PART II: Chapters 5-8
RECKONING IN A DEAD CITY
FIVE - LIFE OR FREEDOM
The Panthans quickly scrambled, rushing for their weapons and
taking up defensive positions, dousing fires and moving Thoats and Zitidars
into protected positions. Their actions were brisk and professional,
the elegant efficiency of trained fighting men.
Unfortunately, the Green Men did not appear at my heels.
Instead, after long moments, the quartermaster recovered enough presence
to challenge me.
“Where are these Green Men?” he demanded.
“They’re out there,” I replied. “They have us surrounded.”
“Indeed?” he scoffed. “Then why aren’t they attacking?”
Why indeed, I wondered. The Green Men of Barsoom have
seldom shied away from conflict.
“I’m not sure,” I said, thinking hard. “It is night,
and they prefer not to move at night...”
A couple of Panthans nodded sagely at this, though the quartermaster
“And further,” I argued, “we are camped and thus all but fortified,
we will be easier prey when traveling during the day, when we are strung
out in a line.”
“Hmmph...” the Quartermaster replied. “So we should
simply stay here until our food and water run out? I do not
think so. Tell me more about these Green Men, how many of them
are there? How many did you see?”
“I do not know,” I admitted. “I did not see them.”
His expression told me I had made a mistake.
“You did not see them?” he asked. “How do you know
then? Did you find their tracks? Their campsites?
Was it fresh?”
“I didn’t find their campsites.”
His brow furrowed.
“Did you hear their voices.”
“Then how do you know that there are any Green Men out there?”
This was going to be awkward, I thought.
“I smelled them.”
“You smelled them?”
“I caught the scent of their Thoats, upwind, from two different
“You smelled Thoats?” The quartermaster gave a slow casual
glance at the Thoats ringing our camp. A round of laughter
“Upwind,” I repeated. “The wind was blowing towards
the camp, and the smell of Thoats was away.”
He rolled his eyes expressively.
“Where are our scouts?” I asked desperately.
A look of calculation came over him as he considered this.
“The scouts are overdue. They should have been back tonight.
Hear me,” I pleaded, “delay striking camp until the scouts return.
If they do return, it will only be a few hours delay. If they do
not, we will know our enemy is out there.”
“We could lose the better part of a day,” he mused.
“That is unacceptable.”
“We could send some scouts out, short range,” a Panthan offered.
“If there is anything out there, we’d find it. And if there’s nothing,
we’d know by morning.”
“You’d be throwing your lives away,” I snapped.
“Perhaps,” the quartermaster replied, “but that is what we pay
He turned to the Panthan who had spoken. “Send out
three pairs of men, one in each direction. Return by morning.”
By morning, none had returned. The Quartermaster sought
“I must, by needs,” he said, “have some reservations.
None of the men have returned, nor have our previous scouts.
Perhaps there is something out there. Or perhaps it is merely
laziness or bad luck. You are asking me to put great store by your
sense of smell.”
“So allow me a test. Who stands behind you?”
“Vel Vair,” I replied easily. “I’d know her perfume
“True enough,” he replied.
I narrowed my eyes, and inhaled deeply, hoping for a gust.
“A fighting man,” I said, “he has the smell of Zitidars.”
The quartermaster nodded carefully. He still wasn’t satisfied.
Was there someone else? A faint clink came to my ear, the sound of
“Azara of Aztor,” I concluded.
“I am half persuaded,” he said, “of your supernatural talent.”
“It is not supernatural,” I replied, “merely an ability that all
have but few learn to exercise.”
He continued to look dubious, but merely continued.
“I shall ask my brother for a delay. We shall see what comes.”
Unfortunately, the slave master, Haja Obol, when matters were
brought to his attention, ruled against us.
“What nonsense,” he said, “a rank odour and a few lazy scouts
and you all turn to shrinking women?” He glanced at me.
“We strike and move without further delay.”
My heart sank with the bitter certainty that we were walking into
a trap. At best, I decided, I might be able to preserve my
own life. So, as the camp was struck and the Caravan prepared
to move forward, I selected a powerful Thoat and loaded him heavily with
all the supplies and ammunition I could find. I noted a few
other fighting men, those who had also fought for the Mad Jeddak and knew
my reputation were doing likewise.
The Caravan had not yet moved when a cloud of dust appeared over
the dunes. To my ears came the thunder of Thoats hooves.
Once again, hoping it was not too late, I sounded the alarm.
Luckily, my warnings had not gone completely unheeded. The
Panthans were well prepared to fight, as were the Zitidar drivers.
Even as the Green horde thundered down upon us, fighting squadrons organized
to meet them and the beasts and wagons were drawn into a circle.
Luck was with us, I thought grimly. Had the Green
Men only waited a few hours more, the Caravan would have been so strung
out that no defense would have been possible. A sally of Panthans
rode out to meet them and were slaughtered by the grim silent green warriors.
At best, they bought the rest of us time.
I rode back among the screaming slaves, whipping them and the
overseers equally, driving them within the circle of wagons, even as the
rifles of the Green Men fired upon us. Ducking within the circle,
I continued to ride, shouting out orders, shoring up defenses, closing
I came to Haja Obol.
“What shall we do?” the slave driver blubbered. “We
are all doomed. Save us, save us.”
Around us, overseers and officers, whipmen all abandoned their
posts. Within the circle of wagons and beasts everything was
descending into chaos.
This whimpering fool was of no use, I decided. I rode
on to a cluster of Panthans who had some semblance of organization.
“Disperse,” I yelled. “Gather others around you. We
need to secure a perimeter.”
“It’s futile,” the Panthan yelled back. “We’re lead
by Ulsios, and we have not the numbers to stand them off. We
number less than two hundred fighting men, and I estimate twice our number
I cursed. The logic of numbers was inexorable.
Even if we could harden our defense, there were simply not enough fighters.
But this was a slave Caravan, was it not? An idea
came to me.
“You are lead by me,” I shouted back, “the hero of Horsa Straits!
I lead an army alive from a worse trap than this.”
“But there aren’t enough of us!”
“Obey me!” I shouted, “and I’ll get you numbers.”
With that, I dashed off to the interior of the circle, riding
among the terrified masses of slaves.
“Fighting men,” I called out. “Surely some among you were
fighting men! Who can hold a weapon? Who will fight
for their life?”
A wavering chorus of assents rose up.
“Strike the chains of any willing to fight,” I told the overseers.
“Organize them into squads.”
“On whose authority?” an overseer protested. I struck
him down with the flat of my sword.
“If we want to live, we must all fight,” I yelled.
“I will fight for freedom!” A man roared.
“First you must fight for your life,” I called back.
“Weapons,” someone called.
“Whatever we can find!”
The next hours were a blur to me, a nightmare of screams and shudders,
the smell of blood and burning filling the air. Oddly, I do not remember
much of combat. I have flashes of dueling a green warrior, shooting
a thoat, of my sword drenched with gore. But for the most part,
I rode to and fro among the wagons, giving orders, shouting encouragement,
organizing squads, finding weapons, shoring up defenses everywhere.
The situation was bad. Though we had numbers in freed slaves,
their weapons were barely worth attention. Makeshift wooden
clubs, chains, a scattering of swords. Whenever a fighting
man fell, a freed slave was there to pick up his weapons. But still,
we were being cut to pieces. I had to find a way to reverse
this trap we were in. I thought hastily, I needed to get the
green men into close combat, where we could drown them in numbers.
“Separate the wagons,” I yelled. “Make a gap.”
“But if we do,” a fighting man protested, “they will ride in among
“Exactly,” I snapped.
In all the confusion, somehow, we were able to make a gap, and
true to form, the Green Men, seeing what they thought was weakness, charged
But to their surprise, no sooner had they charged within, than
they were overwhelmed by hordes of freed slaves. They were
pulled from their Thoats, and literally battered to death by bare fists
and pieces of wood. Their salvaged weapons distributed among
their murderers and turned upon their fellows.
Slowly, the tide of battle seemed to turn, but the Green Men never
relented. Even as their numbers dwindled, their females entered the
battle, and they too died. By the end, there was nothing left
but an injured handful.
Finally, the last of them, a tight knot of a dozen, were ringed
by slaves and Panthans. I rode up to them.
“Surrender,” I called, “and I offer your lives and honour.”
The Green Men do not have slavery as we Red Men understand it.
But they do have a tradition of surrender and obedience to greater warriors.
“Bah,” one of the Green Men responded. “You have no
honour to offer. We are warriors overcome by the numbers of cringing
“That may be,” I said, “but you are overcome nevertheless.
It does not lie for you to mock those who have vanquished you.”
One by one, the Green Warriors and Women threw down their weapons,
and I made them swear loyalty. I felt at ease then, for unlike
the Red Man, the Green folk never betray their oaths.
Haja Obol took this occasion to finally come out of hiding.
“Oh insufferable tragedy,” he told me, rubbing his hands together.
“We shall never recoup our losses. Hundreds of slaves have
been killed. A handful of Green Men, while of some exotic value,
cannot balance our scales. Why, oh why, did you sacrifice my
previous slaves rather than do the simple tasks you were paid for?”
I was astounded.
“Were it not for the efforts of the slaves,” I told him, “we would
all be dead.”
“Or more likely,” he said, “some of my mercenaries would have
been scratched while earning their pay. Well, there’s no help
for it now. But you can forget about your bonus.”
He turned to his Overseers.
“Reform the slaves,” he ordered. “Have them back in
chains within the hour, see to the wounded, repair the wagons. We’re
well delayed, and we shall never make a profit if these insufferable delays
But to my amusement, the Overseers, with perhaps more sense of
their situation, made no move.
Instead, a man stepped forward, the slave who had challenged me.
He wielded a red man’s sword and a green man’s pistol.
“I think,” he said, “that having fought for my life, now I shall
fight for my freedom.”
Behind him, there was a chorus of cheers.
SIX - FREEDOM AND TREACHERY
That was the end of the Slave Caravan, for the newly armed slaves
refused to accept their chains and declared freedom. The Slavemaster’s
Panthans and Overseers were far outnumbered, so there was little point
in contesting this declaration.
Tension remained, since many of the Overseers who had tended the
slaves found themselves hated. The Panthans formed a third
group of fighting men, caught between the two factions. Most
of us, understood that a further battle among ourselves would be disastrous.
Whoever was the victor of such a struggle would risk dying in the desert.
Thus, I found myself elected leader of the Caravan, as perhaps
the only one with the trust of both Panthans and free slaves.
Even the slave master and his overseers acceded, though with poor grace,
to my elevation.
Leadership was a burden that I had not sought and did not enjoy.
Rather, each faction elected a committee to advance its causes, and thus
I was trapped in endless rounds of meetings and squabbles.
Still, we did manage to progress. The Slave Caravan
obviously could not travel to its destination of Tarzhor, otherwise, the
slaves would simply be clapped again in irons and sold on the block, a
fate that most had no wish to embrace.
Instead, in yet another endless committee meeting, wrangling factions
arguing ceaselessly with our navigator, settled upon another city
within our range. Aztor. I would be remiss if I failed
to admit that I myself pushed for this city.
Azara laughed with joy when I gave her this news.
I realized it was the first time I had seen her truly happy, and the sight
made my heart take wing. She had a smith cast off her chains,
and for a time, we were inseparable.
“Sweet Tora,” she said to me, “can you ever forgive me?”
“There is nothing to forgive,” I told her.
“But I treated you like a paid servant, offered you money instead
of friendship,” she said. “I am ashamed to have dishonoured you so.
I was frightened and desperate and did not think of wounding you.”
“Shush,” I whispered, “for I would bear a thousand wounds more
grievious, for but the sight of you.”
Our faces were very close, and once again, my heart swelled to
bursting, and I thought I would fall into those strange eyes.
She kissed me.
And that night, we made love beneath the moons of Barsoom, and
in my heart I pledged my life and love to her happiness.
The Caravan ground on, without incident. My times
with Azara seemed always too fleeting. Endlessly, I was called upon
to adjudicate squabbles and disputes, settle the arguments of committees,
deal with a dozen requests and a hundred demands.
Yet still, a sort of peace descended upon us. There were
no murders in the night, each faction looked to itself and respected the
others. Even the slave master and his crew seemed, if not to
embrace the new situation, to accept it.
Perhaps this strange tranquility, and the endless passage of dunes,
lulled me into a false security. Little did I know that disaster
was in the offing.
The slaves, as you might guess, wanted nothing more than their
freedom. But even among them, there were those who saw advantages
and security in slavery that exceeded the uncertain benefits of liberty.
Others among them were corrupt or corruptible.
The Panthans found themselves deeply unhappy, for they would end
this journey with little more than the harnesses on their backs and the
swords at their hips. There is no profit in a Caravan of freed slaves.
Thus, some among them, might seek an opportunity to recoup their losses.
The slave master and his cronies were the unhappiest of all.
At all times fearing revenge from their former victims, faced with no prospects
than surviving a journey through the desert to encounter financial ruin
when we finally reached civilization. They were driven to find
a way to salvage their fortunes.
I must blame myself, for had I not been so fully occupied with
the day to day affairs of the Caravan, or with my pleasant nights of love
with Azara, I should have anticipated what was to happen and guarded against
But instead, I failed, and all the tragedy that was to come must
be consigned to my authorship.
I on my way to visit the quarters of the Harem slaves wagon, where
Azara and other noble slaves resided, when Haja Obol, the former slave
trader, accosted me.
“Tora,” he said, and then seeing my scowl, amended, “Torakar,
I must speak with you at once.”
“I am busy,” I said, “can we not leave it to the morning.”
But I paused anyway. His concerns were trivial and
blustery, things I had heard before. He seemed unaccountably nervous.
I waited patiently, but when it seemed that he had nothing of significance,
I made polite excuses and continued to the wagon.
He followed me, scampering nimbly for such a fat man.
“Torakar Thor,” he called as I ascended the ladder and opened
the door. “There is a final, vital matter!”
“What is it?” In irritation, I turned to look down
A sly craftiness slipped over his expression.
I tried to move, but it was too late. A heavy cudgel
descended upon my head, and after a shattering burst of stars exploded
across my vision, I knew no more. The last sound to reach my
ears was his treacherous laughter.
I woke to a mouth full of sand and a scalp soaked with blood.
I was bound hand and foot. I tried to move, but found that
I was buried in the sand. They had buried me alive. In
panic, I thrashed and struggled, trying to turn my face about to draw a
breath and clear the sand from my mouth and nostrils. I arched
my back, pushing upwards, struggling to crawl from my grave.
Suddenly, gentle hands lifted me and cut my bonds. My clearing
vision focused on members of the committee of freed slaves.
Behind them, I could see fire burning and hear wails and lamentations.
“What has happened?” I croaked, and then threw up.
My head throbbed with pain.
“Disaster,” one of the freed slaves said. “We are
He handed me a sheet of paper. On it, in a fine if
effeminate hand, the slave master had left his message.
“Greetings Traitors and Ingrates. You found me the
soul of compassion and generosity. Were ever slaves treated better,
their bellies always full, their labours light? Were Panthans
ever so well paid? When ever were duties so easy?
To you all, I was the soul of tenderness, labouring on your behalves as
if it were I, myself, the slave and servant. To each of you,
I all but guaranteed the best of masters, the most fitting rewards.
Many a free man or woman might have pledged themselves to slavery on the
bountiful terms I provided. And for all my good works, I craved
but the merest profit to justify my soft heart to debtors and investors.
But for all my beneficience, I did not reckon on the hate and spite within
your hearts, the churlish lack of gratitude, the simpering treachery.
You have conspired to wreck and ruin me, each footstep a symphony of costs
and delays. You have hounded me, harassed me, humiliated and embarrassed
me at every turn. You have stolen my hard earned wealth and cast
it away in the sand for no profit at all. Your harsh treatment
must be rewarded. I have departed, but I shall return with
soldiers of Tarzhor and any, Panthan or so-called Freedman who does not
willingly embrace shackles shall be tortured and put to the sword.
This Oath I Do Swear. Haja Obol, Slave Trader.”
“So the Ulsio has made his move?” I said sourly, crumpling
the letter and throwing it to the ground.
“Yes,” a freedman told me. “He has run off with a
small force of Overseers and Panthans, they have taken many of the Thoats
and slaughtered many that remained. They lamed the Zitidars
and destroyed as much of our supplies as they could reach.”
Thus, the fires, I thought. I cursed.
“They took the harem slaves with them.”
No surprise, I thought sourly. The Harem slaves might
have expected to do far better on Haja Obol’s block than hitched to poor
free men. And of all his potential slaves, they were by far
the most valuable. I would not be surprised if many of them went
willingly with him.
“What of Princess Azara,” I asked.
“Someone saw her,” they said. “We heard her crying and weeping,
calling your name. They had bound her.”
“We cannot make Aztor now before they return with soldiers.
They’ll catch us in the desert and return us to bondage, such of us as
are willing to wear chains again.”
A cold, cold chill settled over me. Involuntarily,
my features twisted and I gave a low guttural snarl such that all around
me took a step back.
“They will never reach Tarzhor. Find me a thoat,” I said,
“and such provisions as they left behind.”
I was going to show Haja Obol why both the Mad Jeddak and Harkaz
Du had learned to fear me.
SEVEN - DREAD RECKONING IN A DEAD CITY
My Thoat pounded through the Barsoomian night, its hooves churning
the sand, I drove the unwilling beast on. It would have preferred
to rest and sleep, but I was hungry for vengeance.
Dried blood flaked from my scalp and matted my hair, the fierce ride pulled
at my wound, and slow red trickles would slide down my neck.
I ignored it, as I ignored the throbbing pain in my head and the roaring
ache in my heart.
I allowed myself two thoughts. One was to find the
slave master and take my vengeance. The other to take Azara
and spirit her away with me. In my pain and exhaustion and
anger, I could not say for sure which of these two took precedence, or
even whether I truly distinguished them at all.
I spared not a moments consideration for the Caravan I had left
behind. I was sick of their endless committees, their meetings, their
demands and petitions. Let them govern themselves, all I wanted
was the freedom to pursue my vengeance. If I succeeded, they
would be safe. If I did not, well, my
I followed the tracks of Haja Obol and his cronies through the
desert. There was no time to waste. They were almost
a day ahead of me, and every moment I tarried, the ceaseless winds and
shifting sands would conceal more of their tracks.
A dozen times I lost their trail and had to lose precious minutes
or hours casting about carefully, walking and leading my thoat by hand,
my senses straining for some hint of their passage. A solid patch
of sand where one of them had paused to urinate, a gap in the rolling crest
of a dune which had marked the passage of a large animal. A
spoor or piece of litter left behind carelessly.
I am not ashamed to say that no Red Man could have followed the
trail that I found. The Red Race of Mars are city creatures born
and bred, they have let their senses grow dull. My life had lead
in different paths and so I had honed the natural gifts.
Still, to follow the trail taxed me to the limits of my skill,
and I cursed each misstep, each lost track. For each time,
I knew the fear that I might not be able to find it again.
And if I couldn’t? Then what?
My Thoat was hardly provisioned for an extended journey in the
desert. I could not even be sure I could make it back to the
Caravan. The chances were very good that if I did not catch
up to the slave trader, I might die out in these unforgiving wastes.
I could die when I found the villain, I knew that very well.
I was caught between the wild Thoat of certainty and the raging Zitidar
of fate. And for what? Love? I cursed
my foolish weakness, love and the hope of love had always betrayed me and
I knew it always would. What did I know of this strange Princess
Azara? Perhaps she had gone willingly with them after all?
Would she welcome me, or merely scream in horror at my sudden appearance?
These thoughts tortured me as I grew weary under the Barsoomian
night. I shivered in the cold, and wrapped sleeping furs around
At length, the morning came. We passed furtive outcrops
of the purple moss that covers to much of the sea beds and provides sustenance
to the Thoat and Zitidar herds of the green hordes. My Thoat
struggled to stop and eat, and after we had passed a half dozen, he became
so unruly I had to permit him to stop and graze for a few moments here
But no sooner had the creature’s hunger been blunted, than I climbed
his back and we were off again. We passed the bones of
a creature so huge a Zitidar could have walked within its ribs, a miracle
thrown up by the desert to be hidden again in a day or so, but I could
not be bothered to do more than spare it a glance. This lost
leviathan, whatever it had been, was long gone, and my thirst for vengeance
was fresh and hot.
At length, by the end of the day, my Thoat refused to gallop.
Exhaustion had lamed the creature, and only rest would heal it.
I cursed and struck at it, but to no purpose.
I had closed much of the gap though. Their trail was
now clear and obvious, I could not lose it. Even a Red Man could
follow this. How far ahead of me was Azara?
Six hours, Eight? I could not say.
But even if my Thoat was lame, I could tell from the tracks that
they themselves were in no hurry. Even at my slow pace, I was now
closing the gap between them.
Where were they going, I asked myself. There were
no living cities, not even villages in this area that anyone knew of.
There were ruins of Orovar towns and cities, abandoned for millenia but
for White Apes and craven Ulsios. I supposed they might be
heading for one such, a meeting point perhaps?
Or perhaps the site of some cache of supplies they hoped to plunder?
That hardly seemed sensible, any cache would have been despoiled by the
hungry and curious creatures that frequented these barren regions.
A meeting point? But that made no sense at all. Surely
they hadn’t originally intended to come here, had they?
But then, I considered that the slave master and his cronies had
waited a good spell for the Caravan to move along its path before departing.
It was as if they were waiting for the Caravan to bring them to a certain
point before striking off on their own.
Perhaps they’d intended to buy slaves here... Or more likely,
dispose of some. Icy fingers seized my heart as I thought of
I could not know. Hour by hour I approached closer
and closer to them. When I caught them, then I would know their
purposes. I dreamed of my fingers red with the slave masters
gore, my hands around his neck as he pleaded for his life.
Which posed another question: What exactly was I going
to do when I caught them? The ache in my head had subsided
to a dull throb, but I was hungry and thirsty, even more than my Thoat.
His men outnumbered me and they were fresher by far.
I would have to be cautious, I decided.
By the end of the day, exhaustion caught up with both me and my
Thoat. Between the shelter of two large dunes, his great bulk
ceased to move. I contemplated following on foot, but my limbs
had turned to lead, I reasoned that the slave master and his crew must
have stopped for the night as well. I could not be too far
behind them, and it would be better to catch them when I was refreshed.
Finally, I laid upon his broad back, hands upon my blade and radium pistol
Early in the morning, I woke shivering, the stinging sand blowing
into my face and eyes. It slid down my throat, making me cough.
The Thoat still slept, the blowing sand had buried its legs almost up to
Aching and thirsty, I ate and drank as much as I dared, and shared
the rest with my beast. The bleeding had entirely stopped by
that time and the pain was mostly gone. I cleaned my wound
as best as I could and wrapped a sleeping silk around my head to protect
it from the blowing sands.
The trail had vanished again, but I had their heading, and after
traveling for a few hours I picked up their traces.
The blowing sand played tricks, exposing the remains of ancient
roads, once as I traveled, I watched a sand dune in the distance melt away
to a massive worn statue of a crouching Banth, before it was slowly covered
By noon, buildings began to appear: Modest stone structures,
guardhouses perhaps, way stations, cottages. Who knew?
In the half collapsed side of one house, I spied a table its legs holding
its surface above the sand, and upon it, a few cups and plates.
A meal hastily abandoned? How many aeons had passed since some warrior
was called away from his repast, never to return?
By the late afternoon, we had come upon the buildings of a substantial
town. This was their destination, I decided.
Gazing at the buildings, I spotted the traces of life.
Weeds growing in corners and gullies, beds of purple moss in sheltered
courtyards. The traces of Ulsio burrows, and of course the
marks of Great White Apes. I slid my sword out and held my
pistol in my lap. This was a dangerous place we had come to.
My Thoat rebelled, and I did not blame him. Instead,
I found a sheltered courtyard between two low buildings where he could
rest and browse on the purple moss, and stripped off his harness.
Ancient doors, their wood petrified to stone over the ages, still hung
on the hinges, and I barred them as best I could. My creature
made no noise, as if he too could comprehend the dangers of this place.
Stealth was called for and I resolved to go on foot.
I would find their camp, watch and listen, and take my opportunity where
I found it. Moving carefully, so as to avoid the notice
of the White Apes that infested this dread place, I crept forward, keeping
to the walls and edges, moving from shadow to shadow.
Their trail now was laughably easy to spot. They’d paraded
down the center of the boulevards towards the center of the town, disturbing
the ancient dust. My progress was slow on foot, but that hardly
mattered, they were so close. I noted where the trail split,
the main body moving on, and a couple of Thoats, perhaps three, heading
towards some tall buildings. Sentries? Guards? Or perhaps
setting up to be ready to ambush someone like me?
Instinctively, I followed the lesser trail. Haja Obol
had a couple of dozen men. I would have to narrow the odds
if I were to have any chance of succeeding. The trail lead
to a tall building, a massive tower that thrust up above the town.
Carefully, I slipped inside. I noted the disturbed dust, the spoor
of Great White Apes. The men had not. Their Thoats
were quartered just beyond the door. I stayed well away from
the vicious creatures.
Drawing my sword and my radium pistol, I crept stealthily up the
ramps, following their trail in the dust. They’d stopped to
rest twice, and I could see the marks of a heavy Radium rifle and large
packages. Supplies? Ammunition?
Half way up the building, I heard guttural noises. The trail
lead no further. I thought I knew what had happened.
But supposition is a fickle Thoat and must needs be fitted with the bridle
Carefully, I stole towards the source of the sounds and came upon
a doorway. There, within the chamber, two Great White Apes
squatted over the rendered bodies of two red men. I stood frozen
for a second, not daring to breath.
The hulking brutes stood well over ten feet tall. Their
skin was a pale white, they had six limbs like the green men, a pair of
legs, a pair of arms and an intermediate pair of limbs midway on their
bodies which could serve either purpose. Their heads were unlike
the green men, of course, with massive jaws and short heavy fangs.
They had prominent flat noses and heavy brow ridges beneath which fierce
close set eyes glared at the world. Their foreheads sloped away to
a peak, upon which a single shock of dark hair grew. These
were the most feared creatures upon Barsoom, Banths shied away from conflict
with suck, and even the fearless green men trembled to face them.
Their backs were to me, they had not noticed my presence.
Carefully, I began to back away.
Suddenly, hands seized me from behind!
EIGHT - A STRANGE MEETING
Strange arms wrapped around me from behind, a hand was clapped
over my mouth. I was dragged backwards. I went
stiff, terror surging through me. Silently, I twisted against
the arms, holding them and broke away, just as my assailant drew his knife.
My sword was out.
It was one of the Panthans, Reed Ipsos, who had vanished with
the slave master, Haja Obol. We faced each other with cold
steel, not a hundred feet away, White Apes feasted on his friends.
We each had pistols, but a single shot would bring the monsters down on
top of us, as would a clash of steel or a death cry. He held
up his hands indicating peace, and then put a finger to his lips.
I nodded. Silently we crept away, continually glancing at each
other, trying to be sure we were a safe distance apart, our senses straining
for the quick sound of footsteps that would mean cold steel in one of our
It was a tense passage through the building. Every time
we came to a corner, there was the possibility of a White Ape looming before
us. At every step, we feared that one of the creatures upstairs
had spotted our footsteps and decided to follow. Finally, we
made it to the main floor, where we judged a degree of safety.
“Kar Thor,” he grunted, “it is good to see you.”
“My name is Torakar,” I snapped, and rushed him, slipping his
guard aside and striking him a savage blow with my fist against his chin.
He fell, stunned. Quickly, I snatched up his radium pistol, shucked
it of its shells and threw it down beside him.
“Have you come to join the madman,” he whispered, “or kill him?”
“I come for Azara,” I said. “She is all I want, the rest
of you can rot in the desert, for all I care.”
He chuckled, glancing past me into the empty street.
“Haja Obol claims that one is worth as much as the rest of his
slaves put together,” he told me, “why do you think we’ve come to this
forsaken dead city?”
“For Azara?” I said. “This place? That
makes no sense, if she were so valuable, a Jeddak or Noble or Merchant
rich and powerful enough to buy her would have her delivered to his place
“Perhaps Haja Obol fears such a place,” he whispered. “All
I know is that the meeting place was to be this dead city all along.
Or so the Overseers tell me.”
Ipsos eyes flickered as he glanced around us. So this
city had been a destination for the Caravan? That explained
our route, I supposed, and why Haja Obol had betrayed us when he did.
“Who is the purchaser?” I demanded. “Why? How is she
so valuable? She is beautiful, yes, and noble yes. But there
are girls as beautiful and high born among the harem slaves. What
makes her so special?”
“If she’s not special, then take any of the other girls,” Ipsos
Reed told me, his eyes searching for any sign of tracks or traces that
might suggest I had companions, “and Haja Obol will give her up gladly.
Take all the rest.”
“You lie,” I said.
“And you’re all alone,” he snarled, and lunged for his pistol.
I leaped to stop him, but the barrel of the pistol was suddenly between
my breasts. He pulled the trigger and the hammer struck with an empty
sound. He barely had time to look surprised, before my swing
parted his head from his body.
Ipsos Reed’s body flopped between my legs, its blood spilling
out, as the head rolled away. It came to rest against some broken
furniture, half upright, looking at me. Still wearing an expression
of shock, it blinked.
“You could have lived,” I told it softly.
I left that place, eager to be away before the smell of blood
drew hunters. I returned to the trail, noting another departure from
the main group. Again I followed that trail and found three Red Men.
Two died before they knew I was among them, and the third barely had time
to draw his blade. I had no regard for honourable combat, these men
would have shot me in the back, had they the opportunity.
There were no more departures. The main group had proceeded
to a large square at the center of the city, a place surrounded by ancient
and broken statues, where the boulevards converged. They’d
made camp by a small cluster of statues about forty degrees from me.
I slipped into a derelict building, climbing it until I reached
a rooftop. From there, I leaped to another rooftop, and then down,
finding my way from there to an adjacent building through a gap in the
walls. Cautiously I made my way until I had judged myself as
close as I could get.
I saw Azara, my heart leaped. The Panthans and overseers,
even the harem slaves walked freely, all except Azara. She was chained
to one of the statues, a pair of bored guards watched over her. She
sat with her head bowed, the image of hopelessness.
The afternoon was drawing late, and as I watched patiently, waiting
for any opportunity, another pair of guards eventually came to relieve
the watch. As they passed by her, Azara boiled into life, leaping
for the passing guard and clawing for his pistol. For a second, her
fingers scrabbled against the metal, the weapon lifted from the guard’s
hip, and I held my breath.
Then the guard tore it away and stepped out of the range of her
chains. Azara fell to her knees, covering her eyes and sobbing.
I could hear them clearly.
“Kill me,” she wept. “If you have a human feeling, if you
have a trace of mercy, then you must kill me! Place your pistol
to my head, you must destroy my brain. He will be here soon,
you must, you must!”
“Is she mad?” the guard swore.
“Mad if she thinks we’ll let her have a pistol,” one of the sitting
guards said, “I think she’d find other things to shoot than herself.”
“You don’t understand, he’s coming. You cannot conceive
of what he’s like!” she sobbed.
“I can conceive of the wealth we are promised for doing our job,”
the guard said easily.
“Fools,” she cried, and would speak no more.
“She’s like that,” the sitting guards said, rising and stretching.
“Is Vair Vel’s tent open, I need more pleasant company.”
“Wait long enough and it will be.”
The sitting guards left, and after a time, the new guards grew
bored and settled down to a game of Jetan, with board drawn crudely on
the dust and pieces from one of their pouches.
Patiently I waited until I was sure they were engrossed in the
game, and then very carefully, I picked up a pebble and flung it at Azara.
It struck the sand inches from her feet, startling her. With wide
eyes, she followed its path and spotted me instantly.
“What was that?” one of the guards asked, looking up quickly.
“Nothing,” Azara said quickly, and hid her hand. The
guard stood and quickly strode over, grabbing her wrist and pulling a fragment
of rock from her hand. He examined her chains critically.
“Nothing indeed,” he said, “if it amuses you to try to wear your
chain away with this, you’ll be a long time at it.”
“We should let her have it,” the other guard said, “it will keep
her out of trouble.”
“Until she decides to brain one of us with it?”
After they went back to their game, Azara looked directly at where
I had been and smiled. She had found hope.
For myself, I was not so confident. I had but two
pistols and a handful of shells, and I was facing twenty men. I could
see no way to attack, I might kill a half dozen before being riddled or
cut to pieces myself. I had some idea that I could pick off
stragglers as they left the camp, but none did. I could not
even think of sneaking forth to slip her away, not with those chains and
those guards. Even if I defeated the guards, there was no way to
loose the chains without being exposed. I ground my teeth in frustration,
wracking my brains for a plan, but nothing would come.
For another hour, I watched them sit at their camp fires, arguing
and sulking. The harem slaves wandered among the Panthans,
flirting. Haja Obol, the slave master frequently got up to
peer down the boulevards as if expecting something. There was
a tension in the air, a sense of expectation.
Then, as I knew must happen, a White Ape appeared, stepping boldly
into the square on the opposite side, as if it did not see the puny humans
camped. It was a bluff, I knew, the buildings behind and around
it would contain its brethren, waiting their opportunity..
However, I was astonished when, instead of unloading a volley
of gunfire at the creature, the slave master raised his voice in greeting.
“Kaor, my friend,” he called. “It is good to see
you, we were afraid that we were too early. Come, share our company.”
You could have knocked me over with a pebble, for never had I
heard a Red Man address a White Ape in such familiar tones.
The great ape growled at the puny humans. After a
moment, it was joined by another, and then another of his kind.
Gradually, their numbers increased until a full half dozen were facing
the red men from across the square. They paced back and forth
in short bursts, staring at the men, but not growling.
Again, the slave master hailed them, his voice ringing out.
“Is he among you, or have you come alone,” he said, and chuckled.
“It is of no moment, as long as you have the promised reward, for we have
He addressed them as if they were men like himself.
Amazed, I watched as he and some of his men walked casually forward to
greet the creatures like old friends. This was utter madness.
Their insanity must have astounded the White Apes since they made no response
as the men approached, until they were almost upon them.
Suddenly, with a savage roar, the tallest of the Apes attacked,
throwing itself upon the slave master and rending his body with its limbs
and fangs. At his scream, the other apes leaped upon the men
who fell quickly. The remaining guards and Panthans scrambled
for their weapons, but already, white apes were boiling out of buildings,
rushing at the puny humans who had invaded their domain.
In the confusion and excitement, I saw my opportunity and leaped
from the building where I had been watching. Dashing to Azara,
I grabbed her. She screamed in fright and tried to strike with
“Azara,” I said, “it’s not an Ape, its me. Come, we must
“Tora!” she cried, “I had thought he had come, I had lost hope!
But it was only Apes.”
“We’ll lose more than hope if we tarry,” I said, and lead her
to the nearest building, my pistol ready to shoot the first monster that
Luckily, both men and beasts were preoccupied with their battle.
We heard the screams and roars behind us long after they were out of sight.
Carefully, we made our way back to the Thoat. A single pistol shot
warned us that the battle was over. There were no longer human screams
“Will they come after us?” she asked.
“The men?” I said. “I think they’re all dead by now.”
“What about the Apes?”
“No,” I said, “they’ll feast first before they think to search
for other intruders.”
But I’d spoken to soon, for in front of us leaped a bull White
Ape. It snarled. I glanced around, I could not risk a
pistol shot for fear of summoning its brethren.
My lips curled and my brow furled, from deep within me came a
low answering rumble.
It tilted its head for a second and then bellowed.
I gave forth a series of barks and growls, keeping myself between
it and Azara.
Again, it tilted its head. I crouched, waiting for
Then it was gone.
“Come,” I whispered, dragging Azara.
“Why did it spare us?” she wondered.
“Move,” I hissed, “don’t ask questions. Don’t speak, we
don’t want to attract any more.”
We reached our Thoat without incident, and in a moment more, we
were galloping into the freedom and safety of the desert, me and my strange
beauty. Then, as we rode, I felt her lean forward to whisper
into my ear, words that caused my guts to twist.
“You spoke to it,” she whispered, “and it spoke to us, to you.”
“It was nothing, just animal growls.”
“No,” she repeated firmly, “I heard, you spoke to it.”
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