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Victory And Defeat

From: The Gods Of Mars

"John Carter, John Carter," she sobbed, with her dear head upon my
shoulder; "even now I can scarce believe the witness of my own eyes.
When the girl, Thuvia, told me that you had returned to Barsoom, I
listened, but I could not understand, for it seemed that such happiness
would be impossible for one who had suffered so in silent loneliness
for all these long years. At last, when I realized that it was truth,
and then came to know the awful place in which I was held prisoner, I
learned to doubt that even you could reach me here.

"As the days passed, and moon after moon went by without bringing even
the faintest rumour of you, I resigned myself to my fate. And now that
you have come, scarce can I believe it. For an hour I have heard the
sounds of conflict within the palace. I knew not what they meant, but
I have hoped against hope that it might be the men of Helium headed by
my Prince.

"And tell me, what of Carthoris, our son?"

"He was with me less than an hour since, Dejah Thoris," I replied. "It
must have been he whose men you have heard battling within the
precincts of the temple.

"Where is Issus?" I asked suddenly.

Dejah Thoris shrugged her shoulders.

"She sent me under guard to this room just before the fighting began
within the temple halls. She said that she would send for me later.
She seemed very angry and somewhat fearful. Never have I seen her act
in so uncertain and almost terrified a manner. Now I know that it must
have been because she had learned that John Carter, Prince of Helium,
was approaching to demand an accounting of her for the imprisonment of
his Princess."

The sounds of conflict, the clash of arms, the shouting and the
hurrying of many feet came to us from various parts of the temple. I
knew that I was needed there, but I dared not leave Dejah Thoris, nor
dared I take her with me into the turmoil and danger of battle.

At last I bethought me of the pits from which I had just emerged. Why
not secrete her there until I could return and fetch her away in safety
and for ever from this awful place. I explained my plan to her.

For a moment she clung more closely to me.

"I cannot bear to be parted from you now, even for a moment, John
Carter," she said. "I shudder at the thought of being alone again
where that terrible creature might discover me. You do not know her.
None can imagine her ferocious cruelty who has not witnessed her daily
acts for over half a year. It has taken me nearly all this time to
realize even the things that I have seen with my own eyes."

"I shall not leave you, then, my Princess," I replied.

She was silent for a moment, then she drew my face to hers and kissed

"Go, John Carter," she said. "Our son is there, and the soldiers of
Helium, fighting for the Princess of Helium. Where they are you should
be. I must not think of myself now, but of them and of my husband's
duty. I may not stand in the way of that. Hide me in the pits, and

I led her to the door through which I had entered the chamber from
below. There I pressed her dear form to me, and then, though it tore
my heart to do it, and filled me only with the blackest shadows of
terrible foreboding, I guided her across the threshold, kissed her once
again, and closed the door upon her.

Without hesitating longer, I hurried from the chamber in the direction
of the greatest tumult. Scarce half a dozen chambers had I traversed
before I came upon the theatre of a fierce struggle. The blacks were
massed at the entrance to a great chamber where they were attempting to
block the further progress of a body of red men toward the inner sacred
precincts of the temple.

Coming from within as I did, I found myself behind the blacks, and,
without waiting to even calculate their numbers or the foolhardiness of
my venture, I charged swiftly across the chamber and fell upon them
from the rear with my keen long-sword.

As I struck the first blow I cried aloud, "For Helium!" And then I
rained cut after cut upon the surprised warriors, while the reds
without took heart at the sound of my voice, and with shouts of "John
Carter! John Carter!" redoubled their efforts so effectually that
before the blacks could recover from their temporary demoralization
their ranks were broken and the red men had burst into the chamber.

The fight within that room, had it had but a competent chronicler,
would go down in the annals of Barsoom as a historic memorial to the
grim ferocity of her warlike people. Five hundred men fought there
that day, the black men against the red. No man asked quarter or gave
it. As though by common assent they fought, as though to determine
once and for all their right to live, in accordance with the law of the
survival of the fittest.

I think we all knew that upon the outcome of this battle would hinge
for ever the relative positions of these two races upon Barsoom. It
was a battle between the old and the new, but not for once did I
question the outcome of it. With Carthoris at my side I fought for the
red men of Barsoom and for their total emancipation from the throttling
bondage of a hideous superstition.

Back and forth across the room we surged, until the floor was ankle
deep in blood, and dead men lay so thickly there that half the time we
stood upon their bodies as we fought. As we swung toward the great
windows which overlooked the gardens of Issus a sight met my gaze which
sent a wave of exultation over me.

"Look!" I cried. "Men of the First Born, look!"

For an instant the fighting ceased, and with one accord every eye
turned in the direction I had indicated, and the sight they saw was one
no man of the First Born had ever imagined could be.

Across the gardens, from side to side, stood a wavering line of black
warriors, while beyond them and forcing them ever back was a great
horde of green warriors astride their mighty thoats. And as we
watched, one, fiercer and more grimly terrible than his fellows, rode
forward from the rear, and as he came he shouted some fierce command to
his terrible legion.

It was Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, and as he couched his great
forty-foot metal-shod lance we saw his warriors do likewise. Then it
was that we interpreted his command. Twenty yards now separated the
green men from the black line. Another word from the great Thark, and
with a wild and terrifying battle-cry the green warriors charged. For
a moment the black line held, but only for a moment--then the fearsome
beasts that bore equally terrible riders passed completely through it.

After them came utan upon utan of red men. The green horde broke to
surround the temple. The red men charged for the interior, and then we
turned to continue our interrupted battle; but our foes had vanished.

My first thought was of Dejah Thoris. Calling to Carthoris that I had
found his mother, I started on a run toward the chamber where I had
left her, with my boy close beside me. After us came those of our
little force who had survived the bloody conflict.

The moment I entered the room I saw that some one had been there since
I had left. A silk lay upon the floor. It had not been there before.
There were also a dagger and several metal ornaments strewn about as
though torn from their wearer in a struggle. But worst of all, the
door leading to the pits where I had hidden my Princess was ajar.

With a bound I was before it, and, thrusting it open, rushed within.
Dejah Thoris had vanished. I called her name aloud again and again,
but there was no response. I think in that instant I hovered upon the
verge of insanity. I do not recall what I said or did, but I know that
for an instant I was seized with the rage of a maniac.

"Issus!" I cried. "Issus! Where is Issus? Search the temple for her,
but let no man harm her but John Carter. Carthoris, where are the
apartments of Issus?"

"This way," cried the boy, and, without waiting to know that I had
heard him, he dashed off at breakneck speed, further into the bowels of
the temple. As fast as he went, however, I was still beside him,
urging him on to greater speed.

At last we came to a great carved door, and through this Carthoris
dashed, a foot ahead of me. Within, we came upon such a scene as I had
witnessed within the temple once before--the throne of Issus, with the
reclining slaves, and about it the ranks of soldiery.

We did not even give the men a chance to draw, so quickly were we upon
them. With a single cut I struck down two in the front rank. And then
by the mere weight and momentum of my body, I rushed completely through
the two remaining ranks and sprang upon the dais beside the carved
sorapus throne.

The repulsive creature, squatting there in terror, attempted to escape
me and leap into a trap behind her. But this time I was not to be
outwitted by any such petty subterfuge. Before she had half arisen I
had grasped her by the arm, and then, as I saw the guard starting to
make a concerted rush upon me from all sides, I whipped out my dagger
and, holding it close to that vile breast, ordered them to halt.

"Back!" I cried to them. "Back! The first black foot that is planted
upon this platform sends my dagger into Issus' heart."

For an instant they hesitated. Then an officer ordered them back,
while from the outer corridor there swept into the throne room at the
heels of my little party of survivors a full thousand red men under
Kantos Kan, Hor Vastus, and Xodar.

"Where is Dejah Thoris?" I cried to the thing within my hands.

For a moment her eyes roved wildly about the scene beneath her. I
think that it took a moment for the true condition to make any
impression upon her--she could not at first realize that the temple had
fallen before the assault of men of the outer world. When she did,
there must have come, too, a terrible realization of what it meant to
her--the loss of power--humiliation--the exposure of the fraud and
imposture which she had for so long played upon her own people.

There was just one thing needed to complete the reality of the picture
she was seeing, and that was added by the highest noble of her
realm--the high priest of her religion--the prime minister of her

"Issus, Goddess of Death, and of Life Eternal," he cried, "arise in the
might of thy righteous wrath and with one single wave of thy omnipotent
hand strike dead thy blasphemers! Let not one escape. Issus, thy
people depend upon thee. Daughter of the Lesser Moon, thou only art
all-powerful. Thou only canst save thy people. I am done. We await
thy will. Strike!"

And then it was that she went mad. A screaming, gibbering maniac
writhed in my grasp. It bit and clawed and scratched in impotent fury.
And then it laughed a weird and terrible laughter that froze the blood.
The slave girls upon the dais shrieked and cowered away. And the thing
jumped at them and gnashed its teeth and then spat upon them from
frothing lips. God, but it was a horrid sight.

Finally, I shook the thing, hoping to recall it for a moment to

"Where is Dejah Thoris?" I cried again.

The awful creature in my grasp mumbled inarticulately for a moment,
then a sudden gleam of cunning shot into those hideous, close-set eyes.

"Dejah Thoris? Dejah Thoris?" and then that shrill, unearthly laugh
pierced our ears once more.

"Yes, Dejah Thoris--I know. And Thuvia, and Phaidor, daughter of Matai
Shang. They each love John Carter. Ha-ah! but it is droll. Together
for a year they will meditate within the Temple of the Sun, but ere the
year is quite gone there will be no more food for them. Ho-oh! what
divine entertainment," and she licked the froth from her cruel lips.
"There will be no more food--except each other. Ha-ah! Ha-ah!"

The horror of the suggestion nearly paralysed me. To this awful fate
the creature within my power had condemned my Princess. I trembled in
the ferocity of my rage. As a terrier shakes a rat I shook Issus,
Goddess of Life Eternal.

"Countermand your orders!" I cried. "Recall the condemned. Haste, or
you die!"

"It is too late. Ha-ah! Ha-ah!" and then she commenced her gibbering
and shrieking again.

Almost of its own volition, my dagger flew up above that putrid heart.
But something stayed my hand, and I am now glad that it did. It were a
terrible thing to have struck down a woman with one's own hand. But a
fitter fate occurred to me for this false deity.

"First Born," I cried, turning to those who stood within the chamber,
"you have seen to-day the impotency of Issus--the gods are impotent.
Issus is no god. She is a cruel and wicked old woman, who has deceived
and played upon you for ages. Take her. John Carter, Prince of
Helium, would not contaminate his hand with her blood," and with that I
pushed the raving beast, whom a short half-hour before a whole world
had worshipped as divine, from the platform of her throne into the
waiting clutches of her betrayed and vengeful people.

Spying Xodar among the officers of the red men, I called him to lead me
quickly to the Temple of the Sun, and, without waiting to learn what
fate the First Born would wreak upon their goddess, I rushed from the
chamber with Xodar, Carthoris, Hor Vastus, Kantos Kan, and a score of
other red nobles.

The black led us rapidly through the inner chambers of the temple,
until we stood within the central court--a great circular space paved
with a transparent marble of exquisite whiteness. Before us rose a
golden temple wrought in the most wondrous and fanciful designs, inlaid
with diamond, ruby, sapphire, turquoise, emerald, and the thousand
nameless gems of Mars, which far transcend in loveliness and purity of
ray the most priceless stones of Earth.

"This way," cried Xodar, leading us toward the entrance to a tunnel
which opened in the courtyard beside the temple. Just as we were on
the point of descending we heard a deep-toned roar burst from the
Temple of Issus, which we had but just quitted, and then a red man,
Djor Kantos, padwar of the fifth utan, broke from a nearby gate, crying
to us to return.

"The blacks have fired the temple," he cried. "In a thousand places it
is burning now. Haste to the outer gardens, or you are lost."

As he spoke we saw smoke pouring from a dozen windows looking out upon
the courtyard of the Temple of the Sun, and far above the highest
minaret of Issus hung an ever-growing pall of smoke.

"Go back! Go back!" I cried to those who had accompanied me. "The
way! Xodar; point the way and leave me. I shall reach my Princess

"Follow me, John Carter," replied Xodar, and without waiting for my
reply he dashed down into the tunnel at our feet. At his heels I ran
down through a half-dozen tiers of galleries, until at last he led me
along a level floor at the end of which I discerned a lighted chamber.

Massive bars blocked our further progress, but beyond I saw her--my
incomparable Princess, and with her were Thuvia and Phaidor. When she
saw me she rushed toward the bars that separated us. Already the
chamber had turned upon its slow way so far that but a portion of the
opening in the temple wall was opposite the barred end of the corridor.
Slowly the interval was closing. In a short time there would be but a
tiny crack, and then even that would be closed, and for a long
Barsoomian year the chamber would slowly revolve until once more for a
brief day the aperture in its wall would pass the corridor's end.

But in the meantime what horrible things would go on within that

"Xodar!" I cried. "Can no power stop this awful revolving thing? Is
there none who holds the secret of these terrible bars?"

"None, I fear, whom we could fetch in time, though I shall go and make
the attempt. Wait for me here."

After he had left I stood and talked with Dejah Thoris, and she
stretched her dear hand through those cruel bars that I might hold it
until the last moment.

Thuvia and Phaidor came close also, but when Thuvia saw that we would
be alone she withdrew to the further side of the chamber. Not so the
daughter of Matai Shang.

"John Carter," she said, "this be the last time that you shall see any
of us. Tell me that you love me, that I may die happy."

"I love only the Princess of Helium," I replied quietly. "I am sorry,
Phaidor, but it is as I have told you from the beginning."

She bit her lip and turned away, but not before I saw the black and
ugly scowl she turned upon Dejah Thoris. Thereafter she stood a little
way apart, but not so far as I should have desired, for I had many
little confidences to impart to my long-lost love.

For a few minutes we stood thus talking in low tones. Ever smaller and
smaller grew the opening. In a short time now it would be too small
even to permit the slender form of my Princess to pass. Oh, why did
not Xodar haste. Above we could hear the faint echoes of a great
tumult. It was the multitude of black and red and green men fighting
their way through the fire from the burning Temple of Issus.

A draught from above brought the fumes of smoke to our nostrils. As we
stood waiting for Xodar the smoke became thicker and thicker.
Presently we heard shouting at the far end of the corridor, and
hurrying feet.

"Come back, John Carter, come back!" cried a voice, "even the pits are

In a moment a dozen men broke through the now blinding smoke to my
side. There was Carthoris, and Kantos Kan, and Hor Vastus, and Xodar,
with a few more who had followed me to the temple court.

"There is no hope, John Carter," cried Xodar. "The keeper of the keys
is dead and his keys are not upon his carcass. Our only hope is to
quench this conflagration and trust to fate that a year will find your
Princess alive and well. I have brought sufficient food to last them.
When this crack closes no smoke can reach them, and if we hasten to
extinguish the flames I believe they will be safe."

"Go, then, yourself and take these others with you," I replied. "I
shall remain here beside my Princess until a merciful death releases me
from my anguish. I care not to live."

As I spoke Xodar had been tossing a great number of tiny cans within
the prison cell. The remaining crack was not over an inch in width a
moment later. Dejah Thoris stood as close to it as she could,
whispering words of hope and courage to me, and urging me to save

Suddenly beyond her I saw the beautiful face of Phaidor contorted into
an expression of malign hatred. As my eyes met hers she spoke.

"Think not, John Carter, that you may so lightly cast aside the love of
Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang. Nor ever hope to hold thy Dejah
Thoris in thy arms again. Wait you the long, long year; but know that
when the waiting is over it shall be Phaidor's arms which shall welcome
you--not those of the Princess of Helium. Behold, she dies!"

And as she finished speaking I saw her raise a dagger on high, and then
I saw another figure. It was Thuvia's. As the dagger fell toward the
unprotected breast of my love, Thuvia was almost between them. A
blinding gust of smoke blotted out the tragedy within that fearsome
cell--a shriek rang out, a single shriek, as the dagger fell.

The smoke cleared away, but we stood gazing upon a blank wall. The
last crevice had closed, and for a long year that hideous chamber would
retain its secret from the eyes of men.

They urged me to leave.

"In a moment it will be too late," cried Xodar. "There is, in fact,
but a bare chance that we can come through to the outer garden alive
even now. I have ordered the pumps started, and in five minutes the
pits will be flooded. If we would not drown like rats in a trap we
must hasten above and make a dash for safety through the burning

"Go," I urged them. "Let me die here beside my Princess--there is no
hope or happiness elsewhere for me. When they carry her dear body from
that terrible place a year hence let them find the body of her lord
awaiting her."

Of what happened after that I have only a confused recollection. It
seems as though I struggled with many men, and then that I was picked
bodily from the ground and borne away. I do not know. I have never
asked, nor has any other who was there that day intruded on my sorrow
or recalled to my mind the occurrences which they know could but at
best reopen the terrible wound within my heart.

Ah! If I could but know one thing, what a burden of suspense would be
lifted from my shoulders! But whether the assassin's dagger reached
one fair bosom or another, only time will divulge.

Next: The Rift

Previous: Through Flood And Flame

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