the foot of the low hills.

"My men were gone back to the nothingness from which they had
sprung, but I remained--naked and unarmed.

"At first I could not understand, but at last came a realization of
what had occurred. Tario's long suggestions had at last prevailed,
and Kar Komak had become a reality in the world of men; but my
harness and my weapons had faded away with my fellows, leaving me
naked and unarmed in a hostile country far from Lothar."

"You wish to return to Lothar?" asked Carthoris.

"No!" replied Kar Komak quickly. "I have no love for Tario. Being
a creature of his mind, I know him too well. He is cruel and
tyrannical--a master I have no desire to serve. Now that he has
succeeded in accomplishing my permanent materialization, he will
be unbearable, and he will go on until he has filled Lothar with
his creatures. I wonder if he has succeeded as well with the maid
of Lothar."

"I thought there were no women there," said Carthoris.

"In a hidden apartment in the palace of Tario," replied Kar Komak,
"the jeddak has maintained the suggestion of a beautiful girl, hoping
that some day she would become permanent. I have seen her there.
She is wonderful! But for her sake I hope that Tario succeeds not
so well with her as he has with me.

"Now, red man, I have told you of myself--what of you?"

Carthoris liked the face and manner of the bowman. There had been
no sign of doubt or fear in his expression as he had approached
the heavily-armed Heliumite, and he had spoken directly and to the
point.

So the Prince of Helium told the bowman of Lothar who he was and
what adventure had brought him to this far country.

"Good!" exclaimed the other, when he had done. "Kar Komak will
accompany you. Together we shall find the Princess of Ptarth and
with you Kar Komak will return to the world of men--such a world
as he knew in the long-gone past when the ships of mighty Lothar
ploughed angry Throxus, and the roaring surf beat against the
barrier of these parched and dreary hills."

"What mean you?" asked Carthoris. "Had you really a former actual
existence?"

"Most assuredly," replied Kar Komak. "In my day I commanded the
fleets of Lothar--mightiest of all the fleets that sailed the five
salt seas.

"Wherever men lived upon Barsoom there was the name of Kar Komak
known and respected. Peaceful were the land races in those distant
days--only the seafarers were warriors; but now has the glory of
the past faded, nor did I think until I met you that there remained
upon Barsoom a single person of our own mould who lived and loved
and fought as did the ancient seafarers of my time.

"Ah, but it will seem good to see men once again--real men! Never
had I much respect for the landsmen of my day. They remained in
their walled cities wasting their time in play, depending for their
protection entirely upon the sea race. And the poor creatures who
remain, the Tarios and Javs of Lothar, are even worse than their
ancient forbears."

Carthoris was a trifle skeptical as to the wisdom of permitting
the stranger to attach himself to him. There was always the chance
that he was but the essence of some hypnotic treachery which Tario
or Jav was attempting to exert upon the Heliumite; and yet, so
sincere had been the manner and the words of the bowman, so much
the fighting man did he seem, but Carthoris could not find it in
his heart to doubt him.

The outcome of the matter was that he gave the naked odwar leave to
accompany him, and together they set out upon the spoor of Thuvia
and Komal.

Down to the ochre sea-bottom the trail led. There it disappeared,
as Carthoris had known that it would; but where it entered the plain
its direction had been toward Aaanthor and so toward Aaanthor the
two turned their faces.

It was a long and tedious journey, fraught with many dangers. The
bowman could not travel at the pace set by Carthoris, whose muscles
carried him with great rapidity over the face of the small planet,
the force of gravity of which exerts so much less retarding power
than that of the Earth. Fifty miles a day is a fair average for
a Barsoomian, but the son of John Carter might easily have covered
a hundred or more miles had he cared to desert his new-found comrade.

All the way they were in constant danger of discovery by roving
bands of Torquasians, and especially was this true before they
reached the boundary of Torquas.

Good fortune was with them, however, and although they sighted two
detachments of the savage green men, they were not themselves seen.

And so they came, upon the morning of the third day, within sight
of the glistening domes of distant Aaanthor. Throughout the journey
Carthoris had ever strained his eyes ahead in search of Thuvia and
the great banth; but not till now had he seen aught to give him
hope.

This morning, far ahead, half-way between themselves and Aaanthor,
the men saw two tiny figures moving toward the city. For a moment
they watched them intently. Then Carthoris, convinced, leaped
forward at a rapid run, Kar Komak following as swiftly as he could.

The Heliumite shouted to attract the girl's attention, and presently
he was rewarded by seeing her turn and stand looking toward him.
At her side the great banth stood with up-pricked ears, watching
the approaching man.

Not yet could Thuvia of Ptarth have recognized Carthoris, though
that it was he she must have been convinced, for she waited there
for him without sign of fear.

Presently he saw her point toward the northwest, beyond him.
Without slackening his pace, he turned his eyes in the direction
she indicated.

Racing silently over the thick vegetation, not half a mile behind,
came a score of fierce green warriors, charging him upon their
mighty thoats.

To their right was Kar Komak, naked and unarmed, yet running
valiantly toward Carthoris and shouting warning as though he, too,
had but just discovered the silent, menacing company that moved so
swiftly forward with couched spears and ready long-swords.

Carthoris shouted to the Lotharian, warning him back, for he knew
that he could but uselessly sacrifice his life by placing himself,
all unarmed, in the path of the cruel and relentless savages.

But Kar Komak never hesitated. With shouts of encouragement to
his new friend, he hurried onward toward the Prince of Helium. The
red man's heart leaped in response to this exhibition of courage
and self-sacrifice. He regretted now that he had not thought to
give Kar Komak one of his swords; but it was too late to attempt
it, for should he wait for the Lotharian to overtake him or return
to meet him, the Torquasians would reach Thuvia of Ptarth before
he could do so.

Even as it was, it would be nip and tuck as to who came first to
her side.

Again he turned his face in her direction, and now, from Aaanthor
way, he saw a new force hastening toward them--two medium-sized
war craft--and even at the distance they still were from him he
discerned the device of Dusar upon their bows.

Now, indeed, seemed little hope for Thuvia of Ptarth. With
savage warriors of the hordes of Torquas charging toward her from
one direction, and no less implacable enemies, in the form of the
creatures of Astok, Prince of Dusar, bearing down upon her from
another, while only a banth, a red warrior, and an unarmed bowman
were near to defend her, her plight was quite hopeless and her
cause already lost ere ever it was contested.

As Thuvia saw Carthoris approaching, she felt again that unaccountable
sensation of entire relief from responsibility and fear that she
had experienced upon a former occasion. Nor could she account for
it while her mind still tried to convince her heart that the Prince
of Helium had been instrumental in her abduction from her father's
court. She only knew that she was glad when he was by her side,
and that with him there all things seemed possible--even such
impossible things as escape from her present predicament.

Now had he stopped, panting, before her. A brave smile of
encouragement lit his face.

"Courage, my princess," he whispered.

To the girl's memory flashed the occasion upon which he had used
those same words--in the throne-room of Tario of Lothar as they had
commenced to slip down the sinking marble floor toward an unknown
fate.

Then she had not chidden him for the use of that familiar salutation,
nor did she chide him now, though she was promised to another.
She wondered at herself--flushing at her own turpitude; for upon
Barsoom it is a shameful thing for a woman to listen to those two
words from another than her husband or her betrothed.

Carthoris saw her flush of mortification, and in an instant regretted
his words. There was but a moment before the green warriors would
be upon them.

"Forgive me!" said the man in a low voice. "Let my great love be
my excuse--that, and the belief that I have but a moment more of
life," and with the words he turned to meet the foremost of the
green warriors.

The fellow was charging with couched spear, but Carthoris leaped to
one side, and as the great thoat and its rider hurtled harmlessly
past him he swung his long-sword in a mighty cut that clove the
green carcass in twain.

At the same moment Kar Komak leaped with bare hands clawing at the
leg of another of the huge riders; the balance of the horde raced
in to close quarters, dismounting the better to wield their favourite
long-swords; the Dusarian fliers touched the soft carpet of the
ochre-clad sea-bottom, disgorging fifty fighting men from their
bowels; and into the swirling sea of cutting, slashing swords sprang
Komal, the great banth.





Next: Green Men And White Apes

Previous: The Battle In The Plain



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