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AT GHEK'S COMMANDEdit

Turan the panthan chafed in his chains. Time dragged; silence and

monotony prolonged minutes into hours. Uncertainty of the fate of

the woman he loved turned each hour into an eternity of hell. He

listened impatiently for the sound of approaching footsteps that

he might see and speak to some living creature and learn,

perchance, some word of Tara of Helium. After torturing hours his

ears were rewarded by the rattle of harness and arms. Men were

coming! He waited breathlessly. Perhaps they were his

executioners; but he would welcome them notwithstanding. He would

question them. But if they knew naught of Tara he would not

divulge the location of the hiding place in which he had left

her.


Now they came--a half-dozen warriors and an officer, escorting an

unarmed man; a prisoner, doubtless. Of this Turan was not left

long in doubt, since they brought the newcomer and chained him to

an adjoining ring. Immediately the panthan commenced to question

the officer in charge of the guard.


"Tell me," he demanded, "why I have been made prisoner, and if

other strangers were captured since I entered your city."


"What other prisoners?" asked the officer.


"A woman, and a man with a strange head," replied Turan.


"It is possible," said the officer; "but what were their names?"


"The woman was Tara, Princess of Helium, and the man was Ghek, a

kaldane, of Bantoom."


"These were your friends?" asked the officer.


"Yes," replied Turan.


"It is what I would know," said the officer, and with a curt

command to his men to follow him he turned and left the cell.


"Tell me of them!" cried Turan after him. "Tell me of Tara of

Helium! Is she safe?" but the man did not answer and soon the

sound of their departure died in the distance.


"Tara of Helium was safe, but a short time since," said the

prisoner chained at Turan's side.


The panthan turned toward the speaker, seeing a large man,

handsome of face and with a manner both stately and dignified.

"You have seen her?" he asked. "They captured her then? She is in

danger?"


"She is being held in The Towers of Jetan as a prize for the next

games," replied the stranger.


"And who are you?" asked Turan. "And why are you here, a

prisoner?"


"I am A-Kor the dwar, keeper of The Towers of Jetan," replied the

other. "I am here because I dared speak the truth of O-Tar the

jeddak, to one of his officers."


"And your punishment?" asked Turan.


"I do not know. O-Tar has not yet spoken. Doubtless the

games--perhaps the full ten, for O-Tar does not love A-Kor, his

son."


"You are the jeddak's son?" asked Turan.


"I am the son of O-Tar and of a slave, Haja of Gathol, who was a

princess in her own land."


Turan looked searchingly at the speaker. A son of Haja of Gathol!

A son of his mother's sister, this man, then, was his own cousin.

Well did Gahan remember the mysterious disappearance of the

Princess Haja and an entire utan of her personal troops. She had

been upon a visit far from the city of Gathol and returning home

had vanished with her whole escort from the sight of man. So this

was the secret of the seeming mystery? Doubtless it explained

many other similar disappearances that extended nearly as far

back as the history of Gathol. Turan scrutinized his companion,

discovering many evidences of resemblance to his mother's people.

A-Kor might have been ten years younger than he, but such

differences in age are scarce accounted among a people who seldom

or never age outwardly after maturity and whose span of life may

be a thousand years.


"And where lies Gathol?" asked Turan.


"Almost due east of Manator," replied A-Kor.


"And how far?"


"Some twenty-one degrees it is from the city of Manator to the

city of Gathol," replied A-Kor; "but little more than ten degrees

between the boundaries of the two countries. Between them,

though, there lies a country of torn rocks and yawning chasms."


Well did Gahan know this country that bordered his upon the

west--even the ships of the air avoided it because of the

treacherous currents that rose from the deep chasms, and the

almost total absence of safe landings. He knew now where Manator

lay and for the first time in long weeks the way to his own

Gathol, and here was a man, a fellow prisoner, in whose veins

flowed the blood of his own ancestors--a man who knew Manator;

its people, its customs and the country surrounding it--one who

could aid him, with advice at least, to find a plan for the

rescue of Tara of Helium and for escape. But would A-Kor--could

he dare broach the subject? He could do no less than try.


"And O-Tar you think will sentence you to death?" he asked; "and

why?"


"He would like to," replied A-Kor, "for the people chafe beneath

his iron hand and their loyalty is but the loyalty of a people to

the long line of illustrious jeddaks from which he has sprung. He

is a jealous man and has found the means of disposing of most of

those whose blood might entitle them to a claim upon the throne,

and whose place in the affections of the people endowed them with

any political significance. The fact that I was the son of a

slave relegated me to a position of minor importance in the

consideration of O-Tar, yet I am still the son of a jeddak and

might sit upon the throne of Manator with as perfect congruity as

O-Tar himself. Combined with this is the fact that of recent

years the people, and especially many of the younger warriors,

have evinced a growing affection for me, which I attribute to

certain virtues of character and training derived from my mother,

but which O-Tar assumes to be the result of an ambition upon my

part to occupy the throne of Manator.


"And now, I am firmly convinced, he has seized upon my criticism

of his treatment of the slave girl Tara as a pretext for ridding

himself of me."


"But if you could escape and reach Gathol," suggested Turan.


"I have thought of that," mused A-Kor; "but how much better off

would I be? In the eyes of the Gatholians I would be, not a

Gatholian; but a stranger and doubtless they would accord me the

same treatment that we of Manator accord strangers."


"Could you convince them that you are the son of the Princess

Haja your welcome would be assured," said Turan; "while on the

other hand you could purchase your freedom and citizenship with a

brief period of labor in the diamond mines."


"How know you all these things?" asked A-Kor. "I thought you were

from Helium."


"I am a panthan," replied Turan, "and I have served many

countries, among them Gathol."


"It is what the slaves from Gathol have told me," said A-Kor,

thoughtfully, "and my mother, before O-Tar sent her to live at

Manatos. I think he must have feared her power and influence

among the slaves from Gathol and their descendants, who number

perhaps a million people throughout the land of Manator."


"Are these slaves organized?" asked Turan.


A-Kor looked straight into the eyes of the panthan for a long

moment before he replied. "You are a man of honor," he said; "I

read it in your face, and I am seldom mistaken in my estimate of

a man; but--" and he leaned closer to the other--"even the walls

have ears," he whispered, and Turan's question was answered.


It was later in the evening that warriors came and unlocked the

fetter from Turan's ankle and led him away to appear before

O-Tar, the jeddak. They conducted him toward the palace along

narrow, winding streets and broad avenues; but always from the

balconies there looked down upon them in endless ranks the silent

people of the city. The palace itself was filled with life and

activity. Mounted warriors galloped through the corridors and up

and down the runways connecting adjacent floors. It seemed that

no one walked within the palace other than a few slaves.

Squealing, fighting thoats were stabled in magnificent halls

while their riders, if not upon some duty of the palace, played

at jetan with small figures carved from wood.


Turan noted the magnificence of the interior architecture of the

palace, the lavish expenditure of precious jewels and metals, the

gorgeous mural decorations which depicted almost exclusively

martial scenes, and principally duels which seemed to be fought

upon jetan boards of heroic size. The capitals of many of the

columns supporting the ceilings of the corridors and chambers

through which they passed were wrought into formal likenesses of

jetan pieces--everywhere there seemed a suggestion of the game.

Along the same path that Tara of Helium had been led Turan was

conducted toward the throne room of O-Tar the jeddak, and when he

entered the Hall of Chiefs his interest turned to wonder and

admiration as he viewed the ranks of statuesque thoatmen decked

in their gorgeous, martial panoply. Never, he thought, had he

seen upon Barsoom more soldierly figures or thoats so perfectly

trained to perfection of immobility as these. Not a muscle

quivered, not a tail lashed, and the riders were as motionless as

their mounts--each warlike eye straight to the front, the great

spears inclined at the same angle. It was a picture to fill the

breast of a fighting man with awe and reverence. Nor did it fail

in its effect upon Turan as they conducted him the length of the

chamber, where he waited before great doors until he should be

summoned into the presence of the ruler of Manator.




When Tara of Helium was ushered into the throne room of O-Tar she

found the great hall filled with the chiefs and officers of O-Tar

and U-Thor, the latter occupying the place of honor at the foot

of the throne, as was his due. The girl was conducted to the foot

of the aisle and halted before the jeddak, who looked down upon

her from his high throne with scowling brows and fierce, cruel

eyes.


"The laws of Manator are just," said O-Tar, addressing her; "thus

is it that you have been summoned here again to be judged by the

highest authority of Manator. Word has reached me that you are

suspected of being a Corphal. What word have you to say in

refutation of the charge?"


Tara of Helium could scarce restrain a sneer as she answered the

ridiculous accusation of witchcraft. "So ancient is the culture

of my people," she said, "that authentic history reveals no

defense for that which we know existed only in the ignorant and

superstitious minds of the most primitive peoples of the past. To

those who are yet so untutored as to believe in the existence of

Corphals, there can be no argument that will convince them of

their error--only long ages of refinement and culture can

accomplish their release from the bondage of ignorance. I have

spoken."


"Yet you do not deny the accusation," said O-Tar.


"It is not worthy the dignity of a denial," she responded

haughtily.


"And I were you, woman," said a deep voice at her side, "I

should, nevertheless, deny it."


Tara of Helium turned to see the eyes of U-Thor, the great jed of

Manatos, upon her. Brave eyes they were, but neither cold nor

cruel. O-Tar rapped impatiently upon the arm of his throne.

"U-Thor forgets," he cried, "that O-Tar is the jeddak."


"U-Thor remembers," replied the jed of Manatos, "that the laws of

Manator permit any who may be accused to have advice and counsel

before their judge."


Tara of Helium saw that for some reason this man would have

assisted her, and so she acted upon his advice.


"I deny the charge," she said, "I am no Corphal."


"Of that we shall learn," snapped O-Tar. "U-Dor, where are those

who have knowledge of the powers of this woman?"


And U-Dor brought several who recounted the little that was known

of the disappearance of E-Med, and others who told of the capture

of Ghek and Tara, suggesting by deduction that having been found

together they had sufficient in common to make it reasonably

certain that one was as bad as the other, and that, therefore, it

remained but to convict one of them of Corphalism to make certain

the guilt of both. And then O-Tar called for Ghek, and

immediately the hideous kaldane was dragged before him by

warriors who could not conceal the fear in which they held this

creature.


"And you!" said O-Tar in cold accusing tones. "Already have I

been told enough of you to warrant me in passing through your

heart the jeddak's steel--of how you stole the brains from the

warrior U-Van so that he thought he saw your headless body still

endowed with life; of how you caused another to believe that you

had escaped, making him to see naught but an empty bench and a

blank wall where you had been."


"Ah, O-Tar, but that is as nothing!" cried a young padwar who had

come in command of the escort that brought Ghek. "The thing which

he did to I-Zav, here, would prove his guilt alone."


"What did he to the warrior I-Zav?" demanded O-Tar. "Let I-Zav

speak!"


The warrior I-Zav, a great fellow of bulging muscles and thick

neck, advanced to the foot of the throne. He was pale and still

trembling visibly as from a nervous shock.


"Let my first ancestor be my witness, O-Tar, that I speak the

truth," he began. "I was left to guard this creature, who sat

upon a bench, shackled to the wall. I stood by the open doorway

at the opposite side of the chamber. He could not reach me, yet,

O-Tar, may Iss engulf me if he did not drag me to him helpless as

an unhatched egg. He dragged me to him, greatest of jeddaks, with

his eyes! With his eyes he seized upon my eyes and dragged me to

him and he made me lay my swords and dagger upon the table and

back off into a corner, and still keeping his eyes upon my eyes

his head quitted his body and crawling upon six short legs it

descended to the floor and backed part way into the hole of an

ulsio, but not so far that the eyes were not still upon me and

then it returned with the key to its fetter and after resuming

its place upon its own shoulders it unlocked the fetter and again

dragged me across the room and made me to sit upon the bench

where it had been and there it fastened the fetter about my

ankle, and I could do naught for the power of its eyes and the

fact that it wore my two swords and my dagger. And then the head

disappeared down the hole of the ulsio with the key, and when it

returned, it resumed its body and stood guard over me at the

doorway until the padwar came to fetch it hither."


"It is enough!" said O-Tar, sternly. "Both shall receive the

jeddak's steel," and rising from his throne he drew his long

sword and descended the marble steps toward them, while two

brawny warriors seized Tara by either arm and two seized Ghek,

holding them facing the naked blade of the jeddak.


"Hold, just O-Tar!" cried U-Dor. "There be yet another to be

judged. Let us confront him who calls himself Turan with these

his fellows before they die."


"Good!" exclaimed O-Tar, pausing half way down the steps. "Fetch

Turan, the slave!"


When Turan had been brought into the chamber he was placed a

little to Tara's left and a step nearer the throne. O-Tar eyed

him menacingly.


"You are Turan," he asked, "friend and companion of these?"


The panthan was about to reply when Tara of Helium spoke. "I know

not this fellow," she said. "Who dares say that he be a friend

and companion of the Princess Tara of Helium?"


Turan and Ghek looked at her in surprise, but at Turan she did

not look, and to Ghek she passed a quick glance of warning, as to

say: "Hold thy peace."


The panthan tried not to fathom her purpose for the head is

useless when the heart usurps its functions, and Turan knew only

that the woman he loved had denied him, and though he tried not

even to think it his foolish heart urged but a single

explanation--that she refused to recognize him lest she be

involved in his difficulties.


O-Tar looked first at one and then at another of them; but none

of them spoke.


"Were they not captured together?" he asked of U-Dor.


"No," replied the dwar. "He who is called Turan was found seeking

entrance to the city and was enticed to the pits. The following

morning I discovered the other two upon the hill beyond The Gate

of Enemies."


"But they are friends and companions," said a young padwar, "for

this Turan inquired of me concerning these two, calling them by

name and saying that they were his friends."


"It is enough," stated O-Tar, "all three shall die," and he took

another step downward from the throne.


"For what shall we die?" asked Ghek. "Your people prate of the

just laws of Manator, and yet you would slay three strangers

without telling them of what crime they are accused."


"He is right," said a deep voice. It was the voice of U-Thor, the

great jed of Manatos. O-Tar looked at him and scowled; but there

came voices from other portions of the chamber seconding the

demand for justice.


"Then know, though you shall die anyway," cried O-Tar, "that all

three are convicted of Corphalism and that as only a jeddak may

slay such as you in safety you are about to be honored with the

steel of O-Tar."


"Fool!" cried Turan. "Know you not that in the veins of this

woman flows the blood of ten thousand jeddaks--that greater than

yours is her power in her own land? She is Tara, Princess of

Helium, great-granddaughter of Tardos Mors, daughter of John

Carter, Warlord of Barsoom. She cannot be a Corphal. Nor is this

creature Ghek, nor am I. And you would know more, I can prove my

right to be heard and to be believed if I may have word with the

Princess Haja of Gathol, whose son is my fellow prisoner in the

pits of O-Tar, his father."


At this U-Thor rose to his feet and faced O-Tar. "What means

this?" he asked. "Speaks the man the truth? Is the son of Haja a

prisoner in thy pits, O-Tar?"


"And what is it to the jed of Manatos who be the prisoners in the

pits of his jeddak?" demanded O-Tar, angrily.


"It is this to the jed of Manatos," replied U-Thor in a voice so

low as to be scarce more than a whisper and yet that was heard

the whole length and breadth of the great throne room of O-Tar,

Jeddak of Manator. "You gave me a slave woman, Haja, who had been

a princess in Gathol, because you feared her influence among the

slaves from Gathol. I have made of her a free woman, and I have

married her and made her thus a princess of Manatos. Her son is

my son, O-Tar, and though thou be my jeddak, I say to you that

for any harm that befalls A-Kor you shall answer to U-Thor of

Manatos."


O-Tar looked long at U-Thor, but he made no reply. Then he turned

again to Turan. "If one be a Corphal," he said, "then all of you

be Corphals, and we know well from the things that this creature

has done," he pointed at Ghek, "that he is a Corphal, for no

mortal has such powers as he. And as you are all Corphals you

must all die." He took another step downward, when Ghek spoke.


"These two have no such powers as I," he said. "They are but

ordinary, brainless things such as yourself. I have done all the

things that your poor, ignorant warriors have told you; but this

only demonstrates that I am of a higher order than yourselves, as

is indeed the fact. I am a kaldane, not a Corphal. There is

nothing supernatural or mysterious about me, other than that to

the ignorant all things which they cannot understand are

mysterious. Easily might I have eluded your warriors and escaped

your pits; but I remained in the hope that I might help these two

foolish creatures who have not the brains to escape without help.

They befriended me and saved my life. I owe them this debt. Do

not slay them--they are harmless. Slay me if you will. I offer my

life if it will appease your ignorant wrath. I cannot return to

Bantoom and so I might as well die, for there is no pleasure in

intercourse with the feeble intellects that cumber the face of

the world outside the valley of Bantoom."


"Hideous egotist," said O-Tar, "prepare to die and assume not to

dictate to O-Tar the jeddak. He has passed sentence and all three

of you shall feel the jeddak's naked steel. I have spoken!"


He took another step downward and then a strange thing happened.

He paused, his eyes fixed upon the eyes of Ghek. His sword

slipped from nerveless fingers, and still he stood there swaying

forward and back. A jed rose to rush to his side; but Ghek

stopped him with a word.


"Wait!" he cried. "The life of your jeddak is in my hands. You

believe me a Corphal and so you believe, too, that only the sword

of a jeddak may slay me, therefore your blades are useless

against me. Offer harm to any one of us, or seek to approach your

jeddak until I have spoken, and he shall sink lifeless to the

marble. Release the two prisoners and let them come to my side--I

would speak to them, privately. Quick! do as I say; I would as

lief as not slay O-Tar. I but let him live that I may gain

freedom for my friends--obstruct me and he dies."


The guards fell back, releasing Tara and Turan, who came close to

Ghek's side.


"Do as I tell you and do it quickly," whispered the kaldane. "I

cannot hold this fellow long, nor could I kill him thus. There

are many minds working against mine and presently mine will tire

and O-Tar will be himself again. You must make the best of your

opportunity while you may. Behind the arras that you see hanging

in the rear of the throne above you is a secret opening. From it

a corridor leads to the pits of the palace, where there are

storerooms containing food and drink. Few people go there. From

these pits lead others to all parts of the city. Follow one that

runs due west and it will bring you to The Gate of Enemies. The

rest will then lie with you. I can do no more; hurry before my

waning powers fail me--I am not as Luud, who was a king. He could

have held this creature forever. Make haste! Go!"