A HERO IN KAOL
It was daylight when I was awakened by the sound of stealthy
movement near by.
As I opened my eyes Woola, too, moved and, coming up to his
haunches, stared through the intervening brush toward the road,
each hair upon his neck stiffly erect.
At first I could see nothing, but presently I caught a glimpse
of a bit of smooth and glossy green moving among the scarlet and
purple and yellow of the vegetation.
Motioning Woola to remain quietly where he was, I crept forward
to investigate, and from behind the bole of a great tree I
saw a long line of the hideous green warriors of the dead Sea
bottoms hiding in the dense jungle beside the road.
As far as I could see, the silent line of destruction and
death stretched away from the city of Kaol. There could be
but one explanation. The green men were expecting an exodus
of a body of red troops from the nearest city gate, and they
were lying there in ambush to leap upon them.
I owed no fealty to the Jeddak of Kaol, but he was of the same
race of noble red men as my own princess, and I would not stand
supinely by and see his warriors butchered by the cruel and
heartless demons of the waste places of Barsoom.
Cautiously I retraced my steps to where I had left Woola,
and warning him to silence, signaled him to follow me.
Making a considerable detour to avoid the chance of falling
into the hands of the green men, I came at last to the great wall.
A hundred yards to my right was the gate from which the troops
were evidently expected to issue, but to reach it I must pass the
flank of the green warriors within easy sight of them, and, fearing
that my plan to warn the Kaolians might thus be thwarted, I decided
upon hastening toward the left, where another gate a mile away
would give me ingress to the city.
I knew that the word I brought would prove a splendid passport
to Kaol, and I must admit that my caution was due more to my
ardent desire to make my way into the city than to avoid a brush
with the green men. As much as I enjoy a fight, I cannot always
indulge myself, and just now I had more weighty matters to occupy
my time than spilling the blood of strange warriors.
Could I but win beyond the city's wall, there might be opportunity
in the confusion and excitement which were sure to follow my
announcement of an invading force of green warriors to find my
way within the palace of the Jeddak, where I was sure Matai Shang
and his party would be quartered.
But scarcely had I taken a hundred steps in the direction of the
farther gate when the sound of marching troops, the clank of metal,
and the squealing of thoats just within the city apprised me of the
fact that the Kaolians were already moving toward the other gate.
There was no time to be lost. In another moment the gate
would be opened and the head of the column pass out upon
the death-bordered highway.
Turning back toward the fateful gate, I ran rapidly along the edge of
the clearing, taking the ground in the mighty leaps that had first
made me famous upon Barsoom. Thirty, fifty, a hundred feet at a bound
are nothing for the muscles of an athletic Earth man upon Mars.
As I passed the flank of the waiting green men they saw my eyes
turned upon them, and in an instant, knowing that all secrecy
was at an end, those nearest me sprang to their feet in an effort
to cut me off before I could reach the gate.
At the same instant the mighty portal swung wide and the head
of the Kaolian column emerged. A dozen green warriors had
succeeded in reaching a point between me and the gate, but they
had but little idea who it was they had elected to detain.
I did not slacken my speed an iota as I dashed among them, and
as they fell before my blade I could not but recall the happy
memory of those other battles when Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark,
mightiest of Martian green men, had stood shoulder to shoulder with me
through long, hot Martian days, as together we hewed down our enemies
until the pile of corpses about us rose higher than a tall man's head.
When several pressed me too closely, there before the carved
gateway of Kaol, I leaped above their heads, and fashioning my
tactics after those of the hideous plant men of Dor, struck down
upon my enemies' heads as I passed above them.
From the city the red warriors were rushing toward us, and from
the jungle the savage horde of green men were coming to meet them.
In a moment I was in the very center of as fierce and bloody a
battle as I had ever passed through.
These Kaolians are most noble fighters, nor are the green men
of the equator one whit less warlike than their cold, cruel cousins
of the temperate zone. There were many times when either side
might have withdrawn without dishonor and thus ended hostilities,
but from the mad abandon with which each invariably renewed
hostilities I soon came to believe that what need not have been
more than a trifling skirmish would end only with the complete
extermination of one force or the other.
With the joy of battle once roused within me, I took keen delight
in the fray, and that my fighting was noted by the Kaolians was
often evidenced by the shouts of applause directed at me.
If I sometimes seem to take too great pride in my fighting
ability, it must be remembered that fighting is my vocation.
If your vocation be shoeing horses, or painting pictures, and you
can do one or the other better than your fellows, then you are a
fool if you are not proud of your ability. And so I am very proud
that upon two planets no greater fighter has ever lived than John
Carter, Prince of Helium.
And I outdid myself that day to impress the fact upon the natives
of Kaol, for I wished to win a way into their hearts--and their city.
Nor was I to be disappointed in my desire.
All day we fought, until the road was red with blood and clogged
with corpses. Back and forth along the slippery highway the tide of
battle surged, but never once was the gateway to Kaol really in danger.
There were breathing spells when I had a chance to converse with the
red men beside whom I fought, and once the Jeddak, Kulan Tith himself,
laid his hand upon my shoulder and asked my name.
"I am Dotar Sojat," I replied, recalling a name given me by the
Tharks many years before, from the surnames of the first two of
their warriors I had killed, which is the custom among them.
"You are a mighty warrior, Dotar Sojat," he replied, "and when this
day is done I shall speak with you again in the great audience chamber."
And then the fight surged upon us once more and we were separated,
but my heart's desire was attained, and it was with renewed vigor
and a joyous soul that I laid about me with my long-sword until
the last of the green men had had enough and had withdrawn toward
their distant Sea bottom.
Not until the battle was over did I learn why the red troops had
sallied forth that day. It seemed that Kulan Tith was expecting
a visit from a mighty Jeddak of the north--a powerful and the
only ally of the Kaolians, and it had been his wish to meet his
guest a full day's journey from Kaol.
But now the march of the welcoming host was delayed until the
following morning, when the troops again set out from Kaol.
I had not been bidden to the presence of Kulan Tith after the battle,
but he had sent an officer to find me and escort me to comfortable
quarters in that part of the palace set aside for the officers of
the royal guard.
There, with Woola, I had spent a comfortable night, and rose
much refreshed after the arduous labors of the past few days.
Woola had fought with me through the battle of the previous day,
true to the instincts and training of a Martian war dog, great
numbers of which are often to be found with the savage green hordes
of the dead Sea bottoms.
Neither of us had come through the conflict unscathed, but the
marvelous, healing salves of Barsoom had sufficed, overnight,
to make us as good as new.
I breakfasted with a number of the Kaolian officers, whom I found
as courteous and delightful hosts as even the nobles of Helium,
who are renowned for their ease of manners and excellence
of breeding. The meal was scarcely concluded when a messenger
arrived from Kulan Tith summoning me before him.
As I entered the royal presence the Jeddak rose, and stepping from
the dais which supported his magnificent throne, came forward to
meet me--a mark of distinction that is seldom accorded to other
than a visiting ruler.
"Kaor, Dotar Sojat!" he greeted me. "I have summoned you to
receive the grateful thanks of the people of Kaol, for had it not
been for your heroic bravery in daring fate to warn us of the
ambuscade we must surely have fallen into the well-laid trap.
Tell me more of yourself--from what country you come, and what
errand brings you to the court of Kulan Tith."
"I am from Hastor," I said, for in truth I had a small palace
in that southern city which lies within the far-flung dominions of
the Heliumetic nation.
"My presence in the land of Kaol is partly due to accident, my
flier being wrecked upon the southern fringe of your great forest.
It was while seeking entrance to the city of Kaol that I discovered
the green horde lying in wait for your troops."
If Kulan Tith wondered what business brought me in a flier to
the very edge of his domain he was good enough not to press me
further for an explanation, which I should indeed have had
difficulty in rendering.
During my audience with the Jeddak another party entered the chamber
from behind me, so that I did not see their faces until Kulan Tith
stepped past me to greet them, commanding me to follow and be presented.
As I turned toward them it was with difficulty that I controlled
my features, for there, listening to Kulan Tith's eulogistic words
concerning me, stood my arch-enemies, Matai Shang and Thurid.
"Holy Hekkador of the Holy Therns," the Jeddak was saying,
"shower thy blessings upon Dotar Sojat, the valorous stranger from
distant Hastor, whose wondrous heroism and marvelous ferocity saved
the day for Kaol yesterday."
Matai Shang stepped forward and laid his hand upon my shoulder.
No slightest indication that he recognized me showed upon his
countenance--my disguise was evidently complete.
He spoke kindly to me and then presented me to Thurid. The black,
too, was evidently entirely deceived. Then Kulan Tith regaled them,
much to my amusement, with details of my achievements upon the
field of battle.
The thing that seemed to have impressed him most was my
remarkable agility, and time and again he described the wondrous
way in which I had leaped completely over an antagonist, cleaving
his skull wide open with my long-sword as I passed above him.
I thought that I saw Thurid's eyes widen a bit during the
narrative, and several times I surprised him gazing intently into
my face through narrowed lids. Was he commencing to suspect?
And then Kulan Tith told of the savage calot that fought beside
me, and after that I saw suspicion in the eyes of Matai Shang--
or did I but imagine it?
At the close of the audience Kulan Tith announced that he
would have me accompany him upon the way to meet his royal guest,
and as I departed with an officer who was to procure proper
trappings and a suitable mount for me, both Matai Shang and Thurid
seemed most sincere in professing their pleasure at having had an
opportunity to know me. It was with a sigh of relief that I
quitted the chamber, convinced that nothing more than a guilty
conscience had prompted my belief that either of my enemies
suspected my true identity.
A half-hour later I rode out of the city gate with the column that
accompanied Kulan Tith upon the way to meet his friend and ally.
Though my eyes and ears had been wide open during my audience
with the Jeddak and my various passages through the palace,
I had seen or heard nothing of Dejah Thoris or Thuvia of Ptarth.
That they must be somewhere within the great rambling edifice
I was positive, and I should have given much to have found a
way to remain behind during Kulan Tith's absence, that I might
search for them.
Toward noon we came in touch with the head of the column we
had set out to meet.
It was a gorgeous train that accompanied the visiting Jeddak,
and for miles it stretched along the wide, white road to Kaol.
Mounted troops, their trappings of jewel and metal-incrusted
leather glistening in the sunlight, formed the vanguard of the body,
and then came a thousand gorgeous chariots drawn by huge zitidars.
These low, commodious wagons moved two abreast, and on either
side of them marched solid ranks of mounted warriors, for in
the chariots were the women and children of the royal court.
Upon the back of each monster zitidar rode a Martian youth,
and the whole scene carried me back to my first days upon Barsoom,
now twenty-two years in the past, when I had first beheld the
gorgeous spectacle of a caravan of the green horde of Tharks.
Never before today had I seen zitidars in the service of red men.
These brutes are huge mastodonian animals that tower to an immense
height even beside the giant green men and their giant thoats;
but when compared to the relatively small red man and his breed of
thoats they assume Brobdingnagian proportions that are truly appalling.
The beasts were hung with jeweled trappings and saddlepads of
gay silk, embroidered in fanciful designs with strings of diamonds,
pearls, rubies, emeralds, and the countless unnamed jewels of
Mars, while from each chariot rose a dozen standards from
which streamers, flags, and pennons fluttered in the breeze.
Just in front of the chariots the visiting Jeddak rode alone
upon a pure white thoat--another unusual sight upon Barsoom--and
after them came interminable ranks of mounted spearmen, riflemen,
and swordsmen. It was indeed a most imposing sight.
Except for the clanking of accouterments and the occasional
squeal of an angry thoat or the low guttural of a zitidar,
the passage of the cavalcade was almost noiseless, for neither
thoat nor zitidar is a hoofed animal, and the broad tires of the
chariots are of an elastic composition, which gives forth no sound.
Now and then the gay laughter of a woman or the chatter of
children could be heard, for the red Martians are a social,
pleasure-loving people--in direct antithesis to the cold and
morbid race of green men.
The forms and ceremonials connected with the meeting of the
two jeddaks consumed an hour, and then we turned and retraced our
way toward the city of Kaol, which the head of the column reached
just before dark, though it must have been nearly morning before
the rear guard passed through the gateway.
Fortunately, I was well up toward the head of the column, and
after the great banquet, which I attended with the officers of the
royal guard, I was free to seek repose. There was so much activity
and bustle about the palace all during the night with the constant
arrival of the noble officers of the visiting jeddak's retinue that
I dared not attempt to prosecute a search for Dejah Thoris, and so,
as soon as it was seemly for me to do so, I returned to my quarters.
As I passed along the corridors between the banquet hall and
the apartments that had been allotted me, I had a sudden feeling
that I was under surveillance, and, turning quickly in my tracks,
caught a glimpse of a figure which darted into an open doorway
the instant I wheeled about.
Though I ran quickly back to the spot where the shadower had
disappeared I could find no trace of him, yet in the brief glimpse
that I had caught I could have sworn that I had seen a white face
surmounted by a mass of yellow hair.
The incident gave me considerable food for speculation, since
if I were right in the conclusion induced by the cursory glimpse
I had had of the spy, then Matai Shang and Thurid must suspect my
identity, and if that were true not even the service I had rendered
Kulan Tith could save me from his religious fanaticism.
But never did vague conjecture or fruitless fears for the future
lie with sufficient weight upon my mind to keep me from my rest,
and so tonight I threw myself upon my sleeping silks and furs
and passed at once into dreamless slumber.
Calots are not permitted within the walls of the palace proper,
and so I had had to relegate poor Woola to quarters in the stables
where the royal thoats are kept. He had comfortable, even luxurious
apartments, but I would have given much to have had him with me;
and if he had been, the thing which happened that night would not
have come to pass.
I could not have slept over a quarter of an hour when I was
suddenly awakened by the passing of some cold and clammy thing
across my forehead. Instantly I sprang to my feet, clutching in
the direction I thought the presence lay. For an instant my hand
touched against human flesh, and then, as I lunged headforemost
through the darkness to seize my nocturnal visitor, my foot became
entangled in my sleeping silks and I fell sprawling to the floor.
By the time I had resumed my feet and found the button which
controlled the light my caller had disappeared. Careful search of
the room revealed nothing to explain either the identity or business
of the person who had thus secretly sought me in the dead of night.
That the purpose might be theft I could not believe, since thieves
are practically unknown upon Barsoom. Assassination, however,
is rampant, but even this could not have been the motive of my
stealthy friend, for he might easily have killed me had he desired.
I had about given up fruitless conjecture and was on the point
of returning to sleep when a dozen Kaolian guardsmen entered my
apartment. The officer in charge was one of my genial hosts of
the morning, but now upon his face was no sign of friendship.
"Kulan Tith commands your presence before him," he said. "Come!"
Warlord of Mars Chapter 5
... Warlord of Mars Chapter 7