The Swordsman of Mars

Chapter XXI

Otis Adelbert Kline

THORNE glanced curiously over the scroll given him by Yirl Du. Then he threw back the covers and leaped out of bed.

“Where did you get this?” he demanded. “Where is Irintz Tel?”

“The traitor is in his own bed, and probably asleep by now,” replied Yirl Du.

“But what of Sel Han? Did Irintz Tel get a message through to him, and was there a reply?”

“He did, and I have the reply also.” Yirl Du plucked a second scroll from beneath his cloak and handed it to Thorne, who perused it carefully, then re-read the other message. The correspondence went in this order, the first letter full hasty revisions:

To Sel Han, Vildus of Mars,

Salutation and submission:

With my help you can take Castle Takkor and all in it, sustaining but trifling losses. Tomorrow night, in the period of darkness between the setting of the nearer moon and the rising of the farther, quietly mass a thousand men near the lake gate. Have another group of fifty warriors bring a long stout rope, knotted for easy climbing, beneath the point where I stand when I hurl this note. I will drop a cord to draw up and make fast the rope for them. Then we will cut down the guards and throw open the gates. With a thousand of your foot-soldiers in the courtyard and your mounted warriors attacking from above, there can be but one outcome. I seek to make no terms, but align myself wholeheartedly with your cause, and now await your reply and your commands.

Irintz Tel            


To Irintz Tel, Salutation and greetings:

Your plan pleases me. As soon as the sky grows dark, lower your cord with a muffled weight at the end. When you feel two tugs on the cord draw up the rope which we shall tie on the other end, and lash it to a merlon. As soon as it is secure, tug twice, and we will do the rest.

If, through your efforts, we are able to capture the castle, I will make you Vil of Xancibar or any other vilet of equal size which you may choose, and Neva shall share with me the throne of all Mars.

Sel Han                
Vildus of Mars.            

“Ah! So that’s their game. They will capture the towers, throw open the gates, and. take us by surprise during the dark interval.”

“They will unless we prevent Irintz Tel from drawing up their rope for them. Shall I place him under arrest?”

“No. Let him sleep. There is nothing he can do before tomorrow night, and I already have the glimmerings of a counter plan. In the meantime, tell me how you got these documents.”

“It was quite simple, my lord. As you know, I am familiar with every secret passageway in this castle. When Irintz Tel left the conference I suspected him of some treachery, so I followed. Seeing him enter his apartment, I slipped into a hidden passageway which leads to a panel in the central room of his suite. There, through a small peep-hole, I spied upon him. He seemed quite agitated, and finally went to the writing board and composed this letter. He made a copy, probably because, as you see, the original is full of corrections and crossed-out words.

“Next, he unraveled the silken lining of one of his garments and wound the long cord he obtained therefrom into a ball. He thrust the ball of cord and the copy of the corrected scroll under his cloak, and went out. On the way out he hurled this original letter into the fireplace. Luckily I was able to open the panel, run to the fireplace, and rescue it before it caught fire.

“I read the note, and followed Irintz Tel. I saw him tie the cylinder to the end of his silken cord and hurl it out toward the enemy camp where it was picked up by a yellow warrior. Some time later Sel Han’s reply came, and Irintz Tel drew it up on the wall.

“With a false beard and tattered cloak, I disguised myself as a castle menial. Again I spied upon Irintz Tel in his room. Presently I saw him place Sel Han’s answer on the writing board, and resolved to attempt to get it without arousing his suspicion. Accordingly, I went into his room with a load of wood, managed to upset the writing board, shake the scroll out of the cylinder, thrust it into my belt, and hand him the empty cylinder, which he immediately tossed into the fire.”

“Obviously Irintz Tel thinks both of these documents were burned, and so imagines himself safe from discovery. That fits in splendidly with my plan.”

“But aren’t you going to arrest him and punish him?”

“No. I have a more subtle scheme than that. Say nothing about these notes or the Dixtar’s treachery to anyone. Leave all to me. Tomorrow, go about your duties as if nothing is amiss. And now get yourself some rest. I’m going back to bed.”

.     .     .     .     .

Thorne was up with the sun, and instantly set about his task. First he put his men to work cleaning up the place and tending the gawrs. Then, accompanied by Yirl Du, he explored the underground chambers of the castle. It was not long before he had mapped out a route leading through the largest doorways and archways to a point near one of the concealed entrances of the secret passageway, through which Yirl Du had previously escaped, and which led underneath the docks. After investigating this passageway and the space beneath the docks, he returned to the castle cellar.

“Bring me six skilled masons,” he told Yirl Du, “and have them conceal their tools on the way so there will be no suspicion of what we are about to do. I’ll wait here.”

Yirl Du hurried away, and presently returned with six members of the Free Swordsmen, carrying tools and mortar concealed in two large food hampers.

Thorne addressed them. “I want you to remove the blocks from the wall at this point, until you have made an opening large enough for a gawr to pass through. Then wait here with your tools for further orders, which will not come until tonight. Food and pulcho will be sent you.”

Accompanied by Yirl Du, he crossed the room and stepped through the large doorway, carefully closing the door after him.

“Keep this door closed with two guards before it,” he said, “and give them orders to admit nobody but you or me. You, yourself, will take food to the workmen at meal-times.”

After the two guards had been posted, Thorne and Yirl Du paid a visit to the tower where the officers of the Kamud were imprisoned. These, the Earthman ordered transferred to a dungeon in the cellar. When this had been accomplished he returned to the battlements to direct the work there, and to keep watch over the enemy.

That afternoon, after Irintz Tel had retired to his apartment, Thorne issued secret instructions to his various officers. These, in turn, transmitted instructions to the men in their charge.

Miradon Vil, Kov Lutas, Lal Vak and the two girls were told nothing. Thorne did not want the Dixtar’s daughter to know of the perfidy of her father until his own plans had been carried out.

Night came at last, with the transient brightness of the nearer moon. It was at the setting of this orb that all of Thorne’s forces were to go into action. In the meantime, a secret watch was kept on Irintz Tel.

Presently Thorne, standing in the shadow, saw the Dixtar cross the courtyard, walking unconcernedly and saluting the officers and men he encountered. Leisurely he mounted to the wall and a moment later disappeared in the shadow of the tower.

Thorne softly called to Rid Du, who stood waiting. “Start out with the gawrs, and warn the men to be careful about making any unusual noise.”

Led by a man who had been coached for the purpose until he thoroughly knew the route through the castle and cellar which had been mapped out by Thorne, the great bird-beasts, each carrying a rider, began forming in line and marching into the castle.

.     .     .     .     .

By the time the moon had set nearly two-thirds of the gawrs had entered the castle. At this moment all the warriors on the walls and in the towers began silently stealing from their posts, with the exception of the few who guarded the towers that controlled the lake gates. These had instructions to remain until the first attackers appeared, then flee down the inner stairways which led to the cellars, and join the others.

Thorne kept his post at the doorway until the last huge bird-beast had lumbered through. Then he closed and bolted the door on the inside, and ran up the steps of the central tower where, one by one, he aroused Neva, Thaine, Miradon Vil, Lal Vak and Kov Lutas.

“Come with me quickly, and make no sound,” he told them. “The enemy is about to attack, and I have a plan to frustrate them. But we must be quiet.”

They followed him down the stairway unquestioningly, Neva escorted by Miradon Vil, who seemed strangely solicitous of her safety; Thaine, attended by Kov Lutas, and Lal Vak walked with the Earthman. Thorne closed and bolted every door after them as they followed the route where the gawrs had walked through the castle and descended to the basement. Here, after passing through several rooms, and bolting each door behind them, they caught up with the end of a line of warriors, among whom Thorne recognized the guards from the gate towers. This line was swiftly and silently filing through the hole opened in the wall by the masons, who, since all the gawrs had passed, had begun to fill it up under the direction of Yirl Du.

Thorne bolted the last door and told his companions to follow the warriors through the opening. Then he approached Yirl Du. “Have you shown these men the secret passageway?”

“Yes, my lord. And I have instructed them to completely wall up the hole as soon as the last warrior has passed through, then follow by way of the passage.”

“Good. Come with me, for we still have the most difficult part of our task to perform.”

They hurried out to where the men and bird-beasts stood under the dock, amid the supporting pilings, and now heard the flapping of many wings above and around them.

“Sel Han’s flying warriors are attacking the castle. Now is our chance, but we must work swiftly.”

In accordance with his previous orders, a hundred of Thorne’s warriors had divided themselves into four groups of twenty-five men, each under the command of an officer. The members of one of these groups, all young fellows under the command of Rid Du, had stripped themselves to their loincloths and were plastering each other from head to foot with a thick coating of heavy grease, working in the dim light of a small baridium torch held by another warrior. Stacked near them was a pile of large crocks made from transparent material.

As soon as they were thoroughly greased, each man sword, mace and dagger about him, then took up a crock, inverted it, and lifted it over his head, so it rested upon his shoulders. They marched down to the water’s edge, and Rid Du. who was in the lead, chopped a hole in the thin ice with his mace, then stepped into it and disappeared from view, still holding the crock over his head. His companions followed him, one by one, until all had dropped out of sight.

“Do you think they’ll make it?” Thorne asked anxiously. “Looks as if they might run out of air before they reach the boat.”

“Don’t worry, my lord,” Yirl Du replied. “All are trained divers. Every one of them could walk out to the boat and back again without danger of suffocating. And when they break through the ice around that boat the crew of the ray projector will have short shrift, with the exception of the operator whom you ordered kept alive.”

“I hope you are right,” said Thorne, “and you should know if any one does. Now, it is time for us to attack the other projector crews. I’ll take the one on the west, you the one on the north, and Ven Hitus the one to the east. Come!”

He leaped into the saddle of a gawr held ready for him, and swiftly led the way to the west end of the dock, the great bird-beasts of his twenty-five warriors lumbering after him on the frozen ground. At the end of the dock a large ramp led up under a warehouse, open toward the lake after the manner of a lean-to. He rode out through the front of this and reconnoitered for a moment. By now there was a tremendous commotion in the castle. Baridium torches were flashing all about, and by their light he could see the warriors milling on the walls, while others mounted on gawrs circled the towers and battlements.

But what chiefly concerned him now was the ray projector which he was to capture, and which Sel Han had mounted on a house-top. He marked its position by the faint glow of the light on its instrument board. Then, with a whispered “Now!” to his fighting men, who had assembled around him, he pulled up on the guiding rod, and his bird-beast launched itself into the air.

In a few moments they were soaring above their objective, which was only about five hundred yards from the dock. Then they dived downward in a steep spiral.

The crew of the ray projector had paid no attention to the sound of gawrs flapping above their heads, evidently taking these to be the mounts of their own warriors. And so, when the great bird-beasts alighted on the roof around them, and Thorne’s fighting men sprang upon them with drawn swords, they were taken completely by surprise.

Thorne made straight for the operator, who leaped up to meet him; the Earthman’s blade quickly sent his weapon spinning, and he clapped his hands over his eyes in token of surrender. The Takkor swordsmen made short work of the others.

Setting two men to guard his prisoner, Thorne raised his baridium torch above his head and unhooded it three times in succession. A moment later he saw it answered by three flashes from the projector on the north, and knew that Yirl Du had succeeded in capturing it. Then came a signal from the one on the east, announcing the success of Ven Hitus, and shortly thereafter another from the projector on the boat, now under the control of Rid Du. Thorne called a warrior to his side.

“Fly back to the dock,” he ordered, “and tell them they all come out now. Send fifty men to capture the airships, but let them go on foot. I want no one in the air except the man who is to carry dry clothing to Rid Du and his warriors on the boat. And let him return as soon as possible.” Thorne turned his attention to the instrument board of the ray projector. Though it held a half dozen dials with numbers and pointers on them, evidently to tell the operator how much of this or that charge or substance the mechanism contained, he was at present concerned only with the parts intended for manipulation by the operator.

These consisted of two small cranks and a lever. One crank, soon found by testing it, elevated or lowered the muzzle of the projector, and the other turned it to the right or left. He pointed the muzzle upward where it could do no damage, and pulled the lever. A green flash shot skyward. He swiftly shut it off, and having mastered the weapon without the operator’s assistance, ordered him bound.

A moment later the farther moon rose, flooding the scene with its pale light. After making sure that his men were in charge of Sel Han’s airships, and that his warrior had returned from the boat, Thorne turned his attention to the castle.

Evidently Sel Han was still unaware that his projectors had been captured. Fully a thousand of his riders still circled above the walls on their bird-beasts. Thorne aimed the projector into the thick of these and pulled the lever. Instantly the green ray flashed out, cutting a great gap in the circle of flyers. And now from the north, south and east, the other projectors went into action.

The panic stricken riders who remained quickly dived for the nearest shelter—the castle courtyard. The Earthman instantly shut off his ray, and the others followed his example.

Calling two of his warriors before the instrument board, he instructed them in the use of the projector. He told them that if any of Sel Han’s men should attempt to fly up from the courtyard they should be instantly annihilated. And finally he ordered them to watch for him to raise his hand, at which signal they were to blast a hole through the base of the castle wall directly in front of them, then shut off the ray.

These instructions completed, he mounted his gawr, and flinging the bound Ma Gongi operator across the front of his saddle, flew to the dock where the main body of his swordsmen waited.

Dismounting, he turned his prisoner over to two guards and called an officer.

“Get me a herald,” he commanded.

The officer hurried away, and reappeared in a few moments with a youth who carried a trumpet. Thorne gave him his instructions and he walked toward the gate.

As the Earthman stood looking after him he felt a touch on his arm. Turning, he beheld Neva, who had just come up behind him.

“I cannot find my father,” she said. “I’ve looked for him everywhere. Do you know where he is?”

“I am sorry to say,” he replied, “that the Dixtar saw fit to open the castle gates to the enemy. I haven’t the slightest idea where he is—probably with his good friend, Sel Han.”

She appeared distinctly shocked. “You don’t mean—you don’t mean . . . ”

“That he could have betrayed us? Why not? It seems to run in the family.”

She went pale at this, then looked up at him with flashing eyes. “Sheb Takkor Rad,” she said, “some day you will regret those words. There are certain things of which you are ignorant, which I hoped you would eventually come to understand. But now—now I don’t care. I hate you! I never want to see you again!”

As she flung away from him the notes of the herald’s trumpet sounded before the gate.

“The Rad of Takkor,” cried the herald, “calls upon Sel Han and his bandits to lay down their arms and march out of the castle. If they fail to comply they will be destroyed utterly, and the castle with them. As a token of surrender they will immediately throw open the gates.” Thorne waited for some time, watching the gates expectantly. They remained closed. He called to the herald. “Continue.”

Again the herald sounded his trumpet.

“The Rad of Takkor is inclined to be merciful,” he cried, “yet you try him sorely. Behold!”

Thorne raised his hand. A green ray flashed out from the house-top, drilled through the base of the wall, then winked off, leaving a gaping black hole. From within the castle there came the sounds of a mighty tumult—shouts, groans, curses, and the clash of weapons. Suddenly the gates swung open, and there emerged a rabble of yellow warriors, weaponless, thrusting before them two white men whose arms were bound behind them, and carrying on their shoulders the bodies of a dozen more. It was obvious that the Ma Gongi, facing destruction by their own dread weapons, had mutinied to save their lives.

Leaving his gawr in charge of a warrior, Thorne hurried forward. As he drew near the prisoners he recognized the tall, broad-shouldered figure of Sel Han, and the wizened, rat-faced Dixtar. The first corpse, borne by four yellow warriors, was that of Sur Det.

“Surround the Ma Gongi,” Thorne shouted to his swordsmen. “Be on the lookout for treachery. And bring me the two white prisoners.”

Under the watchful eyes of the Takkor fighting men, the horde of yellow warriors continued to pour from the castle until it was emptied of enemies. Then, at a command from the Earthman, the swordsmen closed in behind them and a small detachment entered the castle to look for stragglers.

“Bring the prisoners and follow me,” Thorne ordered.

He led the way to where Miradon Vil stood with Neva, Thaine, Lal Vak and Kov Lutas.

Rendering the imperial salute to the Vil, he said, “Your majesty, I bring you two men who have usurped the throne of your empire, one for a generation, the other for a day. They are your prisoners, to do with as you will. And since the weapons with which Sel Han set out to conquer Mars are in the custody of my swordsmen, you are once more Vil of Xancibar. As for the nest of this would-be world conqueror and his fellow conspirators, which is said to be somewhere on my estate, every prisoner here knows where it is, and I am sure that at least one of them can be persuaded to tell.”

“Sheb Takkor Rad,” replied Miradon Vil, his voice shaking with emotion, “I find it difficult to express . . . ”

He got no further, for at this moment there came a sudden and unexpected interruption. Thorne’s first intimation of it as the sound of a sword being whipped from its sheath. He turned in time to see Sel Han, who had managed to slip off bonds and snatch the sword of the man who guarded him, leap across the space which separated him from the two girls, catch up Thaine, fling her over his shoulder, and dash way.

Drawing his own blade the Earthman was the first to spring after the fugitive. Only a short way off stood Thorne’s gawr, held by a warrior. Sel Han split his head with a blow of the sword and leaped into the saddle.

Still clutching the struggling, kicking Thaine, and holding both her wrists with his left hand, he pulled up on the guiding rod with his right. The great bird-beast lumbered forward and took off, flapping noisily because of the double burden it carried, while Thorne and his companions looked on helplessly, not daring to use their javelins for fear of injuring the girl.

The gawr, obedient to the guiding rod, flew swiftly out over the lake.

The Swordsman of Mars    |     Chapter XXII

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