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To Save Dusar







From: Thuvia, Maid Of Mars

Thuvia of Ptarth, battling for more than life against the lust of
Jav, cast a quick glance over her shoulder toward the forest from
which had rumbled the fierce growl. Jav looked, too.

What they saw filled each with apprehension. It was Komal, the
banth-god, rushing wide-jawed upon them!

Which had he chosen for his prey? Or was it to be both?

They had not long to wait, for though the Lotharian attempted to
hold the girl between himself and the terrible fangs, the great
beast found him at last.

Then, shrieking, he attempted to fly toward Lothar, after pushing
Thuvia bodily into the face of the man-eater. But his flight was
of short duration. In a moment Komal was upon him, rending his
throat and chest with demoniacal fury.

The girl reached their side a moment later, but it was with difficulty
that she tore the mad beast from its prey. Still growling and
casting hungry glances back upon Jav, the banth at last permitted
itself to be led away into the wood.

With her giant protector by her side Thuvia set forth to find the
passage through the cliffs, that she might attempt the seemingly
impossible feat of reaching far-distant Ptarth across the more than
seventeen thousand haads of savage Barsoom.

She could not believe that Carthoris had deliberately deserted her,
and so she kept a constant watch for him; but as she bore too far
to the north in her search for the tunnel she passed the Heliumite
as he was returning to Lothar in search of her.

Thuvia of Ptarth was having difficulty in determining the exact
status of the Prince of Helium in her heart. She could not admit
even to herself that she loved him, and yet she had permitted him
to apply to her that term of endearment and possession to which
a Barsoomian maid should turn deaf ears when voiced by other lips
than those of her husband or fiance--"my princess."

Kulan Tith, Jeddak of Kaol, to whom she was affianced, commanded
her respect and admiration. Had it been that she had surrendered
to her father's wishes because of pique that the handsome Heliumite
had not taken advantage of his visits to her father's court
to push the suit for her hand that she had been quite sure he had
contemplated since that distant day the two had sat together upon
the carved seat within the gorgeous Garden of the Jeddaks that
graced the inner courtyard of the palace of Salensus Oll at Kadabra?

Did she love Kulan Tith? Bravely she tried to believe that she
did; but all the while her eyes wandered through the coming darkness
for the figure of a clean-limbed fighting man--black-haired and
grey-eyed. Black was the hair of Kulan Tith; but his eyes were
brown.

It was almost dark when she found the entrance to the tunnel. Safely
she passed through to the hills beyond, and here, under the bright
light of Mars' two moons, she halted to plan her future action.

Should she wait here in the hope that Carthoris would return in
search of her? Or should she continue her way north-east toward
Ptarth? Where, first, would Carthoris have gone after leaving the
valley of Lothar?

Her parched throat and dry tongue gave her the answer--toward
Aaanthor and water. Well, she, too, would go first to Aaanthor,
where she might find more than the water she needed.

With Komal by her side she felt little fear, for he would protect
her from all other savage beasts. Even the great white apes would
flee the mighty banth in terror. Men only need she fear, but she
must take this and many other chances before she could hope to
reach her father's court again.

When at last Carthoris found her, only to be struck down by the
long-sword of a green man, Thuvia prayed that the same fate might
overtake her.

The sight of the red warriors leaping from their fliers had, for a
moment, filled her with renewed hope--hope that Carthoris of Helium
might be only stunned and that they would rescue him; but when she
saw the Dusarian metal upon their harness, and that they sought
only to escape with her alone from the charging Torquasians, she
gave up.

Komal, too, was dead--dead across the body of the Heliumite. She
was, indeed, alone now. There was none to protect her.

The Dusarian warriors dragged her to the deck of the nearest flier.
All about them the green warriors surged in an attempt to wrest
her from the red.

At last those who had not died in the conflict gained the decks
of the two craft. The engines throbbed and purred--the propellers
whirred. Quickly the swift boats shot heavenward.

Thuvia of Ptarth glanced about her. A man stood near, smiling down
into her face. With a gasp of recognition she looked full into
his eyes, and then with a little moan of terror and understanding
she buried her face in her hands and sank to the polished skeel-wood
deck. It was Astok, Prince of Dusar, who bent above her.

Swift were the fliers of Astok of Dusar, and great the need for
reaching his father's court as quickly as possible, for the fleets
of war of Helium and Ptarth and Kaol were scattered far and wide
above Barsoom. Nor would it go well with Astok or Dusar should
any one of them discover Thuvia of Ptarth a prisoner upon his own
vessel.

Aaanthor lies in fifty south latitude, and forty east of Horz, the
deserted seat of ancient Barsoomian culture and learning, while
Dusar lies fifteen degrees north of the equator and twenty degrees
east from Horz.

Great though the distance is, the fliers covered it without a stop.
Long before they had reached their destination Thuvia of Ptarth had
learned several things that cleared up the doubts that had assailed
her mind for many days. Scarce had they risen above Aaanthor than
she recognized one of the crew as a member of the crew of that other
flier that had borne her from her father's gardens to Aaanthor.
The presence of Astok upon the craft settled the whole question.
She had been stolen by emissaries of the Dusarian prince--Carthoris
of Helium had had nothing to do with it.

Nor did Astok deny the charge when she accused him. He only smiled
and pleaded his love for her.

"I would sooner mate with a white ape!" she cried, when he would
have urged his suit.

Astok glowered sullenly upon her.

"You shall mate with me, Thuvia of Ptarth," he growled, "or, by
your first ancestor, you shall have your preference--and mate with
a white ape."

The girl made no reply, nor could he draw her into conversation
during the balance of the journey.

As a matter of fact Astok was a trifle awed by the proportions
of the conflict which his abduction of the Ptarthian princess had
induced, nor was he over comfortable with the weight of responsibility
which the possession of such a prisoner entailed.

His one thought was to get her to Dusar, and there let his father
assume the responsibility. In the meantime he would be as careful
as possible to do nothing to affront her, lest they all might be
captured and he have to account for his treatment of the girl to
one of the great jeddaks whose interest centred in her.

And so at last they came to Dusar, where Astok hid his prisoner in
a secret room high in the east tower of his own palace. He had
sworn his men to silence in the matter of the identity of the girl,
for until he had seen his father, Nutus, Jeddak of Dusar, he dared
not let any one know whom he had brought with him from the south.

But when he appeared in the great audience chamber before the
cruel-lipped man who was his sire, he found his courage oozing,
and he dared not speak of the princess hid within his palace. It
occurred to him to test his father's sentiments upon the subject,
and so he told a tale of capturing one who claimed to know the
whereabouts of Thuvia of Ptarth.

"And if you command it, Sire," he said, "I will go and capture
her--fetching her here to Dusar."

Nutus frowned and shook his head.

"You have done enough already to set Ptarth and Kaol and Helium
all three upon us at once should they learn your part in the theft
of the Ptarth princess. That you succeeded in shifting the guilt
upon the Prince of Helium was fortunate, and a masterly move of
strategy; but were the girl to know the truth and ever return to
her father's court, all Dusar would have to pay the penalty, and to
have her here a prisoner amongst us would be an admission of guilt
from the consequences of which naught could save us. It would cost
me my throne, Astok, and that I have no mind to lose.

"If we had her here--" the elder man suddenly commenced to muse,
repeating the phrase again and again. "If we had her here, Astok,"
he exclaimed fiercely. "Ah, if we but had her here and none knew
that she was here! Can you not guess, man? The guilt of Dusar
might be for ever buried with her bones," he concluded in a low,
savage whisper.

Astok, Prince of Dusar, shuddered.

Weak he was; yes, and wicked, too; but the suggestion that his
father's words implied turned him cold with horror.

Cruel to their enemies are the men of Mars; but the word "enemies"
is commonly interpreted to mean men only. Assassination runs riot
in the great Barsoomian cities; yet to murder a woman is a crime
so unthinkable that even the most hardened of the paid assassins
would shrink from you in horror should you suggest such a thing to
him.

Nutus was apparently oblivious to his son's all-too-patent terror
at his suggestion. Presently he continued:

"You say that you know where the girl lies hid, since she was stolen
from your people at Aaanthor. Should she be found by any one of
the three powers, her unsupported story would be sufficient to turn
them all against us.

"There is but one way, Astok," cried the older man. "You must return
at once to her hiding-place and fetch her hither in all secrecy.
And, look you here! Return not to Dusar without her, upon pain of
death!"

Astok, Prince of Dusar, well knew his royal father's temper. He
knew that in the tyrant's heart there pulsed no single throb of
love for any creature.

Astok's mother had been a slave woman. Nutus had never loved her.
He had never loved another. In youth he had tried to find a bride
at the courts of several of his powerful neighbours, but their
women would have none of him.

After a dozen daughters of his own nobility had sought self-destruction
rather than wed him he had given up. And then it had been that
he had legally wed one of his slaves that he might have a son to
stand among the jeds when Nutus died and a new jeddak was chosen.

Slowly Astok withdrew from the presence of his father. With white
face and shaking limbs he made his way to his own palace. As he
crossed the courtyard his glance chanced to wander to the great
east tower looming high against the azure of the sky.

At sight of it beads of sweat broke out upon his brow.

Issus! No other hand than his could be trusted to do the horrid
thing. With his own fingers he must crush the life from that
perfect throat, or plunge the silent blade into the red, red heart.

Her heart! The heart that he had hoped would brim with love for
him!

But had it done so? He recalled the haughty contempt with which his
protestations of love had been received. He went cold and then hot
to the memory of it. His compunctions cooled as the self-satisfaction
of a near revenge crowded out the finer instincts that had for
a moment asserted themselves--the good that he had inherited from
the slave woman was once again submerged in the bad blood that had
come down to him from his royal sire; as, in the end, it always
was.

A cold smile supplanted the terror that had dilated his eyes. He
turned his steps toward the tower. He would see her before he set
out upon the journey that was to blind his father to the fact that
the girl was already in Dusar.

Quietly he passed in through the secret way, ascending a spiral
runway to the apartment in which the Princess of Ptarth was immured.

As he entered the room he saw the girl leaning upon the sill of
the east casement, gazing out across the roof tops of Dusar toward
distant Ptarth. He hated Ptarth. The thought of it filled him
with rage. Why not finish her now and have it done with?

At the sound of his step she turned quickly toward him. Ah, how
beautiful she was! His sudden determination faded beneath the
glorious light of her wondrous beauty. He would wait until he had
returned from his little journey of deception--maybe there might
be some other way then. Some other hand to strike the blow--with
that face, with those eyes before him, he could never do it. Of
that he was positive. He had always gloried in the cruelty of his
nature, but, Issus! he was not that cruel. No, another must be
found--one whom he could trust.

He was still looking at her as she stood there before him meeting
his gaze steadily and unafraid. He felt the hot passion of his
love mounting higher and higher.

Why not sue once more? If she would relent, all might yet be
well. Even if his father could not be persuaded, they could fly
to Ptarth, laying all the blame of the knavery and intrigue that
had thrown four great nations into war, upon the shoulders of Nutus.
And who was there that would doubt the justice of the charge?

"Thuvia," he said, "I come once again, for the last time, to lay
my heart at your feet. Ptarth and Kaol and Dusar are battling with
Helium because of you. Wed me, Thuvia, and all may yet be as it
should be."

The girl shook her head.

"Wait!" he commanded, before she could speak. "Know the truth
before you speak words that may seal, not only your own fate, but
that of the thousands of warriors who battle because of you.

"Refuse to wed me willingly, and Dusar would be laid waste should
ever the truth be known to Ptarth and Kaol and Helium. They would
raze our cities, leaving not one stone upon another. They would
scatter our peoples across the face of Barsoom from the frozen north
to the frozen south, hunting them down and slaying them, until this
great nation remained only as a hated memory in the minds of men.

"But while they are exterminating the Dusarians, countless thousands
of their own warriors must perish--and all because of the stubbornness
of a single woman who would not wed the prince who loves her.

"Refuse, Thuvia of Ptarth, and there remains but a single
alternative--no man must ever know your fate. Only a handful of
loyal servitors besides my royal father and myself know that you
were stolen from the gardens of Thuvan Dihn by Astok, Prince of
Dusar, or that to-day you be imprisoned in my palace.

"Refuse, Thuvia of Ptarth, and you must die to save Dusar--there
is no other way. Nutus, the jeddak, has so decreed. I have spoken."

For a long moment the girl let her level gaze rest full upon the
face of Astok of Dusar. Then she spoke, and though the words were
few, the unimpassioned tone carried unfathomable depths of cold
contempt.

"Better all that you have threatened," she said, "than you."

Then she turned her back upon him and went to stand once more before
the east window, gazing with sad eyes toward distant Ptarth.

Astok wheeled and left the room, returning after a short interval
of time with food and drink.

"Here," he said, "is sustenance until I return again. The next to
enter this apartment will be your executioner. Commend yourself to
your ancestors, Thuvia of Ptarth, for within a few days you shall
be with them."

Then he was gone.

Half an hour later he was interviewing an officer high in the navy
of Dusar.

"Whither went Vas Kor?" he asked. "He is not at his palace."

"South, to the great waterway that skirts Torquas," replied the
other. "His son, Hal Vas, is Dwar of the Road there, and thither
has Vas Kor gone to enlist recruits among the workers on the farms."

"Good," said Astok, and a half-hour more found him rising above
Dusar in his swiftest flier.





Next: Turjun The Panthan

Previous: Green Men And White Apes



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