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Authors: Burroughs, Edgar Rice

The gods of mars (page 6)

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Stealthily I approached the nearest sleeper. When he awoke he was wellon his journey to the bosom of Korus. His piercing shriek asconsciousness returned to him came faintly up to us from the blackdepths beneath.

The second awoke as I touched him, and, though I succeeded in hurlinghim from the cruiser’s deck, his wild cry of alarm brought theremaining pirates to their feet. There were five of them.

As they arose the girl’s revolver spoke in sharp staccato and one sankback to the deck again to rise no more.

The others rushed madly upon me with drawn swords. The girl evidentlydared not fire for fear of wounding me, but I saw her sneak stealthilyand cat-like toward the flank of the attackers. Then they were on me.

For a few minutes I experienced some of the hottest fighting I had everpassed through. The quarters were too small for foot work. It wasstand your ground and give and take. At first I took considerably morethan I gave, but presently I got beneath one fellow’s guard and had thesatisfaction of seeing him collapse upon the deck.

The others redoubled their efforts. The crashing of their blades uponmine raised a terrific din that might have been heard for miles throughthe silent night. Sparks flew as steel smote steel, and then there wasthe dull and sickening sound of a shoulder bone parting beneath thekeen edge of my Martian sword.

Three now faced me, but the girl was working her way to a point thatwould soon permit her to reduce the number by one at least. Thenthings happened with such amazing rapidity that I can scarce comprehendeven now all that took place in that brief instant.

The three rushed me with the evident purpose of forcing me back the fewsteps that would carry my body over the rail into the void below. Atthe same instant the girl fired and my sword arm made two moves. Oneman dropped with a bullet in his brain; a sword flew clattering acrossthe deck and dropped over the edge beyond as I disarmed one of myopponents and the third went down with my blade buried to the hilt inhis breast and three feet of it protruding from his back, and fallingwrenched the sword from my grasp.

Disarmed myself, I now faced my remaining foeman, whose own sword laysomewhere thousands of feet below us, lost in the Lost Sea.

The new conditions seemed to please my adversary, for a smile ofsatisfaction bared his gleaming teeth as he rushed at me bare-handed.The great muscles which rolled beneath his glossy black hide evidentlyassured him that here was easy prey, not worth the trouble of drawingthe dagger from his harness.

I let him come almost upon me. Then I ducked beneath his outstretchedarms, at the same time sidestepping to the right. Pivoting on my lefttoe, I swung a terrific right to his jaw, and, like a felled ox, hedropped in his tracks.

A low, silvery laugh rang out behind me.

“You are no thern,” said the sweet voice of my companion, “for all yourgolden locks or the harness of Sator Throg. Never lived there upon allBarsoom before one who could fight as you have fought this night. Whoare you?”

“I am John Carter, Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak ofHelium,” I replied. “And whom,” I added, “has the honour of servingbeen accorded me?”

She hesitated a moment before speaking. Then she asked:

“You are no thern. Are you an enemy of the therns?”

“I have been in the territory of the therns for a day and a half.During that entire time my life has been in constant danger. I havebeen harassed and persecuted. Armed men and fierce beasts have beenset upon me. I had no quarrel with the therns before, but can youwonder that I feel no great love for them now? I have spoken.”

She looked at me intently for several minutes before she replied. Itwas as though she were attempting to read my inmost soul, to judge mycharacter and my standards of chivalry in that long-drawn, searchinggaze.

Apparently the inventory satisfied her.

“I am Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, Holy Hekkador of the HolyTherns, Father of Therns, Master of Life and Death upon Barsoom,Brother of Issus, Prince of Life Eternal.”

At that moment I noticed that the black I had dropped with my fist wascommencing to show signs of returning consciousness. I sprang to hisside. Stripping his harness from him I securely bound his hands behindhis back, and after similarly fastening his feet tied him to a heavygun carriage.

“Why not the simpler way?” asked Phaidor.

“I do not understand. What ‘simpler way’?” I replied.

With a slight shrug of her lovely shoulders she made a gesture with herhands personating the casting of something over the craft’s side.

“I am no murderer,” I said. “I kill in self-defence only.”

She looked at me narrowly. Then she puckered those divine brows ofhers, and shook her head. She could not comprehend.

Well, neither had my own Dejah Thoris been able to understand what toher had seemed a foolish and dangerous policy toward enemies. UponBarsoom, quarter is neither asked nor given, and each dead man means somuch more of the waning resources of this dying planet to be dividedamongst those who survive.

But there seemed a subtle difference here between the manner in whichthis girl contemplated the dispatching of an enemy and thetender-hearted regret of my own princess for the stern necessity whichdemanded it.

I think that Phaidor regretted the thrill that the spectacle would haveafforded her rather than the fact that my decision left another enemyalive to threaten us.

The man had now regained full possession of his faculties, and wasregarding us intently from where he lay bound upon the deck. He was ahandsome fellow, clean limbed and powerful, with an intelligent faceand features of such exquisite chiselling that Adonis himself mighthave envied him.

The vessel, unguided, had been moving slowly across the valley; but nowI thought it time to take the helm and direct her course. Only in avery general way could I guess the location of the Valley Dor. That itwas far south of the equator was evident from the constellations, but Iwas not sufficiently a Martian astronomer to come much closer than arough guess without the splendid charts and delicate instruments withwhich, as an officer in the Heliumite Navy, I had formerly reckoned thepositions of the vessels on which I sailed.

That a northerly course would quickest lead me toward the more settledportions of the planet immediately decided the direction that I shouldsteer. Beneath my hand the cruiser swung gracefully about. Then thebutton which controlled the repulsive rays sent us soaring far out intospace. With speed lever pulled to the last notch, we raced toward thenorth as we rose ever farther and farther above that terrible valley ofdeath.

As we passed at a dizzy height over the narrow domains of the thernsthe flash of powder far below bore mute witness to the ferocity of thebattle that still raged along that cruel frontier. No sound ofconflict reached our ears, for in the rarefied atmosphere of our greataltitude no sound wave could penetrate; they were dissipated in thinair far below us.

It became intensely cold. Breathing was difficult. The girl, Phaidor,and the black pirate kept their eyes glued upon me. At length the girlspoke.

“Unconsciousness comes quickly at this altitude,” she said quietly.“Unless you are inviting death for us all you had best drop, and thatquickly.”

There was no fear in her voice. It was as one might say: “You hadbetter carry an umbrella. It is going to rain.”

I dropped the vessel quickly to a lower level. Nor was I a moment toosoon. The girl had swooned.

The black, too, was unconscious, while I, myself, retained my senses, Ithink, only by sheer will. The one on whom all responsibility rests isapt to endure the most.

We were swinging along low above the foothills of the Otz. It wascomparatively warm and there was plenty of air for our starved lungs,so I was not surprised to see the black open his eyes, and a momentlater the girl also.

“It was a close call,” she said.

“It has taught me two things though,” I replied.


“That even Phaidor, daughter of the Master of Life and Death, ismortal,” I said smiling.

“There is immortality only in Issus,” she replied. “And Issus is forthe race of therns alone. Thus am I immortal.”

I caught a fleeting grin passing across the features of the black as heheard her words. I did not then understand why he smiled. Later I wasto learn, and she, too, in a most horrible manner.

“If the other thing you have just learned,” she continued, “has led toas erroneous deductions as the first you are little richer in knowledgethan you were before.”

“The other,” I replied, “is that our dusky friend here does not hailfrom the nearer moon—he was like to have died at a few thousand feetabove Barsoom. Had we continued the five thousand miles that liebetween Thuria and the planet he would have been but the frozen memoryof a man.”

Phaidor looked at the black in evident astonishment.

“If you are not of Thuria, then where?” she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders and turned his eyes elsewhere, but did notreply.

The girl stamped her little foot in a peremptory manner.

“The daughter of Matai Shang is not accustomed to having her queriesremain unanswered,” she said. “One of the lesser breed should feelhonoured that a member of the holy race that was born to inherit lifeeternal should deign even to notice him.”

Again the black smiled that wicked, knowing smile.

“Xodar, Dator of the First Born of Barsoom, is accustomed to givecommands, not to receive them,” replied the black pirate. Then,turning to me, “What are your intentions concerning me?”

“I intend taking you both back to Helium,” I said. “No harm will cometo you. You will find the red men of Helium a kindly and magnanimousrace, but if they listen to me there will be no more voluntarypilgrimages down the river Iss, and the impossible belief that theyhave cherished for ages will be shattered into a thousand pieces.”

“Are you of Helium?” he asked.

“I am a Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium,” Ireplied, “but I am not of Barsoom. I am of another world.”

Xodar looked at me intently for a few moments.

“I can well believe that you are not of Barsoom,” he said at length.“None of this world could have bested eight of the First Bornsingle-handed. But how is it that you wear the golden hair and thejewelled circlet of a Holy Thern?” He emphasized the word holy with atouch of irony.

“I had forgotten them,” I said. “They are the spoils of conquest,” andwith a sweep of my hand I removed the disguise from my head.

When the black’s eyes fell on my close-cropped black hair they openedin astonishment. Evidently he had looked for the bald pate of a thern.

“You are indeed of another world,” he said, a touch of awe in hisvoice. “With the skin of a thern, the black hair of a First Born andthe muscles of a dozen Dators it was no disgrace even for Xodar toacknowledge your supremacy. A thing he could never do were you aBarsoomian,” he added.

“You are travelling several laps ahead of me, my friend,” Iinterrupted. “I glean that your name is Xodar, but whom, pray, are theFirst Born, and what a Dator, and why, if you were conquered by aBarsoomian, could you not acknowledge it?”

“The First Born of Barsoom,” he explained, “are the race of black menof which I am a Dator, or, as the lesser Barsoomians would say, Prince.My race is the oldest on the planet. We trace our lineage, unbroken,direct to the Tree of Life which flourished in the centre of the ValleyDor twenty-three million years ago.

“For countless ages the fruit of this tree underwent the gradualchanges of evolution, passing by degrees from true plant life to acombination of plant and animal. In the first stages the fruit of thetree possessed only the power of independent muscular action, while thestem remained attached to the parent plant; later a brain developed inthe fruit, so that hanging there by their long stems they thought andmoved as individuals.

“Then, with the development of perceptions came a comparison of them;judgments were reached and compared, and thus reason and the power toreason were born upon Barsoom.

“Ages passed. Many forms of life came and went upon the Tree of Life,but still all were attached to the parent plant by stems of varyinglengths. At length the fruit tree consisted in tiny plant men, such aswe now see reproduced in such huge dimensions in the Valley Dor, butstill hanging to the limbs and branches of the tree by the stems whichgrew from the tops of their heads.

“The buds from which the plant men blossomed resembled large nuts abouta foot in diameter, divided by double partition walls into foursections. In one section grew the plant man, in another asixteen-legged worm, in the third the progenitor of the white ape andin the fourth the primaeval black man of Barsoom.

“When the bud burst the plant man remained dangling at the end of hisstem, but the three other sections fell to the ground, where theefforts of their imprisoned occupants to escape sent them hopping aboutin all directions.

“Thus as time went on, all Barsoom was covered with these imprisonedcreatures. For countless ages they lived their long lives within theirhard shells, hopping and skipping about the broad planet; falling intorivers, lakes, and seas, to be still further spread about the surfaceof the new world.

“Countless billions died before the first black man broke through hisprison walls into the light of day. Prompted by curiosity, he brokeopen other shells and the peopling of Barsoom commenced.

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