Escape on Venus

Chapter XXI

Edgar Rice Burroughs

I COULDN’T help but have a great deal of respect for Jantor. He was doing a very courageous, albeit a very temerarious, thing. I watched him as he walked toward his enemies. His step was firm, his head high. He was every inch a jong.

I had taken off immediately he left us, and was circling about rather low. Jantor had approached to within a few steps of Gangor, when the latter suddenly raised his short, heavy spear and plunged it through the jong’s heart.

Kandar and Doran cried out in horror. I opened the throttle and dove straight for the wretch; and as he saw me coming, he and his warriors turned and fled for the city. Low behind them, I turned my pistol on them. Several fell, but Gangor reached the city gate in safety.

Without a word I rose and flew over the city and out across the lake. For some time neither Kandar nor Doran spoke. Their faces were drawn and tense. My heart ached for them. Finally Kandar asked me where I was going.

“I am going to tell the Myposan fleet that Japal has been warned and is ready to annihilate them.”

“Why?” he asked.

“It was your father’s wish to save the city. Some day you will be jong there. Do you want it conquered by the fishmen?”

“You are right,” he said.

It was late in the afternoon that I dropped down low over the leading Myposan galley, the largest of the biremes. They had evidently seen us from a distance, as the deck was crowded with warriors, all staring at us.

“Be careful,” cautioned Kandar. “They are preparing a rock thrower. If they hit us, we’re through.”

I gave the peace sign then, and called down to them that I had a message for their commander. A big fellow whom I recalled having seen in Tyros’ palace answered the peace sign and motioned for me to come closer.

“Tell them to take the rock out of that catapult,” I shouted.

He nodded and gave the necessary order; and after they had unloaded the thing, I dropped down quite low. The anotar is quite maneuverable and can fly at very low speeds; so I had no difficulty in carrying on at least a broken conversation with the ship

“Who commands the fleet?” I asked.

“Skabra, the vadjong,” he replied.

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes; the slave who killed Tyros,” he replied.

“I should like to talk with Skabra, if she is not too mad at me,” I said.

The fellow grinned. Their faces are hideous enough in repose; but when they grin, they are something to frighten grown-ups with. Their fish mouths spread across their faces, forcing their gills open. Their countless, sharp fish like teeth are exposed behind their huge beards.

“Skabra is not angry,” he said.

“Which is her ship?” I asked.

“This,” he said.

“Well, tell her that Carson of Venus wishes to speak to her. Tell her I have very important news for her.”

Just as I finished the sentence the old girl came on deck. God! but she’s the beauty. She looks like a bloated cod fish.

“What do you want?” she demanded. “Do you want to murder me, too?”

“No,” I shouted. “You were kind to my mate. I would not harm you. I have important news for you, but I can’t talk this way. Get in a small boat and row off a little way. I’ll come down and land on the water and talk with you.”

“You must take me for a fool,” she said. “I’d be at your mercy.”

I had to keep circling the ship and shouting a few words at a time. It was no way in which to carry on a conversation.

“Very well,” I said. “The word I have for you is very important, and I have given my word that I shall not harm you in any way. However, do as you see fit. I’ll stand by a few minutes.”

I could see them talking excitedly on the deck for a few minutes, and then I saw a boat being lowered with Skabra in it; so I came down a short distance from the ship and waited. Presently they came alongside. The old girl greeted me pleasantly. She didn’t seem to harbor any ill will because I had killed her mate, nor was I surprised at that. You see I’d not only rid her of a most obnoxious husband; but I’d put her on the throne, where she’d rule until the horrid little amphibian monstrosity that was her son grew to maturity.

“The first thing I’d like to know,” she said, “is how you escaped from Mypos.”

I shook my head. “I might be a prisoner there again some time; so I’ll keep that secret to myself.”

“Perhaps you’re wise,” she said; “but if you do come again, you’ll be treated well, as long as I’m vadjong. Now what is the important news you have for me?”

“Japal knows that your fleet is coming, and the city is fully prepared. I advise you to turn back.”

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“For two reasons: You were kind to my mate, and the sons of Jantor are my friends. I do not wish to see Mypos and Japal at war.”

She nodded. “I understand,” she said, “but nevertheless I shall keep on and attack Japal. We need more slaves. Many of our galleys are undermanned. The creatures die like flies at the oars.”

We talked a little longer; and then, finding that I could not persuade her to give up her plan, I taxied away and took off. As we approached Japal, we saw that the fleet was fully manned; but remaining close to the city. Kandar wanted to wait and learn the outcome of the battle. It was now late in the afternoon; so there was little likelihood that the engagement would take place before morning, as the biremes would move up slowly so as not to exhaust the men at the oars; they would need all their strength and energy for maneuvering during battle.

“They’ll probably come up to within about a kob,” Kandar said, “and lie to until dawn; thus the slaves will be well rested.” A kob is two and a half of our Earthly miles.

I didn’t like the idea very well, as I was anxious to return to Duare and get started on our search for Korva; but it meant so much to Kandar that I agreed to wait. He knew where there was a cove a short distance along the coast, and we flew there and anchored.

At dawn Kandar awakened me. “The Myposan fleet is moving in,” he said. “I can hear the creaking of their oars.”

I listened. Very faintly I could hear the complaining of the wooden oars against the wooden rowlocks. Even a greased oar is not entirely silent. We took off and headed for Japal, and almost immediately we saw the Myposan fleet coming in in three lines of fifteen or sixteen ships each. The fleet of Japal, still lay close below the city wall.

When the first line of the Myposan fleet was within a hundred yards of the enemy fleet the engagement started. A ball of fire rose from the deck of one of the Japal ships, described a graceful arc, and landed on the deck of a Myposan bireme. The burning brand had been shot from a catapult. Immediately the engagement became general. Fire balls and rocks were hurled from both sides. Many fell into the water, but many found their marks. Three ships were on fire, and I could see men hauling buckets of water from the lake to fight the flames.

Still the Myposan fleet moved in. “They are going to grapple and board,” said Doran.

Soon I saw why the Japal fleet hugged the shore, for now the batteries on the wall of the city opened up. These were heavier than the catapults of the ships; they threw larger fire balls and heavier rocks. The penteconters had moved up now between the big ships of the Myposans. They were much faster and more maneuverable. Their principal purpose, as far as I could see, was to harass the enemy by coming alongside and hurling short spears through the ports where the rowers sat chained to their benches. Disable enough oarsmen, and you have disabled the ship. A rock from a shore catapult dropped directly into the center of one of these penteconters, killing two or three men instantly and crashing through the bottom of the ship, which immediately commenced to fill and sink. The survivors, leaping overboard, were speared from the deck of the Japal ship they had been attacking. I could hear the dying men screaming and cursing.

“That was a good shot,” said Kandar.

By now, four of the attacking ships were burning, their crews taking to small boats, of which there were not half enough, while the slaves burned in their chains. Their screams were horrifying.

Other Myposan ships came alongside those of Japal, and there was hand-to-hand fighting on decks slippery with blood. It was a grewsome sight, but fascinating. I dropped lower to get a better view, as the smoke from the burning ships was cutting down the visibility.

I dropped too low. A rock from a catapult struck my propeller, smashing it. Now, I was, indeed, in a bad fix.

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