The Swordsman of Mars

Chapter XX

Otis Adelbert Kline

THORNE knew that Sel Han, with his powerful ray projectors, could not only cut off any attempt at flight, but could destroy the castle and all in it at his pleasure. Yet he resolved that he, his friends and his followers should not succumb without resisting to the utmost. He accordingly rallied his panic-stricken warriors to the defense of the walls, then mounted to the ramparts to survey the movements of the enemy.

Sel Han, it seemed, was not disposed immediately to storm the castle. All of his flying machines had alighted well out of javelin range of the walls, and from the interiors of these, Ma Gongi foot-soldiers were pouring. A ray projector had been mounted on the flat roof of a nearby house, and Thorne stared at it curiously. It looked much like a large telescope on a conical stand. The flying warriors were circling the castle, but the great bulk of these were alighting on the ground. Soon only a few remained in the air as scouts and observers.

Glancing out over the lake, the Earthman saw that a second projector was mounted there on a large boat. He walked around the walls and descried a third on the roof of a building to the landward side, and still farther, a fourth, mounted on the ground to command the remaining sector of the wall.

Having completed his inspection of the disposal of the enemy troops and projectors, Thorne returned to a parapet beside the gate which opened on the dock, and before which Sel Han had massed his chief officers.

As he stood there on the battlement, watching every movement of the enemy, he heard a group of people coming up behind him. Turning, he beheld Miradon Vil and Irintz Tel walking side by side. Though they had always been deadly enemies it was evident that they had united to make common cause against the man who not only threatened them, but all of Mars as well.

Behind the two ex-rulers of Xancibar came Neva escorted by Lal Vak, and Thaine escorted by Kov Lutas. All carried weapons.

“We sought you out, Sheb Takkor Rad, hoping that we might be of some assistance in the defense,” said Miradon Vil.

“I fear there is little we can do save surrender or die, your majesty, though I have resolved that I, personally, will fight to the death rather than surrender to Sel Han.”

“Your resolve coincides with my own,” replied Miradon Vil.

“And mine! And mine!” chorused the others, with the single exception of Irintz Tel.

The ominous silence that followed was suddenly rent by the clarion notes of a trumpet. Hurrying to the wall, Thorne saw that a man had detached himself from the group around Sel Han, and walked to a point before the gate just out of range of a hurled javelin.

Once again the herald sounded a ringing call on his trumpet. Then, resting his instrument on his hip, he cried: “His Imperial Majesty, Sel Han the Invincible, Vil of Xancibar, Vil of Vils, and Vildus of all Mars, commands that Sheb Takkor and his warriors instantly lay down their weapons and come forth from the castle gates unarmed. His majesty has it in his power to utterly destroy the castle and every soul within it. Witness!”

He paused dramatically, and as he paused a pencil of green light stabbed out from the projector on the housetop. It flashed to the top of one of the lesser towers, and where the ray touched, the crystal blocks and mortar shriveled and vanished, leaving a jagged hole in the battlement.

The ray winked out, and the herald continued: “There will be no terms of surrender, other than such conditions as the Vildus of Mars shall see fit to impose.”

With a farewell flourish of his trumpet, he turned and walked back to where Sel Han and his officers stood waiting.

Thorne turned to an officer who stood near by. “Get me a herald.”

The officer ran to the gate tower and immediately emerged with a youth who carried a trumpet. Thorne gave him his instructions, and mounting the wall, he blew a ringing flourish. After waiting for a moment, he announced: “The Lord of Takkor, his warriors and his friends, defy Sel Han of the empty titles, and his bandits, who have invaded the Takkor domain. Here is Castle Takkor, and here are its defenders unafraid, for Sel Han to come and take if he can, or to destroy if he has aught to gain by wanton destruction. The Lord of Takkor further states . . . ”

The speech of the herald was suddenly cut off, along with his life, by a green flash from the ray projector on the housetop.

A roar of rage went up from the Takkor swordsmen. If Sel Han had thought to frighten them by this demonstration he had a poor conception of the caliber of these men.

But though this had made the Takkor warriors more steadfast in their purpose, there was at least one occupant of the castle upon whom it had worked the opposite effect. Chancing to look toward Irintz Tel, Thorne noticed that he was trembling violently.

Presently there came two more blasts from the trumpet of Sel Han’s herald.

“His Imperial Majesty, the Vildus of Mars, could destroy the castle and all it contains,” shouted the herald, “yet he is just and merciful. He realizes that the warriors of the Takkor Rad and the prisoners are respectively under the command—and in the power of a man who is willing to sacrifice them all to satisfy his own empty vanity and make good his puny defiance of Sel Han, the Invincible.

“Therefore, his imperial majesty gives you, each and every one, a respite from death, during which you may have time to depose this foolhardy leader and save your own lives. And to the man who will bring him the head of Sheb Takkor, the Vildus of Mars covenants to present the Raddek of Takkor with all its lands. His majesty decrees that your respite from death shall last from now until the planet has completed one turn upon its axis. If, by that time and at that very moment, you have not obeyed his edict, then will the castle and all in it be utterly destroyed.”

Having said his say, the herald returned to the group of officers.

“Looks as if things have quieted down for the present, at least,” said Thorne, turning to the others. “I suggest that we all get some much needed sleep.”

“One moment, Sheb Takkor,” interposed Irintz Tel. “I suggest that before we retire we hold a council and decide just what we are going to do. It is only fair that we should all have some say in the matter.”

“I quite agree to that,” Thorne replied. “Thus far I have been acting under the belief that I was carrying out the wishes of the majority in defying Sel Han. If I have erred, there is yet time to rectify the mistake. Let us go into the castle.”

They gathered, a few moments later, in the apartment which Thorne had chosen for himself. The Earthman had asked Yirl Du to attend as the representative of the Free Swordsmen. The others were Neva, Thaine, Miradon Vil, Irintz Tel, Lal Vak, and Kov Lutas.

Thorne stood at a taboret in the center of the room, filling cups with steaming pulcho, a jar of which had just been brought in by Yirl Du. These he passed to his assembled guests. Then he said to Irintz Tel, “Since it was at your suggestion that this council was assembled, I will call upon you first to address us.”

The Dixtar took a dainty sip of pulcho, then carefully held the cup before him.

“My good friends and comrades in adversity,” he began, “I, for one, see the hopelessness of our position here, and the futility of further resistance to the decree of fate. After all, it is better to be live prisoners than dead heroes, blasted into nothingness by the awful weapons of the Ma Gongi. I suggest that we surrender to Sel Han while he is inclined to be merciful, thus not only saving our own lives, but those of the brave Takkor swordsmen who sought to rescue us from the conqueror.”

“You have all heard the suggestion of the Dixtar,” said Thorne. “Will you surrender or resist?”

“Resist!” they cried unanimously.

Then the Dixtar, who for ten long Martian years had never been gainsaid in anything, went suddenly pale. “I fear,” he said, “that you will all regret this rash decision when regret comes too late.” Then he turned, clasped his hands behind his back, and with his chin sunk on his chest, strode out of the room. The others soon followed to go to their several apartments.

The Earthman, left alone, prepared to retire. One thing kept recurring to him as he hooded the baridium globes and crept into bed. It was the fact that as Kov Lutas walked out between the two girls, he had seemed more attentive to Thaine than to Neva. Yirl Du had told Thorne that the young officer avowed undying love for the beautiful daughter of the Dixtar. Thorne was puzzled.

He soon fell asleep, but it seemed to him that he had not slumbered for more than a few moments when he was awakened by a sharp tug at his coverlets. He looked up sleepily.

“Yirl Du!” he exclaimed. “What’s wrong?”

“I have made a startling discovery, my lord,” Yirl Du replied, “else I should not have disturbed your rest.”

“I’m sure of that,” said Thorne. “What is it?”

For answer, his henchman drew a scroll from beneath his cloak. After passing it to the Earthman, he walked to the lever and unhooded the baridium globes, flooding the room with light.

The Swordsman of Mars    |     Chapter XXI

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