A Princess of Mars Ch17 by ERB #ERBweekendmatinee



As the speaker ceased he turned to leave the apartment by the door
where I was standing, but I needed to wait no longer; I had heard
enough to fill my soul with dread, and stealing quietly away I returned
to the courtyard by the way I had come. My plan of action was formed
upon the instant, and crossing the square and the bordering avenue upon
the opposite side I soon stood within the courtyard of Tal Hajus.

The brilliantly lighted apartments of the first floor told me where
first to seek, and advancing to the windows I peered within. I soon
discovered that my approach was not to be the easy thing I had hoped,
for the rear rooms bordering the court were filled with warriors and
women. I then glanced up at the stories above, discovering that the
third was apparently unlighted, and so decided to make my entrance to
the building from that point. It was the work of but a moment for me
to reach the windows above, and soon I had drawn myself within the
sheltering shadows of the unlighted third floor.

Fortunately the room I had selected was untenanted, and creeping
noiselessly to the corridor beyond I discovered a light in the
apartments ahead of me. Reaching what appeared to be a doorway I
discovered that it was but an opening upon an immense inner chamber
which towered from the first floor, two stories below me, to the
dome-like roof of the building, high above my head. The floor of this
great circular hall was thronged with chieftains, warriors and women,
and at one end was a great raised platform upon which squatted the most
hideous beast I had ever put my eyes upon. He had all the cold, hard,
cruel, terrible features of the green warriors, but accentuated and
debased by the animal passions to which he had given himself over for
many years. There was not a mark of dignity or pride upon his bestial
countenance, while his enormous bulk spread itself out upon the
platform where he squatted like some huge devil fish, his six limbs
accentuating the similarity in a horrible and startling manner.

But the sight that froze me with apprehension was that of Dejah Thoris
and Sola standing there before him, and the fiendish leer of him as he
let his great protruding eyes gloat upon the lines of her beautiful
figure. She was speaking, but I could not hear what she said, nor
could I make out the low grumbling of his reply. She stood there erect
before him, her head high held, and even at the distance I was from
them I could read the scorn and disgust upon her face as she let her
haughty glance rest without sign of fear upon him. She was indeed the
proud daughter of a thousand jeddaks, every inch of her dear, precious
little body; so small, so frail beside the towering warriors around
her, but in her majesty dwarfing them into insignificance; she was the
mightiest figure among them and I verily believe that they felt it.

Presently Tal Hajus made a sign that the chamber be cleared, and that
the prisoners be left alone before him. Slowly the chieftains, the
warriors and the women melted away into the shadows of the surrounding
chambers, and Dejah Thoris and Sola stood alone before the jeddak of
the Tharks.

One chieftain alone had hesitated before departing; I saw him standing
in the shadows of a mighty column, his fingers nervously toying with
the hilt of his great-sword and his cruel eyes bent in implacable
hatred upon Tal Hajus. It was Tars Tarkas, and I could read his
thoughts as they were an open book for the undisguised loathing upon
his face. He was thinking of that other woman who, forty years ago,
had stood before this beast, and could I have spoken a word into his
ear at that moment the reign of Tal Hajus would have been over; but
finally he also strode from the room, not knowing that he left his own
daughter at the mercy of the creature he most loathed.

Tal Hajus arose, and I, half fearing, half anticipating his intentions,
hurried to the winding runway which led to the floors below. No one
was near to intercept me, and I reached the main floor of the chamber
unobserved, taking my station in the shadow of the same column that
Tars Tarkas had but just deserted. As I reached the floor Tal Hajus
was speaking.

“Princess of Helium, I might wring a mighty ransom from your people
would I but return you to them unharmed, but a thousand times rather
would I watch that beautiful face writhe in the agony of torture; it
shall be long drawn out, that I promise you; ten days of pleasure were
all too short to show the love I harbor for your race. The terrors of
your death shall haunt the slumbers of the red men through all the ages
to come; they will shudder in the shadows of the night as their fathers
tell them of the awful vengeance of the green men; of the power and
might and hate and cruelty of Tal Hajus. But before the torture you
shall be mine for one short hour, and word of that too shall go forth
to Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, your grandfather, that he may grovel
upon the ground in the agony of his sorrow. Tomorrow the torture will
commence; tonight thou art Tal Hajus’; come!”

He sprang down from the platform and grasped her roughly by the arm,
but scarcely had he touched her than I leaped between them. My
short-sword, sharp and gleaming was in my right hand; I could have
plunged it into his putrid heart before he realized that I was upon
him; but as I raised my arm to strike I thought of Tars Tarkas, and,
with all my rage, with all my hatred, I could not rob him of that sweet
moment for which he had lived and hoped all these long, weary years,
and so, instead, I swung my good right fist full upon the point of his
jaw. Without a sound he slipped to the floor as one dead.

In the same deathly silence I grasped Dejah Thoris by the hand, and
motioning Sola to follow we sped noiselessly from the chamber and to
the floor above. Unseen we reached a rear window and with the straps
and leather of my trappings I lowered, first Sola and then Dejah Thoris
to the ground below. Dropping lightly after them I drew them rapidly
around the court in the shadows of the buildings, and thus we returned
over the same course I had so recently followed from the distant
boundary of the city.

We finally came upon my thoats in the courtyard where I had left them,
and placing the trappings upon them we hastened through the building to
the avenue beyond. Mounting, Sola upon one beast, and Dejah Thoris
behind me upon the other, we rode from the city of Thark through the
hills to the south.

Instead of circling back around the city to the northwest and toward
the nearest waterway which lay so short a distance from us, we turned
to the northeast and struck out upon the mossy waste across which, for
two hundred dangerous and weary miles, lay another main artery leading
to Helium.

No word was spoken until we had left the city far behind, but I could
hear the quiet sobbing of Dejah Thoris as she clung to me with her dear
head resting against my shoulder.

“If we make it, my chieftain, the debt of Helium will be a mighty one;
greater than she can ever pay you; and should we not make it,” she
continued, “the debt is no less, though Helium will never know, for you
have saved the last of our line from worse than death.”

I did not answer, but instead reached to my side and pressed the little
fingers of her I loved where they clung to me for support, and then, in
unbroken silence, we sped over the yellow, moonlit moss; each of us
occupied with his own thoughts. For my part I could not be other than
joyful had I tried, with Dejah Thoris’ warm body pressed close to mine,
and with all our unpassed danger my heart was singing as gaily as
though we were already entering the gates of Helium.

Our earlier plans had been so sadly upset that we now found ourselves
without food or drink, and I alone was armed. We therefore urged our
beasts to a speed that must tell on them sorely before we could hope to
sight the ending of the first stage of our journey.

We rode all night and all the following day with only a few short
rests. On the second night both we and our animals were completely
fagged, and so we lay down upon the moss and slept for some five or six
hours, taking up the journey once more before daylight. All the
following day we rode, and when, late in the afternoon we had sighted
no distant trees, the mark of the great waterways throughout all
Barsoom, the terrible truth flashed upon us–we were lost.

Evidently we had circled, but which way it was difficult to say, nor
did it seem possible with the sun to guide us by day and the moons and
stars by night. At any rate no waterway was in sight, and the entire
party was almost ready to drop from hunger, thirst and fatigue. Far
ahead of us and a trifle to the right we could distinguish the outlines
of low mountains. These we decided to attempt to reach in the hope
that from some ridge we might discern the missing waterway. Night fell
upon us before we reached our goal, and, almost fainting from weariness
and weakness, we lay down and slept.

I was awakened early in the morning by some huge body pressing close to
mine, and opening my eyes with a start I beheld my blessed old Woola
snuggling close to me; the faithful brute had followed us across that
trackless waste to share our fate, whatever it might be. Putting my
arms about his neck I pressed my cheek close to his, nor am I ashamed
that I did it, nor of the tears that came to my eyes as I thought of
his love for me. Shortly after this Dejah Thoris and Sola awakened,
and it was decided that we push on at once in an effort to gain the

We had gone scarcely a mile when I noticed that my thoat was commencing
to stumble and stagger in a most pitiful manner, although we had not
attempted to force them out of a walk since about noon of the preceding
day. Suddenly he lurched wildly to one side and pitched violently to
the ground. Dejah Thoris and I were thrown clear of him and fell upon
the soft moss with scarcely a jar; but the poor beast was in a pitiable
condition, not even being able to rise, although relieved of our
weight. Sola told me that the coolness of the night, when it fell,
together with the rest would doubtless revive him, and so I decided not
to kill him, as was my first intention, as I had thought it cruel to
leave him alone there to die of hunger and thirst. Relieving him of
his trappings, which I flung down beside him, we left the poor fellow
to his fate, and pushed on with the one thoat as best we could. Sola
and I walked, making Dejah Thoris ride, much against her will. In this
way we had progressed to within about a mile of the hills we were
endeavoring to reach when Dejah Thoris, from her point of vantage upon
the thoat, cried out that she saw a great party of mounted men filing
down from a pass in the hills several miles away. Sola and I both
looked in the direction she indicated, and there, plainly discernible,
were several hundred mounted warriors. They seemed to be headed in a
southwesterly direction, which would take them away from us.

They doubtless were Thark warriors who had been sent out to capture us,
and we breathed a great sigh of relief that they were traveling in the
opposite direction. Quickly lifting Dejah Thoris from the thoat, I
commanded the animal to lie down and we three did the same, presenting
as small an object as possible for fear of attracting the attention of
the warriors toward us.

We could see them as they filed out of the pass, just for an instant,
before they were lost to view behind a friendly ridge; to us a most
providential ridge; since, had they been in view for any great length
of time, they scarcely could have failed to discover us. As what
proved to be the last warrior came into view from the pass, he halted
and, to our consternation, threw his small but powerful fieldglass to
his eye and scanned the sea bottom in all directions. Evidently he was
a chieftain, for in certain marching formations among the green men a
chieftain brings up the extreme rear of the column. As his glass swung
toward us our hearts stopped in our breasts, and I could feel the cold
sweat start from every pore in my body.

Presently it swung full upon us and–stopped. The tension on our
nerves was near the breaking point, and I doubt if any of us breathed
for the few moments he held us covered by his glass; and then he
lowered it and we could see him shout a command to the warriors who had
passed from our sight behind the ridge. He did not wait for them to
join him, however, instead he wheeled his thoat and came tearing madly
in our direction.

There was but one slight chance and that we must take quickly. Raising
my strange Martian rifle to my shoulder I sighted and touched the
button which controlled the trigger; there was a sharp explosion as the
missile reached its goal, and the charging chieftain pitched backward
from his flying mount.

Springing to my feet I urged the thoat to rise, and directed Sola to
take Dejah Thoris with her upon him and make a mighty effort to reach
the hills before the green warriors were upon us. I knew that in the
ravines and gullies they might find a temporary hiding place, and even
though they died there of hunger and thirst it would be better so than
that they fell into the hands of the Tharks. Forcing my two revolvers
upon them as a slight means of protection, and, as a last resort, as an
escape for themselves from the horrid death which recapture would
surely mean, I lifted Dejah Thoris in my arms and placed her upon the
thoat behind Sola, who had already mounted at my command.

“Good-bye, my princess,” I whispered, “we may meet in Helium yet. I
have escaped from worse plights than this,” and I tried to smile as I

“What,” she cried, “are you not coming with us?”

“How may I, Dejah Thoris? Someone must hold these fellows off for a
while, and I can better escape them alone than could the three of us

She sprang quickly from the thoat and, throwing her dear arms about my
neck, turned to Sola, saying with quiet dignity: “Fly, Sola! Dejah
Thoris remains to die with the man she loves.”

Those words are engraved upon my heart. Ah, gladly would I give up my
life a thousand times could I only hear them once again; but I could
not then give even a second to the rapture of her sweet embrace, and
pressing my lips to hers for the first time, I picked her up bodily and
tossed her to her seat behind Sola again, commanding the latter in
peremptory tones to hold her there by force, and then, slapping the
thoat upon the flank, I saw them borne away; Dejah Thoris struggling to
the last to free herself from Sola’s grasp.

Turning, I beheld the green warriors mounting the ridge and looking for
their chieftain. In a moment they saw him, and then me; but scarcely
had they discovered me than I commenced firing, lying flat upon my
belly in the moss. I had an even hundred rounds in the magazine of my
rifle, and another hundred in the belt at my back, and I kept up a
continuous stream of fire until I saw all of the warriors who had been
first to return from behind the ridge either dead or scurrying to cover.

My respite was short-lived however, for soon the entire party,
numbering some thousand men, came charging into view, racing madly
toward me. I fired until my rifle was empty and they were almost upon
me, and then a glance showing me that Dejah Thoris and Sola had
disappeared among the hills, I sprang up, throwing down my useless gun,
and started away in the direction opposite to that taken by Sola and
her charge.

If ever Martians had an exhibition of jumping, it was granted those
astonished warriors on that day long years ago, but while it led them
away from Dejah Thoris it did not distract their attention from
endeavoring to capture me.

They raced wildly after me until, finally, my foot struck a projecting
piece of quartz, and down I went sprawling upon the moss. As I looked
up they were upon me, and although I drew my long-sword in an attempt
to sell my life as dearly as possible, it was soon over. I reeled
beneath their blows which fell upon me in perfect torrents; my head
swam; all was black, and I went down beneath them to oblivion.



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