ON THE RIVER ISS
In the shadows of the forest that flanks the crimson plain by
the side of the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor, beneath the
hurtling moons of Mars, speeding their meteoric way close above the
bosom of the dying planet, I crept stealthily along the trail of a
shadowy form that hugged the darker places with a persistency that
proclaimed the sinister nature of its errand.
For six long Martian months I had haunted the vicinity of the
hateful Temple of the Sun, within whose slow-revolving shaft,
far beneath the surface of Mars, my princess lay entombed--
but whether alive or dead I knew not. Had Phaidor's slim blade
found that beloved heart? Time only would reveal the truth.
Six hundred and eighty-seven Martian days must come and go
before the cell's door would again come opposite the tunnel's
end where last I had seen my ever-beautiful Dejah Thoris.
Half of them had passed, or would on the morrow, yet vivid in
my memory, obliterating every event that had come before or after,
there remained the last scene before the gust of smoke blinded my
eyes and the narrow slit that had given me sight of the interior of
her cell closed between me and the Princess of Helium for a long
As if it were yesterday, I still saw the beautiful face of Phaidor,
daughter of Matai Shang, distorted with jealous rage and hatred
as she sprang forward with raised dagger upon the woman I loved.
I saw the red girl, Thuvia of Ptarth, leap forward to prevent
the hideous deed.
The smoke from the burning Temple had come then to blot out
the tragedy, but in my ears rang the single shriek as the knife
fell. Then silence, and when the smoke had cleared, the revolving
Temple had shut off all sight or sound from the chamber in which
the three beautiful women were imprisoned.
Much there had been to occupy my attention since that terrible moment;
but never for an instant had the memory of the thing faded,
and all the time that I could spare from the numerous duties that
had devolved upon me in the reconstruction of the government of the
First Born since our victorious fleet and land forces had
overwhelmed them, had been spent close to the grim shaft that held
the mother of my boy, Carthoris of Helium.
The race of blacks that for ages had worshiped Issus, the
false deity of Mars, had been left in a state of chaos by my
revealment of her as naught more than a wicked old woman.
In their rage they had torn her to pieces.
From the high pinnacle of their egotism the First Born had
been plunged to the depths of humiliation. Their deity was gone,
and with her the whole false fabric of their religion. Their
vaunted navy had fallen in defeat before the superior ships and
fighting men of the red men of Helium.
Fierce green warriors from the ocher Sea bottoms of outer Mars
had ridden their wild thoats across the sacred gardens of the
Temple of Issus, and Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, fiercest of
them all, had sat upon the throne of Issus and ruled the First Born
while the allies were deciding the conquered nation's fate.
Almost unanimous was the request that I ascend the ancient throne
of the black men, even the First Born themselves concurring in it;
but I would have none of it. My heart could never be with the race
that had heaped indignities upon my princess and my son.
At my suggestion Xodar became Jeddak of the First Born.
He had been a dator, or prince, until Issus had degraded him,
so that his fitness for the high office bestowed was unquestioned.
The peace of the Valley Dor thus assured, the green warriors
dispersed to their desolate Sea bottoms, while we of Helium
returned to our own country. Here again was a throne offered me,
since no word had been received from the missing Jeddak of Helium,
Tardos Mors, grandfather of Dejah Thoris, or his son, Mors Kajak,
Jed of Helium, her father.
Over a year had elapsed since they had set out to explore the
northern hemisphere in search of Carthoris, and at last their
disheartened people had accepted as truth the vague rumors of their
death that had filtered in from the frozen region of the pole.
Once again I refused a throne, for I would not believe that
the mighty Tardos Mors, or his no less redoubtable son, was dead.
"Let one of their own blood rule you until they return,"
I said to the assembled nobles of Helium, as I addressed them from
the Pedestal of Truth beside the Throne of Righteousness in the
Temple of Reward, from the very spot where I had stood a year
before when Zat Arras pronounced the sentence of death upon me.
As I spoke I stepped forward and laid my hand upon the
shoulder of Carthoris where he stood in the front rank of the
circle of nobles about me.
As one, the nobles and the people lifted their voices in a
long cheer of approbation. Ten thousand swords sprang on high from
as many scabbards, and the glorious fighting men of ancient Helium
hailed Carthoris Jeddak of Helium.
His tenure of office was to be for life or until his great-
grandfather, or grandfather, should return. Having thus
satisfactorily arranged this important duty for Helium, I started
the following day for the Valley Dor that I might remain close to
the Temple of the Sun until the fateful day that should see the
opening of the prison cell where my lost love lay buried.
Hor Vastus and Kantos Kan, with my other noble lieutenants,
I left with Carthoris at Helium, that he might have the benefit
of their wisdom, bravery, and loyalty in the performance of the
arduous duties which had devolved upon him. Only Woola,
my Martian hound, accompanied me.
At my heels tonight the faithful beast moved softly in my
tracks. As large as a Shetland pony, with hideous head and
frightful fangs, he was indeed an awesome spectacle, as he crept
after me on his ten short, muscular legs; but to me he was the
embodiment of love and loyalty.
The figure ahead was that of the black dator of the First Born,
Thurid, whose undying enmity I had earned that time I laid
him low with my bare hands in the courtyard of the Temple of Issus,
and bound him with his own harness before the noble men and women
who had but a moment before been extolling his prowess.
Like many of his fellows, he had apparently accepted the new order of
things with good grace, and had sworn fealty to Xodar, his new ruler;
but I knew that he hated me, and I was sure that in his heart he envied
and hated Xodar, so I had kept a watch upon his comings and goings,
to the end that of late I had become convinced that he was occupied
with some manner of intrigue.
Several times I had observed him leaving the walled city of
the First Born after dark, taking his way out into the cruel and
horrible Valley Dor, where no honest business could lead any man.
Tonight he moved quickly along the edge of the forest until
well beyond sight or sound of the city, then he turned across the
crimson sward toward the shore of the Lost Sea of Korus.
The rays of the nearer moon, swinging low across the valley,
touched his jewel-incrusted harness with a thousand changing lights
and glanced from the glossy ebony of his smooth hide. Twice he
turned his head back toward the forest, after the manner of one who is
upon an evil errand, though he must have felt quite safe from pursuit.
I did not dare follow him there beneath the moonlight, since
it best suited my plans not to interrupt his--I wished him to reach
his destination unsuspecting, that I might learn just where that
destination lay and the business that awaited the night prowler there.
So it was that I remained hidden until after Thurid had
disappeared over the edge of the steep bank beside the Sea a
quarter of a mile away. Then, with Woola following, I hastened
across the open after the black dator.
The quiet of the tomb lay upon the mysterious valley of death,
crouching deep in its warm nest within the sunken area at the south
pole of the dying planet. In the far distance the Golden Cliffs
raised their mighty barrier faces far into the starlit heavens,
the precious metals and scintillating jewels that composed them
sparkling in the brilliant light of Mars's two gorgeous moons.
At my back was the forest, pruned and trimmed like the sward
to parklike symmetry by the browsing of the ghoulish plant men.
Before me lay the Lost Sea of Korus, while farther on I caught
the shimmering ribbon of Iss, the river of Mystery, where it wound
out from beneath the Golden Cliffs to empty into Korus, to which
for countless ages had been borne the deluded and unhappy Martians
of the outer world upon the voluntary pilgrimage to this false heaven.
The plant men, with their blood-sucking hands, and the monstrous
white apes that make Dor hideous by day, were hidden in their
lairs for the night.
There was no longer a Holy Thern upon the balcony in the Golden
Cliffs above the Iss to summon them with weird cry to the victims
floating down to their maws upon the cold, broad bosom of ancient Iss.
The navies of Helium and the First Born had cleared the
fortresses and the temples of the therns when they had refused to
surrender and accept the new order of things that had swept their
false religion from long-suffering Mars.
In a few isolated countries they still retained their age-old
power; but Matai Shang, their hekkador, Father of Therns, had been
driven from his Temple. Strenuous had been our endeavors to
capture him; but with a few of the faithful he had escaped, and was
in hiding--where we knew not.
As I came cautiously to the edge of the low cliff overlooking
the Lost Sea of Korus I saw Thurid pushing out upon the bosom of
the shimmering water in a small skiff--one of those strangely
wrought craft of unthinkable age which the Holy Therns, with their
organization of priests and lesser therns, were wont to distribute
along the banks of the Iss, that the long journey of their victims
might be facilitated.
Drawn up on the beach below me were a score of similar boats,
each with its long pole, at one end of which was a pike, at the
other a paddle. Thurid was hugging the shore, and as he passed out
of sight round a near-by promontory I shoved one of the boats into
the water and, calling Woola into it, pushed out from shore.
The pursuit of Thurid carried me along the edge of the Sea
toward the mouth of the Iss. The farther moon lay close to the
horizon, casting a dense shadow beneath the cliffs that fringed the
water. Thuria, the nearer moon, had set, nor would it rise again
for near four hours, so that I was ensured concealing darkness for
that length of time at least.
On and on went the black warrior. Now he was opposite the
mouth of the Iss. Without an instant's hesitation he turned up the
grim river, paddling hard against the strong current.
After him came Woola and I, closer now, for the man was too
intent upon forcing his craft up the river to have any eyes for
what might be transpiring behind him. He hugged the shore where
the current was less strong.
Presently he came to the dark cavernous portal in the face of
the Golden Cliffs, through which the river poured. On into the
Stygian darkness beyond he urged his craft.
It seemed hopeless to attempt to follow him here where I could
not see my hand before my face, and I was almost on the point of
giving up the pursuit and drifting back to the mouth of the river,
there to await his return, when a sudden bend showed a faint
My quarry was plainly visible again, and in the increasing
light from the phosphorescent rock that lay embedded in great
patches in the roughly arched roof of the cavern I had no
difficulty in following him.
It was my first trip upon the bosom of Iss, and the things
I saw there will live forever in my memory.
Terrible as they were, they could not have commenced to
approximate the horrible conditions which must have obtained before
Tars Tarkas, the great green warrior, Xodar, the black dator, and
I brought the light of truth to the outer world and stopped the mad
rush of millions upon the voluntary pilgrimage to what they believed
would end in a beautiful valley of peace and happiness and love.
Even now the low islands which dotted the broad stream were choked
with the skeletons and half devoured carcasses of those who,
through fear or a sudden awakening to the truth, had halted almost
at the completion of their journey.
In the awful stench of these frightful charnel isles haggard
maniacs screamed and gibbered and fought among the torn remnants of
their grisly feasts; while on those which contained but clean-
picked bones they battled with one another, the weaker furnishing
sustenance for the stronger; or with clawlike hands clutched at the
bloated bodies that drifted down with the current.
Thurid paid not the slightest attention to the screaming things
that either menaced or pleaded with him as the mood directed
them--evidently he was familiar with the horrid sights that
surrounded him. He continued up the river for perhaps a mile;
and then, crossing over to the left bank, drew his craft up on
a low ledge that lay almost on a level with the water.
I dared not follow across the stream, for he most surely would
have seen me. Instead I stopped close to the opposite wall beneath
an overhanging mass of rock that cast a dense shadow beneath it.
Here I could watch Thurid without danger of discovery.
The black was standing upon the ledge beside his boat, looking
up the river, as though he were awaiting one whom he expected
from that direction.
As I lay there beneath the dark rocks I noticed that a strong
current seemed to flow directly toward the center of the river,
so that it was difficult to hold my craft in its position. I edged
farther into the shadow that I might find a hold upon the bank;
but, though I proceeded several yards, I touched nothing; and then,
finding that I would soon reach a point from where I could no
longer see the black man, I was compelled to remain where I was,
holding my position as best I could by paddling strongly against
the current which flowed from beneath the rocky mass behind me.
I could not imagine what might cause this strong lateral flow,
for the main channel of the river was plainly visible to me from
where I sat, and I could see the rippling junction of it and the
mysterious current which had aroused my curiosity.
While I was still speculating upon the phenomenon, my
attention was suddenly riveted upon Thurid, who had raised both
palms forward above his head in the universal salute of Martians,
and a moment later his "Kaor!" the Barsoomian word of greeting,
came in low but distinct tones.
I turned my eyes up the river in the direction that his were bent,
and presently there came within my limited range of vision a
long boat, in which were six men. Five were at the paddles,
while the sixth sat in the seat of honor.
The white skins, the flowing yellow wigs which covered their
bald pates, and the gorgeous diadems set in circlets of gold
about their heads marked them as Holy Therns.
As they drew up beside the ledge upon which Thurid awaited
them, he in the bow of the boat arose to step ashore, and then I
saw that it was none other than Matai Shang, Father of Therns.
The evident cordiality with which the two men exchanged
greetings filled me with wonder, for the black and white men of
Barsoom were hereditary enemies--nor ever before had I known of
two meeting other than in battle.
Evidently the reverses that had recently overtaken both peoples
had resulted in an alliance between these two individuals--at
least against the common enemy--and now I saw why Thurid had
come so often out into the Valley Dor by night, and that the
nature of his conspiring might be such as to strike very close
to me or to my friends.
I wished that I might have found a point closer to the two men
from which to have heard their conversation; but it was out of the
question now to attempt to cross the river, and so I lay quietly
watching them, who would have given so much to have known how close
I lay to them, and how easily they might have overcome and killed
me with their superior force.
Several times Thurid pointed across the river in my direction,
but that his gestures had any reference to me I did not for a
moment believe. Presently he and Matai Shang entered the latter's
boat, which turned out into the river and, swinging round, forged
steadily across in my direction.
As they advanced I moved my boat farther and farther in
beneath the overhanging wall, but at last it became evident that
their craft was holding the same course. The five paddlers sent
the larger boat ahead at a speed that taxed my energies to equal.
Every instant I expected to feel my prow crash against solid rock.
The light from the river was no longer visible, but ahead I
saw the faint tinge of a distant radiance, and still the water
before me was open.
At last the truth dawned upon me--I was following a subterranean
river which emptied into the Iss at the very point where I had hidden.
The rowers were now quite close to me. The noise of their own
paddles drowned the sound of mine, but in another instant the
growing light ahead would reveal me to them.
There was no time to be lost. Whatever action I was to take must
be taken at once. Swinging the prow of my boat toward the right,
I sought the river's rocky side, and there I lay while Matai Shang
and Thurid approached up the center of the stream, which was much
narrower than the Iss.
As they came nearer I heard the voices of Thurid and the
Father of Therns raised in argument.
"I tell you, Thern," the black dator was saying, "that I wish
only vengeance upon John Carter, Prince of Helium. I am leading
you into no trap. What could I gain by betraying you to those who
have ruined my nation and my house?"
"Let us stop here a moment that I may hear your plans,"
replied the hekkador, "and then we may proceed with a better
understanding of our duties and obligations."
To the rowers he issued the command that brought their boat in
toward the bank not a dozen paces beyond the spot where I lay.
Had they pulled in below me they must surely have seen me
against the faint glow of light ahead, but from where they finally
came to rest I was as secure from detection as though miles
The few words I had already overheard whetted my curiosity,
and I was anxious to learn what manner of vengeance Thurid was
planning against me. Nor had I long to wait. I listened intently.
"There are no obligations, Father of Therns," continued the
First Born. "Thurid, Dator of Issus, has no price. When the thing
has been accomplished I shall be glad if you will see to it that I
am well received, as is befitting my ancient lineage and noble
rank, at some court that is yet loyal to thy ancient faith, for I
cannot return to the Valley Dor or elsewhere within the power of
the Prince of Helium; but even that I do not demand--it shall be as
your own desire in the matter directs."
"It shall be as you wish, Dator," replied Matai Shang; "nor is
that all--power and riches shall be yours if you restore my
daughter, Phaidor, to me, and place within my power Dejah Thoris,
Princess of Helium.
"Ah," he continued with a malicious snarl, "but the Earth man
shall suffer for the indignities he has put upon the holy of
holies, nor shall any vileness be too vile to inflict upon his
princess. Would that it were in my power to force him to witness
the humiliation and degradation of the red woman."
"You shall have your way with her before another day has
passed, Matai Shang," said Thurid, "if you but say the word."
"I have heard of the Temple of the Sun, Dator," replied Matai Shang,
"but never have I heard that its prisoners could be released
before the allotted year of their incarceration had elapsed.
How, then, may you accomplish the impossible?"
"Access may be had to any cell of the Temple at any time,"
replied Thurid. "Only Issus knew this; nor was it ever Issus' way
to divulge more of her secrets than were necessary. By chance,
after her death, I came upon an ancient plan of the Temple,
and there I found, plainly writ, the most minute directions
for reaching the cells at any time.
"And more I learned--that many men had gone thither for Issus in
the past, always on errands of death and torture to the prisoners;
but those who thus learned the secret way were wont to die
mysteriously immediately they had returned and made their
reports to cruel Issus."
"Let us proceed, then," said Matai Shang at last. "I must
trust you, yet at the same time you must trust me, for we
are six to your one."
"I do not fear," replied Thurid, "nor need you. Our hatred of
the common enemy is sufficient bond to insure our loyalty to each
other, and after we have defiled the Princess of Helium there will
be still greater reason for the maintenance of our allegiance--
unless I greatly mistake the temper of her lord."
Matai Shang spoke to the paddlers. The boat moved on up the tributary.
It was with difficulty that I restrained myself from rushing upon
them and slaying the two vile plotters; but quickly I saw the mad
rashness of such an act, which would cut down the only man who
could lead the way to Dejah Thoris' prison before the long
Martian year had swung its interminable circle.
If he should lead Matai Shang to that hollowed spot, then,
too, should he lead John Carter, Prince of Helium.
With silent paddle I swung slowly into the wake of the larger craft.
Warlord of Mars
... Warlord of Mars Chapter 2