The Swordsman of Mars

Chapter XII

Otis Adelbert Kline

LIKE most of the women Thorne had known on his own world, Neva was a long time about dressing. But when, after he had waited for more than an hour before her door, she came forth, the result was most entrancing.

A tiara of pearls and pale blue amethysts woven together in a bizarre pattern on the meshwork of golden wires, bound her sun-bright hair. Beads of the same materials formed her breast-shields and supported a clinging bodice of iridescent blue silk. This vanished in a girdle of pearls and amethysts.

Thorne stood enthralled, and she smiled archly. Then she raised her arms and circled gracefully on the tips of her toes. “Like it?” she asked.

“Immensely,” he replied, “even as I adore——” He stopped suddenly.

“Go on,” she urged him, still smiling.

“Sorry. I said more than I intended. Perhaps you will find it in your heart to overlook my presumption.”

“Perhaps I shall if you will finish.” Then, “Even as I adore——” she prompted him.

“—the star-strewn firmament,” he replied.

She stamped a tiny foot. “Must I command you?” She moved closer—laid a hand on his arm. “Where I might command,” she said, “I will only implore.”

“—the lovely jewel it adorns,” he finished.

“Ah! That is what I wanted to hear you say. And for your reward you will escort me to the reception as a gentleman and officer of the Kamud, walking at my side.”


The reception of Irintz Tel, Dixtar of Xancibar, was a gorgeous affair. Held for the purpose of welcoming Lori Thool, the new ambassador from Kalsivar, largest and most powerful nation of Mars, it was a model of magnificence.

The function was held in the great central audience chamber of the palace, the ceiling of which towered a thousand feet above the heads of the assembled guests, its polished surface reflecting the rays of myriads of baridium globes, which made the place light as day.

Irintz Tel was standing with his illustrious guest on a dais in the center of the floor, presenting other visiting dignitaries and his chief officers, when the silvery notes of a trumpet rose above the hum of conversation. Instantly, every voice was hushed as a pompous major-domo announced: “The Dixtar’s daughter.”

All eyes were turned toward the doorway as Neva entered, walking beside Thorne. And though they lighted with pleasure at sight of the dainty little golden-haired beauty who was the first lady of Xancibar, not a few admiring glances were cast at the tall, handsome, sun-bronzed young officer.

Straight to the dais they went, the girl nodding to right and left to her many friends and acquaintances. As the little rat-faced Dixtar advanced to meet them, accompanied by Lori Thool, Thorne was once more struck by the incongruous dissimilarity between father and daughter.

The ambassador was tall, slender, and slightly under middle age, his hair just beginning to gray at the temples. He was quite handsome and elegant in his uniform and insignia of a great noble of Kalsivar.

“Neva,” squeaked the Dixtar in his high-pitched voice, “this is Lori Thool, the noble ambassador from Kalsivar. Lori Thool, my daughter.”

The ambassador saluted gracefully. “My homage to the most beautiful of the daughters of Mars. It must be that I have now met every one. Will you not join me in a game of gapun? I see they are setting up the boards.”

“In a moment,” she answered. “You have not quite met every one. This is my friend, Sheb Takkor Jen.”

As he and the resplendent ambassador exchanged dignified salutes, the Earthman exulted over the fact that she had said, “my friend.”

Meanwhile, Neva had beckoned a pretty little black-haired, brown-eyed beauty to her side.

“I take it that you have met the ambassador, Trixana,” she said, “but not my friend, Sheb Takkor Jen.”

Thorne acknowledged with a courtly salute, and a moment later found himself walking at the side of the vivacious little brunette, following Neva and Lori Thool as they made their way toward the gaming boards. From the corner of his eye, he saw Irintz Tel standing, chin on chest and hands clasped behind him. And he was quite positive that the Dixtar’s look was not friendly.

A moment later he saw Sel Han slip up beside Irintz Tel and, bending, whisper some secret communication. The Dixtar nodded, and again flashed a look at Thorne.

Lori Thool and the two girls chanced much gold at the gaming boards, and Trixana won quite heavily. But Thorne only looked on. As he was standing, watching the game, he felt a touch on his arm, and turning, beheld the sly face of the white-haired Lal Vak.

“Greetings, Sheb Takkor Jen,” he said softly. “Turn and watch the game, while I deliver a message. We must not seem to be talking together.”

Thorne looked back at the players, and the scientist continued: “You are in great danger. Sel Han is plotting against your life. He has denounced you to the Dixtar as being over-friendly with Neva, and her actions tonight in treating you as an equal have seemed to confirm his words. A friend has brought me news that Irintz Tel has just promised Sel Han he will turn you over to the headsman in the morning.”

“What can I do about it?”

“Escape. Get away from the palace before morning.”

“That I had already planned.”


“Over the garden wall.”

“Splendid! It is just what we had in mind. I will have a conveyance waiting for you. Be there just after the farther moon rises and it may be that we can save you. Farewell.”

When the gathering broke up, Lori Thool, after saying a lingering farewell to Neva, departed with his suite. Trixana was claimed by her father, a tall, handsome soldier in the prime of life, and Neva, left once more with Thorne, started toward the door. They had only gone a few steps when Sel Han suddenly strode up. He made a sweeping bow before Neva.

“May I have the honor of seeing the Dixtar’s daughter safely to her apartments?” he asked.

She took Thorne’s arm. “The Dixtar’s daughter is adequately escorted.”

Sel Han continued to bar her way, smiling cynically. And the Earthman noticed that the Dixtar himself was only a few feet away, looking on.

“Apparently you have not observed that the Dixtar’s daughter wishes to pass,” said Thorne. “Under such circumstances it should not be necessary to request any gentleman to stand aside.”

At this, the deputy flashed a look at the Dixtar, as much as to say, “I told you so,” and moved out of the way.

.     .     .     .     .

Back in the apartments of Neva, as Thorne stood guard before her chamber door, his mind was a mass of conflicting emotions. The time slipped by until he suddenly realized that the farther moon had risen and the hour had struck for his departure. He was about to steal softly away from his post when he was startled by a touch on his arm and a whispered, “Quiet.”

Swiftly turning, he was astonished to see Neva standing there before the curtain clad in a filmy sleeping garment.

“Make no noise,” she said, “and come with me. I heard someone on my balcony, and want you to surprise the prowler.”

Softly they entered the sleeping chamber. For a moment Thorne stood there, accustoming his eyes to the dim light and taking note of his surroundings. Then he silently drew his sword and advanced toward the balcony, listening intently.

Reaching a window without having heard a sound, he cautiously leaned forward and peered out. So far as he could see, the balcony was deserted. He stepped out and explored. Still no sign of the prowler. Then he reentered the room.

“Did you see him?” she asked.

“I saw no one,” he replied. “Perhaps you were only dreaming.”

“No, no! I am positive a man was there a moment ago. Not only did I hear him, but I saw his shadow as the moon came up. I’m terribly frightened.”

They were standing very close together. Her eyes, looking up into his, were wide with fear. She swayed toward him.

Solicitously he threw his arms about her—felt that she was trembling. Her arms stole about his neck and clung. “Hold me tight—tight! In your arms I am not afraid.”

Now it was the man who trembled; but not with fear. Their lips met.

“I love you, love you, love you!” she murmured. “Say again what you said to me this evening.”

“I love and adore you,” he told her, his voice husky with emotion. “Yet it is madness—a sweet madness.”

“Why, dear one?”

“Because tomorrow . . . ”

Suddenly the lights flashed on, and he paused, speechless with surprise.

A dozen armed soldiers rushed into the room, bared blades in their hands. At their head was Sel Han, a grin of triumph on his features. And behind them came Irintz Tel, Dixtar of Xancibar.

“Help! The guard! Release me, you brute!”

For a moment Thorne was in a daze. Then he suddenly realized that it was Neva who was speaking—that she was beating upon his breast with her clenched hands—hands that had caressed him but a moment before—straining to break from his clasp.

Mechanically he let her go. She ran to the little wizened Dixtar, buried her face in his shoulder, and began sobbing bitterly.

Thorne suddenly came to the full realization of his peril. He whipped out his sword and dagger and leaped for the door. Two warriors barred his progress.

A feint, a thrust, and one went down stabbed through the heart. He parried the thrust of the other with his dagger. Then he withdrew his blade from the heart of the first enemy and sheathed it in the throat of the second.

Other warriors leaped in close, but he bounded over the bodies of his two fallen adversaries and out of the door. Straight across the terrace he dashed, then down the steps and into the labyrinth of garden paths.

A few moments more and Thorne had reached his objective—a tall sebolis tree standing near the wall, which he had previously marked for his purpose. Pausing only to hurl his sword and dagger into the faces of his pursuers, he scrambled up the rough tree trunk, then climbed from branch to branch until he was above the level of the wall.

Walking out on the swaying branch until it sagged dangerously, he leaped. His fingers caught the edge of the wall, but it was rounded by a thousand years of weathering, and slippery with the night’s accumulation of hoar frost.

With a last despairing clutch at the curved, treacherous surface, he fell to the ground twenty feet below.

As soon as he struck, a half dozen soldiers pounced on him. Weaponless, he fought them with fists and feet until Sel Han reached over and struck him on the head with the flat of his heavy mace. Then his captors, at a sharp command from the triumphant deputy, jerked him to his feet and half carried, half dragged him back to the palace.

Neva, attended by two of her slave girls, sat on a divan with a fluffy wrap around her shoulders. Irintz Tel was pacing up and down, chin on chest, hands clasped behind his back, his brow contracted in a frown and his thin lips compressed in a tight line.

Presently a tall, sad-faced man bearing a great, two-handed sword on his shoulder, strode into the room. Behind him walked a sleepy-eyed, frightened little boy who carried a basket.

“Strike the head from this despicable traitor, Lurgo,” squeaked Irintz Tel, without looking up.

Lurgo the headsman lowered his huge weapon and stood leaning on the pommel, waiting while two warriors dragged Thorne to the center of the floor and forced him to kneel. Then he stepped back, carefully measured the distance with his practiced eye, and whirled the great blade over his head.

The Swordsman of Mars    |     Chapter XIII

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