I am Tan Hadron of Hastor, my father is Had Urtur, Odwar of the 1st Umak of the Troops of Hastor. He commands the largest ship of war that Hastor has ever contributed to the navy of Helium, accommodating as it does the entire ten thousand men of the 1st Umak, together with five hundred lesser fighting ships and all the paraphernalia of war. My mother is a princess of Gathol.
As a family we are not rich except in honor, and, valuing this above all mundane possessions, I chose the profession of my father rather than a more profitable career. The better to further my ambition I came to the capital of the empire of Helium and took service in the troops of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, that I might be nearer the great John Carter, Warlord of Mars.
My life in Helium and my career in the army were similar to those of hundreds of other young men. I passed through my training days without notable accomplishment, neither heading nor trailing my fellows, and in due course I was made a Padwar in the 91st Umak, being assigned to the 5th Utan of the 11th Dar.
What with being of noble lineage by my father and inheriting royal blood from my mother, the palaces of the twin cities of Helium were always open to me and I entered much into the gay life of the capital. It was thus that I met Sanoma Tora, daughter of Tor Hatan, Odwar of the 91st Umak.
Tor Hatan is only of the lower nobility, but he is fabulously rich from the loot of many cities well invested in farm land and mines, and because here in the capital of Helium riches count for more than they do in Hastor, Tor Hatan is a powerful man, whose influence reaches even to the throne of the Jeddak.
Never shall I forget the occasion upon which I first laid eyes upon Sanoma Tora. It was upon the occasion of a great feast at the marble palace of The Warlord. There were gathered under one roof the most beautiful women of Barsoom, where, notwithstanding the gorgeous and radiant beauty of Dejah Thoris, Tara of Helium and Thuvia of Ptarth, the pulchritude of Sanoma Tora was such as to arrest attention. I shall not say that it was greater than that of those acknowledged queens of Barsoomian loveliness, for I know that my adoration of Sanoma Tora might easily influence my judgment, but there were others there who remarked her gorgeous beauty which differs from that of Dejah Thoris as the chaste beauty of a polar landscape differs from the beauty of the tropics, as the beauty of a white palace in the moonlight differs from the beauty of its garden at midday.
When at my solicitation I was presented to her, she glanced first at the insignia upon my armor, and noting therefrom that I was but a Padwar, she vouchsafed me but a condescending word and turned her attention again to the Dwar with whom she had been conversing.
I must admit that I was piqued and yet it was, indeed, the contumelious treatment she accorded me that fixed my determination to win her, for the goal most difficult of attainment has always seemed to me the most desirable.
And so it was that I fell in love with Sanoma Tora, the daughter of the commander of the Umak to which I was attached.
For a long time I found it difficult to further my suit in the slightest degree; in fact I did not even see Sanoma Tora for several months after our first meeting, since when she found that I was poor as well as low in rank I found it impossible to gain an invitation to her home and it chanced that I did not meet her elsewhere for a long time, but the more inaccessible she became the more I loved her until every waking moment of my time that was not actually occupied by the performance of my military duties was devoted to the devising of new and ever increasingly rash plans to possess her. I even had the madness to consider abducting her, and I believe that I should eventually have gone this far had there been no other way in which I could see her, but about this time a fellow officer of the 91st, in fact the Dwar of the Utan to which I was attached, took pity on me and obtained for me an invitation to a feast in the palace of Tor Hatan.
My host, who was also my commanding officer, had never noticed me before this evening and I was surprised to note the warmth and cordiality of his greetings.
“We must see more of you here, Hadron of Hastor,” he had said. “I have been watching you and I prophesy that you will go far in the military service of the Jeddak.”
Now I knew he was lying when he said that he had been watching me, for Tor Hatan was notoriously lax in his duties as a commanding officer, all of which were performed by the senior Teedwar of the Umak. While I could not fathom the cause of this sudden interest in me, it was nevertheless very pleasing since through it I might in some degree further my pursuit of the heart and hand of Sanoma Tora.
Sanoma Tora herself was slightly more cordial than upon the occasion of our first meeting, though she noticeably paid more attention to Sil Vagis than she did to me.
Now if there is any man in Helium whom I particularly detest more than another it is Sil Vagis, a nasty little snob who holds the title of Teedwar, though so far as I was ever able to ascertain he commands no troops, but is merely on the staff of Tor Hatan, principally, I presume, because of the great wealth of his father.
Such creatures we have to put up with in times of peace, but when war comes and the great Warlord takes command it is the fighting men who rank and riches do not count.
But be that as it may, while Sil Vagis spoiled this evening for me as he would spoil many others in the future, nevertheless I left the palace of Tor Hatan that night with a feeling bordering upon elation, for I had Sanoma Tora’s permission to see her again in her father’s home when my duties would permit me to pay my respects to her.
Returning to my quarters I was accompanied by my friend, the Dwar, and when I commented on the warmth of Tor Hatan’s reception of me he laughed.
“You find it amusing,” I said. “Why?”
“Tor Hatan, as you know,” he said, “is very rich and powerful, and yet it is seldom, as you may have noticed, that he is invited to any one of the four places of Helium in which ambitious men most crave to be seen.”
“You mean the palaces of the Warlord, the Jeddak, the Jed and Carthoris?” I asked.
“Of course,” he replied. “What other four in Helium count for so much as these? Tor Hatan,” he continued, “is supposed to come from the lower nobility, but there is a question in my mind as to whether there is a drop of noble blood in his veins, and one of the facts upon which I base my conjecture is his cringing and fawning reverence for anything pertaining to royalty—he would give his fat soul to be considered an intimate of any one of the four.”
“But what has that to do with me?” I demanded.
“A great deal,” he replied; “in fact, because of it you were invited to his palace tonight.”
“I do not understand,” I said.
“I chanced to be talking with Tor Hatan the morning of the day you received your invitation and in the course of our conversation I mentioned you. He had never heard of you, and as a Padwar in the 5th Utan you aroused his interest not a particle, but when I told him that your mother was a princess of Gathol, be pricked up his ears, and when he learned that you were received as a friend and equal in the palaces of the four demigods of Helium, he became almost enthusiastic about you. Now do you understand?” he concluded with a short laugh.
“Perfectly,” I replied, “but none the less, I thank you. All that I wanted was the opportunity and inasmuch as I was prepared to achieve it criminally if necessary, I cannot quibble over any means that were employed to obtain it, however unflattering they may be to me.”
For months I haunted the palace of Tor Hatan, and being naturally a good conversationalist and well schooled in the stately dances and joyous games of Barsoom, I was by no means an unwelcome visitor. Also I made it a point often to take Sanoma Tora to one or another of the four great palaces of Helium. I was always welcome because of the blood relationship which existed between my mother and Gahan of Gathol, who had married Tara of Helium.
Naturally I felt that I was progressing well with my suit, but my progress was not fast enough to keep pace with the racing desires of my passion. Never had I known love before and I felt that I should die if I did not soon possess Sanoma Tora, and so it was that upon a certain night I visited the palace of her father definitely determined to lay my heart and sword at her feet before I left, and, although the natural complexes of a lover convinced me that I was an unworthy worm, that she would be wholly justified in spurning, I was yet determined to declare myself so that I might openly be accounted a suitor, which, after all, gives one greater freedom even though he be not entirely a favored suitor.
It was one of those lovely nights that transform old Barsoom into a world of enchantment. Thuria and Cluros were racing through the heavens casting their soft light upon the garden of Tor Hatan, empurpling the vivid, scarlet sward and lending strange hues to the gorgeous blooms of pimalia and sorapus, while the winding walks, gravelled with semi-precious stones, shot back a thousand scintillant rays that, clothed in ever-changing colors, danced at the feet of the marble statuary that lent an added artistic charm to the ensemble.
In one of the spacious halls that overlooked the garden of the palace, a youth and a maiden sat upon a massive bench of rich sorapus wood, such a bench as might have graced the halls of the great Jeddak himself, so intricate its rich design, so perfect the carving of the master craftsman who produced it.
Upon the leathern harness of the youth were the insignia of his rank and service—a Padwar in the 91st Umak. The youth was I, Hadron of Hastor, and with me was Sanoma Tora, daughter of Tor Hatan. I had come filled with the determination boldly to plead my cause, but suddenly I had become aware of my unworthiness. What had I to offer this beautiful daughter of the rich Tor Hatan? I was only a Padwar, and a poor one at that. Of course, there was the royal blood of Gathol in my veins, and that, I knew, would have weight with Tor Hatan, but I am not given to boasting and I could not have reminded Sanoma Tora of the advantages to be derived because of it even had I known positively that it would influence her. I had, therefore, nothing to offer but my great love, which is, perhaps, after all, the greatest gift that man or woman can bring to another, and I had thought of late that Sanoma Tora might love me. Upon several occasions she had sent for me, and, although in each instance she had suggested going to the palace of Tara of Helium, I had been vain enough to hope that this was not her sole reason for wishing to be with me.
“You are uninteresting tonight, Hadron of Hastor,” she said after a particularly long silence, during which I had been endeavoring to formulate my proposal in some convincing and graceful phrases.
“Perhaps,” I replied, “it is because I am trying to find the words in which to clothe the most interesting thought I have ever entertained.”
“And what is that?” she asked politely, though with no great show of interest.
“I love you, Sanoma Tora,” I blurted awkwardly.
She laughed. It was like the tinkling of silver upon crystal—beautiful but cold. “That has been apparent for a long while,” she said, “but why speak of it?”
“And why not?” I asked.
“Because even if I returned your love, I am not for you, Hadron of Hastor,” she replied coldly.
“You cannot love me then, Sanoma Tora?” I asked.
“I did not say that,” she replied.
“You could love me?”
“I could love you if I permitted myself the weakness,” she said, “but what is love?”
“Love is everything,” I told her.
Sanoma Tora laughed. “If you think that I would link myself for life to a threadbare Padwar even if I loved him, you are mistaken,” she said haughtily. “I am the daughter of Tor Hatan, whose wealth and power are but little less than those of the royal families of Helium. I have suitors whose wealth is so great that they could buy you a thousand times over. Within the year an emissary of the Jeddak Tul Axtar of Jahar waited upon my father; he had seen me and he said that he would return, and, merely for love, you would ask me, who may some day be Jeddara of Jahar to become the wife of a poor Padwar.”
I arose. “Perhaps you are right,” I said. “You are so beautiful that it does not seem possible that you could be wrong, but deep in my heart I cannot but feel that happiness is the greatest treasure that one may possess, and love the greatest power. Without these, Sanoma Tora, even a Jeddara is poor indeed.”
“I shall take my chance,” she said.
“I hope that the Jeddak of Jahar is not as greasy as his emissary,” I remarked rather peevishly, I am afraid.
“He may be an animated grease-pot for all I care if he will make me his Jeddara,” said Sanoma Tora.
“Then there is no hope for me?” I asked.
“Not while you have so little to offer, Padwar,” she replied.
It was then that a slave announced Sil Vagis, and I took my leave. I had never before plumbed such depths of despondency as that which engulfed me as I made my unhappy way back to my quarters, but even though hope seemed dead I had not relinquished my determination to win her. If wealth and power were her price, then I would achieve wealth and power. Just how I was going to accomplish it was not entirely clear, but I was young and to youth all things are possible.
I had tossed in wakefulness upon my sleeping silks and furs for some time when an officer of the guard burst suddenly into my quarters.
“Hadron!” he shouted, “are you here?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Praised be the ashes of my ancestors!” he exclaimed. “I feared that you were not.”
“Why should I not be?” I demanded. “What is this all about?”
“Tor Hatan, the fat old treasure bag, is gone mad,” he exclaimed.
“Tor Hatan gone mad? What do you mean? What has that got to do with me?”
“He swears that you have abducted his daughter.”
In an instant I was upon my feet. “Abducted Sanoma Tora!” I cried. “Has something happened to her? Tell me, quickly.”
“Yes, she is gone, all right,” said my informant, “and there is something mighty mysterious about it.”
But I did not wait to hear more. Seizing my harness, I adjusted it as I ran up the spiral runway toward the hangars on the roof of the barracks. I had no authority or permit to take out a flier, but what did that mean to me if Sanoma Tora was in danger?
The hangar guards sought to detain and question me. I do not recall what I told them; I know that I must have lied to them, for they let me run out a swift one-man flier and an instant later I was racing through the night toward the palace of Tor Hatan.
As it stands but little more than two haads from the barracks, I was there in but a few moments, and, as I landed in the garden, which was now brilliantly lighted, I saw a number of people congregated there, among whom were Tor Hatan and Sil Vagis.
As I leaped from the deck of the flier, the former came angrily toward me. “So it is you!” he cried. “What have you to say for yourself? Where is my daughter?”
“That is what I have come to ask, Tor Hatan,” I replied.
“You are at the bottom of this,” he cried. “You abducted her. She told Sil Vagis that this very night you had demanded her hand in marriage and that she had refused you.”
“I did ask for her hand,” I said, “and she refused me. That part is true; but if she has been abducted, in the name of your first ancestor, do not waste time trying to connect me with the diabolical plot. I had nothing to do with it. How did it happen? Who was with her?”
“Sil Vagis was with her. They were walking in the garden,” replied Tor Hatan.
“You saw her abducted,” I asked, turning to Sil Vagis, “and you are here unwounded and alive?”
He started to stammer. “There were many of them,” he said. “They overpowered me.”
“You saw them?” I asked.
“Was I among them?” I demanded.
“It was dark. I could not recognize any of them, perhaps they were disguised.”
“They overpowered you?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
“You lie!” I exclaimed. “Had they laid hands upon you they would have killed you. You ran away and hid, never drawing a weapon to defend the girl.”
“That is a lie,” cried Sil Vagis. “I fought with them, but they overpowered me.”
I turned to Tor Hatan. “We are wasting time,” I said. “Is there no one who can give us a clue as to the identity of these men and the direction they took in their flight? How and whence came they? How and whence did they depart?”
“He is trying to throw you off the track, Tor Hatan,” said Sil Vagis. “Who else could it have been but a disgruntled suitor? What would you say if I should tell you that the metal of the men who stole Sanoma Tora was the metal of the warriors of Hastor?”
“I would say that you are a liar,” I replied. “If it was so dark that you could not recognize faces, how could you decipher the insignia upon their harness?”
At this juncture another officer of the 91st Umak joined us. “We have found one who may, perhaps, shed some light upon the subject,” he said, “if he lives long enough to speak.”
Men had been searching the grounds of Tor Hatan and that portion of the city adjacent to his palace, and now several approached bearing a man, whom they laid upon the sward at our feet. His broken and mangled body was entirely naked, and as he lay there gasping feebly for breath, he was a pitiful spectacle.
A slave dispatched into the palace returned with stimulants, and when some of these had been forced between his lips, the man revived slightly.
“Who are you?” asked Tor Hatan.
“I am a warrior of the city guard,” replied the man feebly.
An officer approached Tor Hatan excitedly. “My men have just found six more bodies close to the point at which we discovered this man,” he said. “They are all naked and similarly broken and mangled.”
“Perhaps we shall get to the bottom of this yet,” said Tor Hatan, and, turning again to the poor, broken thing upon the scarlet sward, he directed him to proceed.
“We were on night patrol over the city when we saw a craft running without lights. As we approached it and turned our searchlight upon it, I caught a single, brief glimpse of it. It bore no colors or insignia to denote its origin and its design was unlike that of any ship I have ever seen. It had a long, low, enclosed cabin upon either side of which were mounted two peculiar looking guns. This was all I had time to note, except that I saw a man directing one of the guns in our direction. The padwar in command of our ship immediately gave orders to fire upon the stranger, and at the same time he hailed him. At that instant our ship dissolved in mid-air; even my harness fell from me. I remember falling, that is all,” and with these words he gasped once and died.
Tor Hatan called his people around him. “There must have been someone about the palace or the grounds who saw something of this occurrence,” he said. “I command that no matter who may be involved, whoever has any knowledge whatsoever of this affair, shall speak.”
A slave stepped forward, and as he approached Tor Hatan eyed him with haughty arrogance.
“Well,” demanded the odwar, “what have you to say? Speak!”
“You have commanded it, Tor Hatan,” said the slave; “otherwise I should not speak, for when I have told what I saw I shall have incurred the enmity of a powerful noble,” and he glanced quickly toward Sil Vagis.
“And if you speak the truth, man, you will have won the friendship of a padwar whose sword is not so mean but that it may protect you even from a powerful noble,” I said quickly, and I, too, glanced at Sil Vagis, for it was in my mind that what the fellow had to tell might be none too flattering to the soft fop who masqueraded beneath the title of a warrior.
“Speak!” commanded Tor Hatan impatiently. “And see to it that thou dost not lie.”
“For fourteen years I have served faithfully in your palace, Tor Hatan,” replied the man, “ever since I was brought to Helium a prisoner of war after the fall and sack of Kobol, where I served in the body guard of the Jed of Kobol, and in all that time you have had no reason to question my truthfulness. Sanoma Tora trusted me, and had I had a sword this night she might still be with us.”
“Come! Come!” cried Tor Hatan; “get to the point. What saw you?”
“The fellow saw nothing,” snapped Sil Vagis. “Why waste time upon him? He seeks but to glory in a little brief notoriety.
“Let him speak,” I exclaimed.
“I had just ascended the first ramp to the second level of the palace,” explained the slave, “on my way to the sleeping quarters of Tor Hatan to arrange his sleeping silks and furs for the night as is my custom, and, pausing for a moment to look out into the garden, I saw Sanoma Tora and Sil Vagis walking in the moonlight. Conscious that I should not thus observe them, I was about to continue on my way about my duties when I saw a flier dropping silently out of the night toward the garden. Its motors were noiseless, it showed no light. It seemed a spectral ship and of such strange design that even if for no other reason it would have arrested my attention, but there were other reasons. Unlighted ships move through the night for no good purpose, and so I paused to watch it.
“It landed silently and quickly behind Sanoma Tora and Sil Vagis; nor did they seem aware of its presence until their attention was attracted by the slight clanking of the accoutrements of one of the several warriors who sprang from its low cabin as it grounded. Then Sil Vagis wheeled about. For just an instant he stood as though petrified and then as the strange warriors leaped toward him, he turned and fled into the concealing shrubbery of the garden.”
“It is a lie,” cried Sil Vagis.
“Silence, coward!” I commanded.
“Continue, slave!” directed Tor Hatan.
“Sanoma Tora was not aware of the presence of the strange warriors until she was seized roughly from behind. It all happened so quickly that I scarce had time to realize the purpose of the sinister visitation before they laid hands upon her. When I comprehended that my mistress was the object of this night attack, I rushed hurriedly down the ramp, but ere I reached the garden they had dragged her aboard the flier. Even then, however, had I had a sword I might at least have died in the service of Sanoma Tora, for I reached the ship of mystery as the last warrior was clambering aboard. I seized him by the harness and attempted to drag him to the ground, at the same time shouting loudly to attract the palace guard, but ere I did so one of his fellows on the deck above me drew his long sword and struck viciously at my head. The blade caught me but a glancing blow which, however, sufficed to stun me for a moment, so that I relaxed my hold upon the strange warrior and fell to the sward. When I regained consciousness the ship had gone and the tardy palace guard was pouring from the guard room. I have spoken—and spoken truthfully.”
Tor Hatan’s cold gaze sought out the lowered eyes of Sil Vagis. “What have you to say to this?” he demanded.
“The fellow is in the employ of Hadron of Hastor,” shouted Sil Vagis. “He speaks nothing but lies. I attacked them when they came, but there were many and they overpowered me. This fellow was not present.”
“Let me see thy head,” I said to the slave, and when he had come and knelt before me I saw a great red welt the length of one side of his head above the ear, just such a welt as a glancing blow from the flat side of a long sword might have made. “Here,” I said to Tor Hatan, pointing to the great welt, “is the proof of a slave’s loyalty and courage. Let us see the wounds received by a noble of Helium who by his own testimony engaged in single-handed combat against great odds. Surely in such an encounter he must have received at least a single scratch.”
“Unless he is as marvelous a swordsman as the great John Carter himself,” said the dwar of the palace guard with a thinly veiled sneer.
“It is all a plot,” cried Sil Vagis. “Do you take the word of a slave, Tor Hatan, against that of a noble of Helium?”
“I rely on the testimony of my eyes and my senses,” replied the odwar, and he turned his back upon Sil Vagis and again addressed the slave. “Didst thou recognize any of those who abducted Sanoma Tora,” he demanded, “or note their harness or their metal?”
“I got no good look at the face of any of them, but I did see the harness and the metal of him whom I tried to drag from the flier.”
“Was it the metal of Hastor?” asked Tor Hatan.
“By my first ancestor, it was not,” replied the slave emphatically; “nor was it the metal of any other city of the Empire of Helium. The design and the insignia were unknown to me, and yet there was a certain familiarity about them that tantalizes me. I feel that I have seen them before, but when and where I cannot recall. In the service of my jed I fought invaders from many lands and it may be that upon some of these I saw similar metal many years ago.”
“Are you satisfied, Tor Hatan,” I demanded, “that the aspersions cast upon me by Sil Vagis are without foundation?”
“Yes, Hadron of Hastor,” replied the odwar.
“Then with your leave, I shall depart,” I said.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“To find Sanoma Tora,” I replied.
“And if you find her,” he said, “and return her safely to me, she is yours.”
I made no other acknowledgment of his generous offer than to bow deeply, for I had it in my mind that Sanoma Tora might have something to say about that, and whether she had or not, I wished no mate who came not to me willingly.
Leaping to the deck of the flier that brought me I rose into the night and sped in the direction of the marble palace of the Warlord of Barsoom, for, even though the hour was late, I was determined to see him without an instant’s unnecessary loss of time.