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The Battle In The Plain







From: Thuvia, Maid Of Mars

The distance from the bottom of the funnel to the floor of the
chamber beneath it could not have been great, for all three of the
victims of Tario's wrath alighted unscathed.

Carthoris, still clasping Thuvia tightly to his breast, came to
the ground catlike, upon his feet, breaking the shock for the girl.
Scarce had his feet touched the rough stone flagging of this new
chamber than his sword flashed out ready for instant use. But
though the room was lighted, there was no sign of enemy about.

Carthoris looked toward Jav. The man was pasty white with fear.

"What is to be our fate?" asked the Heliumite. "Tell me, man!
Shake off your terror long enough to tell me, so I may be prepared
to sell my life and that of the Princess of Ptarth as dearly as
possible."

"Komal!" whispered Jav. "We are to be devoured by Komal!"

"Your deity?" asked Carthoris.

The Lotharian nodded his head. Then he pointed toward a low doorway
at one end of the chamber.

"From thence will he come upon us. Lay aside your puny sword, fool.
It will but enrage him the more and make our sufferings the worse."

Carthoris smiled, gripping his long-sword the more firmly.

Presently Jav gave a horrified moan, at the same time pointing
toward the door.

"He has come," he whimpered.

Carthoris and Thuvia looked in the direction the Lotharian had
indicated, expecting to see some strange and fearful creature in
human form; but to their astonishment they saw the broad head and
great-maned shoulders of a huge banth, the largest that either ever
had seen.

Slowly and with dignity the mighty beast advanced into the room.
Jav had fallen to the floor, and was wriggling his body in the same
servile manner that he had adopted toward Tario. He spoke to the
fierce beast as he would have spoken to a human being, pleading
with it for mercy.

Carthoris stepped between Thuvia and the banth, his sword ready to
contest the beast's victory over them. Thuvia turned toward Jav.

"Is this Komal, your god?" she asked.

Jav nodded affirmatively. The girl smiled, and then, brushing past
Carthoris, she stepped swiftly toward the growling carnivore.

In low, firm tones she spoke to it as she had spoken to the banths
of the Golden Cliffs and the scavengers before the walls of Lothar.

The beast ceased its growling. With lowered head and catlike purr,
it came slinking to the girl's feet. Thuvia turned toward Carthoris.

"It is but a banth," she said. "We have nothing to fear from it."

Carthoris smiled.

"I did not fear it," he replied, "for I, too, believed it to be
only a banth, and I have my long-sword."

Jav sat up and gazed at the spectacle before him--the slender girl
weaving her fingers in the tawny mane of the huge creature that he
had thought divine, while Komal rubbed his hideous snout against
her side.

"So this is your god!" laughed Thuvia.

Jav looked bewildered. He scarce knew whether he dare chance
offending Komal or not, for so strong is the power of superstition
that even though we know that we have been reverencing a sham, yet
still we hesitate to admit the validity of our new-found convictions.

"Yes," he said, "this is Komal. For ages the enemies of Tario have
been hurled to this pit to fill his maw, for Komal must be fed."

"Is there any way out of this chamber to the avenues of the city?"
asked Carthoris.

Jav shrugged.

"I do not know," he replied. "Never have I been here before, nor
ever have I cared to do so."

"Come," suggested Thuvia, "let us explore. There must be a way
out."

Together the three approached the doorway through which Komal had
entered the apartment that was to have witnessed their deaths.
Beyond was a low-roofed lair, with a small door at the far end.

This, to their delight, opened to the lifting of an ordinary latch,
letting them into a circular arena, surrounded by tiers of seats.

"Here is where Komal is fed in public," explained Jav. "Had Tario
dared it would have been here that our fates had been sealed; but
he feared too much thy keen blade, red man, and so he hurled us
all downward to the pit. I did not know how closely connected were
the two chambers. Now we may easily reach the avenues and the city
gates. Only the bowmen may dispute the right of way, and, knowing
their secret, I doubt that they have power to harm us."

Another door led to a flight of steps that rose from the arena
level upward through the seats to an exit at the back of the hall.
Beyond this was a straight, broad corridor, running directly through
the palace to the gardens at the side.

No one appeared to question them as they advanced, mighty Komal
pacing by the girl's side.

"Where are the people of the palace--the jeddak's retinue?" asked
Carthoris. "Even in the city streets as we came through I scarce
saw sign of a human being, yet all about are evidences of a mighty
population."

Jav sighed.

"Poor Lothar," he said. "It is indeed a city of ghosts. There are
scarce a thousand of us left, who once were numbered in the millions.
Our great city is peopled by the creatures of our own imaginings.
For our own needs we do not take the trouble to materialize these
peoples of our brain, yet they are apparent to us.

"Even now I see great throngs lining the avenue, hastening to and
fro in the round of their duties. I see women and children laughing
on the balconies--these we are forbidden to materialize; but yet
I see them--they are here. . . . But why not?" he mused. "No
longer need I fear Tario--he has done his worst, and failed. Why
not indeed?

"Stay, friends," he continued. "Would you see Lothar in all her
glory?"

Carthoris and Thuvia nodded their assent, more out of courtesy than
because they fully grasped the import of his mutterings.

Jav gazed at them penetratingly for an instant, then, with a wave
of his hand, cried: "Look!"

The sight that met them was awe-inspiring. Where before there
had been naught but deserted pavements and scarlet swards, yawning
windows and tenantless doors, now swarmed a countless multitude of
happy, laughing people.

"It is the past," said Jav in a low voice. "They do not see us--they
but live the old dead past of ancient Lothar--the dead and crumbled
Lothar of antiquity, which stood upon the shore of Throxus, mightiest
of the five oceans.

"See those fine, upstanding men swinging along the broad avenue?
See the young girls and the women smile upon them? See the men
greet them with love and respect? Those be seafarers coming up
from their ships which lie at the quays at the city's edge.

"Brave men, they--ah, but the glory of Lothar has faded! See their
weapons. They alone bore arms, for they crossed the five seas to
strange places where dangers were. With their passing passed the
martial spirit of the Lotharians, leaving, as the ages rolled by,
a race of spineless cowards.

"We hated war, and so we trained not our youth in warlike ways.
Thus followed our undoing, for when the seas dried and the green
hordes encroached upon us we could do naught but flee. But we
remembered the seafaring bowmen of the days of our glory--it is
the memory of these which we hurl upon our enemies."

As Jav ceased speaking, the picture faded, and once more, the three
took up their way toward the distant gates, along deserted avenues.

Twice they sighted Lotharians of flesh and blood. At sight of
them and the huge banth which they must have recognized as Komal,
the citizens turned and fled.

"They will carry word of our flight to Tario," cried Jav, "and soon
he will send his bowmen after us. Let us hope that our theory is
correct, and that their shafts are powerless against minds cognizant
of their unreality. Otherwise we are doomed.

"Explain, red man, to the woman the truths that I have explained to
you, that she may meet the arrows with a stronger counter-suggestion
of immunity."

Carthoris did as Jav bid him; but they came to the great gates
without sign of pursuit developing. Here Jav set in motion the
mechanism that rolled the huge, wheel-like gate aside, and a moment
later the three, accompanied by the banth, stepped out into the
plain before Lothar.

Scarce had they covered a hundred yards when the sound of many men
shouting arose behind them. As they turned they saw a company of
bowmen debouching upon the plain from the gate through which they
had but just passed.

Upon the wall above the gate were a number of Lotharians, among whom
Jav recognized Tario. The jeddak stood glaring at them, evidently
concentrating all the forces of his trained mind upon them. That
he was making a supreme effort to render his imaginary creatures
deadly was apparent.

Jav turned white, and commenced to tremble. At the crucial moment
he appeared to lose the courage of his conviction. The great banth
turned back toward the advancing bowmen and growled. Carthoris
placed himself between Thuvia and the enemy and, facing them,
awaited the outcome of their charge.

Suddenly an inspiration came to Carthoris.

"Hurl your own bowmen against Tario's!" he cried to Jav. "Let us
see a materialized battle between two mentalities."

The suggestion seemed to hearten the Lotharian, and in another
moment the three stood behind solid ranks of huge bowmen who hurled
taunts and menaces at the advancing company emerging from the walled
city.

Jav was a new man the moment his battalions stood between him and
Tario. One could almost have sworn the man believed these creatures
of his strange hypnotic power to be real flesh and blood.

With hoarse battle cries they charged the bowmen of Tario. Barbed
shafts flew thick and fast. Men fell, and the ground was red with
gore.

Carthoris and Thuvia had difficulty in reconciling the reality of
it all with their knowledge of the truth. They saw utan after utan
march from the gate in perfect step to reinforce the outnumbered
company which Tario had first sent forth to arrest them.

They saw Jav's forces grow correspondingly until all about them
rolled a sea of fighting, cursing warriors, and the dead lay in
heaps about the field.

Jav and Tario seemed to have forgotten all else beside the struggling
bowmen that surged to and fro, filling the broad field between the
forest and the city.

The wood loomed close behind Thuvia and Carthoris. The latter cast
a glance toward Jav.

"Come!" he whispered to the girl. "Let them fight out their empty
battle--neither, evidently, has power to harm the other. They are
like two controversialists hurling words at one another. While they
are engaged we may as well be devoting our energies to an attempt
to find the passage through the cliffs to the plain beyond."

As he spoke, Jav, turning from the battle for an instant, caught
his words. He saw the girl move to accompany the Heliumite. A
cunning look leaped to the Lotharian's eyes.

The thing that lay beyond that look had been deep in his heart
since first he had laid eyes upon Thuvia of Ptarth. He had not
recognized it, however, until now that she seemed about to pass
out of his existence.

He centred his mind upon the Heliumite and the girl for an instant.

Carthoris saw Thuvia of Ptarth step forward with outstretched
hand. He was surprised at this sudden softening toward him, and
it was with a full heart that he let his fingers close upon hers,
as together they turned away from forgotten Lothar, into the woods,
and bent their steps toward the distant mountains.

As the Lotharian had turned toward them, Thuvia had been surprised
to hear Carthoris suddenly voice a new plan.

"Remain here with Jav," she had heard him say, "while I go to search
for the passage through the cliffs."

She had dropped back in surprise and disappointment, for she knew
that there was no reason why she should not have accompanied him.
Certainly she should have been safer with him than left here alone
with the Lotharian.

And Jav watched the two and smiled his cunning smile.

When Carthoris had disappeared within the wood, Thuvia seated
herself apathetically upon the scarlet sward to watch the seemingly
interminable struggles of the bowmen.

The long afternoon dragged its weary way toward darkness, and still
the imaginary legions charged and retreated. The sun was about to
set when Tario commenced to withdraw his troops slowly toward the
city.

His plan for cessation of hostilities through the night evidently
met with Jav's entire approval, for he caused his forces to form
themselves in orderly utans and march just within the edge of
the wood, where they were soon busily engaged in preparing their
evening meal, and spreading down their sleeping silks and furs for
the night.

Thuvia could scarce repress a smile as she noted the scrupulous
care with which Jav's imaginary men attended to each tiny detail
of deportment as truly as if they had been real flesh and blood.

Sentries were posted between the camp and the city. Officers
clanked hither and thither issuing commands and seeing to it that
they were properly carried out.

Thuvia turned toward Jav.

"Why is it," she asked, "that you observe such careful nicety in
the regulation of your creatures when Tario knows quite as well as
you that they are but figments of your brain? Why not permit them
simply to dissolve into thin air until you again require their
futile service?"

"You do not understand them," replied Jav. "While they exist they
are real. I do but call them into being now, and in a way direct
their general actions. But thereafter, until I dissolve them, they
are as actual as you or I. Their officers command them, under my
guidance. I am the general--that is all. And the psychological
effect upon the enemy is far greater than were I to treat them
merely as substanceless vagaries.

"Then, too," continued the Lotharian, "there is always the hope,
which with us is little short of belief, that some day these
materializations will merge into the real--that they will remain,
some of them, after we have dissolved their fellows, and that thus
we shall have discovered a means for perpetuating our dying race.

"Some there are who claim already to have accomplished the thing.
It is generally supposed that the etherealists have quite a few
among their number who are permanent materializations. It is even
said that such is Tario, but that cannot be, for he existed before
we had discovered the full possibilities of suggestion.

"There are others among us who insist that none of us is real. That
we could not have existed all these ages without material food and
water had we ourselves been material. Although I am a realist, I
rather incline toward this belief myself.

"It seems well and sensibly based upon the belief that our ancient
forbears developed before their extinction such wondrous mentalities
that some of the stronger minds among them lived after the death
of their bodies--that we are but the deathless minds of individuals
long dead.

"It would appear possible, and yet in so far as I am concerned I
have all the attributes of corporeal existence. I eat, I sleep"--he
paused, casting a meaning look upon the girl--"I love!"

Thuvia could not mistake the palpable meaning of his words and
expression. She turned away with a little shrug of disgust that
was not lost upon the Lotharian.

He came close to her and seized her arm.

"Why not Jav?" he cried. "Who more honourable than the second of
the world's most ancient race? Your Heliumite? He has gone. He
has deserted you to your fate to save himself. Come, be Jav's!"

Thuvia of Ptarth rose to her full height, her lifted shoulder turned
toward the man, her haughty chin upraised, a scornful twist to her
lips.

"You lie!" she said quietly, "the Heliumite knows less of disloyalty
than he knows of fear, and of fear he is as ignorant as the unhatched
young."

"Then where is he?" taunted the Lotharian. "I tell you he has fled
the valley. He has left you to your fate. But Jav will see that
it is a pleasant one. To-morrow we shall return into Lothar at the
head of my victorious army, and I shall be jeddak and you shall be
my consort. Come!" And he attempted to crush her to his breast.

The girl struggled to free herself, striking at the man with her
metal armlets. Yet still he drew her toward him, until both were
suddenly startled by a hideous growl that rumbled from the dark
wood close behind them.





Next: Kar Komak The Bowman

Previous: The Hall Of Doom



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