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Authors: Burroughs, Edgar Rice

The gods of mars (page 17)

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Almost of its own volition, my dagger flew up above that putrid heart.But something stayed my hand, and I am now glad that it did. It were aterrible thing to have struck down a woman with one’s own hand. But afitter fate occurred to me for this false deity.

“First Born,” I cried, turning to those who stood within the chamber,“you have seen to-day the impotency of Issus—the gods are impotent.Issus is no god. She is a cruel and wicked old woman, who has deceivedand played upon you for ages. Take her. John Carter, Prince ofHelium, would not contaminate his hand with her blood,” and with that Ipushed the raving beast, whom a short half-hour before a whole worldhad worshipped as divine, from the platform of her throne into thewaiting clutches of her betrayed and vengeful people.

Spying Xodar among the officers of the red men, I called him to lead mequickly to the Temple of the Sun, and, without waiting to learn whatfate the First Born would wreak upon their goddess, I rushed from thechamber with Xodar, Carthoris, Hor Vastus, Kantos Kan, and a score ofother red nobles.

The black led us rapidly through the inner chambers of the temple,until we stood within the central court—a great circular space pavedwith a transparent marble of exquisite whiteness. Before us rose agolden temple wrought in the most wondrous and fanciful designs, inlaidwith diamond, ruby, sapphire, turquoise, emerald, and the thousandnameless gems of Mars, which far transcend in loveliness and purity ofray the most priceless stones of Earth.

“This way,” cried Xodar, leading us toward the entrance to a tunnelwhich opened in the courtyard beside the temple. Just as we were onthe point of descending we heard a deep-toned roar burst from theTemple of Issus, which we had but just quitted, and then a red man,Djor Kantos, padwar of the fifth utan, broke from a nearby gate, cryingto us to return.

“The blacks have fired the temple,” he cried. “In a thousand places itis burning now. Haste to the outer gardens, or you are lost.”

As he spoke we saw smoke pouring from a dozen windows looking out uponthe courtyard of the Temple of the Sun, and far above the highestminaret of Issus hung an ever-growing pall of smoke.

“Go back! Go back!” I cried to those who had accompanied me. “Theway! Xodar; point the way and leave me. I shall reach my Princessyet.”

“Follow me, John Carter,” replied Xodar, and without waiting for myreply he dashed down into the tunnel at our feet. At his heels I randown through a half-dozen tiers of galleries, until at last he led mealong a level floor at the end of which I discerned a lighted chamber.

Massive bars blocked our further progress, but beyond I saw her—myincomparable Princess, and with her were Thuvia and Phaidor. When shesaw me she rushed toward the bars that separated us. Already thechamber had turned upon its slow way so far that but a portion of theopening in the temple wall was opposite the barred end of the corridor.Slowly the interval was closing. In a short time there would be but atiny crack, and then even that would be closed, and for a longBarsoomian year the chamber would slowly revolve until once more for abrief day the aperture in its wall would pass the corridor’s end.

But in the meantime what horrible things would go on within thatchamber!

“Xodar!” I cried. “Can no power stop this awful revolving thing? Isthere none who holds the secret of these terrible bars?”

“None, I fear, whom we could fetch in time, though I shall go and makethe attempt. Wait for me here.”

After he had left I stood and talked with Dejah Thoris, and shestretched her dear hand through those cruel bars that I might hold ituntil the last moment.

Thuvia and Phaidor came close also, but when Thuvia saw that we wouldbe alone she withdrew to the further side of the chamber. Not so thedaughter of Matai Shang.

“John Carter,” she said, “this be the last time that you shall see anyof us. Tell me that you love me, that I may die happy.”

“I love only the Princess of Helium,” I replied quietly. “I am sorry,Phaidor, but it is as I have told you from the beginning.”

She bit her lip and turned away, but not before I saw the black andugly scowl she turned upon Dejah Thoris. Thereafter she stood a littleway apart, but not so far as I should have desired, for I had manylittle confidences to impart to my long-lost love.

For a few minutes we stood thus talking in low tones. Ever smaller andsmaller grew the opening. In a short time now it would be too smalleven to permit the slender form of my Princess to pass. Oh, why didnot Xodar haste. Above we could hear the faint echoes of a greattumult. It was the multitude of black and red and green men fightingtheir way through the fire from the burning Temple of Issus.

A draught from above brought the fumes of smoke to our nostrils. As westood waiting for Xodar the smoke became thicker and thicker.Presently we heard shouting at the far end of the corridor, andhurrying feet.

“Come back, John Carter, come back!” cried a voice, “even the pits areburning.”

In a moment a dozen men broke through the now blinding smoke to myside. There was Carthoris, and Kantos Kan, and Hor Vastus, and Xodar,with a few more who had followed me to the temple court.

“There is no hope, John Carter,” cried Xodar. “The keeper of the keysis dead and his keys are not upon his carcass. Our only hope is toquench this conflagration and trust to fate that a year will find yourPrincess alive and well. I have brought sufficient food to last them.When this crack closes no smoke can reach them, and if we hasten toextinguish the flames I believe they will be safe.”

“Go, then, yourself and take these others with you,” I replied. “Ishall remain here beside my Princess until a merciful death releases mefrom my anguish. I care not to live.”

As I spoke Xodar had been tossing a great number of tiny cans withinthe prison cell. The remaining crack was not over an inch in width amoment later. Dejah Thoris stood as close to it as she could,whispering words of hope and courage to me, and urging me to savemyself.

Suddenly beyond her I saw the beautiful face of Phaidor contorted intoan expression of malign hatred. As my eyes met hers she spoke.

“Think not, John Carter, that you may so lightly cast aside the love ofPhaidor, daughter of Matai Shang. Nor ever hope to hold thy DejahThoris in thy arms again. Wait you the long, long year; but know thatwhen the waiting is over it shall be Phaidor’s arms which shall welcomeyou—not those of the Princess of Helium. Behold, she dies!”

And as she finished speaking I saw her raise a dagger on high, and thenI saw another figure. It was Thuvia’s. As the dagger fell toward theunprotected breast of my love, Thuvia was almost between them. Ablinding gust of smoke blotted out the tragedy within that fearsomecell—a shriek rang out, a single shriek, as the dagger fell.

The smoke cleared away, but we stood gazing upon a blank wall. Thelast crevice had closed, and for a long year that hideous chamber wouldretain its secret from the eyes of men.

They urged me to leave.

“In a moment it will be too late,” cried Xodar. “There is, in fact,but a bare chance that we can come through to the outer garden aliveeven now. I have ordered the pumps started, and in five minutes thepits will be flooded. If we would not drown like rats in a trap wemust hasten above and make a dash for safety through the burningtemple.”

“Go,” I urged them. “Let me die here beside my Princess—there is nohope or happiness elsewhere for me. When they carry her dear body fromthat terrible place a year hence let them find the body of her lordawaiting her.”

Of what happened after that I have only a confused recollection. Itseems as though I struggled with many men, and then that I was pickedbodily from the ground and borne away. I do not know. I have neverasked, nor has any other who was there that day intruded on my sorrowor recalled to my mind the occurrences which they know could but atbest reopen the terrible wound within my heart.

Ah! If I could but know one thing, what a burden of suspense would belifted from my shoulders! But whether the assassin’s dagger reachedone fair bosom or another, only time will divulge.

* * *

Endnotes*

[1]Wherever Captain Carter has used Martian measurements of time,distance, weight, and the like I have translated them into as nearlytheir equivalent in earthly values as is possible. His notes containmany Martian tables, and a great volume of scientific data, but sincethe International Astronomic Society is at present engaged inclassifying, investigating, and verifying this vast fund of remarkableand valuable information, I have felt that it will add nothing to theinterest of Captain Carter’s story or to the sum total of humanknowledge to maintain a strict adherence to the original manuscript inthese matters, while it might readily confuse the reader and detractfrom the interest of the history. For those who may be interested,however, I will explain that the Martian day is a trifle over 24 hours37 minutes duration (Earth time). This the Martians divide into tenequal parts, commencing the day at about 6 A.M. Earth time. The zodesare divided into fifty shorter periods, each of which in turn iscomposed of 200 brief periods of time, about equivalent to the earthlysecond. The Barsoomian Table of Time as here given is but a part ofthe full table appearing in Captain Carter’s notes.200 tals … … … 1 xat50 xats … … … 1 zode10 zodes … … . . 1 revolution of Mars upon its axis.

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