PART I: Chapters 1-4
2. SLAVE DRIVER
4. A BAD
ONE - TORAKAR THOR
My name is Torakar Thor. I have no father. I have
no mother. I have no city. I am merely a wandering Panthan,
one of a multitude who wander the face of Barsoom with nothing more than
a good sword arm and a restless heart. I am not the first,
and will not be the last, but here is my story for those who should care
to read it.
Of my past, there is little worth the remembrance.
I had fought most recently in the armies of the Mad Jeddak of Toth.
Though we had fought bravely, it was a battle that could not be won, and
such forces as the Mad Jeddak had commanded had been scattered to the four
I had managed to escape in a small two-man flyer, the battered
little machine speeding me over the endless dunes of this dying world.
Unfortunately, like all the equipment of the Mad Jeddak it was an older
model, its years of hard wear told upon it. Its aged tanks
barely held buoyancy, and several times I had to stop to perform repairs
upon its worn motor, coaxing a few more haads. Even so, for
an extended time I had flown at little better than the height of a Green
Man’s Thoat, praying to the memory of lost Gods that it should not crash.
Finally, sensing the machine’s imminent death, I had coaxed the motor into
one last burst of energy, pushing it up as high into the sky as I dared,
searching the horizons for some sign of safe harbour.
As the motor had died, I spotted my salvation, an abandoned city
of the ancestors off in the distance, its rust bulk obscured by a handful
of hardy plant growths. Riding the flyer down to a soft
landing with its remaining bouyancy, I determined that the engine could
not be revived. There was nothing left but to use its bouyancy
to drag it to the city and whatever welcome I might find there.
The dead city was called Axho, a name given to it.
None recalled what the ancients might have known it as. And as cities
go, it was hardly a town at all. Barsoom is littered with them.
Luckily, for once, it was neither frequented by Green Men nor infested
by White Apes. And so a small community of renegade Red Men
had grown up here.
Some were exiles, forbidden to the towns and cities, criminals
and brigands of such poor morals and foolish habits that they had worn
out all welcome. Others were former Panthans, crippled, for ours
is an unforgiving trade. For the most part, they dug in the
ruins, searching for whatever poor riches a place like this might have
buried, and traded with the passing Caravans for such as might be desired.
It was in this place that I sat and waited, busying myself with
the repair of my now useless flyer, practicing my swordcraft and keeping
a wary eye on my fellows. I had no particular wish to be here.
Harkaz Du, who had finally slain the Mad Jeddak, had not extended his amnesty
to the officers, and particularly not to certain officers who had gone
out of their way to make a fool of him. In my defense, I shall say
that was no hard trick at all. But such were the ways of fortune
that I was now eager to be away from the reach of Harkaz Du, before he
might renew our acquaintance.
Thus, when a slaver Caravan going the right direction stopped
off to rest its Thoats, I felt it was time to move on from Axho.
I had grown no fonder of it since the day I arrived.
Haja Obol, the Caravan Master was a fat and greasy man, unlike
many of the Red Race, he sported a whispy mustache, the thick hairs over
his blubbery lip adding to his repulsiveness. I suppressed a shudder
for the plight any slave girls in his Caravan. He looked me
over like one of his wares.
In this one thing, I am in agreement with the feared Butcher of
Helium, the traffic in slaves is a filthy stain on our world.
Like any other Barsoomian, I respect and admire the institution of slavery.
For without slavery, how else would those conquered in battle be disposed
of? I have heard tales of worlds where the vanquished filled
mass graves. Without slavery, how might criminals be secured?
Without slavery, what rescue would there be to the weak and the poor, but
to be thrown to their own resources and starve thereon?
But the trade in slaves is a different thing altogether.
For in the movement of slaves from one city to another as a simple commodity,
there were the seeds of horror. Why, a man would have no motive
to care for his slaves, if he could conveniently buy another.
There was no need to treat slaves well and earn their respect and love,
if you could simply sell off your surplus or your malcontents at
will. Between a master and his slave, a slave might be entitled to
bonds of fealty, of loyalty, of care. The slave trader was an Ulsio
gnawing away at those bonds, and thus adding to the misery of all.
And yet, circumstance makes slaves of us all. Here I was,
offering my service to such a miserable creature.
“Torakar Thor,” he said, peering up at me from his accounts, as
I stood before his open lean to. The Barsoomian sun was harsh
in my eyes. “It seems I am misled, I had been told you were
“Both of us then,” I answered, “for I had been told the same about
His guards stifled grins. He glared at them, and their
faces became blank.
“Tora Kar Thor,” he peered at me. “There’s something
off about your colour. Perhaps you have a bit of Orovar in
His guards looked me over a bit more carefully.
“Orovars are very rare,” he said thoughtfully, “there are still
a few to be found. But very rare, very valuable.”
“My father,” I replied, “came out of the Valley Dor.”
“Thern,” he said, “worthless. Thank your fortunes you seem
to have taken after your mother.”
“My father was indeed worthless,” I said, “But my mother proved
no better, for she cast away her honour, if she ever had any, for his sake.”
“Indeed,” he replied, “We are often cursed by the
heritage of those who preceded us. I have many good soldiers,
why should I suffer the expense of another mouth to feed.”
“Because,” I said, “I am twice the swordsman of any you have.”
“A bold claim,” he replied, “and I am of a mind to test it.”
“I am ready.”
Haja Obol waved a hand laden with gaudy feminine rings.
“Hantol, Abhar, Kash,” he said to his guards, “find
the measure of her talent, and then beat her for her insolence. After
that, we shall see how her services might be valued.”
Three of her guards drew their swords and came forward with no
hesitation at all. From their ready response, I could tell
that this was Haja Obol’s preferred method of testing his prospective
employees. My sword whipped out and I fell into a fighting
stance, determined to give a good account of myself.
For the next fifteen minutes, they pressed me hard, and it was
all I could do to defend myself from their flashing steel.
But then an opening presented itself and at the cost of a light scratch
from one of the other swordsman, I struck the blade from the hand of Abhar
and placed a red mark upon his brow.
Then I turned with renewed vigor upon the other swordsman.
Having seen their comrade disarmed took some of their courage from them.
They fought more cautiously, and I was free to press more attacks.
Soon enough my blade passed through the meat of Hantol’s arm. With
a cry, he fell to his knees. Kash backed away.
“Enough,” cried the slave master. “It seems you have
some little skill. Perhaps I can find a use for you somewhere after
I sheathed my blade.
“Tora Kar Thor,” he said thoughtfully. “There was
an officer of that name in the armies of the Mad Jeddak.”
“That is I.”
“Harkaz Du, among others, would pay dearly to make your acquaintance,
I have heard.” He sighed. “Sadly, I am going in
the opposite direction, and thus profit once again escapes me.
Still, I am not such a fool, a creature like you invites trouble, and I
have no need for that.”
Just then a little man came in and whispered to the slave master.
His expression flickered once or twice as he thought it over.
Finally, he glanced up at me.
“It seems that necessity drives us all,” he said, “I had planned
to stay here a few days and let the slaves recover, but we must leave in
the morning. You are hired, see the quartermaster.”
And that is how my long sojourn in the forgotten city of Axto
ended, as I took service with a slave master.
TWO - SLAVE DRIVER
I walked away puzzling over this peculiar shift in my fortunes.
One second, he’d been on the verge of throwing me out. The
next moment, I was hired. It would be unwise to examine too
closely the paws of a gift Thoat, but still, I decided, I should watch
“Torakar Thor,” a voice called out to me from behind my back.
Instinctively, placed my hand on my pommel as I turned.
It was a red man of course, a scarred Panthan. I stared
at him without comprehension.
“Torakar Thor,” he said, “don’t you remember me? Han
Osar. We fought side by side at Horsa Straits! I was with the
The name meant nothing to me, but I seemed to recall the face.
A lot of us had died at that day.
“Kaor,” I said, as we clasped each other in the typical Barsoomian
greetings. “I had not thought that there were any Dalsos left after
“Few enough,” he chuckled. “As a unit, we were done
for. The Dalsos who survived were assigned to other units,
or chose other fortunes. But I, and every man there,
has you to thank for the fact that any of us made it out.”
“Ras Kanhar was our general,” I replied.
“Ras Kanhar was so drunk that day he could not stand up in his
tent,” he replied, “I have that from witnesses.”
“Doubtless,” I said, “that had a part in how the battle went.
But enough of the past, how long have you been with this Caravan.”
“For a few months now,” he said equivocally. That told me
all I needed to know. Deserter. But I had not the heart to
hold it against him. In the final stretch, the Mad Jeddak had
spent as much time murdering his own supporters and soldiers as fighting
“You are the last person I would think to see joining a slave
Caravan,” he said thoughtfully.
“Why is that?”
“You never had use for slavery, it was well known. Even
when you were fighting Ras Kanhar’s battles for him, you would not let
slaves see to your kit.”
“It seemed a way to live longer then.” I replied noncommitally.
“For a resentful slave was often the doorway for assassins, and there was
much resentment among the Mad Jeddak’s retinues. There is no dishonour
in being a slave, or owning one.”
“You had little enough use for either.”
“You know, among the Great White Apes, there is no slavery.
Yet the mightiest among them succors the weakest, they care for their young,
their sick, their infirm and aged. It is strange that these
savage beasts, in this one respect, seem greater than our civilized peoples.”
“Well,” he said, “that attitude might win you friends among great
apes, though I doubt it. But you’d better keep your mouth shut around
I put on a grin, after all, he was right.
“Just so!” I said. “I am here to serve, not
to make speeches. Perhaps I should get on with it. Can you
take me to the quartermaster?”
The quartermaster it turned out was a virtual twin of the slave
trader. Paja Hasho, by their names, I marked them as brothers.
He was far more practical than his brother.
“Torakar Thor,” he said, grinning up at me. “Harkaz
Du is very eager to meet you.”
“Harkaz Du,” I replied, “is very anxious to meet all the Mad Jeddak’s
old officers, even the lowly and unimportant ones.”
“Ah, but he has a special fondness for you,” he replied, “do you
know that he has given explicit bounties that you must be recovered alive
“Impossible conditions, I must assure you.”
“Impossible they may be,” he said, “but I would watch myself among
the other guards. Some have a bent to foolishness. In
particular, steer clear of Ro Kantos who has a few grudges and many debts.
And mind Hantol, for he makes a point of revenging every slight.”
I filed away these names soberly. There would others, I
“Now, where can I put you that you’ll inconvenience us the least?”
He seemed to ask himself.
“Aha,” he said, “a female Panthan! You are well qualified
to guard the harem wagon of luscious and noble beauties.”
Out of his view, Han Osar’s face went stiff. It seemed that
whether or not we had fought together, he had indeed heard of me.
Or at least, he’d heard enough of my tastes not to want to allow me anywhere
near the harem wagon, were it his choice.
“No, no,” the quartermaster puzzled it over, “too much jealousy
from the other Panthans. I cannot give a new hire such a coveted
assignment. Are you good with a Thoat? Can you
“You’ll find no better scout,” I assured him.
“Done then,” he chuckled. “But be warned, these are
unforgiving deserts and once we are underway, the only safe shelter is
back at the Caravan.”
And that was my introduction to the slave trade. I
did not mind being a scout. Our role was to ride far out beyond the
Caravan, searching for the traps and pitfalls, spying for routes.
On these deserts of Barsoom, the landscape is in constant change.
A land of cliffs and rocks one summer may be covered over with smooth dunes
the next. There are no shortage of pitfalls for the unwary,
and there was a constant risk of predators ranging from Banths and Wild
Calots to tribes of Green Men.
Still, I enjoyed the work, for as often as not, it was just me
and a Thoat and a few trusted companions, riding the endless emptiness.
Of course, at the end of each day, we would make our way back
to the Caravan to report to the Navigators and try to eat and sleep to
the moans of human misery. Even in the soldiers camps, we could hear
them out there, shivering and naked in their chains, poor wretches who
circumstances had condemned to walk across the burning sands.
Overseers wandered among them, even at night, their whips crackling ceaselessly.
During the day, the slaves walked in the center of the Caravan,
with lines of wagons at their front and back. The wagons contained
supplies, food and water, trade goods, special slaves, and of course, important
personages like the Pasha Hasho, the quartermaster and the slave trader
Haja Obol. We Panthans, of course, were expected to sleep under
the stars, and live in the shelter of our weapons. Had we complaints,
we need only walk among the misery of the slaves to see what life is like
for the unfortunate.
For a few weeks, life passed uneventfully. Even Harkaz Du
gradually faded from my mind.
Then, one night, after I had occasion to thrash Thas Kavot, an
overseer who had found a reputation for pleasuring himself on the bodies
of helpless slaves, I thought it would be worthwhile to wander the camp
for a bit, just in case Thas’ friends wished to renew the conversation
he had started.
Walking among the Slave Trader’s personal wagons, I stopped short.
There, beneath the light of the moon was the most beautiful woman I had
ever seen. She stood naked in chains, but not even chains could
alter the quiet dignity she carried within her. Her hair flowed
like a mass of night, cascading around her shoulders, her form lithe and
graceful, her skin shone with unnatural lustre. For a second,
our eyes met, I found a flicker there of surprise, an instant of hope,
and then sad resignation. She turned away from me.
Paja Hashto appeared just then to wave me off. Common
Panthans were not allowed so close to the harem slaves.
I barely noticed him. For the sight of this strange
beauty had gone through my heart like a spear. I could not shake
the image of her from my mind.
I did not even know her name.
THREE - AZARA
Her name, I learned through discreet inquiries, was Azara.
But beyond that, there was little that was known. Not even the other
harem slaves, notorious gossips, knew much of her.
Harem slaves, by virtue of their noble rank or surpassing beauty,
were the most valuable cargo, thus they were afforded privileges not available
to the other slaves. Unlike the normal slaves, who marched
in chains behind the Zitidars, the harem slaves rode in a special wagon.
They ate and were better treated than the panthans. Nor were
they unhappy with their status, for the most part, for they knew their
value, knew they were protected and knew that they would, even in slavery,
live lives of privilege. Thus they were seldom even chained.
Where would they run to that might offer them a better lot than they had
Not Azara though. I conceived a dozen different pretexts
to visit the forwards wagons, glimpsed her a handful of times, and each
time found her in chains. My circumspect investigations reported
that she was both retiring and morose. Needless to say, this
only fed my fascination.
I frequented the forward wagons at every opportunity, catching
further glimpses of the mysterious beauty. Each sight of her
set my heart to pounding. The view of her profile, her figure, the
exquisite sadness that seemed to radiate from her, each glimpse of her
became a small treasure for me.
I was, of course, popular with the other harem slaves.
They tittered and giggled, fascinated by the thought of a warrior woman,
and further fascinated by their rumours of my tastes. Any other
time, I would have dived into the pleasures of their flesh, plowing my
way through their willing bodies like a hungry Banth.
But now, they were pale and pallid creatures, barely worth the
attention, as I pursued my mysterious beauty.
It was on one such occasion that I had a stroke of luck.
I was attending to the quartermaster’s wagon on yet another pretext,
this one relaying complaints from some of the drivers as to their Zitidars
livery, and hoping for another glimpse of my strange beauty, when suddenly,
there was a womanly scream.
The quartermaster and I burst from his wagon, my sword drawn before
my feet lit on the sands. Before or eyes, Haja Obol was scrambling
for his life, his face a mask of blood, as an enraged Pathan pursued him
with a whip.
As the slave trader fell to his knees before us, gibbering and
squealing in a fashion most appalling, I stepped around him, facing the
Pathan. It was, I found, Han So, an arrogant fool
much given to bullying.
“Hold, Han So,” I shouted, “what is the meaning of this?”
“This Ulsio,” Han So spat, “had the gall to try to whip me.
I merely return to him the pleasure he sought to offer me.”
Behind me, the slave trader, still squalling like a woman, climbed
into the arms of the quartermaster. I spared a glance to determine
that his wounds were mostly superficial, though likely painful.
The slaver’s whip is not a tool noted for its gentle touch.
“It seems you have made your argument persuasively,” I replied.
“No more need be said. Stand down and all will be forgotten.”
But the enraged Panthan would have none of it.
“I’ve not finished teaching this Ulsio his lesson,” he advanced
menacingly towards me.
“I will not allow this,” I told him.
In answer, he cast his whip savagely. It coiled around
my sword arm, its touch like a flaming brand. The sword dropped from
my nerveless fingers and I fell to my knees, with only the presence of
mind to grab the burning fibre of the whip before he could yank it back
and flay me.
“Allow this?” He snarled. “By Issus, I am tired
of you, half-Thern! I would see your whole cursed race consigned
And with that, he pulled his sword and rushed me.
I scrambled to pick up my sword in my other hand, while retaining my grasp
upon his whip. After that, it was a tense few minutes as we
parried and riposted, tugging each other this way and that way on the ends
of his whip.
But finally, it came clear to him that I was his superior, and
his demeanor changed.
“Peace, Torakar Thor,” he cried out, “Accept my surrender,
for it is not right that two noble warriors should spill each others blood
for the sake of this Ulsio. I give.”
Hearing this, I slackened my attack, careful not to let my guard
down. But I reckoned without the whip wrapped around my good
arm. For as soon as I relaxed, he pulled savagely, drawing
me too my knees. With a fierce cry, he rushed upon me.
“Die cursed Thern!”
With a desperate lunge, I ran him through, my blade entering his
stomach and coursing up his chest, exiting beside his neck.
His death stroke whistled harmlessly past me, losing strength, the sword
slipping from his nerveless fingers, even as his face relaxed in final
sleep. He fell dead.
I stood, stripping the whip’s coils from my arm.
“What a display of swordsmanship,” the slave trader exulted.
“I have never seen the like. Why, you are the veritable equal of John Carter
“You two keep company, do you?” I said sourly.
Han So had surprised me with his traitorous gambit. I’d come nearer
to death than I cared to fancy. “So, what was this about?”
“The untrustworthy Calot,” the trader said, “he was the chief
of my harem guards, as high in my esteem as my own son. But
I found him taking his pleasures among my slaves, and worse, sharing them
with his cronies.”
For Pathans to misuse the regular slaves was all too common.
But of course, nothing was
allowed to diminish the value of the harem slaves.
“So you found him with a girl?”
That didn’t seem to be enough reason for attack I had witnessed.
“Worse!” He said, “he was beating a girl who refused his
“Ahhh...” Certainly, I thought, for a creature like
Han So, this was not surprising. The picture became clear.
Han So had chosen to force himself upon one of the noble slaves, who chose
to resist his advances. In the course of teaching her the error
of her ways, the slave trader had come upon him and used his whip upon
the maddened Panthan, who had taken it from him and used it.
I was glad that I had killed him.
A chill went through me. “Which girl?” I asked fiercely.
“Zo Var,” he said, “though why it should matter...”
Zo Var was a young noble girl, still not quite grasping her situation,
and as camp gossip went, completely besotted with a Panthan who had not
been Han So. It did not surprise me that she’d foolishly resist
Han So’s advances, nor that he would crave fruit she so willingly gave
to a rival.
Not Azara, I thought with considerable relief. Had
he touched a hair of Azara, his simple death would have pained me, for
I would have hungered to cut him to pieces slowly.
“Just as well that I killed him,” I said quietly, more for something
to say, than anything of substance to add.
“Well,” Paja Hasho said, “we’re now short a harem guard.
I would observe that you have demonstrated both your virtue and your skill....”
“Excellent suggestion,” the slave trader said. “Torakar
Thor, you are no longer on scouting duties, you will ride with the forward
wagons and guard both the harem and the trader wagons.”
He glanced at my bleeding arm, his eyes noting where the whip
had torn the flesh.
“See to that arm,” he said, “and then begin your duties.”
Then the two of them waddled off together, doubtless to clean
and dress his own wounds.
Peculiar, I thought to myself. I would have sold my
soul for an opportunity, and it had dropped in my lap. Fate
is truly a capricious mistress.
I requisitioned some bandages and healing salves from the quartermaster
and then found a quiet place against the side of his wagon to tend my injured
“Does it hurt?” A voice beside me came.
I was so shocked, I all but drew my sword. I am hard
to sneak up upon, even when not looking. But I had not heard
or even smelled this one until she was literally at my side, and I have
a remarkable sense of smell. She had practically no odour.
I turned, and my jaw dropped. It was the mysterious
Azara, somehow moving silently despite her chains. Or perhaps
my injuries had distracted me more than I had reckoned.
My heart pounded at the sight of her, for long had I wished for
this meeting, had memorized a hundred speeches to make her fall in love
with me. But suddenly, I was tongue tied and foolish, the pretty
speeches all flown from my head.
“Oh...” I said, “er... It’s just a wound, nothing
to be concerned with.”
I cursed myself, for I’d all but rejected her. She
would turn around and walk away.
Instead, she smiled gently, and knelt beside me. Her chains
rattled slightly this time.
“So you are the mysterious Torakar Thor,” she said.
“It is such a harsh name. May I call you Tora.”
I seldom allow anything but Torakar.
“Tora is fine,” I said breathlessly.
She lifted my arm to examine the marks of the whip.
“Zo Var,” she said, “shall be eternally grateful.
As we all are. Han So was a brute.”
“Yes,” I said dumbly, again, kicking myself.
“Let us see to this,” she said, and with utmost gentleness, she
carefully salved and bandaged my wound.
“Is this all right,” she asked, as she worked on me.
“Its perfect,” I replied, staring at her exquisite face, her perfect
form, her gentle hands. Staring into sad, wise, gentle eyes.
Staring at lips I ached to press mine against and make my own.
FOUR - A BAD NIGHT
The next weeks were pure bliss.
At the forward wagons, I could forget about the moaning hoard
of slaves marching through the sands behind us. Instead, I
stood high in the Caravan, favourite to both the Quartermaster and
the Slave Trader. The harem slaves flirted ceaselessly with
me, the duties were light, and the nights were long.
On these nights, under the light of Cluros and Thuria, I pursued
my careful seduction of Azara, letting a friendship blossom between us.
She sought out my company more and more, and though she was taciturn
about her past, I learned things about her. She was a princess
from a city called Aztor, I could not admit to having been there, but I
granted the recollection that it had once formed a part of Jahar’s dominion.
I learned little more, she was evasive about her past, as was I.
She wore her sadness like a cloak, and hinted at secrets.
But all this made her even more alluring to me.
And so, night after night, we would sit together, talking quietly
of inconsequential things, and my regard for her deepened.
Oh, can I tell you how her rare laughter made my soul leap.
Can I relate the happiness that I found in each fleeting smile from her.
How my heart beat at her nearness when we sat together. How
each accidental or casual touch made me want to seize her in my arms and
press my lips fiercely to her.
“I need to escape,” she said quietly, “before we reach our destination.”
This came as no surprise to me. Unlike the other harem
slaves who had reached some accommodation with their lot, Azara had refused
to accept her fate. Both the slave trader and the quartermaster had
privately advised me of her previous escape attempts, the reason for her
chains, and had bid me to watch her carefully... Something I’d been
only too happy to do.
I shrugged noncommitally.
“I need to reach my parents,” she said. “Help me,
and they will pay you handsomely.”
I felt a sting with her words. For all our friendship,
she still saw me as merely a sword for hire. I would have done
anything for love, but instead, she offered money.
“Why not finish the journey and let them pay your ransom,” I said
sourly. “This is the common practice. Surely the
Jeddak of a city like Aztor will not be outbid?”
“It is not so simple as that,” she said, her lip trembled on the
verge of weeping. “For if we reach our destination, no amount of
wealth may save me.”
“What awaits you?” I snapped.
“I cannot say.”
“Of course,” I said, “you cannot say. You say nothing at
all. We’ve spent fortnights talking, but I know less about you than
I do my Thoat. You are nothing but secrets.”
“Please,” she whispered, “I will pay. If you can get me....”
But it was the wrong thing to say to me at that moment.
“You think I am so cheap?” I demanded. “I have sworn an
oath of service, and you think I will break that oath for a few coins?
Besides, I am only one sword...”
“The finest sword,” she said quickly.
“One sword against a hundred in this camp! With nothing
to flee to but endless desert, Banths and Green men! I could run
off with you tonight, with all the supplies we could carry, and in a fortnight,
we’d both be dead in the desert, or in chains behind the Zitidars.”
“Not now then,” she pleaded with me, “but soon, when we are closer
to cities and shelter...”
“Let us not speak of it,” I said.
I stood and walked away, my guts churning. The feelings
of romance and tenderness she had inspired within me, lay in my mouth like
ashes. It is a harsh thing to see yourself as others see you.
And perhaps harsher still when you realize how little they see in you.
The friendship between us, my carefully nurtured seeds of romance,
it all seemed like a cruel joke now. For as I had carefully
cultivated her, she had chosen to play me. My heart ached,
and I seethed with anger and disappointment.
In another mood, I might have made my way to the harem wagon and
found a willing partner to exhaust myself with. But any woman
tonight would have reminded me of her. Instead, I felt the
need for the company of men, of Panthans. I made my way down
towards the Panthan fires at the edges of the campsite.
Marching stiffly, I circled the reclining Zitidars, coming up
on a likely campfire, when the sound of my name stopped me.
“Torakar Thor,” a man was saying. “You’d look far
before you find a better fighter or a more loyal officer.”
“Loyalty to the Mad Jeddak?” another scoffed.
“That’s no virtue.”
“Aye,” the first man said, “and before him, Vankar Val, and before
that, the Council of Six, and Hin Abtol, the Panthan’s Guard of Lux, and
even Tul Axtar of Jahar. But what of it?
We have all served rulers who were less worthy than they might be.
But I do not speak of that. Her loyalty is to her fellows,
for she’s never betrayed those beneath her, or played unfair with those
“That may or may not be,” a man scoffed. I recognized
him as Mal Mothis. “Though for myself, I would be hard pressed
indeed before I accepted service with the likes of Hin Abtol or the Council
“Indeed,” it seemed to be conceded, “she has not chosen wisely.
But her valor is beyond reproach.”
“Valor in the service of monsters?” Mal Mothis joked.
“Surely that must be reproached. This speaks not to principal or
honour, but to the most naked self interest. By Thuria’s light,
look at her here, she’s wangled her way from a mere scout to sit in Haja
Obol’s very lap.”
“I should prefer to think that there are better reasons for her
choices than simple hope of profit,” my defender said. “For
she’s seen little enough reward if she’s but a guard in this Caravan.”
“Well,” said Mothis, “greed needs meet with cleverness for profit.”
“Clever enough to save our lives at the battle of Hef Anar,” my
defender said quietly.
“Helium won that battle,” Mothis replied. “And won
“Aye,” another offered, “and it is tiresome to hear her constantly
harping against Helium. Helium the bloody. Helium the awful.
Helium the all devouring scourge of Barsoom, as she would have it.”
“Well,” my defender said, “she perhaps overstates her case against
Helium and John Carter. But she has a point that the ruler of a single
city may be overthrown or conquered, and thus are more susceptible to just
government. Whereas the ruler of a hundred cities may be all
but impossible to defeat, thus opening the gates of misrule.”
“We should all be misruled like Helium,” someone joked.
My cheeks burned as they all laughed.
“Oh, and what is this thing about White Apes?” another asked.
“As much as she damns the sins of Helium, she lauds the virtues of White
Apes? You’d think a white ape was her mother?”
“It is self hatred,” Mal Mothis expounded. “She
is half Thern and so she hates John Carter and Helium for destroying her
nation. If not for the Warlord, she probably thinks she would
be a Thern Princess.”
“Hardly a Princess,” someone said, “the Therns were not kind to
“Ahh,” Mothis said, “but without John Carter, she would not be
a half breed at all. Her very mongrel nature, which she hates, her
red man blood, which she despises, is the consequence of her peoples defeat
at the hands of the Warlord. This is why she signs onto every
tyrant who opposes Helium.”
“Ultimately,” Mothis continued, “what she hates is the mongrel
taint of her blood, and since she cannot cut out half of herself, she displaces
her anger onto Helium. She hates her womanly nature, and thus
she embraces the way of the Panthan. I have seen this before,
and I can assure you, there is no virtue. Her every act and
deed is based solely in her own loathing of herself and her nature, and
her rebellion against it.”
“And her praise for White Apes?”
“White Apes were sacred to the Therns,” Mothis said easily.
“What about her taste for women rather than men.”
But I did not hear the rest. Instead, I had stalked off
in a cold rage. I marched around the camp, pretending to inspect
wagons and beasts. But this did not help, my fury grew, and I found
myself wanting to take it out on those around me. At length,
I resolved that I was unfit for human company. I decided to
do some scouting, as sentries told me that the day’s scouts had yet to
This in itself was not unusual. Many times when I had scouted
for the Caravan, I had camped away overnight. But it did provide
me with a plausible excuse to mount a Thoat and get away from the Caravan.
The cool night air and empty desert would help me get my temper under control.
As I saddled a desert Thoat, a man came around the side of the
beast. It was Mal Mothis. We stared at each other in
Then I punched him in the face. He went down hard
and did not get up. I stared, waiting for him to rouse.
A duel to the death suited my temper tonight. But he did not wake.
Finally, I finished saddling and went out into the night, leaving him breathing
shallowly behind me.
It was an odd thing. I did not want to get too far
from the Caravan. I simply didn’t want to be in it. I rode
until I could barely see the lights of its fires, and then began a slow
Then something very strange happened.
I smelled Thoats.
This was hardly unusual for me. I have always been
gifted with an unusually acute sense of smell, well beyond those of most
Red Men. It may be my heritage, although who truly knows?
Living as I did, that meant that I became very familiar with the unmistakable
odour of Thoats. Normally, of course, that simply meant I was
downwind of the Caravan.
Except that this time, I was upwind, and the wind blew from the
desert towards the us.
I reined my beast in, forcing it to pause and reflected
Then, without apparent urgency, I wheeled my beast about and continued
to circle the Caravan. When I had described a substantial portion
of an arc, I paused my Thoat once again, and waited for the patterns of
wind to shift.
Once again, the smell of Thoats came to me.
From the wrong direction.
Abruptly, I spurred my heels into the beast. For a second,
it reared up in rebellion, but then it turned about at my commands and
began to gallop headlong towards the Caravan, its course twisting and turning
to avoid what I was sure were weapons trained at my back.
I raced through the fires, sending Panthans running and cursing.
I paid no mind.
“Awake!” I shouted. “Awake! The Green
Men are about to attack!”
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