The Warlord himself came forward to meet us. “I knew,” he said, “that the son of Had Urtur would give a good account of himself. Helium can scarcely pay the debt of gratitude that you have placed upon her today. You have been to Jahar; your work today convinces me of that. May we with safety approach and take the city?”
“No,” I replied, and then briefly I explained the mighty force that Tul Axtar had gathered and the armament with which he expected to subdue the world. “But there is a way,” I said.
“And what is that?” he asked.
“Send one of the captured Jaharian ships with a flag of truce and I believe that Tul Axtar will surrender. He is a coward. He fled in terror when the battle was still young.”
“Will he honor a flag of truce?”
“If it is carried aboard one of his own ships, protected by the blue paint of Jahar, I believe that he will,” I said; “but at the same time I shall accompany the ship in the invisible Jhama.
“I know how I may gain entrance to the palace. I have abducted Tul Axtar once and perchance I may be able to do it again. If you have him in your hands, you can dictate terms to the nobles, all of whom fear the terrific power of the hungry multitude that is held in check now only by the instinctive terror they feel for their Jeddak.”
As we waited for the former Jaharian cruiser that was to carry the flag of truce to come alongside, John Carter told me what had delayed the expedition against Jahar for so many months.
The majordomo of Tor Hatan’s palace, to whom I had entrusted the message to John Carter and which would have led immediately to the descent upon Jahar, had been assassinated while on his way to the palace of the Warlord. Suspicion, therefore, did not fall upon Tul Axtar and the ships of Helium scoured Barsoom for many months in vain search for Sanoma Tora.
It was only by accident that Kal Tavan the slave, who had overheard my conversation with the majordomo, learned that the ships of Helium had not been dispatched to Jahar, for a slave ordinarily is not taken into the confidences of his master and the arrogant Tor Hatan was, of all men, least likely to do so; but Kal Tavan did hear eventually and he went himself to the Warlord and told his story.
“For his services,” said John Carter, “I gave him his freedom and as it was apparent from his demeanor that he had been born to the nobility in his native country, though he did not tell me this, I gave him service aboard the fleet. He has turned out to be an excellent man and recently I have made him a dwar. Having been born in Tjanath and served in Kobol, he was more familiar with this part of Barsoom than any other man in Helium. I, therefore, assigned him to duty with the navigating officer of the fleet and he is now aboard the flagship.”
“I had occasion to notice the man immediately after Sanoma Tora’s abduction,” I said, “and I was much impressed by him. I am glad that he has found his freedom and the favor of the Warlord.”
The cruiser that was to bear the flag of truce was now alongside. The officer in command reported to the Warlord and as he received his instructions, Tavia and I returned to the Jhama. We had decided to carry on our part of the plan alone, for if it became necessary to abduct Tul Axtar again I had hoped, also, that I might find Phao and Sanoma Tora, and if so the small cabin of the Jhama would be sufficiently crowded without the addition of the two padwars. They were reluctant to leave her for I think they had had the most glorious experience of their lives during the short time that they had been aboard her, but I gained permission from the Warlord for them to accompany the cruiser to Jahar.
Once again Tavia and I were alone. “Perhaps this will be our last cruise aboard the Jhama,” I said.
“I think I shall be glad to rest,” she replied.
“You are tired?” I asked.
“More tired than I realized until I felt the safety and security of that great fleet of Helium about me. I think that I am just tired of being always in danger.”
“I should not have brought you now,” I said. “There is yet time to return you to the flagship.”
She smiled. “You know better than that, Hadron,” she said.
I did know better. I knew that she would not leave me. We were silent for a while as the Jhama slid through the air slightly astern of the cruiser. As I looked at Tavia’s face, it seemed to reflect a great weariness and there were little lines of sadness there that I had not seen before. Presently she spoke again in a dull tone that was most unlike her own.
“I think that Sanoma Tora will be glad to come away with you this time,” she said.
“I do not know,” I said. “It makes no difference to me whether she wishes to come or not. It is my duty to fetch her.”
She nodded. “Perhaps it is best,” she said; “her father is a noble and very rich.”
I did not understand what that had to do with it and not being particularly interested further in either Sanoma Tora or her father, I did not pursue the conversation. I knew that it was my duty to return Sanoma Tora to Helium if possible, and that was the only interest that I had in the affair.
We were well within sight of Jahar before we encountered any warships and then a cruiser came to meet ours which bore the flag of truce. The commanders of the two boats exchanged a few words and then the Jaharian craft turned and led the way toward the palace of Tul Axtar. It moved slowly and I forged on ahead, my plans already made, and the Jhama, being clothed with invisibility, needed no escort. I steered directly to that wing of the palace which contained the women’s quarters and slowly circled it, my periscope on a line with the windows.
We had rounded the end of the wing, in which the great hall lay where Tul Axtar held court with his women, when the periscope came opposite the windows of a gorgeous apartment. I brought the ship to a stop before it, as I had before some of the others which I wished to examine, and while the slowly moving periscope brought different parts of the large room to the ground glass plate before me I saw the figures of two women and instantly I recognized them. One was Sanoma Tora and the other Phao, and upon the figure of the former hung the gorgeous trappings of a Jeddara. The woman I had loved had achieved her goal, but it caused me no pang of jealousy. I searched the balance of the apartment and finding no other occupant, I brought the deck of the Jhama close below the sill of the window. Then I raised a hatch and leaped into the room.
At sight of me Sanoma Tora arose from the divan upon which she had been sitting and shrank back in terror. I thought that she was about to scream for help, but I warned her to silence, and at the same instant Phao sprang forward and, seizing Sanoma Tora’s arm, clapped a palm over her mouth. A moment later I had gained her side.
“The fleet of Jahar has gone down to defeat before the ships of Helium,” I told Sanoma Tora, “and I have come to take you back to your own country.”
She was trembling so that she could not reply. I had never seen such a picture of abject terror, induced no doubt by her own guilty conscience.
“I am glad you have come, Hadron of Hastor,” said Phao, “for I know that you will take me, too.”
“Of course,” I said. “The Jhama lies just outside that window. Come! We shall soon be safe aboard the flagship of the Warlord.”
While I had been talking I had become aware of a strange noise that seemed to come from a distance and which rose and fell in volume and now it appeared to be growing nearer and nearer. I could not explain it; perhaps I did not attempt to, for at best I could be only mildly interested. I had found two of those whom I sought. I would get them aboard the Jhama and then I would try to locate Tul Axtar.
At that instant the door burst open and a man rushed into the room. It was Tul Axtar. He was very pale and he was breathing hard. At sight of me he halted and shrank back and I thought that he was going to turn and run, but he only looked fearfully back through the open door and then he turned to me, trembling.
“They are coming!” he cried in a voice of terror. “They will tear me to pieces.”
“Who is coming?” I demanded.
“The people,” he said. “They have forced the gates and they are coming, Do you not hear them?”
So that was the noise that had attracted my attention—the hungry hordes of Jahar searching out the author of their misery.
“The Jhama is outside that window,” I said. “If you will come aboard her as a prisoner of war, I will take you to the Warlord of Barsoom.”
“He will kill me, too,” wailed Tul Axtar.
“He should,” I assured him.
He stood looking at me for a moment and I could see in his eyes and the expression of his face the reflection of a dawning idea. His countenance lightened. He looked almost hopeful. “I will come,” he said; “but first let me get one thing to take with me. It is in yonder cabinet.”
“Hasten,” I said.
He went quickly to the cabinet, which was a tall affair reaching from the floor almost to the ceiling, and when he opened the door it hid him from our view.
As I waited I could hear the crash of weapons upon levels below and the screams and shrieks and curses of men and I judged that the palace guard was holding the mob, temporarily at least. Finally I became impatient. “Hasten, Tul Axtar,” I called, but there was no reply. Again I called him, with the same result, and then I crossed the room to the cabinet, but Tul Axtar was not behind the door.
The cabinet contained many drawers of different sizes, but there was not one large enough to conceal a man, nor any through which he could have passed to another apartment. Hastily I searched the room, but Tul Axtar was nowhere to be found and then I chanced to glance at Sanoma Tora. She was evidently trying to attract my attention, but she was so terrified that she could not speak. With trembling fingers she was pointing toward the window. I looked in that direction, but I could see nothing.
“What is it? What are you trying to say, Sanoma Tora?” I demanded as I rushed to her side.
“Gone!” she managed to say. “Gone!”
“Who is gone?” I demanded.
“Where? What do you mean?” I insisted.
“The hatch of the Jhama—I saw it open and close.”
“But it cannot be possible. We have been standing here looking—” and then a thought struck me that left me almost dazed. I turned to Sanoma Tora. “The cloak of invisibility?” I whispered.
Almost in a single bound I crossed the room to the window and was feeling for the deck of the Jhama. It was not there. The ship had gone. Tul Axtar had taken it and Tavia was with him.
I turned back and crossed the room to Sanoma Tora. “Accursed woman!” I cried. “Your selfishness, your vanity, your treachery has jeopardized the safety of one whose footprints you are not fit to touch.” I wanted to close my fingers upon that perfect throat, I yearned to see the agony of death upon that beautiful face; but only turned away, my hands dropping at my sides, for I am a man—a noble of Helium—and the women of Helium are sacred, even such as Sanoma Tora.
From below came the sounds of renewed fighting. If the mob broke through I knew that we should all be lost. There was but one hope for even temporary safety and that was the slender tower above the women’s quarters.
“Follow me,” I said curtly. As we entered the main corridor I caught a glimpse of the interior of the great hall where Tul Axtar had held court. It was filled with terrified women. Well they knew what the fate of the women of a Jeddak would be at the hands of an infuriated mob. My heart went out to them, but I could not save them. Lucky, indeed, should I be if I were able to save these two.
Crossing the corridor we ascended the spiral ramp to the storeroom, where, after entering, I took the precaution to bolt the door, then I ascended the ladder toward the trap door at the summit of the tower, the two women following me. As I raised the trap and looked about me I could have cried aloud with joy, for circling low above the roof of the palace was the cruiser flying the flag of truce. I apprehended no danger of discovery by Jaharian warriors since I knew that they were all well occupied below—those who were not fleeing for their lives—and so I sprang to the summit of the tower and hailed the cruiser in a voice that they might well hear above the howling of the mob. An answering hail came from the deck of the craft and a moment later she dropped to the level of the tower roof. With the help of the crew I assisted Phao and Sanoma Tora aboard.
The officer in command of the cruiser stepped to my side. “Our mission here is fruitless,” he said. “Word has just been brought me that the palace has fallen before the onslaught of a mob of infuriated citizens. The nobles have commandeered every craft upon which they could lay hands and have fled. There is no one with whom we can negotiate a peace. No one knows what has become of Tul Axtar.”
“I know,” I told him, and then I narrated what had happened in the apartment of the Jeddara.
“We must pursue him,” he said. “We must overtake him and carry him back to the Warlord.”
“Where shall we look?” I asked. “The Jhama may lie within a dozen sofads of us and even so we could not see her. I shall search for him; never fear, and some day I shall find him, but it is useless now to try to find the Jhama. Let us return to the flagship of the Warlord.”
I do not know that John Carter fully realized the loss that I had sustained, but I suspect that he did for he offered me all the resources of Helium in my search for Tavia.
I thanked him, but asked only for a fast ship; one in which I might devote the remainder of my life in what I truly believed would prove a futile search for Tavia, for how could I know where in all wide Barsoom Tul Axtar would elect to hide. Doubtless there were known to him many remote spots in his own empire where he could live in safety for the balance of his allotted time on Barsoom. To such a place he would go and because of the Jhama no man would see him pass; there would be no clue by which to follow him and he would take Tavia with him and she would be his slave. I shuddered and my nails sank into my palms at the thought.
The Warlord ordered one of the newest and swiftest fliers of Helium to be brought alongside the flagship. It was a trim craft of the semi-cabin type that would easily accommodate four or five in comfort. From his own stores he had provisions and water transferred to it and he added wine from Ptarth and jars of the famous honey of Dusar.
Sanoma Tora and Phao had been sent at once to a cabin by the Warlord, for the deck of a man-of-war on duty is no place for women. I was about to depart when a messenger came saying that Sanoma Tora wished to see me.
“I do not wish to see her,” I replied.
“Her companion also begged that you would come,” replied the messenger.
That was different. I had almost forgotten Phao, but if she wished to see me I would go, and so I went at once to the cabin where the two girls were. As I entered Sanoma Tora came forward and threw herself upon her knees before me.
“Have pity on me, Hadron of Hastor,” she cried. “I have been wicked, but it was my vanity and not my heart that sinned. Do not go away. Come back to Helium and I will devote my life to your happiness. Tor Hatan, my father, is rich. The mate of his only child may live forever in luxury.”
I am afraid that my lips curled to the sneer that was in my heart. What a petty soul was hers! Even in her humiliation and her penitence she could see no beauty and no happiness greater than wealth and power. She thought that she was changed, but I knew that Sanoma Tora never could change.
“Forgive me, Tan Hadron,” she cried. “Come back to me, for I love you. Now I know that I love you.”
“Your love has come too late, Sanoma Tora,” I said.
“You love another?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“The Jeddara of some of the strange countries you have been through?” she asked.
“A slave girl,” I replied.
Her eyes went wide in incredulity. She could not conceive that one might choose a slave girl to the daughter of Tor Hatan. “Impossible,” she said.
“It is true, though,” I assured her; “a little slave girl is more desirable to Tan Hadron of Hastor than is Sanoma Tora, the daughter of Tor Hatan,” and with that I turned my back upon her and faced Phao. “Good-bye, dear friend,” I said. “Doubtless we shall never meet again, but I shall see to it that you have a good home in Hastor. I shall speak to the Warlord before I leave and have him send you directly to my mother.”
She laid her hand upon my shoulder. “Let me go with you, Tan Hadron,” she said, “for perhaps while you are searching for Tavia you will pass near Jhama.”
I understood instantly what she meant, and I reproached myself for having even temporarily forgotten Nur An. “You shall come with me, Phao,” I said, “and my first duty shall be to return to Jhama and rescue Nur An from poor old Phor Tak.”
Without another glance at Sanoma Tora I led Phao from the cabin, and after a few parting words with the Warlord we boarded my new ship and with friendly farewells in our ears, headed west toward Jhama.
Being no longer protected by the invisibility compound of Phor Tak, or the disintegrating ray resisting paint of Jahar, we were forced to keep a sharp lookout for enemy ships, of which I had but little fear if we sighted them in time for I knew that I could outdistance any of them.
I set the destination control compass upon Jhama and opened the throttle wide; the swift Barsoomian night had fallen; the only sound was the rush of thin air along our sides which drowned out the quiet purring of our motor.
For the first time since I had found her again on the quarters of the Jeddara at Jahar, I had an opportunity to talk with Phao and the first thing I asked her was for an explanation of the abandonment of the Jhama after Tul Axtar had grounded Tavia and me in U-Gor.
“It was an accident,” she said, “that threw Tul Axtar into a great fit of rage. We were headed for Jahar when he sighted one of his own ships, which took us aboard as soon as they discovered the identity of the jeddak. It was night and in the confusion of boarding the Jaharian warship Tul Axtar momentarily forgot the Jhama which must have drifted away from the larger craft the moment that we left her. They cruised about searching for her for awhile, but at last they had to give it up and the ship proceeded toward Jahar.”
The miracle of the presence of the Jhama at the top of the peak, where we had so providentially found it in time to escape from the hunting men of U-Gor, was now no longer a miracle. The prevailing winds in this part of Barsoom are from the northwest at this time of year. The Jhama had merely drifted with the wind and chanced to lodge upon the highest peak of the range.
Phao also told me why Tul Axtar had originally abducted Sanoma Tora from Helium. He had had his secret agents at Helium for some time previous and they had reported to him that the best way to lure the fleet of Helium to Jahar was to abduct a woman of some noble family. He had instructed them to select a beautiful one, and so they had decided upon the daughter of Tor Hatan.
“But how did they expect to lure the fleet of Helium to Jahar if they left no clue as to the identity of the abductors of Sanoma Tora?” I asked.
“They left no clue at the time because Tul Axtar was not ready to receive the attack of Helium,” explained Phao; “but he had already sent his agents word to drop a hint as to the whereabouts of Sanoma Tora when John Carter learned through other sources the identity of her abductors.”
“So it all worked out the way Tul Axtar had planned,” I said, “except the finish.”
We passed the hours with brief snatches of conversation and long silences, each occupied with his own thoughts—Phao’s doubtless a mixture of hope and fear, but there was little room for hope in mine. The only pleasant prospects that lay before me lay in rescuing Nur An and reuniting him and Phao. After that I would take them to any country to which they wished to go and then return to the vicinity of Jahar and prosecute my hopeless search.
“I heard what you said to Sanoma Tora in the cabin of the flagship,” said Phao after a long silence, “and I was glad.”
“I said a number of things,” I reminded her; “to which do you refer?”
“You said that you loved Tavia,” she replied.
“I said nothing of the kind,” I rejoined rather shortly, for I almost loathed that word.
“But you did,” she insisted. “You said that you loved a little slave girl and I know that you love Tavia. I have seen it in your eyes.”
“You have seen nothing of the kind. Because you are in love, you think that everyone must be.”
She laughed. “You love her and she loves you.”
“We are only friends—very good friends,” I insisted, “and furthermore I know that Tavia does not love me.”
“How do you know?”
“Let us not speak of it any more,” I said, but though I did not speak of it, I thought about it. I recalled that I had told Sanoma Tora that I loved a little slave girl and I knew that I had had Tavia in my mind at the time, but I thought that I had said it more to wound Sanoma Tora than for any other purpose. I tried to analyze my own feelings, but at last I gave it up as a foolish thing to do. Of course, I did not love Tavia; I loved no one; love was not for me—Sanoma Tora had killed it within my breast, and I was equally sure that Tavia did not love me; if she had, she would have shown it and I was quite sure that she had never demonstrated any other feeling for me than the finest of comradeship. We were just what she had said we were—comrades in arms and nothing else.
It was still dark when I saw the gleaming white palace of Phor Tak shining softly in the moonlight far below us. Late as it was, there were lights in some of the rooms. I had hoped that all would he asleep, for my plans depended upon my ability to enter the palace secretly. I knew that Phor Tak never kept any watch at night, feeling that none was needed in such an isolated spot.
Silently I dropped the flier until it rested upon the roof of the building where Nur An and I had first landed, for I knew that there I would find a passage to the palace below.
“Wait here at the controls, Phao,” I whispered. “Nur An and I may have to come away in a hurry and you must be ready.”
She nodded her head understandingly, and a moment later I had slipped quietly to the roof and was approaching the opening that led down into the interior.
As I paused at the top of the spiral ramp I felt quickly of my weapons to see that each was in its place. John Carter had fitted me out anew. Once more I stood in the leather and metal of Helium, with a full complement of weapons such as belong to a fighting man of Barsoom. My long sword was of the best steel, for it was one of John Carter’s own. Beside this, I carried a short sword and a dagger, and once again a heavy radium pistol hung at my hip. I loosened the latter in its holster as I started down the spiral ramp.
As I approached the bottom I heard a voice. It was coming from the direction of Phor Tak’s laboratory, the door of which opened upon the corridor at the bottom of the ramp. I crept slowly downward. The door leading to the laboratory was closed. Two men were conversing. I could recognize the thin, high voice of Phor Tak; the other voice was not that of Nur An; yet it was strangely familiar.
“—riches beyond your dream,” I heard the second man say.
“I do not need riches,” cackled Phor Tak. “Heigh-oo! Presently I shall own all the riches in the world.”
“You will need help,” I could hear the other man say in a pleading tone. “I can give you help; you shall have every ship of my great fleet.”
That remark brought me upstanding—“every ship of my great fleet!” It could not be possible and yet—
Gently I tried the door. To my surprise it swung open revealing the interior of the room. Beneath a bright light stood Tul Axtar. Fifty feet from him Phor Tak was standing behind a bench upon which was mounted a disintegrating ray rifle, aimed full at Tul Axtar.
Where was Tavia? Where was Nur An? Perhaps this man alone knew where Tavia was and Phor Tak was about to destroy him. With a cry of warning I leaped into the room. Tul Axtar and Phor Tak looked at me quickly, surprise large upon their countenances.
“Heigh-oo!” screamed the old inventor. “So you have come back! Knave! Ingrate! Traitor! But you have come back only to die.”
“Wait,” I cried, raising my hand. “Let me speak.”
“Silence!” screamed Phor Tak. “You shall see Tul Axtar die. I hated to kill him without someone to see—someone to witness his death agony. I shall have my revenge on him first and then on you.”
“Stop!” I cried. His finger was already hovering over the button that would snatch Tul Axtar into oblivion, perhaps with the secret of the whereabouts of Tavia.
I drew my pistol. Phor Tak made a sudden motion with his hands and disappeared. He vanished as though turned to thin air by his own disintegrating rays, but I knew what had happened. I knew that he had thrown a mantle of invisibility around himself and I fired at the spot where he had last been visible.
At the same instant the floor opened beneath me and I shot into utter darkness.
I felt myself hurtling along a smooth surface which gradually became horizontal and an instant later I shot into a dimly lighted apartment, which I knew must be located in the pits beneath the palace.
I had clung to my pistol as I fell and now, as I arose to my feet, I thrust it back into its holster; at least I was not unarmed.
The dim light in the apartment, which was little better than no light at all, I discovered, came from a ventilator in the ceiling and that aside from the shaft that had conducted me to the cell, there was no other opening in the wall or ceiling or floor. The ventilator was about two feet in diameter and led straight up from the center of the ceiling to the roof of the building, several levels above. The lower end of the shaft was about two feet above my finger tips when I extended them high above my head. This avenue of escape, then, was useless, but, alas, how tantalizing. It was maddening to see daylight and an open avenue to the outer world just above me and be unable to reach it. I was glad that the sun had risen, throwing its quick light over the scene, for had I fallen here in utter darkness my plight would have seemed infinitely worse than now, and my first ancestor knew that it was bad enough. I turned my attention now to the chute through which I had descended and I found that I could ascend it quite a little distance, but presently it turned steeply upward and its smoothly polished walls were unscalable.
I returned to the pits. I must escape, but now, as my eyes became accustomed to the dim light, I saw strewn about the floor, that which snatched away my last hope and filled me with horror. Everywhere upon the stone flagging were heaps and mounds of human bones picked clean by gnawing rats. I shuddered as I contemplated the coming of night. How long before my bones, too, would be numbered among the rest?
The thought made me frantic, not for myself but for Tavia. I could not die. I must not die. I must live until I had found her.
Hastily I circled the room, searching for some clue to hope, but I found only rough-hewn stone set in soft mortar.
Soft mortar! With the realization, hope dawned anew. If I could remove a few of these blocks and pile them one on top of the other, I might easily reach the shaft that terminated in the ceiling above my head. Drawing my dagger I fell to work, scraping and scratching at the mortar about one of the stones in the nearest wall. It seemed slow work, but in reality I had loosened the stone in an incredibly short time. The mortar was poor stuff and crumbled away easily. As I drew the block out my first plan faded in the light of what I saw in front of me. Beyond the opening I saw a corridor at the foot of a spiral ramp leading upward, and from somewhere above, daylight was filtering down.
I knew that if I could remove three more of those stones before I was detected I could worm my body through the opening into the corridor beyond, and you may well believe that I worked rapidly.
One by one the blocks were loosened and removed and it was with a feeling of exultation that I slipped through into the corridor. Above me rose a spiral ramp. Where it led, I did not know, but at least it led out of the pits. Cautiously, and yet without any hesitation, I ascended. I must try to reach the laboratory before Phor Tak had slain Tul Axtar. This time I would make sure of the old inventor before I entered the room and I prayed to all my ancestors that I should be in time.
Doors, leading from the ramp to various levels of the palace, were all locked and I was forced to ascend to the roof. As it chanced the wing upon which I found myself was more or less detached, so that at first glance I could see no way whereby I could make my way from it to any of the adjoining roofs.
As I walked around the edge of the building hurriedly, looking for some means of descent to the roof below, I saw something one level below me that instantly charged my attention. It was a man’s leg protruding from a window, as though he had thrown one limb across the sill. A moment later I saw an arm emerge, and the top of a man’s head and his shoulders were visible as he leaned out. He reached down and up and I saw something appear directly beneath him that had not been there before, and at the same instant I caught a glimpse of a girl, lying a few feet further down, and then I saw the man slide over the sill quickly and drop down and disappear, and all that lay below me was the flagging of a courtyard.
But in that brief instant I knew precisely what I had seen. I had seen Tul Axtar raise the hatch of the Jhama. I had seen Tavia lying bound upon the floor of the ship beneath the hatch. I had seen Tul Axtar enter the interior of the craft and close the hatch above his head.
It takes a long while to tell it when compared with the time in which it actually transpired; nor was I so long in acting as I have been in telling.
As the hatch closed, I leaped.