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Ghek, in his happier days third foreman of the fields of Luud,

sat nursing his anger and his humiliation. Recently something had

awakened within him the existence of which he had never before

even dreamed. Had the influence of the strange captive woman

aught to do with this unrest and dissatisfaction? He did not

know. He missed the soothing influence of the noise she called

singing. Could it be that there were other things more desirable

than cold logic and undefiled brain power? Was well balanced

imperfection more to be sought after then, than the high

development of a single characteristic? He thought of the great,

ultimate brain toward which all kaldanes were striving. It would

be deaf, and dumb, and blind. A thousand beautiful strangers

might sing and dance about it, but it could derive no pleasure

from the singing or the dancing since it would possess no

perceptive faculties. Already had the kaldanes shut themselves

off from most of the gratifications of the senses. Ghek wondered

if much was to be gained by denying themselves still further, and

with the thought came a question as to the whole fabric of their

theory. After all perhaps the girl was right; what purpose could

a great brain serve sealed in the bowels of the earth?


And he, Ghek, was to die for this theory. Luud had decreed it.

The injustice of it overwhelmed him with rage. But he was

helpless. There was no escape. Beyond the enclosure the banths

awaited him; within, his own kind, equally as merciless and

ferocious. Among them there was no such thing as love, or

loyalty, or friendship--they were just brains. He might kill

Luud; but what would that profit him? Another king would be

loosed from his sealed chamber and Ghek would be killed. He did

not know it but he would not even have the poor satisfaction of

satisfied revenge, since he was not capable of feeling so

abstruse a sentiment.


Ghek, mounted upon his rykor, paced the floor of the tower

chamber in which he had been ordered to remain. Ordinarily he

would have accepted the sentence of Luud with perfect equanimity,

since it was but the logical result of reason; but now it seemed

different. The stranger woman had bewitched him. Life appeared a

pleasant thing--there were great possibilities in it. The dream

of the ultimate brain had receded into a tenuous haze far in the

background of his thoughts.


At that moment there appeared in the doorway of the chamber a red

warrior with naked sword. He was a male counterpart of the

prisoner whose sweet voice had undermined the cold, calculating

reason of the kaldane.


"Silence!" admonished the newcomer, his straight brows gathered

in an ominous frown and the point of his longsword playing

menacingly before the eyes of the kaldane. "I seek the woman,

Tara of Helium. Where is she? If you value your life speak

quickly and speak the truth."


If he valued his life! It was a truth that Ghek had but just

learned. He thought quickly. After all, a great brain is not

without its uses. Perhaps here lay escape from the sentence of

Luud.


"You are of her kind?" he asked. "You come to rescue her?"


"Yes."


"Listen, then. I have befriended her, and because of this I am to

die. If I help you to liberate her, will you take me with you?"


Gahan of Gathol eyed the weird creature from crown to foot--the

perfect body, the grotesque head, the expressionless face. Among

such as these had the beautiful daughter of Helium been held

captive for days and weeks.


"If she lives and is unharmed," he said, "I will take you with

us."


"When they took her from me she was alive and unharmed," replied

Ghek. "I cannot say what has befallen her since. Luud sent for

her."


"Who is Luud? Where is he? Lead me to him." Gahan spoke quickly

in tones vibrant with authority.


"Come, then," said Ghek, leading the way from the apartment and

down a stairway toward the underground burrows of the kaldanes.

"Luud is my king. I will take you to his chambers."


"Hasten!" urged Gahan.


"Sheathe your sword," warned Ghek, "so that should we pass others

of my kind I may say to them that you are a new prisoner with

some likelihood of winning their belief."


Gahan did as he was bid, but warning the kaldane that his hand

was ever ready at his dagger's hilt.


"You need have no fear of treachery," said Ghek "My only hope of

life lies in you."


"And if you fail me," Gahan admonished him, "I can promise you as

sure a death as even your king might guarantee you."


Ghek made no reply, but moved rapidly through the winding

subterranean corridors until Gahan began to realize how truly was

he in the hands of this strange monster. If the fellow should

prove false it would profit Gahan nothing to slay him, since

without his guidance the red man might never hope to retrace his

way to the tower and freedom.


Twice they met and were accosted by other kaldanes; but in both

instances Ghek's simple statement that he was taking a new

prisoner to Luud appeared to allay all suspicion, and then at

last they came to the ante-chamber of the king.


"Here, now, red man, thou must fight, if ever," whispered Ghek.

"Enter there!" and he pointed to a doorway before them.


"And you?" asked Gahan, still fearful of treachery.


"My rykor is powerful," replied the kaldane. "I shall accompany

you and fight at your side. As well die thus as in torture later

at the will of Luud. Come!"


But Gahan had already crossed the room and entered the chamber

beyond. Upon the opposite side of the room was a circular opening

guarded by two warriors. Beyond this opening he could see two

figures struggling upon the floor, and the fleeting glimpse he

had of one of the faces suddenly endowed him with the strength of

ten warriors and the ferocity of a wounded banth. It was Tara of

Helium, fighting for her honor or her life.


The warriors, startled by the unexpected appearance of a red man,

stood for a moment in dumb amazement, and in that moment Gahan of

Gathol was upon them, and one was down, a sword-thrust through

its heart.


"Strike at the heads," whispered the voice of Ghek in Gahan's

ear. The latter saw the head of the fallen warrior crawl quickly

within the aperture leading to the chamber where he had seen Tara

of Helium in the clutches of a headless body. Then the sword of

Ghek struck the kaldane of the remaining warrior from its rykor

and Gahan ran his sword through the repulsive head.


Instantly the red warrior leaped for the aperture, while close

behind him came Ghek.


"Look not upon the eyes of Luud," warned the kaldane, "or you are

lost."


Within the chamber Gahan saw Tara of Helium in the clutches of a

mighty body, while close to the wall upon the opposite side of

the apartment crouched the hideous, spider-like Luud. Instantly

the king realized the menace to himself and sought to fasten his

eyes upon the eyes of Gahan, and in doing so he was forced to

relax his concentration upon the rykor in whose embraces Tara

struggled, so that almost immediately the girl found herself able

to tear away from the awful, headless thing.


As she rose quickly to her feet she saw for the first time the

cause of the interruption of Luud's plans. A red warrior! Her

heart leaped in rejoicing and thanksgiving. What miracle of fate

had sent him to her? She did not recognize him, though, this

travel-worn warrior in the plain harness which showed no single

jewel. How could she have guessed him the same as the scintillant

creature of platinum and diamonds that she had seen for a brief

hour under such different circumstances at the court of her

august sire?


Luud saw Ghek following the strange warrior into the chamber.

"Strike him down, Ghek!" commanded the king. "Strike down the

stranger and your life shall be yours."


Gahan glanced at the hideous face of the king.


"Seek not his eyes," screamed Tara in warning; but it was too

late. Already the horrid hypnotic gaze of the king kaldane had

seized upon the eyes of Gahan. The red warrior hesitated in his

stride. His sword point drooped slowly toward the floor. Tara

glanced toward Ghek. She saw the creature glaring with his

expressionless eyes upon the broad back of the stranger. She saw

the hand of the creature's rykor creeping stealthily toward the

hilt of its dagger.


And then Tara of Helium raised her eyes aloft and poured forth

the notes of Mars' most beautiful melody, The Song of Love.


Ghek drew his dagger from its sheath. His eyes turned toward the

singing girl. Luud's glance wavered from the eyes of the man to

the face of Tara, and the instant that the latter's song

distracted his attention from his victim, Gahan of Gathol shook

himself and as with a supreme effort of will forced his eyes to

the wall above Luud's hideous head. Ghek raised his dagger above

his right shoulder, took a single quick step forward, and struck.

The girl's song ended in a stifled scream as she leaped forward

with the evident intention of frustrating the kaldane's purpose;

but she was too late, and well it was, for an instant later she

realized the purpose of Ghek's act as she saw the dagger fly from

his hand, pass Gahan's shoulder, and sink full to the guard in

the soft face of Luud.


"Come!" cried the assassin, "we have no time to lose," and

started for the aperture through which they had entered the

chamber; but in his stride he paused as his glance was arrested

by the form of the mighty rykor lying prone upon the floor--a

king's rykor; the most beautiful, the most powerful, that the

breeders of Bantoom could produce. Ghek realized that in his

escape he could take with him but a single rykor, and there was

none in Bantoom that could give him better service than this

giant lying here. Quickly he transferred himself to the shoulders

of the great, inert hulk. Instantly the latter was transformed to

a sentient creature, filled with pulsing life and alert energy.


"Now," said the kaldane, "we are ready. Let whoso would revert to

nothingness impede me." Even as he spoke he stooped and crawled

into the chamber beyond, while Gahan, taking Tara by the arm,

motioned her to follow. The girl looked him full in the eyes for

the first time. "The Gods of my people have been kind," she said;

"you came just in time. To the thanks of Tara of Helium shall be

added those of The Warlord of Barsoom and his people. Thy reward

shall surpass thy greatest desires."


Gahan of Gathol saw that she did not recognize him, and quickly

he checked the warm greeting that had been upon his lips.


"Be thou Tara of Helium or another," he replied, "is immaterial,

to serve thus a red woman of Barsoom is in itself sufficient

reward."


As they spoke the girl was making her way through the aperture

after Ghek, and presently all three had quitted the apartments of

Luud and were moving rapidly along the winding corridors toward

the tower. Ghek repeatedly urged them to greater speed, but the

red men of Barsoom were never keen for retreat, and so the two

that followed him moved all too slowly for the kaldane.


"There are none to impede our progress," urged Gahan, "so why tax

the strength of the Princess by needless haste?"


"I fear not so much opposition ahead, for there are none there

who know the thing that has been done in Luud's chambers this

night; but the kaldane of one of the warriors who stood guard

before Luud's apartment escaped, and you may count it a truth

that he lost no time in seeking aid. That it did not come before

we left is due solely to the rapidity with which events

transpired in the king's* room. Long before we reach the tower

they will be upon us from behind, and that they will come in

numbers far superior to ours and with great and powerful rykors I

well know."


  • I have used the word king in describing the rulers or chiefs of

the Bantoomian swarms, since the word itself is unpronounceable

in English, nor does jed or jeddak of the red Martian tongue have

quite the same meaning as the Bantoomian word, which has

practically the same significance as the English word queen as

applied to the leader of a swarm of bees.--J. C.



Nor was Ghek's prophecy long in fulfilment. Presently the sounds

of pursuit became audible in the distant clanking of

accouterments and the whistling call to arms of the kaldanes.


"The tower is but a short distance now," cried Ghek. "Make haste

while yet you may, and if we can barricade it until the sun rises

we may yet escape."


"We shall need no barricades for we shall not linger in the

tower," replied Gahan, moving more rapidly as he realized from

the volume of sound behind them the great number of their

pursuers.


"But we may not go further than the tower tonight," insisted

Ghek. "Beyond the tower await the banths and certain death."


Gahan smiled. "Fear not the banths," he assured them. "Can we but

reach the enclosure a little ahead of our pursuers we have naught

to fear from any evil power within this accursed valley."


Ghek made no reply, nor did his expressionless face denote either

belief or skepticism. The girl looked into the face of the man

questioningly. She did not understand.


"Your flier," he said. "It is moored before the tower."


Her face lighted with pleasure and relief. "You found it!" she

exclaimed. "What fortune!"


"It was fortune indeed," he replied. "Since it not only told that

you were a prisoner here; but it saved me from the banths as I

was crossing the valley from the hills to this tower into which I

saw them take you this afternoon after your brave attempt at

escape."


"How did you know it was I?" she asked, her puzzled brows

scanning his face as though she sought to recall from past

memories some scene in which he figured.


"Who is there but knows of the loss of the Princess Tara of

Helium?" he replied. "And when I saw the device upon your flier I

knew at once, though I had not known when I saw you among them in

the fields a short time earlier. Too great was the distance for

me to make certain whether the captive was man or woman. Had

chance not divulged the hiding place of your flier I had gone my

way, Tara of Helium. I shudder to think how close was the chance

at that. But for the momentary shining of the sun upon the

emblazoned device on the prow of your craft, I had passed on

unknowing."


The girl shuddered. "The Gods sent you," she whispered

reverently.


"The Gods sent me, Tara of Helium," he replied.


"But I do not recognize you," she said. "I have tried to recall

you, but I have failed. Your name, what may it be?"


"It is not strange that so great a princess should not recall the

face of every roving panthan of Barsoom," he replied with a

smile.


"But your name?" insisted the girl.


"Call me Turan," replied the man, for it had come to him that if

Tara of Helium recognized him as the man whose impetuous avowal

of love had angered her that day in the gardens of The Warlord,

her situation might be rendered infinitely less bearable than

were she to believe him a total stranger. Then, too, as a simple

panthan* he might win a greater degree of her confidence by his

loyalty and faithfulness and a place in her esteem that seemed to

have been closed to the resplendent Jed of Gathol.


  • Soldier of Fortune; free-lance warrior.



They had reached the tower now, and as they entered it from the

subterranean corridor a backward glance revealed the van of their

pursuers--hideous kaldanes mounted upon swift and powerful

rykors. As rapidly as might be the three ascended the stairways

leading to the ground level, but after them, even more rapidly,

came the minions of Luud. Ghek led the way, grasping one of

Tara's hands the more easily to guide and assist her, while Gahan

of Gathol followed a few paces in their rear, his bared sword

ready for the assault that all realized must come upon them now

before ever they reached the enclosure and the flier.


"Let Ghek drop behind to your side," said Tara, "and fight with

you."


"There is but room for a single blade in these narrow corridors,"

replied the Gatholian. "Hasten on with Ghek and win to the deck

of the flier. Have your hand upon the control, and if I come far

enough ahead of these to reach the dangling cable you can rise at

my word and I can clamber to the deck at my leisure; but if one

of them emerges first into the enclosure you will know that I

shall never come, and you will rise quickly and trust to the Gods

of our ancestors to give you a fair breeze in the direction of a

more hospitable people."


Tara of Helium shook her head. "We will not desert you, panthan,"

she said.


Gahan, ignoring her reply, spoke above her head to Ghek. "Take

her to the craft moored within the enclosure," he commanded. "It

is our only hope. Alone, I may win to its deck; but have I to

wait upon you two at the last moment the chances are that none of

us will escape. Do as I bid." His tone was haughty and

arrogant--the tone of a man who has commanded other men from

birth, and whose will has been law. Tara of Helium was both

angered and vexed. She was not accustomed to being either

commanded or ignored, but with all her royal pride she was no

fool, and she knew the man was right, that he was risking his

life to save hers, so she hastened on with Ghek as she was bid,

and after the first flush of anger she smiled, for the

realization came to her that this fellow was but a rough

untutored warrior, skilled not in the finer usages of cultured

courts. His heart was right, though; a brave and loyal heart, and

gladly she forgave him the offense of his tone and manner. But

what a tone! Recollection of it gave her sudden pause. Panthans

were rough and ready men. Often they rose to positions of high

command, so it was not the note of authority in the fellow's

voice that seemed remarkable; but something else--a quality that

was indefinable, yet as distinct as it was familiar. She had

heard it before when the voice of her great-grandsire, Tardos

Mors, Jeddak of Helium, had risen in command; and in the voice of

her grandfather, Mors Kajak, the jed; and in the ringing tones of

her illustrious sire, John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, when he

addressed his warriors.


But now she had no time to speculate upon so trivial a thing, for

behind her came the sudden clash of arms and she knew that Turan,

the panthan, had crossed swords with the first of their pursuers.

As she glanced back he was still visible beyond a turn in the

stairway, so that she could see the quick swordplay that ensued.

Daughter of a world's greatest swordsman, she knew well the

finest points of the art. She saw the clumsy attack of the

kaldane and the quick, sure return of the panthan. As she looked

down from above upon his almost naked body, trapped only in the

simplest of unadorned harness, and saw the play of the lithe

muscles beneath the red-bronze skin, and witnessed the quick and

delicate play of his sword point, to her sense of obligation was

added a spontaneous admission of admiration that was but the

natural tribute of a woman to skill and bravery and, perchance,

some trifle to manly symmetry and strength.


Three times the panthan's blade changed its position--once to

fend a savage cut; once to feint; and once to thrust. And as he

withdrew it from the last position the kaldane rolled lifeless

from its stumbling rykor and Turan sprang quickly down the steps

to engage the next behind, and then Ghek had drawn Tara upward

and a turn in the stairway shut the battling panthan from her

view; but still she heard the ring of steel on steel, the clank

of accouterments and the shrill whistling of the kaldanes. Her

heart moved her to turn back to the side of her brave defender;

but her judgment told her that she could serve him best by being

ready at the control of the flier at the moment he reached the

enclosure.