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A PLAY TO THE DEATHEdit

Clear and sweet a trumpet spoke across The Fields of Jetan. From

The High Tower its cool voice floated across the city of Manator

and above the babel of human discords rising from the crowded

mass that filled the seats of the stadium below. It called the

players for the first game, and simultaneously there fluttered to

the peaks of a thousand staffs on tower and battlement and the

great wall of the stadium the rich, gay pennons of the fighting

chiefs of Manator. Thus was marked the opening of The Jeddak's

Games, the most important of the year and second only to the

Grand Decennial Games.


Gahan of Gathol watched every play with eagle eye. The match was

an unimportant one, being but to settle some petty dispute

between two chiefs, and was played with professional jetan

players for points only. No one was killed and there was but

little blood spilled. It lasted about an hour and was terminated

by the chief of the losing side deliberately permitting himself

to be out-pointed, that the game might be called a draw.


Again the trumpet sounded, this time announcing the second and

last game of the afternoon. While this was not considered an

important match, those being reserved for the fourth and fifth

days of the games, it promised to afford sufficient excitement

since it was a game to the death. The vital difference between

the game played with living men and that in which inanimate

pieces are used, lies in the fact that while in the latter the

mere placing of a piece upon a square occupied by an opponent

piece terminates the move, in the former the two pieces thus

brought together engage in a duel for possession of the square.

Therefore there enters into the former game not only the strategy

of jetan but the personal prowess and bravery of each individual

piece, so that a knowledge not only of one's own men but of each

player upon the opposing side is of vast value to a chief.


In this respect was Gahan handicapped, though the loyalty of his

players did much to offset his ignorance of them, since they

aided him in arranging the board to the best advantage and told

him honestly the faults and virtues of each. One fought best in a

losing game; another was too slow; another too impetuous; this

one had fire and a heart of steel, but lacked endurance. Of the

opponents, though, they knew little or nothing, and now as the

two sides took their places upon the black and orange squares of

the great jetan board Gahan obtained, for the first time, a close

view of those who opposed him. The Orange Chief had not yet

entered the field, but his men were all in place. Val Dor turned

to Gahan. "They are all criminals from the pits of Manator," he

said. "There is no slave among them. We shall not have to fight

against a single fellow-countryman and every life we take will be

the life of an enemy."


"It is well," replied Gahan; "but where is their Chief, and where

the two Princesses?"


"They are coming now, see?" and he pointed across the field to

where two women could be seen approaching under guard.


As they came nearer Gahan saw that one was indeed Tara of Helium,

but the other he did not recognize, and then they were brought to

the center of the field midway between the two sides and there

waited until the Orange Chief arrived.


Floran voiced an exclamation of surprise when he recognized him.

"By my first ancestor if it is not one of their great chiefs," he

said, "and we were told that slaves and criminals were to play

for the stake of this game."


His words were interrupted by the keeper of The Towers whose duty

it was not only to announce the games and the stakes, but to act

as referee as well.


"Of this, the second game of the first day of the Jeddak's Games

in the four hundred and thirty-third year of O-Tar, Jeddak of

Manator, the Princesses of each side shall be the sole stakes and

to the survivors of the winning side shall belong both the

Princesses, to do with as they shall see fit. The Orange Princess

is the slave woman Lan-O of Gathol; the Black Princess is the

slave woman Tara, a princess of Helium. The Black Chief is U-Kal

of Manataj, a volunteer player; the Orange Chief is the dwar

U-Dor of the 8th Utan of the jeddak of Manator, also a volunteer

player. The squares shall be contested to the death. Just are the

laws of Manator! I have spoken."


The initial move was won by U-Dor, following which the two Chiefs

escorted their respective Princesses to the square each was to

occupy. It was the first time Gahan had been alone with Tara

since she had been brought upon the field. He saw her

scrutinizing him closely as he approached to lead her to her

place and wondered if she recognized him: but if she did she gave

no sign of it. He could not but remember her last words--"I hate

you!" and her desertion of him when he had been locked in the

room beneath the palace by I-Gos, the taxidermist, and so he did

not seek to enlighten her as to his identity. He meant to fight

for her--to die for her, if necessary--and if he did not die to

go on fighting to the end for her love. Gahan of Gathol was not

easily to be discouraged, but he was compelled to admit that his

chances of winning the love of Tara of Helium were remote.

Already had she repulsed him twice. Once as jed of Gathol and

again as Turan the panthan. Before his love, however, came her

safety and the former must be relegated to the background until

the latter had been achieved.


Passing among the players already at their stations the two took

their places upon their respective squares. At Tara's left was

the Black Chief, Gahan of Gathol; directly in front of her the

Princess' Panthan, Floran of Gathol; and at her right the

Princess' Odwar, Val Dor of Helium. And each of these knew the

part that he was to play, win or lose, as did each of the other

Black players. As Tara took her place Val Dor bowed low. "My

sword is at your feet, Tara of Helium," he said.


She turned and looked at him, an expression of surprise and

incredulity upon her face. "Val Dor, the dwar!" she exclaimed.

"Val Dor of Helium--one of my father's trusted captains! Can it

be possible that my eyes speak the truth?"


"It is Val Dor, Princess," the warrior replied, "and here to die

for you if need be, as is every wearer of the Black upon this

field of jetan today. Know Princess," he whispered, "that upon

this side is no man of Manator, but each and every is an enemy of

Manator."


She cast a quick, meaning glance toward Gahan. "But what of him?"

she whispered, and then she caught her breath quickly in

surprise. "Shade of the first jeddak!" she exclaimed. "I did but

just recognize him through his disguise."


"And you trust him?" asked Val Dor. "I know him not; but he spoke

fairly, as an honorable warrior, and we have taken him at his

word."


"You have made no mistake," replied Tara of Helium. "I would

trust him with my life--with my soul; and you, too, may trust

him."


Happy indeed would have been Gahan of Gathol could he have heard

those words; but Fate, who is usually unkind to the lover in such

matters, ordained it otherwise, and then the game was on.


U-Dor moved his Princess' Odwar three squares diagonally to the

right, which placed the piece upon the Black Chief's Odwar's

seventh. The move was indicative of the game that U-Dor intended

playing--a game of blood, rather than of science--and evidenced

his contempt for his opponents.


Gahan followed with his Odwar's Panthan one square straight

forward, a more scientific move, which opened up an avenue for

himself through his line of Panthans, as well as announcing to

the players and spectators that he intended having a hand in the

fighting himself even before the exigencies of the game forced it

upon him. The move elicited a ripple of applause from those

sections of seats reserved for the common warriors and their

women, showing perhaps that U-Dor was none too popular with

these, and, too, it had its effect upon the morale of Gahan's

pieces. A Chief may, and often does, play almost an entire game

without leaving his own square, where, mounted upon a thoat, he

may overlook the entire field and direct each move, nor may he be

reproached for lack of courage should he elect thus to play the

game since, by the rules, were he to be slain or so badly wounded

as to be compelled to withdraw, a game that might otherwise have

been won by the science of his play and the prowess of his men

would be drawn. To invite personal combat, therefore, denotes

confidence in his own swordsmanship, and great courage, two

attributes that were calculated to fill the Black players with

hope and valor when evinced by their Chief thus early in the

game.


U-Dor's next move placed Lan-O's Odwar upon Tara's Odwar's

fourth--within striking distance of the Black Princess.


Another move and the game would be lost to Gahan unless the

Orange Odwar was overthrown, or Tara moved to a position of

safety; but to move his Princess now would be to admit his belief

in the superiority of the Orange. In the three squares allowed

him he could not place himself squarely upon the square occupied

by the Odwar of U-Dor's Princess. There was only one player upon

the Black side that might dispute the square with the enemy and

that was the Chief's Odwar, who stood upon Gahan's left. Gahan

turned upon his thoat and looked at the man. He was a splendid

looking fellow, resplendent in the gorgeous trappings of an

Odwar, the five brilliant feathers which denoted his position

rising defiantly erect from his thick, black hair. In common with

every player upon the field and every spectator in the crowded

stands he knew what was passing in his Chief's mind. He dared not

speak, the ethics of the game forbade it, but what his lips might

not voice his eyes expressed in martial fire, and eloquently:

"The honor of the Black and the safety of our Princess are secure

with me!"


Gahan hesitated no longer. "Chief's Odwar to Princess' Odwar's

fourth!" he commanded. It was the courageous move of a leader who

had taken up the gauntlet thrown down by his opponent.


The warrior sprang forward and leaped into the square occupied by

U-Dor's piece. It was the first disputed square of the game. The

eyes of the players were fastened upon the contestants, the

spectators leaned forward in their seats after the first applause

that had greeted the move, and silence fell upon the vast

assemblage. If the Black went down to defeat, U-Dor could move

his victorious piece on to the square occupied by Tara of Helium

and the game would be over--over in four moves and lost to Gahan

of Gathol. If the Orange lost U-Dor would have sacrificed one of

his most important pieces and more than lost what advantage the

first move might have given him.


Physically the two men appeared perfectly matched and each was

fighting for his life, but from the first it was apparent that

the Black Odwar was the better swordsman, and Gahan knew that he

had another and perhaps a greater advantage over his antagonist.

The latter was fighting for his life only, without the spur of

chivalry or loyalty. The Black Odwar had these to strengthen his

arm, and besides these the knowledge of the thing that Gahan had

whispered into the ears of his players before the game, and so he

fought for what is more than life to the man of honor.


It was a duel that held those who witnessed it in spellbound

silence. The weaving blades gleamed in the brilliant sunlight,

ringing to the parries of cut and thrust. The barbaric harness of

the duelists lent splendid color to the savage, martial scene.

The Orange Odwar, forced upon the defensive, was fighting madly

for his life. The Black, with cool and terrible efficiency, was

forcing him steadily, step by step, into a corner of the

square--a position from which there could be no escape. To

abandon the square was to lose it to his opponent and win for

himself ignoble and immediate death before the jeering populace.

Spurred on by the seeming hopelessness of his plight, the Orange

Odwar burst into a sudden fury of offense that forced the Black

back a half dozen steps, and then the sword of U-Dor's piece

leaped in and drew first blood, from the shoulder of his

merciless opponent. An ill-smothered cry of encouragement went up

from U-Dor's men; the Orange Odwar, encouraged by his single

success, sought to bear down the Black by the rapidity of his

attack. There was a moment in which the swords moved with a

rapidity that no man's eye might follow, and then the Black Odwar

made a lightning parry of a vicious thrust, leaned quickly

forward into the opening he had effected, and drove his sword

through the heart of the Orange Odwar--to the hilt he drove it

through the body of the Orange Odwar.


A shout arose from the stands, for wherever may have been the

favor of the spectators, none there was who could say that it had

not been a pretty fight, or that the better man had not won. And

from the Black players came a sigh of relief as they relaxed from

the tension of the past moments.


I shall not weary you with the details of the game--only the high

features of it are necessary to your understanding of the

outcome. The fourth move after the victory of the Black Odwar

found Gahan upon U-Dor's fourth; an Orange Panthan was on the

adjoining square diagonally to his right and the only opposing

piece that could engage him other than U-Dor himself.


It had been apparent to both players and spectators for the past

two moves, that Gahan was moving straight across the field into

the enemy's country to seek personal combat with the Orange

Chief--that he was staking all upon his belief in the superiority

of his own swordsmanship, since if the two Chiefs engage, the

outcome decides the game. U-Dor could move out and engage Gahan,

or he could move his Princess' Panthan upon the square occupied

by Gahan in he hope that the former would defeat the Black Chief

and thus draw the game, which is the outcome if any other than a

Chief slays the opposing Chief, or he could move away and escape,

temporarily, the necessity for personal combat, or at least that

is evidently what he had in mind as was obvious to all who saw

him scanning the board about him; and his disappointment was

apparent when he finally discovered that Gahan had so placed

himself that there was no square to which U-Dor could move that

it was not within Gahan's power to reach at his own next move.


U-Dor had placed his own Princess four squares east of Gahan when

her position had been threatened, and he had hoped to lure the

Black Chief after her and away from U-Dor; but in that he had

failed. He now discovered that he might play his own Odwar into

personal combat with Gahan; but he had already lost one Odwar and

could ill spare the other. His position was a delicate one, since

he did not wish to engage Gahan personally, while it appeared

that there was little likelihood of his being able to escape.

There was just one hope and that lay in his Princess' Panthan,

so, without more deliberation he ordered the piece onto the

square occupied by the Black Chief.


The sympathies of the spectators were all with Gahan now. If he

lost, the game would be declared a draw, nor do they think better

of drawn games upon Barsoom than do Earth men. If he won, it

would doubtless mean a duel between the two Chiefs, a development

for which they all were hoping. The game already bade fair to be

a short one and it would be an angry crowd should it be decided a

draw with only two men slain. There were great, historic games on

record where of the forty pieces on the field when the game

opened only three survived--the two Princesses and the victorious

Chief.


They blamed U-Dor, though in fact he was well within his rights

in directing his play as he saw fit, nor was a refusal on his

part to engage the Black Chief necessarily an imputation of

cowardice. He was a great chief who had conceived a notion to

possess the slave Tara. There was no honor that could accrue to

him from engaging in combat with slaves and criminals, or an

unknown warrior from Manataj, nor was the stake of sufficient

import to warrant the risk.


But now the duel between Gahan and the Orange Panthan was on and

the decision of the next move was no longer in other hands than

theirs. It was the first time that these Manatorians had seen

Gahan of Gathol fight, but Tara of Helium knew that he was master

of his sword. Could he have seen the proud light in her eyes as

he crossed blades with the wearer of the Orange, he might easily

have wondered if they were the same eyes that had flashed fire

and hatred at him that time he had covered her lips with mad

kisses, in the pits of the palace of O-Tar. As she watched him

she could not but compare his swordplay with that of the greatest

swordsman of two worlds--her father, John Carter, of Virginia, a

Prince of Helium, Warlord of Barsoom--and she knew that the skill

of the Black Chief suffered little by the comparison.


Short and to the point was the duel that decided possession of

the Orange Chief's fourth. The spectators had settled themselves

for an interesting engagement of at least average duration when

they were brought almost standing by a brilliant flash of rapid

swordplay that was over ere one could catch his breath. They saw

the Black Chief step quickly back, his point upon the ground,

while his opponent, his sword slipping from his fingers, clutched

his breast, sank to his knees and then lunged forward upon his

face.


And then Gahan of Gathol turned his eyes directly upon U-Dor of

Manator, three squares away. Three squares is a Chief's

move--three squares in any direction or combination of

directions, only provided that he does not cross the same square

twice in a given move. The people saw and guessed Gahan's

intention. They rose and roared forth their approval as he moved

deliberately across the intervening squares toward the Orange

Chief.


O-Tar, in the royal enclosure, sat frowning upon the scene. O-Tar

was angry. He was angry with U-Dor for having entered this game

for possession of a slave, for whom it had been his wish only

slaves and criminals should strive. He was angry with the warrior

from Manataj for having so far out-generaled and out-fought the

men from Manator. He was angry with the populace because of their

open hostility toward one who had basked in the sunshine of his

favor for long years. O-Tar the jeddak had not enjoyed the

afternoon. Those who surrounded him were equally glum--they, too,

scowled upon the field, the players, and the people. Among them

was a bent and wrinkled old man who gazed through weak and watery

eyes upon the field and the players.


As Gahan entered his square, U-Dor leaped toward him with drawn

sword with such fury as might have overborne a less skilled and

powerful swordsman. For a minute the fighting was fast and

furious and by comparison reducing to insignificance all that had

gone before. Here indeed were two magnificent swordsmen, and here

was to be a battle that bade fair to make up for whatever the

people felt they had been defrauded of by the shortness of the

game. Nor had it continued long before many there were who would

have prophesied that they were witnessing a duel that was to

become historic in the annals of jetan at Manator. Every trick,

every subterfuge, known to the art of fence these men employed.

Time and again each scored a point and brought blood to his

opponent's copper hide until both were red with gore; but neither

seemed able to administer the coup de grace.


From her position upon the opposite side of the field Tara of

Helium watched the long-drawn battle. Always it seemed to her

that the Black Chief fought upon the defensive, or when he

assumed to push his opponent, he neglected a thousand openings

that her practiced eye beheld. Never did he seem in real danger,

nor never did he appear to exert himself to quite the pitch

needful for victory. The duel already had been long contested and

the day was drawing to a close. Presently the sudden transition

from daylight to darkness which, owing to the tenuity of the air

upon Barsoom, occurs almost without the warning twilight of

Earth, would occur. Would the fight never end? Would the game be

called a draw after all? What ailed the Black Chief?


Tara wished that she might answer at least the last of these

questions for she was sure that Turan the panthan, as she knew

him, while fighting brilliantly, was not giving of himself all

that he might. She could not believe that fear was restraining

his hand, but that there was something beside inability to push

U-Dor more fiercely she was confident. What it was, however, she

could not guess.


Once she saw Gahan glance quickly up toward the sinking sun. In

thirty minutes it would be dark. And then she saw and all those

others saw a strange transition steal over the swordplay of the

Black Chief. It was as though he had been playing with the great

dwar, U-Dor, all these hours, and now he still played with him

but there was a difference. He played with him terribly as a

carnivore plays with its victim in the instant before the kill.

The Orange Chief was helpless now in the hands of a swordsman so

superior that there could be no comparison, and the people sat in

open-mouthed wonder and awe as Gahan of Gathol cut his foe to

ribbons and then struck him down with a blow that cleft him to

the chin.


In twenty minutes the sun would set. But what of that?