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A DESPERATE DEEDEdit

E-Med crossed the tower chamber toward Tara of Helium and the

slave girl, Lan-O. He seized the former roughly by a shoulder.

"Stand!" he commanded. Tara struck his hand from her and rising,

backed away.


"Lay not your hand upon the person of a princess of Helium,

beast!" she warned.


E-Med laughed. "Think you that I play at jetan for you without

first knowing something of the stake for which I play?" he

demanded. "Come here!"


The girl drew herself to her full height, folding her arms across

her breast, nor did E-Med note that the slim fingers of her right

hand were inserted beneath the broad leather strap of her harness

where it passed over her left shoulder.


"And O-Tar learns of this you shall rue it, E-Med," cried the

slave girl; "there be no law in Manator that gives you this girl

before you shall have won her fairly."


"What cares O-Tar for her fate?" replied E-Med. "Have I not

heard? Did she not flout the great jeddak, heaping abuse upon

him? By my first ancestor, I think O-Tar might make a jed of the

man who subdued her," and again he advanced toward Tara.


"Wait!" said the girl in low, even tone. "Perhaps you know not

what you do. Sacred to the people of Helium are the persons of

the women of Helium. For the honor of the humblest of them would

the great jeddak himself unsheathe his sword. The greatest

nations of Barsoom have trembled to the thunders of war in

defense of the person of Dejah Thoris, my mother. We are but

mortal and so may die; but we may not be defiled. You may play at

jetan for a princess of Helium, but though you may win the match,

never may you claim the reward. If thou wouldst possess a dead

body press me too far, but know, man of Manator, that the blood

of The Warlord flows not in the veins of Tara of Helium for

naught. I have spoken."


"I know naught of Helium and O-Tar is our warlord," replied

E-Med; "but I do know that I would examine more closely the prize

that I shall play for and win. I would test the lips of her who

is to be my slave after the next games; nor is it well, woman, to

drive me too far to anger." His eyes narrowed as he spoke, his

visage taking on the semblance of that of a snarling beast. "If

you doubt the truth of my words ask Lan-O, the slave girl."


"He speaks truly, O woman of Helium," interjected Lan-O. "Try not

the temper of E-Med, if you value your life."


But Tara of Helium made no reply. Already had she spoken. She

stood in silence now facing the burly warrior who approached her.

He came close and then quite suddenly he seized her and, bending,

tried to draw her lips to his.


Lan-O saw the woman from Helium half turn, and with a quick

movement jerk her right hand from where it had lain upon her

breast. She saw the hand shoot from beneath the arm of E-Med and

rise behind his shoulder and she saw in the hand a long, slim

blade. The lips of the warrior were drawing closer to those of

the woman, but they never touched them, for suddenly the man

straightened, stiffly, a shriek upon his lips, and then he

crumpled like an empty fur and lay, a shrunken heap, upon the

floor. Tara of Helium stooped and wiped her blade upon his

harness.


Lan-O, wide-eyed, looked with horror upon the corpse. "For this

we shall both die," she cried.


"And who would live a slave in Manator?" asked Tara of Helium.


"I am not so brave as thou," said the slave girl, "and life is

sweet and there is always hope."


"Life is sweet," agreed Tara of Helium, "but honor is sacred. But

do not fear. When they come I shall tell them the truth--that you

had no hand in this and no opportunity to prevent it."


For a moment the slave girl seemed to be thinking deeply.

Suddenly her eyes lighted. "There is a way, perhaps," she said,

"to turn suspicion from us. He has the key to this chamber upon

him. Let us open the door and drag him out--maybe we shall find a

place to hide him."


"Good!" exclaimed Tara of Helium, and the two immediately set

about the matter Lan-O had suggested. Quickly they found the key

and unlatched the door and then, between them, they half carried,

half dragged, the corpse of E-Med from the room and down the

stairway to the next level where Lan-O said there were vacant

chambers. The first door they tried was unlatched, and through

this the two bore their grisly burden into a small room lighted

by a single window. The apartment bore evidence of having been

utilized as a living-room rather than as a cell, being furnished

with a degree of comfort and even luxury. The walls were paneled

to a height of about seven feet from the floor, while the plaster

above and the ceiling were decorated with faded paintings of

another day.


As Tara's eyes ran quickly over the interior her attention was

drawn to a section of paneling that seemed to be separated at one

edge from the piece next adjoining it. Quickly she crossed to it,

discovering that one vertical edge of an entire panel projected a

half-inch beyond the others. There was a possible explanation

which piqued her curiosity, and acting upon its suggestion she

seized upon the projecting edge and pulled outward. Slowly the

panel swung toward her, revealing a dark aperture in the wall

behind.


"Look, Lan-O!" she cried. "See what I have found--a hole in which

we may hide the thing upon the floor."


Lan-O joined her and together the two investigated the dark

aperture, finding a small platform from which a narrow runway led

downward into Stygian darkness. Thick dust covered the floor

within the doorway, indicating that a great period of time had

elapsed since human foot had trod it--a secret way, doubtless,

unknown to living Manatorians. Here they dragged the corpse of

E-Med, leaving it upon the platform, and as they left the dark

and forbidden closet Lan-O would have slammed to the panel had

not Tara prevented.


"Wait!" she said, and fell to examining the door frame and the

stile.


"Hurry!" whispered the slave girl. "If they come we are lost."


"It may serve us well to know how to open this place again,"

replied Tara of Helium, and then suddenly she pressed a foot

against a section of the carved base at the right of the open

panel. "Ah!" she breathed, a note of satisfaction in her tone,

and closed the panel until it fitted snugly in its place. "Come!"

she said and turned toward the outer doorway of the chamber.


They reached their own cell without detection, and closing the

door Tara locked it from the inside and placed the key in a

secret pocket in her harness.


"Let them come," she said. "Let them question us! What could two

poor prisoners know of the whereabouts of their noble jailer? I

ask you, Lan-O, what could they?"


"Nothing," admitted Lan-O, smiling with her companion.


"Tell me of these men of Manator," said Tara presently. "Are they

all like E-Med, or are some of them like A-Kor, who seemed a

brave and chivalrous character?"


"They are not unlike the peoples of other countries," replied

Lan-O. "There be among them both good and bad. They are brave

warriors and mighty. Among themselves they are not without

chivalry and honor, but in their dealings with strangers they

know but one law--the law of might. The weak and unfortunate of

other lands fill them with contempt and arouse all that is worst

in their natures, which doubtless accounts for their treatment of

us, their slaves."


"But why should they feel contempt for those who have suffered

the misfortune of falling into their hands?" queried Tara.


"I do not know," said Lan-O; "A-Kor says that he believes that it

is because their country has never been invaded by a victorious

foe. In their stealthy raids never have they been defeated,

because they have never waited to face a powerful force; and so

they have come to believe themselves invincible, and the other

peoples are held in contempt as inferior in valor and the

practice of arms."


"Yet A-Kor is one of them," said Tara.


"He is a son of O-Tar, the jeddak," replied Lan-O; "but his

mother was a high born Gatholian, captured and made slave by

O-Tar, and A-Kor boasts that in his veins runs only the blood of

his mother, and indeed is he different from the others. His

chivalry is of a gentler form, though not even his worst enemy

has dared question his courage, while his skill with the sword,

and the spear, and the thoat is famous throughout the length and

breadth of Manator."


"What think you they will do with him?" asked Tara of Helium.


"Sentence him to the games," replied Lan-O. "If O-Tar be not

greatly angered he may be sentenced to but a single game, in

which case he may come out alive; but if O-Tar wishes really to

dispose of him he will be sentenced to the entire series, and no

warrior has ever survived the full ten, or rather none who was

under a sentence from O-Tar."


"What are the games? I do not understand," said Tara "I have

heard them speak of playing at jetan, but surely no one can be

killed at jetan. We play it often at home."


"But not as they play it in the arena at Manator," replied Lan-O.

"Come to the window," and together the two approached an aperture

facing toward the east.


Below her Tara of Helium saw a great field entirely surrounded by

the low building, and the lofty towers of which that in which she

was imprisoned was but a unit. About the arena were tiers of

seats; but the a thing that caught her attention was a gigantic

jetan board laid out upon the floor of the arena in great squares

of alternate orange and black.


"Here they play at jetan with living pieces. They play for great

stakes and usually for a woman--some slave of exceptional beauty.

O-Tar himself might have played for you had you not angered him,

but now you will be played for in an open game by slaves and

criminals, and you will belong to the side that wins--not to a

single warrior, but to all who survive the game."


The eyes of Tara of Helium flashed, but she made no comment.


"Those who direct the play do not necessarily take part in it,"

continued the slave girl, "but sit in those two great thrones

which you see at either end of the board and direct their pieces

from square to square."


"But where lies the danger?" asked Tara of Helium. "If a piece be

taken it is merely removed from the board--this is a rule of

jetan as old almost as the civilization of Barsoom."


"But here in Manator, when they play in the great arena with

living men, that rule is altered," explained Lan-O. "When a

warrior is moved to a square occupied by an opposing piece, the

two battle to the death for possession of the square and the one

that is successful advantages by the move. Each is caparisoned to

simulate the piece he represents and in addition he wears that

which indicates whether he be slave, a warrior serving a

sentence, or a volunteer. If serving a sentence the number of

games he must play is also indicated, and thus the one directing

the moves knows which pieces to risk and which to conserve, and

further than this, a man's chances are affected by the position

that is assigned him for the game. Those whom they wish to die

are always Panthans in the game, for the Panthan has the least

chance of surviving."


"Do those who direct the play ever actually take part in it?"

asked Tara.


"Oh, yes," said Lan-O. "Often when two warriors, even of the

highest class, hold a grievance against one another O-Tar compels

them to settle it upon the arena. Then it is that they take

active part and with drawn swords direct their own players from

the position of Chief. They pick their own players, usually the

best of their own warriors and slaves, if they be powerful men

who possess such, or their friends may volunteer, or they may

obtain prisoners from the pits. These are games indeed--the very

best that are seen. Often the great chiefs themselves are slain."


"It is within this amphitheater that the justice of Manator is

meted, then?" asked Tara.


"Very largely," replied Lan-O.


"How, then, through such justice, could a prisoner win his

liberty?" continued the girl from Helium.


"If a man, and he survived ten games his liberty would be his,"

replied Lan-O.


"But none ever survives?" queried Tara. "And if a woman?"


"No stranger within the gates of Manator ever has survived ten

games," replied the slave girl. "They are permitted to offer

themselves into perpetual slavery if they prefer that to fighting

at jetan. Of course they may be called upon, as any warrior, to

take part in a game, but their chances then of surviving are

increased, since they may never again have the chance of winning

to liberty."


"But a woman," insisted Tara; "how may a woman win her freedom?"


Lan-O laughed. "Very simply," she cried, derisively. "She has but

to find a warrior who will fight through ten consecutive games

for her and survive."


"'Just are the laws of Manator,'" quoted Tara, scornfully.


Then it was that they heard footsteps outside their cell and a

moment later a key turned in the lock and the door opened. A

warrior faced them.


"Hast seen E-Med the dwar?" he asked.


"Yes," replied Tara, "he was here some time ago."


The man glanced quickly about the bare chamber and then

searchingly first at Tara of Helium and then at the slave girl,

Lan-O. The puzzled expression upon his face increased. He

scratched his head. "It is strange," he said. "A score of men saw

him ascend into this tower; and though there is but a single

exit, and that well guarded, no man has seen him pass out."


Tara of Helium hid a yawn with the back of a shapely hand. "The

Princess of Helium is hungry, fellow," she drawled; "tell your

master that she would eat."


It was an hour later that food was brought, an officer and

several warriors accompanying the bearer. The former examined the

room carefully, but there was no sign that aught amiss had

occurred there. The wound that had sent E-Med the dwar to his

ancestors had not bled, fortunately for Tara of Helium.


"Woman," cried the officer, turning upon Tara, "you were the last

to see E-Med the dwar. Answer me now and answer me truthfully.

Did you see him leave this room?"


"I did," answered Tara of Helium.


"Where did he go from here?"


"How should I know? Think you that I can pass through a locked

door of skeel?" the girl's tone was scornful.


"Of that we do not know," said the officer. "Strange things have

happened in the cell of your companion in the pits of Manator.

Perhaps you could pass through a locked door of skeel as easily

as he performs seemingly more impossible feats."


"Whom do you mean," she cried; "Turan the panthan? He lives,

then? Tell me, is he here in Manator unharmed?"


"I speak of that thing which calls itself Ghek the kaldane,"

replied the officer.


"But Turan! Tell me, padwar, have you heard aught of him?" Tara's

tone was insistent and she leaned a little forward toward the

officer, her lips slightly parted in expectancy.


Into the eyes of the slave girl, Lan-O, who was watching her,

there crept a soft light of understanding; but the officer

ignored Tara's question--what was the fate of another slave to

him? "Men do not disappear into thin air," he growled, "and if

E-Med be not found soon O-Tar himself may take a hand in this. I

warn you, woman, if you be one of those horrid Corphals that by

commanding the spirits of the wicked dead gains evil mastery over

the living, as many now believe the thing called Ghek to be, that

lest you return E-Med, O-Tar will have no mercy on you."


"What foolishness is this?" cried the girl. "I am a princess

of Helium, as I have told you all a score of times. Even if the

fabled Corphals existed, as none but the most ignorant now

believes, the lore of the ancients tells us that they entered

only into the bodies of wicked criminals of the lowest class. Man

of Manator, thou art a fool, and thy jeddak and all his people,"

and she turned her royal back upon the padwar, and gazed through

the window across the Field of Jetan and the roofs of Manator

through the low hills and the rolling country and freedom.


"And you know so much of Corphals, then," he cried, "you know

that while no common man dare harm them they may be slain by the

hand of a jeddak with impunity!"


The girl did not reply, nor would she speak again, for all his

threats and rage, for she knew now that none in all Manator dared

harm her save O-Tar, the jeddak, and after a while the padwar

left, taking his men with him. And after they had gone Tara stood

for long looking out upon the city of Manator, and wondering what

more of cruel wrongs Fate held in store for her. She was standing

thus in silent meditation when there rose to her the strains of

martial music from the city below--the deep, mellow tones of the

long war trumpets of mounted troops, the clear, ringing notes of

foot-soldiers' music. The girl raised her head and looked about,

listening, and Lan-O, standing at an opposite window, looking

toward the west, motioned Tara to join her. Now they could see

across roofs and avenues to The Gate of Enemies, through which

troops were marching into the city.


"The Great Jed is coming," said Lan-O, "none other dares enter

thus, with blaring trumpets, the city of Manator. It is U-Thor,

Jed of Manatos, second city of Manator. They call him The Great

Jed the length and breadth of Manator, and because the people

love him, O-Tar hates him. They say, who know, that it would need

but slight provocation to inflame the two to war. How such a war

would end no one could guess; for the people of Manator worship

the great O-Tar, though they do not love him. U-Thor they love,

but he is not the jeddak," and Tara understood, as only a Martian

may, how much that simple statement encompassed.


The loyalty of a Martian to his jeddak is almost an instinct, and

second not even to the instinct of self-preservation at that. Nor

is this strange in a race whose religion includes ancestor

worship, and where families trace their origin back into remote

ages and a jeddak sits upon the same throne that his direct

progenitors have occupied for, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of

years, and rules the descendants of the same people that his

forebears ruled. Wicked jeddaks have been dethroned, but seldom

are they replaced by other than members of the imperial house,

even though the law gives to the jeds the right to select whom

they please.


"U-Thor is a just man and good, then?" asked Tara of Helium.


"There be none nobler," replied Lan-O. "In Manatos none but

wicked criminals who deserve death are forced to play at jetan,

and even then the play is fair and they have their chance for

freedom. Volunteers may play, but the moves are not necessarily

to the death--a wound, and even sometimes points in swordplay,

deciding the issue. There they look upon jetan as a martial

sport--here it is but butchery. And U-Thor is opposed to the

ancient slave raids and to the policy that keeps Manator forever

isolated from the other nations of Barsoom; but U-Thor is not

jeddak and so there is no change."


The two girls watched the column moving up the broad avenue from

The Gate of Enemies toward the palace of O-Tar. A gorgeous,

barbaric procession of painted warriors in jewel-studded harness

and waving feathers; vicious, squealing thoats caparisoned in

rich trappings; far above their heads the long lances of their

riders bore fluttering pennons; foot-soldiers swinging easily

along the stone pavement, their sandals of zitidar hide giving

forth no sound; and at the rear of each utan a train of painted

chariots, drawn by mammoth zitidars, carrying the equipment of

the company to which they were attached. Utan after utan entered

through the great gate, and even when the head of the column

reached the palace of O-Tar they were not all within the city.


"I have been here many years," said the girl, Lan-O; "but never

have I seen even The Great Jed bring so many fighting men into

the city of Manator."


Through half-closed eyes Tara of Helium watched the warriors

marching up the broad avenue, trying to imagine them the fighting

men of her beloved Helium coming to the rescue of their princess.

That splendid figure upon the great thoat might be John Carter,

himself, Warlord of Barsoom, and behind him utan after utan of

the veterans of the empire, and then the girl opened her eyes

again and saw the host of painted, befeathered barbarians, and

sighed. But yet she watched, fascinated by the martial scene, and

now she noted again the groups of silent figures upon the

balconies. No waving silks; no cries of welcome; no showers of

flowers and jewels such as would have marked the entry of such a

splendid, friendly pageant into the twin cities of her birth.


"The people do not seem friendly to the warriors of Manatos," she

remarked to Lan-O; "I have not seen a single welcoming sign from

the people on the balconies."


The slave girl looked at her in surprise. "It cannot be that you

do not know!" she exclaimed. "Why, they are--" but she got no

further. The door swung open and an officer stood before them.


"The slave girl, Tara, is summoned to the presence of O-Tar, the

jeddak!" he announced.