A Princess of Mars CH.15 by ERB



When consciousness returned, and, as I soon learned, I was down but a
moment, I sprang quickly to my feet searching for my sword, and there I
found it, buried to the hilt in the green breast of Zad, who lay stone
dead upon the ochre moss of the ancient sea bottom. As I regained my
full senses I found his weapon piercing my left breast, but only
through the flesh and muscles which cover my ribs, entering near the
center of my chest and coming out below the shoulder. As I had lunged
I had turned so that his sword merely passed beneath the muscles,
inflicting a painful but not dangerous wound.

Removing the blade from my body I also regained my own, and turning my
back upon his ugly carcass, I moved, sick, sore, and disgusted, toward
the chariots which bore my retinue and my belongings. A murmur of
Martian applause greeted me, but I cared not for it.

Bleeding and weak I reached my women, who, accustomed to such
happenings, dressed my wounds, applying the wonderful healing and
remedial agents which make only the most instantaneous of death blows
fatal. Give a Martian woman a chance and death must take a back seat.
They soon had me patched up so that, except for weakness from loss of
blood and a little soreness around the wound, I suffered no great
distress from this thrust which, under earthly treatment, undoubtedly
would have put me flat on my back for days.

As soon as they were through with me I hastened to the chariot of Dejah
Thoris, where I found my poor Sola with her chest swathed in bandages,
but apparently little the worse for her encounter with Sarkoja, whose
dagger it seemed had struck the edge of one of Sola’s metal breast
ornaments and, thus deflected, had inflicted but a slight flesh wound.

As I approached I found Dejah Thoris lying prone upon her silks and
furs, her lithe form wracked with sobs. She did not notice my
presence, nor did she hear me speaking with Sola, who was standing a
short distance from the vehicle.

“Is she injured?” I asked of Sola, indicating Dejah Thoris by an
inclination of my head.

“No,” she answered, “she thinks that you are dead.”

“And that her grandmother’s cat may now have no one to polish its
teeth?” I queried, smiling.

“I think you wrong her, John Carter,” said Sola. “I do not understand
either her ways or yours, but I am sure the granddaughter of ten
thousand jeddaks would never grieve like this over any who held but the
highest claim upon her affections. They are a proud race, but they are
just, as are all Barsoomians, and you must have hurt or wronged her
grievously that she will not admit your existence living, though she
mourns you dead.

“Tears are a strange sight upon Barsoom,” she continued, “and so it is
difficult for me to interpret them. I have seen but two people weep in
all my life, other than Dejah Thoris; one wept from sorrow, the other
from baffled rage. The first was my mother, years ago before they
killed her; the other was Sarkoja, when they dragged her from me today.”

“Your mother!” I exclaimed, “but, Sola, you could not have known your
mother, child.”

“But I did. And my father also,” she added. “If you would like to
hear the strange and un-Barsoomian story come to the chariot tonight,
John Carter, and I will tell you that of which I have never spoken in
all my life before. And now the signal has been given to resume the
march, you must go.”

“I will come tonight, Sola,” I promised. “Be sure to tell Dejah Thoris
I am alive and well. I shall not force myself upon her, and be sure
that you do not let her know I saw her tears. If she would speak with
me I but await her command.”

Sola mounted the chariot, which was swinging into its place in line,
and I hastened to my waiting thoat and galloped to my station beside
Tars Tarkas at the rear of the column.

We made a most imposing and awe-inspiring spectacle as we strung out
across the yellow landscape; the two hundred and fifty ornate and
brightly colored chariots, preceded by an advance guard of some two
hundred mounted warriors and chieftains riding five abreast and one
hundred yards apart, and followed by a like number in the same
formation, with a score or more of flankers on either side; the fifty
extra mastodons, or heavy draught animals, known as zitidars, and the
five or six hundred extra thoats of the warriors running loose within
the hollow square formed by the surrounding warriors. The gleaming
metal and jewels of the gorgeous ornaments of the men and women,
duplicated in the trappings of the zitidars and thoats, and
interspersed with the flashing colors of magnificent silks and furs and
feathers, lent a barbaric splendor to the caravan which would have
turned an East Indian potentate green with envy.

The enormous broad tires of the chariots and the padded feet of the
animals brought forth no sound from the moss-covered sea bottom; and so
we moved in utter silence, like some huge phantasmagoria, except when
the stillness was broken by the guttural growling of a goaded zitidar,
or the squealing of fighting thoats. The green Martians converse but
little, and then usually in monosyllables, low and like the faint
rumbling of distant thunder.

We traversed a trackless waste of moss which, bending to the pressure
of broad tire or padded foot, rose up again behind us, leaving no sign
that we had passed. We might indeed have been the wraiths of the
departed dead upon the dead sea of that dying planet for all the sound
or sign we made in passing. It was the first march of a large body of
men and animals I had ever witnessed which raised no dust and left no
spoor; for there is no dust upon Mars except in the cultivated
districts during the winter months, and even then the absence of high
winds renders it almost unnoticeable.

We camped that night at the foot of the hills we had been approaching
for two days and which marked the southern boundary of this particular
sea. Our animals had been two days without drink, nor had they had
water for nearly two months, not since shortly after leaving Thark;
but, as Tars Tarkas explained to me, they require but little and can
live almost indefinitely upon the moss which covers Barsoom, and which,
he told me, holds in its tiny stems sufficient moisture to meet the
limited demands of the animals.

After partaking of my evening meal of cheese-like food and vegetable
milk I sought out Sola, whom I found working by the light of a torch
upon some of Tars Tarkas’ trappings. She looked up at my approach, her
face lighting with pleasure and with welcome.

“I am glad you came,” she said; “Dejah Thoris sleeps and I am lonely.
Mine own people do not care for me, John Carter; I am too unlike them.
It is a sad fate, since I must live my life amongst them, and I often
wish that I were a true green Martian woman, without love and without
hope; but I have known love and so I am lost.

“I promised to tell you my story, or rather the story of my parents.
From what I have learned of you and the ways of your people I am sure
that the tale will not seem strange to you, but among green Martians it
has no parallel within the memory of the oldest living Thark, nor do
our legends hold many similar tales.

“My mother was rather small, in fact too small to be allowed the
responsibilities of maternity, as our chieftains breed principally for
size. She was also less cold and cruel than most green Martian women,
and caring little for their society, she often roamed the deserted
avenues of Thark alone, or went and sat among the wild flowers that
deck the nearby hills, thinking thoughts and wishing wishes which I
believe I alone among Tharkian women today may understand, for am I not
the child of my mother?

“And there among the hills she met a young warrior, whose duty it was
to guard the feeding zitidars and thoats and see that they roamed not
beyond the hills. They spoke at first only of such things as interest
a community of Tharks, but gradually, as they came to meet more often,
and, as was now quite evident to both, no longer by chance, they talked
about themselves, their likes, their ambitions and their hopes. She
trusted him and told him of the awful repugnance she felt for the
cruelties of their kind, for the hideous, loveless lives they must ever
lead, and then she waited for the storm of denunciation to break from
his cold, hard lips; but instead he took her in his arms and kissed her.

“They kept their love a secret for six long years. She, my mother, was
of the retinue of the great Tal Hajus, while her lover was a simple
warrior, wearing only his own metal. Had their defection from the
traditions of the Tharks been discovered both would have paid the
penalty in the great arena before Tal Hajus and the assembled hordes.

“The egg from which I came was hidden beneath a great glass vessel upon
the highest and most inaccessible of the partially ruined towers of
ancient Thark. Once each year my mother visited it for the five long
years it lay there in the process of incubation. She dared not come
oftener, for in the mighty guilt of her conscience she feared that her
every move was watched. During this period my father gained great
distinction as a warrior and had taken the metal from several
chieftains. His love for my mother had never diminished, and his own
ambition in life was to reach a point where he might wrest the metal
from Tal Hajus himself, and thus, as ruler of the Tharks, be free to
claim her as his own, as well as, by the might of his power, protect
the child which otherwise would be quickly dispatched should the truth
become known.

“It was a wild dream, that of wresting the metal from Tal Hajus in five
short years, but his advance was rapid, and he soon stood high in the
councils of Thark. But one day the chance was lost forever, in so far
as it could come in time to save his loved ones, for he was ordered
away upon a long expedition to the ice-clad south, to make war upon the
natives there and despoil them of their furs, for such is the manner of
the green Barsoomian; he does not labor for what he can wrest in battle
from others.

“He was gone for four years, and when he returned all had been over for
three; for about a year after his departure, and shortly before the
time for the return of an expedition which had gone forth to fetch the
fruits of a community incubator, the egg had hatched. Thereafter my
mother continued to keep me in the old tower, visiting me nightly and
lavishing upon me the love the community life would have robbed us both
of. She hoped, upon the return of the expedition from the incubator,
to mix me with the other young assigned to the quarters of Tal Hajus,
and thus escape the fate which would surely follow discovery of her sin
against the ancient traditions of the green men.

“She taught me rapidly the language and customs of my kind, and one
night she told me the story I have told to you up to this point,
impressing upon me the necessity for absolute secrecy and the great
caution I must exercise after she had placed me with the other young
Tharks to permit no one to guess that I was further advanced in
education than they, nor by any sign to divulge in the presence of
others my affection for her, or my knowledge of my parentage; and then
drawing me close to her she whispered in my ear the name of my father.

“And then a light flashed out upon the darkness of the tower chamber,
and there stood Sarkoja, her gleaming, baleful eyes fixed in a frenzy
of loathing and contempt upon my mother. The torrent of hatred and
abuse she poured out upon her turned my young heart cold in terror.
That she had heard the entire story was apparent, and that she had
suspected something wrong from my mother’s long nightly absences from
her quarters accounted for her presence there on that fateful night.

“One thing she had not heard, nor did she know, the whispered name of
my father. This was apparent from her repeated demands upon my mother
to disclose the name of her partner in sin, but no amount of abuse or
threats could wring this from her, and to save me from needless torture
she lied, for she told Sarkoja that she alone knew nor would she ever
tell her child.

“With final imprecations, Sarkoja hastened away to Tal Hajus to report
her discovery, and while she was gone my mother, wrapping me in the
silks and furs of her night coverings, so that I was scarcely
noticeable, descended to the streets and ran wildly away toward the
outskirts of the city, in the direction which led to the far south, out
toward the man whose protection she might not claim, but on whose face
she wished to look once more before she died.

“As we neared the city’s southern extremity a sound came to us from
across the mossy flat, from the direction of the only pass through the
hills which led to the gates, the pass by which caravans from either
north or south or east or west would enter the city. The sounds we
heard were the squealing of thoats and the grumbling of zitidars, with
the occasional clank of arms which announced the approach of a body of
warriors. The thought uppermost in her mind was that it was my father
returned from his expedition, but the cunning of the Thark held her
from headlong and precipitate flight to greet him.

“Retreating into the shadows of a doorway she awaited the coming of the
cavalcade which shortly entered the avenue, breaking its formation and
thronging the thoroughfare from wall to wall. As the head of the
procession passed us the lesser moon swung clear of the overhanging
roofs and lit up the scene with all the brilliancy of her wondrous
light. My mother shrank further back into the friendly shadows, and
from her hiding place saw that the expedition was not that of my
father, but the returning caravan bearing the young Tharks. Instantly
her plan was formed, and as a great chariot swung close to our hiding
place she slipped stealthily in upon the trailing tailboard, crouching
low in the shadow of the high side, straining me to her bosom in a
frenzy of love.

“She knew, what I did not, that never again after that night would she
hold me to her breast, nor was it likely we would ever look upon each
other’s face again. In the confusion of the plaza she mixed me with
the other children, whose guardians during the journey were now free to
relinquish their responsibility. We were herded together into a great
room, fed by women who had not accompanied the expedition, and the next
day we were parceled out among the retinues of the chieftains.

“I never saw my mother after that night. She was imprisoned by Tal
Hajus, and every effort, including the most horrible and shameful
torture, was brought to bear upon her to wring from her lips the name
of my father; but she remained steadfast and loyal, dying at last
amidst the laughter of Tal Hajus and his chieftains during some awful
torture she was undergoing.

“I learned afterwards that she told them that she had killed me to save
me from a like fate at their hands, and that she had thrown my body to
the white apes. Sarkoja alone disbelieved her, and I feel to this day
that she suspects my true origin, but does not dare expose me, at the
present, at all events, because she also guesses, I am sure, the
identity of my father.

“When he returned from his expedition and learned the story of my
mother’s fate I was present as Tal Hajus told him; but never by the
quiver of a muscle did he betray the slightest emotion; only he did not
laugh as Tal Hajus gleefully described her death struggles. From that
moment on he was the cruelest of the cruel, and I am awaiting the day
when he shall win the goal of his ambition, and feel the carcass of Tal
Hajus beneath his foot, for I am as sure that he but waits the
opportunity to wreak a terrible vengeance, and that his great love is
as strong in his breast as when it first transfigured him nearly forty
years ago, as I am that we sit here upon the edge of a world-old ocean
while sensible people sleep, John Carter.”

“And your father, Sola, is he with us now?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “but he does not know me for what I am, nor does he
know who betrayed my mother to Tal Hajus. I alone know my father’s
name, and only I and Tal Hajus and Sarkoja know that it was she who
carried the tale that brought death and torture upon her he loved.”

We sat silent for a few moments, she wrapped in the gloomy thoughts of
her terrible past, and I in pity for the poor creatures whom the
heartless, senseless customs of their race had doomed to loveless lives
of cruelty and of hate. Presently she spoke.

“John Carter, if ever a real man walked the cold, dead bosom of Barsoom
you are one. I know that I can trust you, and because the knowledge
may someday help you or him or Dejah Thoris or myself, I am going to
tell you the name of my father, nor place any restrictions or
conditions upon your tongue. When the time comes, speak the truth if
it seems best to you. I trust you because I know that you are not
cursed with the terrible trait of absolute and unswerving truthfulness,
that you could lie like one of your own Virginia gentlemen if a lie
would save others from sorrow or suffering. My father’s name is Tars


Join us next week for CHAPTER XVI WE PLAN ESCAPE

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