The Battle In The Plain

: 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 r
ady 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


"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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"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


"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.