Escape on Venus

Chapter IV

Edgar Rice Burroughs

WE FOLLOWED a well marked trail through the forest, a typical Amtorian forest, a forest of exquisite loveliness. The lacquer-like bark of the trees was of many colors, and the foliage of soft pastel shades—heliotrope, mauve, violet. Flowering parasitic plants added to the riot of color, flaunting blooms beside which our most gorgeous Earthly orchids would have appeared as drab as a church mouse at a Mardi gras.

There are many types of forests on Venus, as there are on Earth; but this through which we were passing is the most common, while the most awe inspiring and amazing are those such as cover Vepaja, the tops of which rise fully five thousand feet above the ground, and whose trees are of such enormous girth that, as at Kooaad, the palace of a king is carved within one a thousand feet from its base.

I am an inveterate worshipper of beauty; so that even though Duare and I were marching to an unknown fate, I could still be thrilled by that which met my eyes on every side. I could still wonder at and admire the gaily plumaged birds and insects and the tiny flying lizards which flitted from flower to flower in the eternal routine of pollination, but I could also wonder why Ulirus had not taken my pistol from me.

Perhaps there are few people more gifted with telepathic powers than I, yet I do not always profit by my knowledge. Had I, I should not then have thought about my pistol, for while I was wondering why Ulirus had not taken it from me, he pointed to it and asked me what it was. Of course it might have been only coincidence.

“It is a charm,” I told him, “which protects me from evil.”

“Let me have it,” he said, holding out a hand.

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t do anything like that to you, Ulirus,” I said, “for you have been very decent to my mate and me.”

“What do you mean?” he demanded. Several of the other warriors were looking on interestedly.

“This is my personal charm,” I explained; “anyone else touching it might die.” After all it was not exactly a lie. “However, if you would like to take the chance, you may.” I took the weapon from its holster and proffered it to him.

He hesitated a moment. The other warriors were watching him. “Some other time,” he said; “we must be getting on to Mypos now.”

I glanced at Duare. She was keeping a very straight face; though she was smiling inwardly, I guessed. Thus I retained my weapon for the time being at least; and though the warriors showed no further desire to handle it, they did not lose interest in it. They kept eyeing it, but I noticed that they were very careful not to brush against it when they were close to me.

We had marched through the forest for about a mile when we came into the open again, and ahead I saw the body of water that I had seen from the anotar before I made my fateful landing. On its shore, and perhaps a mile away, was a city, a walled city.

“That is Mypos,” said Ulirus. “It is the largest city in the world.”

From where we stood, on slightly higher ground, I had a good view of Mypos; and should say that it covered perhaps a hundred acres. However, I didn’t dispute Ulirus’s claim. If he wished to believe that it was the largest city in the world, that was all right with me.

We approached a large gate which was well guarded. It was swung open when Ulirus was recognized. The officer and members of the guard gathered around us, asking many questions of our captors; and I was delighted that among the first things that they were told was of the magical charm that I carried, which dealt death to whomever else touched it.

“They curl up like worms and die in horrible convulsions,” explained Ulirus. Ulirus was quite a propagandist, however unintentionally.

Nobody, it seemed, wished to touch it.

“Now,” I said, “I wish that you would take us at once to Tyros.”

Ulirus and the officer appeared astounded. “Is the man mad?” demanded the latter.

“He is a stranger,” said Ulirus. “He does not know Tyros.”

“My mate and I,” I explained, “are of the royal family of Korva. When the jong dies, I shall be jong. The jong of any other country should receive us as befits our rank.”

“Not Tyros, “ said the officer. “Perhaps you do not know it, but Tyros is the only real jong in the world. All the others are impostors. You had better not let Tyros know that you claim to be related to a jong. He would have you killed immediately.”

“What are you going to do with us, then?” I asked.

Ulirus looked at the officer as though for instructions.

“Take them to the slaves’ compound at the palace,” he directed; “they look fit to serve the jong.”

So Ulirus marched us off again. We passed along narrow, crooked streets flanked by one storied houses built of frame or limestone. The former were of roughly split planks fastened to upright framework, the latter of carelessly hewn blocks of limestone. The houses were as crooked as the streets. Evidently they had been built by eye without benefit of plumb-line. The windows and doors were of all sizes and shapes and all manner of crookedness. They might have been designed by a modernist of my world, or by a child of five.

The city lay, as I later learned, on the shore of a great fresh-water lake; and as we approached the lake front we saw buildings of two stories, some with towers. The largest of these is the palace of Tyros.

The compound to which we were taken adjoined the palace grounds. Several hundred tiny cells bounded an open court, in the center of which was a pool. Just before we were admitted, Ulirus leaned close to me.

“Do not tell anyone that you are the son of a jong,” he whispered.

“But I have already told you and the officer at the gate,” I reminded him.

“We will not tell,” he said, “but the slaves might in order to win favor.”

I was puzzled. “And why won’t you tell?” I asked.

“For one reason, I like you; for another, I hate Tyros. Everyone hates Tyros.”

“Well, I thank you for the warning, Ulirus; but I don’t suppose I can ever do anything to repay you;” then the guard opened the gate and we were ushered into our prison.

There must have been fully three hundred slaves in the compound, mostly creatures like ourselves; but there were also a few Myposans. The latter were common criminals, or people who had aroused the ire of Tyros the Bloody. The men and women were not segregated from one another; so Duare and I were not separated.

Some of the other slaves gathered around us, animated by curiosity, a part of which was aroused by Duare’s great beauty and a part by my blond hair and gray eyes. They had started to question us when the officer who had admitted us strode into the compound.

“Look out!” whispered one of the slaves. “Here comes Vomer;” then they drifted away from us.

Vomer walked up to me and eyed first me and then Duare from head to feet. His bearing was obviously intentionally insulting.

“What’s this I hear,” he demanded, “about something that you ride in that flies through the air like a bird?”

“How should I know what you heard?” I retorted.

One couldn’t tell, from their facial expressions, the mental reactions of these Myposans; because, like true fish, they didn’t have any. Vomer’s gills opened and closed rapidly. Perhaps that was a sign of rage or excitement. I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. He annoyed and disgusted me. He looked surprisingly like a moon fish, numbers of which I had seen seined off the Florida Keys.

“Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice, slave,” shouted Vomer; “don’t you know who I am?”

“No, nor what.”

Duare stood close to me. “Don’t antagonize him,” she whispered; “it will only go the harder with us.”

I realized that she was right. For myself, I did not care; but I must not jeopardize her safety. “Just what do you wish to know?” I asked in a more conciliatory tone, though it griped me to do it.

“I want to know if Ulirus spoke the truth,” he said. “He told me that you rode in a great thing that flew through the air like a bird, and the other warriors with him said the same thing.”

“It is true.”

“It can’t be true,” objected Vomer.

I shrugged. “If you know it can’t be true, why ask me?”

Vomer looked at me steadily with his fishy eyes for a moment; then he turned and strode away.

“You have made an enemy,” said Duare.

“They are all our enemies,” I said. “I should like to punch his face.”

A slave standing near smiled. “So should we all,” he said. He was a nice looking chap, well put up; a human being and not a freak of nature like the Myposans. I had noticed him before. He had been surreptitiously eying me. It was evident that my appearance had aroused his curiosity. “My name is Kandar,” he said, by way of opening up a conversation with me. “I am from Japal.”

“I am Carson of Venus,” I told him. “I am a citizen of Korva.”

“I have never heard of such a country, and I have never before seen a man with hair and eyes the color of yours. Are all the men of Korva like you?”

I tried to explain the matter to him; but of course he couldn’t grasp the fact that there was another world far from Amtor, nor could he readily accept my statement that Korva lay thousands of miles to the south.

“In that direction lies the edge of Amtor,” he objected, “not more than four or five hundred kob; and no country could exist beyond that, where all is fire and molten rock.”

So he, too, thought that his world was flat; but at that his was a more tenable theory than that of the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere.

I questioned him about our captors and the treatment that we might expect from them.

“Our work ashore is not heavy,” he explained, “and we are not treated so very badly; but at sea—that is different. Pray that you are not sent to sea.”

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