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Slavery







From: Thuvia, Maid Of Mars

As the ruler of Ptarth, followed by his courtiers, descended from
the landing-stage above the palace, the servants dropped into their
places in the rear of their royal or noble masters, and behind the
others one lingered to the last. Then quickly stooping he snatched
the sandal from his right foot, slipping it into his pocket-pouch.

When the party had come to the lower levels, and the jeddak had
dispersed them by a sign, none noticed that the forward fellow who
had drawn so much attention to himself before the Prince of Helium
departed, was no longer among the other servants.

To whose retinue he had been attached none had thought to inquire,
for the followers of a Martian noble are many, coming and going
at the whim of their master, so that a new face is scarcely ever
questioned, as the fact that a man has passed within the palace
walls is considered proof positive that his loyalty to the jeddak
is beyond question, so rigid is the examination of each who seeks
service with the nobles of the court.

A good rule that, and only relaxed by courtesy in favour of the
retinue of visiting royalty from a friendly foreign power.

It was late in the morning of the next day that a giant serving man
in the harness of the house of a great Ptarth noble passed out into
the city from the palace gates. Along one broad avenue and then
another he strode briskly until he had passed beyond the district
of the nobles and had come to the place of shops. Here he sought
a pretentious building that rose spire-like toward the heavens,
its outer walls elaborately wrought with delicate carvings and
intricate mosaics.

It was the Palace of Peace in which were housed the representatives
of the foreign powers, or rather in which were located their
embassies; for the ministers themselves dwelt in gorgeous palaces
within the district occupied by the nobles.

Here the man sought the embassy of Dusar. A clerk arose questioningly
as he entered, and at his request to have a word with the minister
asked his credentials. The visitor slipped a plain metal armlet
from above his elbow, and pointing to an inscription upon its inner
surface, whispered a word or two to the clerk.

The latter's eyes went wide, and his attitude turned at once to
one of deference. He bowed the stranger to a seat, and hastened
to an inner room with the armlet in his hand. A moment later
he reappeared and conducted the caller into the presence of the
minister.

For a long time the two were closeted together, and when at last
the giant serving man emerged from the inner office his expression
was cast in a smile of sinister satisfaction. From the Palace of
Peace he hurried directly to the palace of the Dusarian minister.

That night two swift fliers left the same palace top. One sped
its rapid course toward Helium; the other--


Thuvia of Ptarth strolled in the gardens of her father's palace, as
was her nightly custom before retiring. Her silks and furs were
drawn about her, for the air of Mars is chill after the sun has
taken his quick plunge beneath the planet's western verge.

The girl's thoughts wandered from her impending nuptials, that
would make her empress of Kaol, to the person of the trim young
Heliumite who had laid his heart at her feet the preceding day.

Whether it was pity or regret that saddened her expression as she
gazed toward the southern heavens where she had watched the lights
of his flier disappear the previous night, it would be difficult
to say.

So, too, is it impossible to conjecture just what her emotions may
have been as she discerned the lights of a flier speeding rapidly
out of the distance from that very direction, as though impelled
toward her garden by the very intensity of the princess' thoughts.

She saw it circle lower above the palace until she was positive
that it but hovered in preparation for a landing.

Presently the powerful rays of its searchlight shot downward from
the bow. They fell upon the landing-stage for a brief instant,
revealing the figures of the Ptarthian guard, picking into brilliant
points of fire the gems upon their gorgeous harnesses.

Then the blazing eye swept onward across the burnished domes and
graceful minarets, down into court and park and garden to pause at
last upon the ersite bench and the girl standing there beside it,
her face upturned full toward the flier.

For but an instant the searchlight halted upon Thuvia of Ptarth,
then it was extinguished as suddenly as it had come to life. The
flier passed on above her to disappear beyond a grove of lofty
skeel trees that grew within the palace grounds.

The girl stood for some time as it had left her, except that her
head was bent and her eyes downcast in thought.

Who but Carthoris could it have been? She tried to feel anger
that he should have returned thus, spying upon her; but she found
it difficult to be angry with the young prince of Helium.

What mad caprice could have induced him so to transgress the
etiquette of nations? For lesser things great powers had gone to
war.

The princess in her was shocked and angered--but what of the girl!

And the guard--what of them? Evidently they, too, had been so much
surprised by the unprecedented action of the stranger that they
had not even challenged; but that they had no thought to let the
thing go unnoticed was quickly evidenced by the skirring of motors
upon the landing-stage and the quick shooting airward of a long-lined
patrol boat.

Thuvia watched it dart swiftly eastward. So, too, did other eyes
watch.

Within the dense shadows of the skeel grove, in a wide avenue
beneath o'erspreading foliage, a flier hung a dozen feet above the
ground. From its deck keen eyes watched the far-fanning searchlight
of the patrol boat. No light shone from the enshadowed craft. Upon
its deck was the silence of the tomb. Its crew of a half-dozen
red warriors watched the lights of the patrol boat diminishing in
the distance.

"The intellects of our ancestors are with us to-night," said one
in a low tone.

"No plan ever carried better," returned another. "They did precisely
as the prince foretold."

He who had first spoken turned toward the man who squatted before
the control board.

"Now!" he whispered. There was no other order given. Every man
upon the craft had evidently been well schooled in each detail
of that night's work. Silently the dark hull crept beneath the
cathedral arches of the dark and silent grove.

Thuvia of Ptarth, gazing toward the east, saw the blacker blot
against the blackness of the trees as the craft topped the buttressed
garden wall. She saw the dim bulk incline gently downward toward
the scarlet sward of the garden.

She knew that men came not thus with honourable intent. Yet she
did not cry aloud to alarm the near-by guardsmen, nor did she flee
to the safety of the palace.

Why?

I can see her shrug her shapely shoulders in reply as she voices
the age-old, universal answer of the woman: Because!

Scarce had the flier touched the ground when four men leaped from
its deck. They ran forward toward the girl.

Still she made no sign of alarm, standing as though hypnotized.
Or could it have been as one who awaited a welcome visitor?

Not until they were quite close to her did she move. Then the
nearer moon, rising above the surrounding foliage, touched their
faces, lighting all with the brilliancy of her silver rays.

Thuvia of Ptarth saw only strangers--warriors in the harness of
Dusar. Now she took fright, but too late!

Before she could voice but a single cry, rough hands seized her.
A heavy silken scarf was wound about her head. She was lifted
in strong arms and borne to the deck of the flier. There was the
sudden whirl of propellers, the rushing of air against her body,
and, from far beneath the shouting and the challenge from the guard.

Racing toward the south another flier sped toward Helium. In its
cabin a tall red man bent over the soft sole of an upturned sandal.
With delicate instruments he measured the faint imprint of a small
object which appeared there. Upon a pad beside him was the outline
of a key, and here he noted the results of his measurements.

A smile played upon his lips as he completed his task and turned
to one who waited at the opposite side of the table.

"The man is a genius," he remarked.

"Only a genius could have evolved such a lock as this is designed
to spring. Here, take the sketch, Larok, and give all thine own
genius full and unfettered freedom in reproducing it in metal."

The warrior-artificer bowed. "Man builds naught," he said, "that
man may not destroy." Then he left the cabin with the sketch.

As dawn broke upon the lofty towers which mark the twin cities
of Helium--the scarlet tower of one and the yellow tower of its
sister--a flier floated lazily out of the north.

Upon its bow was emblazoned the signia of a lesser noble of a
far city of the empire of Helium. Its leisurely approach and the
evident confidence with which it moved across the city aroused no
suspicion in the minds of the sleepy guard. Their round of duty
nearly done, they had little thought beyond the coming of those
who were to relieve them.

Peace reigned throughout Helium. Stagnant, emasculating peace.
Helium had no enemies. There was naught to fear.

Without haste the nearest air patrol swung sluggishly about and
approached the stranger. At easy speaking distance the officer
upon her deck hailed the incoming craft.

The cheery "Kaor!" and the plausible explanation that the owner had
come from distant parts for a few days of pleasure in gay Helium
sufficed. The air-patrol boat sheered off, passing again upon its
way. The stranger continued toward a public landing-stage, where
she dropped into the ways and came to rest.

At about the same time a warrior entered her cabin.

"It is done, Vas Kor," he said, handing a small metal key to the
tall noble who had just risen from his sleeping silks and furs.

"Good!" exclaimed the latter. "You must have worked upon it all
during the night, Larok."

The warrior nodded.

"Now fetch me the Heliumetic metal you wrought some days since,"
commanded Vas Kor.

This done, the warrior assisted his master to replace the handsome
jewelled metal of his harness with the plainer ornaments of an
ordinary fighting man of Helium, and with the insignia of the same
house that appeared upon the bow of the flier.

Vas Kor breakfasted on board. Then he emerged upon the aerial dock,
entered an elevator, and was borne quickly to the street below,
where he was soon engulfed by the early morning throng of workers
hastening to their daily duties.

Among them his warrior trappings were no more remarkable than is
a pair of trousers upon Broadway. All Martian men are warriors,
save those physically unable to bear arms. The tradesman and
his clerk clank with their martial trappings as they pursue their
vocations. The schoolboy, coming into the world, as he does, almost
adult from the snowy shell that has encompassed his development
for five long years, knows so little of life without a sword at
his hip that he would feel the same discomfiture at going abroad
unarmed that an Earth boy would experience in walking the streets
knicker-bockerless.

Vas Kor's destination lay in Greater Helium, which lies some
seventy-five miles across the level plain from Lesser Helium. He
had landed at the latter city because the air patrol is less
suspicious and alert than that above the larger metropolis where
lies the palace of the jeddak.

As he moved with the throng in the parklike canyon of the thoroughfare
the life of an awakening Martian city was in evidence about him.
Houses, raised high upon their slender metal columns for the night
were dropping gently toward the ground. Among the flowers upon the
scarlet sward which lies about the buildings children were already
playing, and comely women laughing and chatting with their neighbours
as they culled gorgeous blossoms for the vases within doors.

The pleasant "kaor" of the Barsoomian greeting fell continually
upon the ears of the stranger as friends and neighbours took up
the duties of a new day.

The district in which he had landed was residential--a district of
merchants of the more prosperous sort. Everywhere were evidences
of luxury and wealth. Slaves appeared upon every housetop with
gorgeous silks and costly furs, laying them in the sun for airing.
Jewel-encrusted women lolled even thus early upon the carven
balconies before their sleeping apartments. Later in the day they
would repair to the roofs when the slaves had arranged couches and
pitched silken canopies to shade them from the sun.

Strains of inspiring music broke pleasantly from open windows,
for the Martians have solved the problem of attuning the nerves
pleasantly to the sudden transition from sleep to waking that proves
so difficult a thing for most Earth folk.

Above him raced the long, light passenger fliers, plying, each in
its proper plane, between the numerous landing-stages for internal
passenger traffic. Landing-stages that tower high into the heavens
are for the great international passenger liners. Freighters have
other landing-stages at various lower levels, to within a couple
of hundred feet of the ground; nor dare any flier rise or drop from
one plane to another except in certain restricted districts where
horizontal traffic is forbidden.

Along the close-cropped sward which paves the avenue ground fliers
were moving in continuous lines in opposite directions. For the
greater part they skimmed along the surface of the sward, soaring
gracefully into the air at times to pass over a slower-going driver
ahead, or at intersections, where the north and south traffic has
the right of way and the east and west must rise above it.

From private hangars upon many a roof top fliers were darting into
the line of traffic. Gay farewells and parting admonitions mingled
with the whirring of motors and the subdued noises of the city.

Yet with all the swift movement and the countless thousands rushing
hither and thither, the predominant suggestion was that of luxurious
ease and soft noiselessness.

Martians dislike harsh, discordant clamour. The only loud noises
they can abide are the martial sounds of war, the clash of arms,
the collision of two mighty dreadnoughts of the air. To them there
is no sweeter music than this.

At the intersection of two broad avenues Vas Kor descended from the
street level to one of the great pneumatic stations of the city.
Here he paid before a little wicket the fare to his destination
with a couple of the dull, oval coins of Helium.

Beyond the gatekeeper he came to a slowly moving line of what to
Earthly eyes would have appeared to be conical-nosed, eight-foot
projectiles for some giant gun. In slow procession the things
moved in single file along a grooved track. A half dozen attendants
assisted passengers to enter, or directed these carriers to their
proper destination.

Vas Kor approached one that was empty. Upon its nose was a dial
and a pointer. He set the pointer for a certain station in Greater
Helium, raised the arched lid of the thing, stepped in and lay down
upon the upholstered bottom. An attendant closed the lid, which
locked with a little click, and the carrier continued its slow way.

Presently it switched itself automatically to another track, to
enter, a moment later, one of the series of dark-mouthed tubes.

The instant that its entire length was within the black aperture
it sprang forward with the speed of a rifle ball. There was an
instant of whizzing--a soft, though sudden, stop, and slowly the
carrier emerged upon another platform, another attendant raised
the lid and Vas Kor stepped out at the station beneath the centre
of Greater Helium, seventy-five miles from the point at which he
had embarked.

Here he sought the street level, stepping immediately into a waiting
ground flier. He spoke no word to the slave sitting in the driver's
seat. It was evident that he had been expected, and that the fellow
had received his instructions before his coming.

Scarcely had Vas Kor taken his seat when the flier went quickly
into the fast-moving procession, turning presently from the broad
and crowded avenue into a less congested street. Presently it left
the thronged district behind to enter a section of small shops,
where it stopped before the entrance to one which bore the sign of
a dealer in foreign silks.

Vas Kor entered the low-ceiling room. A man at the far end
motioned him toward an inner apartment, giving no further sign of
recognition until he had passed in after the caller and closed the
door.

Then he faced his visitor, saluting deferentially.

"Most noble--" he commenced, but Vas Kor silenced him with a gesture.

"No formalities," he said. "We must forget that I am aught other
than your slave. If all has been as carefully carried out as it
has been planned, we have no time to waste. Instead we should be
upon our way to the slave market. Are you ready?"

The merchant nodded, and, turning to a great chest, produced
the unemblazoned trappings of a slave. These Vas Kor immediately
donned. Then the two passed from the shop through a rear door,
traversed a winding alley to an avenue beyond, where they entered
a flier which awaited them.

Five minutes later the merchant was leading his slave to the public
market, where a great concourse of people filled the great open
space in the centre of which stood the slave block.

The crowds were enormous to-day, for Carthoris, Prince of Helium,
was to be the principal bidder.

One by one the masters mounted the rostrum beside the slave block
upon which stood their chattels. Briefly and clearly each recounted
the virtues of his particular offering.

When all were done, the major-domo of the Prince of Helium recalled
to the block such as had favourably impressed him. For such he
had made a fair offer.

There was little haggling as to price, and none at all when Vas
Kor was placed upon the block. His merchant-master accepted the
first offer that was made for him, and thus a Dusarian noble entered
the household of Carthoris.





Next: Treachery

Previous: Carthoris And Thuvia



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