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Volume 1581
PART I: Chapters 1-4


 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 winds.

 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 a man.”

 “Both of us then,” I answered, “for I had been told the same about you.”

 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 you?”

 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.”

 He spat.

 “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 all.”

 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.


 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 my back.

 “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 Fighting Dalsos!”

 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 Horsa Straits.”

 “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.”

 I shrugged.

 “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 the enemy.

 “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.”

 I shrugged.

 “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 here.”

 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 and whole?”

 “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 was certain.

 “Now, where can I put you that you’ll inconvenience us the least?”  He seemed to ask himself.

 He brightened.

 “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 scout?”

 “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.


 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 here?

 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 to oblivion.”

 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 himself.”

 “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 advances!”

 “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 arm.

 “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.

 “Its perfect.”


 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.

 “To where?”

 “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 beside her.”

 “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 of Six.”

 “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 that war.”

 “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 half breeds.”

 “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 return.

 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 shock.

 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 circle.

 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 upon this.

 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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