BATTLING IN THE ARENA
Slowly I regained my composure and finally essayed again to attempt to
remove the keys from the dead body of my former jailer. But as I
reached out into the darkness to locate it I found to my horror that it
was gone. Then the truth flashed on me; the owners of those gleaming
eyes had dragged my prize away from me to be devoured in their
neighboring lair; as they had been waiting for days, for weeks, for
months, through all this awful eternity of my imprisonment to drag my
dead carcass to their feast.
For two days no food was brought me, but then a new messenger appeared
and my incarceration went on as before, but not again did I allow my
reason to be submerged by the horror of my position.
Shortly after this episode another prisoner was brought in and chained
near me. By the dim torch light I saw that he was a red Martian and I
could scarcely await the departure of his guards to address him. As
their retreating footsteps died away in the distance, I called out
softly the Martian word of greeting, kaor.
“Who are you who speaks out of the darkness?” he answered
“John Carter, a friend of the red men of Helium.”
“I am of Helium,” he said, “but I do not recall your name.”
And then I told him my story as I have written it here, omitting only
any reference to my love for Dejah Thoris. He was much excited by the
news of Helium’s princess and seemed quite positive that she and Sola
could easily have reached a point of safety from where they left me.
He said that he knew the place well because the defile through which
the Warhoon warriors had passed when they discovered us was the only
one ever used by them when marching to the south.
“Dejah Thoris and Sola entered the hills not five miles from a great
waterway and are now probably quite safe,” he assured me.
My fellow prisoner was Kantos Kan, a padwar (lieutenant) in the navy of
Helium. He had been a member of the ill-fated expedition which had
fallen into the hands of the Tharks at the time of Dejah Thoris’
capture, and he briefly related the events which followed the defeat of
Badly injured and only partially manned they had limped slowly toward
Helium, but while passing near the city of Zodanga, the capital of
Helium’s hereditary enemies among the red men of Barsoom, they had been
attacked by a great body of war vessels and all but the craft to which
Kantos Kan belonged were either destroyed or captured. His vessel was
chased for days by three of the Zodangan war ships but finally escaped
during the darkness of a moonless night.
Thirty days after the capture of Dejah Thoris, or about the time of our
coming to Thark, his vessel had reached Helium with about ten survivors
of the original crew of seven hundred officers and men. Immediately
seven great fleets, each of one hundred mighty war ships, had been
dispatched to search for Dejah Thoris, and from these vessels two
thousand smaller craft had been kept out continuously in futile search
for the missing princess.
Two green Martian communities had been wiped off the face of Barsoom by
the avenging fleets, but no trace of Dejah Thoris had been found. They
had been searching among the northern hordes, and only within the past
few days had they extended their quest to the south.
Kantos Kan had been detailed to one of the small one-man fliers and had
had the misfortune to be discovered by the Warhoons while exploring
their city. The bravery and daring of the man won my greatest respect
and admiration. Alone he had landed at the city’s boundary and on foot
had penetrated to the buildings surrounding the plaza. For two days
and nights he had explored their quarters and their dungeons in search
of his beloved princess only to fall into the hands of a party of
Warhoons as he was about to leave, after assuring himself that Dejah
Thoris was not a captive there.
During the period of our incarceration Kantos Kan and I became well
acquainted, and formed a warm personal friendship. A few days only
elapsed, however, before we were dragged forth from our dungeon for the
great games. We were conducted early one morning to an enormous
amphitheater, which instead of having been built upon the surface of
the ground was excavated below the surface. It had partially filled
with debris so that how large it had originally been was difficult to
say. In its present condition it held the entire twenty thousand
Warhoons of the assembled hordes.
The arena was immense but extremely uneven and unkempt. Around it the
Warhoons had piled building stone from some of the ruined edifices of
the ancient city to prevent the animals and the captives from escaping
into the audience, and at each end had been constructed cages to hold
them until their turns came to meet some horrible death upon the arena.
Kantos Kan and I were confined together in one of the cages. In the
others were wild calots, thoats, mad zitidars, green warriors, and
women of other hordes, and many strange and ferocious wild beasts of
Barsoom which I had never before seen. The din of their roaring,
growling and squealing was deafening and the formidable appearance of
any one of them was enough to make the stoutest heart feel grave
Kantos Kan explained to me that at the end of the day one of these
prisoners would gain freedom and the others would lie dead about the
arena. The winners in the various contests of the day would be pitted
against each other until only two remained alive; the victor in the
last encounter being set free, whether animal or man. The following
morning the cages would be filled with a new consignment of victims,
and so on throughout the ten days of the games.
Shortly after we had been caged the amphitheater began to fill and
within an hour every available part of the seating space was occupied.
Dak Kova, with his jeds and chieftains, sat at the center of one side
of the arena upon a large raised platform.
At a signal from Dak Kova the doors of two cages were thrown open and a
dozen green Martian females were driven to the center of the arena.
Each was given a dagger and then, at the far end, a pack of twelve
calots, or wild dogs were loosed upon them.
As the brutes, growling and foaming, rushed upon the almost defenseless
women I turned my head that I might not see the horrid sight. The
yells and laughter of the green horde bore witness to the excellent
quality of the sport and when I turned back to the arena, as Kantos Kan
told me it was over, I saw three victorious calots, snarling and
growling over the bodies of their prey. The women had given a good
account of themselves.
Next a mad zitidar was loosed among the remaining dogs, and so it went
throughout the long, hot, horrible day.
During the day I was pitted against first men and then beasts, but as I
was armed with a long-sword and always outclassed my adversary in
agility and generally in strength as well, it proved but child’s play
to me. Time and time again I won the applause of the bloodthirsty
multitude, and toward the end there were cries that I be taken from the
arena and be made a member of the hordes of Warhoon.
Finally there were but three of us left, a great green warrior of some
far northern horde, Kantos Kan, and myself.
The other two were to battle and then I to fight the conqueror for the
liberty which was accorded the final winner.
Kantos Kan had fought several times during the day and like myself had
always proven victorious, but occasionally by the smallest of margins,
especially when pitted against the green warriors. I had little hope
that he could best his giant adversary who had mowed down all before
him during the day. The fellow towered nearly sixteen feet in height,
while Kantos Kan was some inches under six feet. As they advanced to
meet one another I saw for the first time a trick of Martian
swordsmanship which centered Kantos Kan’s every hope of victory and
life on one cast of the dice, for, as he came to within about twenty
feet of the huge fellow he threw his sword arm far behind him over his
shoulder and with a mighty sweep hurled his weapon point foremost at
the green warrior. It flew true as an arrow and piercing the poor
devil’s heart laid him dead upon the arena.
Kantos Kan and I were now pitted against each other but as we
approached to the encounter I whispered to him to prolong the battle
until nearly dark in the hope that we might find some means of escape.
The horde evidently guessed that we had no hearts to fight each other
and so they howled in rage as neither of us placed a fatal thrust.
Just as I saw the sudden coming of dark I whispered to Kantos Kan to
thrust his sword between my left arm and my body. As he did so I
staggered back clasping the sword tightly with my arm and thus fell to
the ground with his weapon apparently protruding from my chest. Kantos
Kan perceived my coup and stepping quickly to my side he placed his
foot upon my neck and withdrawing his sword from my body gave me the
final death blow through the neck which is supposed to sever the
jugular vein, but in this instance the cold blade slipped harmlessly
into the sand of the arena. In the darkness which had now fallen none
could tell but that he had really finished me. I whispered to him to
go and claim his freedom and then look for me in the hills east of the
city, and so he left me.
When the amphitheater had cleared I crept stealthily to the top and as
the great excavation lay far from the plaza and in an untenanted
portion of the great dead city I had little trouble in reaching the
see you next week for CHAPTER XX IN THE ATMOSPHERE FACTORY