The Choice Of Tara

: The Chessmen Of Mars

The dazzling sunlight of Barsoom clothed Manator in an aureole of

splendor as the girl and her captors rode into the city through

The Gate of Enemies. Here the wall was some fifty feet thick, and

the sides of the passageway within the gate were covered with

parallel shelves of masonry from bottom to top. Within these

shelves, or long, horizontal niches, stood row upon row of small

figures, appearing like tiny, grotesqu
statuettes of men, their

long, black hair falling below their feet and sometimes trailing

to the shelf beneath. The figures were scarce a foot in height

and but for their diminutive proportions might have been the

mummified bodies of once living men. The girl noticed that as

they passed, the warriors saluted the figures with their spears

after the manner of Barsoomian fighting men in extending a

military courtesy, and then they rode on into the avenue beyond,

which ran, wide and stately, through the city toward the east.

On either side were great buildings wondrously wrought. Paintings

of great beauty and antiquity covered many of the walls, their

colors softened and blended by the suns of ages. Upon the

pavement the life of the newly-awakened city was already afoot.

Women in brilliant trappings, befeathered warriors, their bodies

daubed with paint; artisans, armed but less gaily caparisoned,

took their various ways upon the duties of the day. A giant

zitidar, magnificent in rich harness, rumbled its broad-wheeled

cart along the stone pavement toward The Gate of Enemies. Life

and color and beauty wrought together a picture that filled the

eyes of Tara of Helium with wonder and with admiration, for here

was a scene out of the dead past of dying Mars. Such had been the

cities of the founders of her race before Throxeus, mightiest of

oceans, had disappeared from the face of a world. And from

balconies on either side men and women looked down in silence

upon the scene below.

The people in the street looked at the two prisoners, especially

at the hideous Ghek, and called out in question or comment to

their guard; but the watchers upon the balconies spoke not, nor

did one so much as turn a head to note their passing. There were

many balconies on each building and not a one that did not hold

its silent party of richly trapped men and women, with here and

there a child or two, but even the children maintained the

uniform silence and immobility of their elders. As they

approached the center of the city the girl saw that even the

roofs bore companies of these idle watchers, harnessed and

bejeweled as for some gala-day of laughter and music, but no

laughter broke from those silent lips, nor any music from the

strings of the instruments that many of them held in jeweled


And now the avenue widened into an immense square, at the far end

of which rose a stately edifice gleaming white in virgin marble

among the gaily painted buildings surrounding it and its scarlet

sward and gaily-flowering, green-foliaged shrubbery. Toward this

U-Dor led his prisoners and their guard to the great arched

entrance before which a line of fifty mounted warriors barred the

way. When the commander of the guard recognized U-Dor the

guardsmen fell back to either side leaving a broad avenue through

which the party passed. Directly inside the entrance were

inclined runways leading upward on either side. U-Dor turned to

the left and led them upward to the second floor and down a long

corridor. Here they passed other mounted men and in chambers upon

either side they saw more. Occasionally there was another runway

leading either up or down. A warrior, his steed at full gallop,

dashed into sight from one of these and raced swiftly past them

upon some errand.

Nowhere as yet had Tara of Helium seen a man afoot in this great

building; but when at a turn, U-Dor led them to the third floor

she caught glimpses of chambers in which many riderless thoats

were penned and others adjoining where dismounted warriors lolled

at ease or played games of skill or chance and many there were

who played at jetan, and then the party passed into a long, wide

hall of state, as magnificent an apartment as even a princess of

mighty Helium ever had seen. The length of the room ran an arched

ceiling ablaze with countless radium bulbs. The mighty spans

extended from wall to wall leaving the vast floor unbroken by a

single column. The arches were of white marble, apparently

quarried in single, huge blocks from which each arch was cut

complete. Between the arches, the ceiling was set solid about the

radium bulbs with precious stones whose scintillant fire and

color and beauty filled the whole apartment. The stones were

carried down the walls in an irregular fringe for a few feet,

where they appeared to hang like a beautiful and gorgeous drapery

against the white marble of the wall. The marble ended some six

or seven feet from the floor, the walls from that point down

being wainscoted in solid gold. The floor itself was of marble

richly inlaid with gold. In that single room was a vast treasure

equal to the wealth of many a large city.

But what riveted the girl's attention even more than the fabulous

treasure of decorations were the files of gorgeously harnessed

warriors who sat their thoats in grim silence and immobility on

either side of the central aisle, rank after rank of them to the

farther walls, and as the party passed between them she could not

note so much as the flicker of an eyelid, or the twitching of a

thoat's ear.

"The Hall of Chiefs," whispered one of her guard, evidently

noting her interest. There was a note of pride in the fellow's

voice and something of hushed awe. Then they passed through a

great doorway into the chamber beyond, a large, square room in

which a dozen mounted warriors lolled in their saddles.

As U-Dor and his party entered the room, the warriors came

quickly erect in their saddles and formed a line before another

door upon the opposite side of the wall. The padwar commanding

them saluted U-Dor who, with his party, had halted facing the


"Send one to O-Tar announcing that U-Dor brings two prisoners

worthy of the observation of the great jeddak," said U-Dor; "one

because of her extreme beauty, the other because of his extreme


"O-Tar sits in council with the lesser chiefs," replied the

lieutenant; "but the words of U-Dor the dwar shall be carried to

him," and he turned and gave instructions to one who sat his

thoat behind him.

"What manner of creature is the male?" he asked of U-Dor. "It

cannot be that both are of one race."

"They were together in the hills south of the city," explained

U-Dor, "and they say that they are lost and starving."

"The woman is beautiful," said the padwar. "She will not long go

begging in the city of Manator," and then they spoke of other

matters--of the doings of the palace, of the expedition of U-Dor,

until the messenger returned to say that O-Tar bade them bring

the prisoners to him.

They passed then through a massive doorway, which, when opened,

revealed the great council chamber of O-Tar, Jeddak of Manator,

beyond. A central aisle led from the doorway the full length of

the great hall, terminating at the steps of a marble dais upon

which a man sat in a great throne-chair. Upon either side of the

aisle were ranged rows of highly carved desks and chairs of skeel,

a hard wood of great beauty. Only a few of the desks were

occupied--those in the front row, just below the rostrum.

At the entrance U-Dor dismounted with four of his followers who

formed a guard about the two prisoners who were then conducted

toward the foot of the throne, following a few paces behind

U-Dor. As they halted at the foot of the marble steps, the proud

gaze of Tara of Helium rested upon the enthroned figure of the

man above her. He sat erect without stiffness--a commanding

presence trapped in the barbaric splendor that the Barsoomian

chieftain loves. He was a large man, the perfection of whose

handsome face was marred only by the hauteur of his cold eyes and

the suggestion of cruelty imparted by too thin lips. It needed no

second glance to assure the least observing that here indeed was

a ruler of men--a fighting jeddak whose people might worship but

not love, and for whose slightest favor warriors would vie with

one another to go forth and die. This was O-Tar, Jeddak of

Manator, and as Tara of Helium saw him for the first time she

could not but acknowledge a certain admiration for this savage

chieftain who so virilely personified the ancient virtues of the

God of War.

U-Dor and the jeddak interchanged the simple greetings of

Barsoom, and then the former recounted the details of the

discovery and capture of the prisoners. O-Tar scrutinized them

both intently during U-Dor's narration of events, his expression

revealing naught of what passed in the brain behind those

inscrutable eyes. When the officer had finished the jeddak

fastened his gaze upon Ghek.

"And you," he asked, "what manner of thing are you? From what

country? Why are you in Manator?"

"I am a kaldane," replied Ghek; "the highest type of created

creature upon the face of Barsoom; I am mind, you are matter. I

come from Bantoom. I am here because we were lost and starving."

"And you!" O-Tar turned suddenly on Tara. "You, too, are a


"I am a princess of Helium," replied the girl. "I was a prisoner

in Bantoom. This kaldane and a warrior of my own race rescued me.

The warrior left us to search for food and water. He has

doubtless fallen into the hands of your people. I ask you to free

him and give us food and drink and let us go upon our way. I am a

granddaughter of a jeddak, the daughter of a jeddak of jeddaks,

The Warlord of Barsoom. I ask only the treatment that my people

would accord you or yours."

"Helium," repeated O-Tar. "I know naught of Helium, nor does the

Jeddak of Helium rule Manator. I, O-Tar, am Jeddak of Manator. I

alone rule. I protect my own. You have never seen a woman or a

warrior of Manator captive in Helium! Why should I protect the

people of another jeddak? It is his duty to protect them. If he

cannot, he is weak, and his people must fall into the hands of

the strong. I, O-Tar, am strong. I will keep you. That--" he

pointed at Ghek--"can it fight?"

"It is brave," replied Tara of Helium, "but it has not the skill

at arms which my people possess."

"There is none then to fight for you?" asked O-Tar. "We are a

just people," he continued without waiting for a reply, "and had

you one to fight for you he might win to freedom for himself and

you as well."

"But U-Dor assured me that no stranger ever had departed from

Manator," she answered.

O-Tar shrugged. "That does not disprove the justice of the laws

of Manator," replied O-Tar, "but rather that the warriors of

Manator are invincible. Had there come one who could defeat our

warriors that one had won to liberty."

"And you fetch my warrior," cried Tara haughtily, "you shall see

such swordplay as doubtless the crumbling walls of your decaying

city never have witnessed, and if there be no trick in your offer

we are already as good as free."

O-Tar smiled more broadly than before and U-Dor smiled, too, and

the chiefs and warriors who looked on nudged one another and

whispered, laughing. And Tara of Helium knew then that there was

trickery in their justice; but though her situation seemed

hopeless she did not cease to hope, for was she not the daughter

of John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, whose famous challenge to

Fate, "I still live!" remained the one irreducible defense

against despair? At thought of her noble sire the patrician chin

of Tara of Helium rose a shade higher. Ah! if he but knew where

she was there were little to fear then. The hosts of Helium would

batter at the gates of Manator, the great green warriors of John

Carter's savage allies would swarm up from the dead sea bottoms

lusting for pillage and for loot, the stately ships of her

beloved navy would soar above the unprotected towers and minarets

of the doomed city which only capitulation and heavy tribute

could then save.

But John Carter did not know! There was only one other to whom

she might hope to look--Turan the panthan; but where was he? She

had seen his sword in play and she knew that it had been wielded

by a master hand, and who should know swordplay better than Tara

of Helium, who had learned it well under the constant tutorage of

John Carter himself. Tricks she knew that discounted even far

greater physical prowess than her own, and a method of attack

that might have been at once the envy and despair of the

cleverest of warriors. And so it was that her thoughts turned to

Turan the panthan, though not alone because of the protection he

might afford her. She had realized, since he had left her in

search of food, that there had grown between them a certain

comradeship that she now missed. There had been that about him

which seemed to have bridged the gulf between their stations in

life. With him she had failed to consider that he was a panthan

or that she was a princess--they had been comrades. Suddenly she

realized that she missed him for himself more than for his sword.

She turned toward O-Tar.

"Where is Turan, my warrior?" she demanded.

"You shall not lack for warriors," replied the jeddak. "One of

your beauty will find plenty ready to fight for her. Possibly it

shall not be necessary to look farther than the jeddak of

Manator. You please me, woman. What say you to such an honor?"

Through narrowed lids the Princess of Helium scrutinized the

Jeddak of Manator, from feathered headdress to sandaled foot and

back to feathered headdress.

"'Honor'!" she mimicked in tones of scorn. "I please thee, do I?

Then know, swine, that thou pleaseth me not--that the daughter of

John Carter is not for such as thou!"

A sudden, tense silence fell upon the assembled chiefs. Slowly

the blood receded from the sinister face of O-Tar, Jeddak of

Manator, leaving him a sickly purple in his wrath. His eyes

narrowed to two thin slits, his lips were compressed to a

bloodless line of malevolence. For a long moment there was no

sound in the throne room of the palace at Manator. Then the

jeddak turned toward U-Dor.

"Take her away," he said in a level voice that belied his

appearance of rage. "Take her away, and at the next games let the

prisoners and the common warriors play at Jetan for her."

"And this?" asked U-Dor, pointing at Ghek.

"To the pits until the next games," replied O-Tar.

"So this is your vaunted justice!" cried Tara of Helium; "that

two strangers who have not wronged you shall be sentenced without

trial? And one of them is a woman. The swine of Manator are as

just as they are brave."

"Away with her!" shouted O-Tar, and at a sign from U-Dor the

guards formed about the two prisoners and conducted them from the


Outside the palace, Ghek and Tara of Helium were separated. The

girl was led through long avenues toward the center of the city

and finally into a low building, topped by lofty towers of

massive construction. Here she was turned over to a warrior who

wore the insignia of a dwar, or captain.

"It is O-Tar's wish," explained U-Dor to this one, "that she be

kept until the next games, when the prisoners and the common

warriors shall play for her. Had she not the tongue of a thoat

she had been a worthy stake for our noblest steel," and U-Dor

sighed. "Perhaps even yet I may win a pardon for her. It were too

bad to see such beauty fall to the lot of some common fellow. I

would have honored her myself."

"If I am to be imprisoned, imprison me," said the girl. "I do not

recall that I was sentenced to listen to the insults of every

low-born boor who chanced to admire me."

"You see, A-Kor," cried U-Dor, "the tongue that she has. Even so

and worse spoke she to O-Tar the jeddak."

"I see," replied A-Kor, whom Tara saw was with difficulty

restraining a smile. "Come, then, with me, woman," he said, "and

we shall find a safe place within The Towers of Jetan--but stay!

what ails thee?"

The girl had staggered and would have fallen had not the man

caught her in his arms. She seemed to gather herself then and

bravely sought to stand erect without support. A-Kor glanced at

U-Dor. "Knew you the woman was ill?" he asked.

"Possibly it is lack of food," replied the other. "She mentioned,

I believe, that she and her companions had not eaten for several


"Brave are the warriors of O-Tar," sneered A-Kor; "lavish their

hospitality. U-Dor, whose riches are uncounted, and the brave

O-Tar, whose squealing thoats are stabled within marble halls and

fed from troughs of gold, can spare no crust to feed a starving


The black haired U-Dor scowled. "Thy tongue will yet pierce thy

heart, son of a slave!" he cried. "Once too often mayst thus try

the patience of the just O-Tar. Hereafter guard thy speech as

well as thy towers."

"Think not to taunt me with my mother's state," said A-Kor. "'Tis

the blood of the slave woman that fills my veins with pride, and

my only shame is that I am also the son of thy jeddak."

"And O-Tar heard this?" queried U-Dor.

"O-Tar has already heard it from my own lips," replied A-Kor;

"this, and more."

He turned upon his heel, a supporting arm still around the waist

of Tara of Helium and thus he half led, half carried her into The

Towers of Jetan, while U-Dor wheeled his thoat and galloped back

in the direction of the palace.

Within the main entrance to The Tower of Jetan lolled a

half-dozen warriors. To one of these spoke A-Kor, keeper of the

towers. "Fetch Lan-O, the slave girl, and bid her bring food and

drink to the upper level of the Thurian tower," then he lifted

the half-fainting girl in his arms and bore her along the spiral,

inclined runway that led upward within the tower.

Somewhere in the long ascent Tara lost consciousness. When it

returned she found herself in a large, circular chamber, the

stone walls of which were pierced by windows at regular intervals

about the entire circumference of the room. She was lying upon a

pile of sleeping silks and furs while there knelt above her a

young woman who was forcing drops of some cooling beverage

between her parched lips. Tara of Helium half rose upon an elbow

and looked about. In the first moments of returning consciousness

there were swept from the screen of recollection the happenings

of many weeks. She thought that she awoke in the palace of The

Warlord at Helium. Her brows knit as she scrutinized the strange

face bending over her.

"Who are you?" she asked, and, "Where is Uthia?"

"I am Lan-O the slave girl," replied the other. "I know none by

the name of Uthia."

Tara of Helium sat erect and looked about her. This rough stone

was not the marble of her father's halls. "Where am I?" she


"In The Thurian Tower," replied the girl, and then seeing that

the other still did not understand she guessed the truth. "You

are a prisoner in The Towers of Jetan in the city of Manator,"

she explained. "You were brought to this chamber, weak and

fainting, by A-Kor, Dwar of The Towers of Jetan, who sent me to

you with food and drink, for kind is the heart of A-Kor."

"I remember, now," said Tara, slowly. "I remember; but where is

Turan, my warrior? Did they speak of him?"

"I heard naught of another," replied Lan-O; "you alone were

brought to the towers. In that you are fortunate, for there be no

nobler man in Manator than A-Kor. It is his mother's blood that

makes him so. She was a slave girl from Gathol."

"Gathol!" exclaimed Tara of Helium. "Lies Gathol close by


"Not close, yet still the nearest country," replied Lan-O. "About

twenty-two degrees* east, it lies."

* Approximately 814 Earth Miles.

"Gathol!" murmured Tara, "Far Gathol!"

"But you are not from Gathol," said the slave girl; "your harness

is not of Gathol."

"I am from Helium," said Tara

"It is far from Helium to Gathol;" said the slave girl, "but

in our studies we learned much of the greatness of Helium, we of

Gathol, so it seems not so far away."

"You, too, are from Gathol?" asked Tara.

"Many of us are from Gathol who are slaves in Manator," replied

the girl. "It is to Gathol, nearest country, that the Manatorians

look for slaves most often. They go in great numbers at intervals

of three or seven years and haunt the roads that lead to Gathol,

and thus they capture whole caravans leaving none to bear warning

to Gathol of their fate. Nor do any ever escape from Manator to

carry word of us back to Gahan our jed."

Tara of Helium ate slowly and in silence. The girl's words

aroused memories of the last hours she had spent in her father's

palace and the great midday function at which she had met Gahan

of Gathol. Even now she flushed as she recalled his daring words.

Upon her reveries the door opened and a burly warrior appeared in

the opening--a hulking fellow, with thick lips and an evil,

leering face. The slave girl sprang to her feet, facing him.

"What does this mean, E-Med?" she cried, "was it not the will of

A-Kor that this woman be not disturbed?"

"The will of A-Kor, indeed!" and the man sneered. "The will of

A-Kor is without power in The Towers of Jetan, or elsewhere, for

A-Kor lies now in the pits of O-Tar, and E-Med is dwar of the


Tara of Helium saw the face of the slave girl pale and the terror

in her eyes.