A Fighting Man of Mars
Chapter 4: Tavia
Copyright© 2012 by Edgar Rice Burroughs
There are occasions in the life of every man when he becomes impressed by the evidence of the existence of an extraneous power which guides his acts, which is sometimes described as the hand of providence, or is again explained on the hypothesis of a sixth sense which transports to the part of our brain that controls our actions, perceptions of which we are not objectively aware; but, account for it as one may, the fact remains that as I stood there that night in the dark chamber of the ancient palace of the deserted city I hesitated to thrust my sword into the soft body moving at my feet. This might after all have been the most reasonable and logical course for me to pursue. Instead I pressed my sword point firmly against yielding flesh and whispered a single word: "Silence!"
A thousand times since then have I given thanks to my first ancestors that I did not follow my natural impulse, for, in response to my admonition a voice whispered: "Do not thrust, red man; I am of your own race and a prisoner," and the voice was that of a girl.
Instantly I withdrew my blade and kneeled beside her. "If you have come to help me, cut my bonds," she said, "and be quick for they will soon return for me."
Feeling rapidly over her body I found that her wrists and ankles were secured with leather thongs and drawing my dagger I quickly severed these. "Are you alone?" I asked as I helped her to her feet.
"Yes," she replied. "In the next room they are playing for me to decide to which one I shall belong." At that moment there came the clank of side arms from the adjoining room. "They are coming," she said. "They must not find us here."
Taking her by the hand I moved to the window through which I had entered the apartment, but fortunately I reconnoitered before stepping out into the avenue and it was well for us that I did so, for as I looked to the right along the face of the building, I saw a green Martian warrior emerging from the main entrance. Evidently it had been the rattling of his side arms that we had heard as he moved across the adjoining apartment to the doorway.
"Is there another exit from this room?" I asked in a low whisper.
"Yes," she replied. "Opposite this window there is a doorway leading into a corridor. It was open when they brought me in, but they closed it."
"We shall be better off inside the building than out for a while at least," I said. "Come!" And together we crossed the apartment, groping along the wall for the door which I soon located. With the utmost care I drew it ajar, fearing that its ancient hinges might betray us by their complaining. Beyond the doorway lay a corridor dark as the depths of Omean and into this I drew the girl, closing the door silently behind us. Groping our way to the right away from the apartment occupied by the green warriors, we moved slowly through a black void until presently we saw just ahead a faint light, which investigation revealed as coming through the open doorway of an apartment that faced upon the central courtyard of the edifice. I was about to pass this doorway and seek a hiding place further within the remote interior of the building when my attention was attracted by the squealing of a thoat in the courtyard beyond the apartment we were passing.
From earliest boyhood I have had a great deal of experience with the small breed of thoats used as saddle animals by the men of my race and while I was visiting Tars Tarkas of Thark I became quite familiar with the methods employed by the green men in controlling their own huge vicious beasts.
For travel over the surface of the ground the thoat compares to other methods of land transportation as the one-man scout flier does to all other ships of the air in aerial navigation. He is at once the swiftest and the most dangerous, so that, faced as I was with a problem of land transportation, it was only natural that the squeal of the thoats, should suggest a plan to my mind.
"Why do you hesitate?" asked the girl. "We cannot escape in that direction since we cannot cross the courtyard."
"On the contrary," I replied, "I believe that in this direction may lie our surest avenue of escape."
"But their thoats are penned in the courtyard," she remonstrated, "and green warriors are never far from their thoats."
"It is because the thoats are there that I wish to investigate the courtyard," I replied.
"The moment they catch our scent," she said, "they will raise a disturbance that will attract the attention of their masters and we shall immediately be discovered and captured."
"Perhaps," I said; "but if my plan succeeds it will be well worth the risk, but if you are very much afraid I will abandon it."
"No," she said, "it is not for me to choose or direct. You have been generous enough to help me and I may only follow where you lead, but if I knew your plan perhaps I might follow more intelligently."
"Certainly," I said; "it is very simple. There are thoats. We shall take one of them and ride away. It will be much easier than walking and our chances for escape will be considerably greater, at the same time we shall leave the courtyard gates open, hoping that the other thoats will follow us out, leaving their masters unable to pursue us."
"It is a mad plan," said the girl, "but is a brave one. If we are discovered, there will be fighting and I am unarmed. Give me your short sword, warrior, that we may at least make the best account of ourselves that is possible."
I unsnapped the scabbard of my short sword from my harness and attached it to hers at her left hip, and, as I touched her body in doing so, I could not but note that there was no sign of trembling such as there would have been had she been affected by fright or excitement. She seemed perfectly cool and collected and her tone of voice was almost reassuring to me. That she was not Sanoma Tora I had known when she had first spoken in the darkness of the room in which I had stumbled upon her, and while I had been keenly disappointed I was still determined to do the best that I could to assist in the escape of the stranger, although I was confident that her presence might greatly delay and embarrass me while it subjected me to far greater danger than would have fallen to the lot of a warrior traveling alone. It was, therefore reassuring to find that my unwelcome companion would not prove entirely helpless.
"I trust you will not have to use it," I said as I finished hooking my short sword to her harness.
"You will find," she said, "that if necessity arises I can use it."
"Good," I said. "Now follow me and keep close to me."
A careful survey of the courtyard from the window of the chamber overlooking it revealed about twenty huge thoats, but no green warriors, evidence that they felt perfectly secure against enemies.
The thoats were congregated in the far end of the courtyard; a few of them had lain down for the night, but the balance were moving restlessly about as is their habit. Across the courtyard from us and at the same end stood a pair of massive gates. As far as I could determine they barred the only opening into the courtyard large enough to admit a thoat and I assumed that beyond them lay an alley leading to one of the avenues nearby.
To reach the gates unobserved by the thoats, was the first step in my plan and the better to do this I decided to seek an apartment near the gate, on either side of which I saw windows similar to that from which we were looking. Therefore, motioning my companion to follow me, I returned to the corridor and again groping through the darkness we made our way along it. In the third apartment which I explored I found a window letting into the courtyard close beside the gate. And in the wall which ran at right angles to that in which the window was set I found a doorway that opened into a large vaulted corridor upon the opposite side of the gate. This discovery greatly encouraged me since it harmonized perfectly with the plan I had in mind, at the same time reducing the risk which my companion must run in the attempted adventure of escape.
"Remain here," I said to her, placing her just behind the gate. "If my plan is successful I shall ride into this corridor upon one of the thoats and as I do so you must be ready to seize my hand and mount behind me. If I am discovered and fail I shall cry out 'For Helium!' and that must be your signal to escape as best you may."
She laid her hand upon my arm. "Let me go into the courtyard with you," she begged. "Two swords are better than one."
"No," I said. "Alone I have a better chance of handling the thoats than if their attention is distracted by another."
"Very well," she said, and with that I left her, and re-entering the chamber, went directly to the window. For a moment I reconnoitered the interior of the courtyard and finding conditions unchanged, I slipped stealthily through the window and edged slowly toward the gate. Cautiously I examined the latch and discovering it easy to manipulate, I was soon silently pushing one of the gates back upon its hinges. When it was opened sufficiently wide to permit the passage of a thoat, I turned my attention to the beasts within the enclosure. Practically untamed, these savage creatures are as wild as their uncaptured fellows of the remote sea bottoms, and, being controlled solely by telepathic means, they are amenable only to the suggestion of the more powerful minds of their masters and even so it requires considerable skill to dominate them.
I had learned the method from Tar Tarkas himself and had come to feel considerable proficiency so that I approached this crucial test of my power with the confidence that was absolutely requisite to success.
Placing myself close beside the gate, I concentrated every faculty of my mind to the direction of my will, telepathically, upon the brain of the thoat I had selected for my purpose, the selection being determined solely by the fact that he stood nearest to me. The effect of my effort was immediately apparent. The creature, which had been searching for the occasional tufts of moss that grew between the stone flags of the courtyard, raised his head and looked about him. At once he became restless, but he gave forth no sound since I was willing him to silence. Presently his eyes moved in my direction and halted upon me. Then, slowly, I drew him toward me. It was slow work, for he evidently sensed that I was not his master, but on he came. Once, when he was quite near me, he stopped and snorted angrily. He must have caught my scent then and realized that I was not even of the same race as that to which he was accustomed. Then it was that I exerted to their fullest extent every power of my mind. He stood there shaking his ugly head to and fro, his snarling lips baring his great fangs. Beyond him I could see that the other thoats, had been attracted by his actions. They were looking toward us and moving about restlessly, always drawing closer. Should they discover me and start to squeal, which is the first and always ready sign of their easily aroused anger, I knew that I should have their riders upon me in no time, since because of his nervous and irritable nature the thoat is the watchdog as well as the beast of burden of the green Barsoomians.
For a moment the beast I had selected hesitated before me as though undecided whether to retreat or to charge, but he did neither; instead he came slowly up to me and as I backed through the gate into the vaulted corridor beyond, he followed me. This was better than I had expected for it permitted me to compel him to lie down, so that the girl and I were able to mount with ease.
Before us lay a long vaulted corridor at the far end of which I could discern a moonlit archway, through which we presently passed onto a broad avenue.
To the left lay the hills, and, turning this way, I urged the fleet animal along the ancient deserted thoroughfare between rows of stately ruins toward the west and--what?
Where the avenue turned to wind upward into the hills, I glanced back; nor could I refrain a feeling of exultation as I saw strung out behind us in the moonlight a file of great thoats, which I was confident would well know what to do with their new found liberty.
"Your captors will not pursue us far," I said to the girl, indicating the thoats with a nod of my head.
"Our ancestors are with us tonight," she said. "Let us pray that they may never desert us."
Now, for the first time, I had a fairly good look at my companion, for both Cluros and Thuria were in the heavens and it was quite light. If I revealed my surprise it is not to be wondered at for, in the darkness, having only my companion's voice for a guide, I had been perfectly confident that I had given aid to a female, but now as I looked at that short hair and boyish face I did not know what to think; nor did the harness that my companion wore aid me in justifying my first conclusion, since it was quite evidently the harness of a man.
"I thought you were a girl," I blurted out.
A fine mouth spread into a smile that revealed strong, white teeth. "I am," she said.
"But your hair--your harness--even your figure belies your claim."
She laughed gayly. That, I was to find later, was one of her chiefest charms--that she could laugh so easily, yet never to wound.
"My voice betrayed me," she said. "It is too bad."
"Why is it too bad?" I asked.
"Because you would have felt better with a fighting man as a companion, whereas now you feel that you have only a burden."
"A light one," I replied, recalling how easily I had lifted her to the thoat's back. "But tell me who you are and why you are masquerading as a boy."
"I am a slave girl," she said; "just a slave girl who has run away from her master. Perhaps that will make a difference," she added a little sadly. "Perhaps you will be sorry that you have defended just a slave girl."
"No," I said, "that makes no difference. I myself, am only a poor padwar, not rich enough to afford a slave. Perhaps you are the one to be sorry that you were not rescued by a rich man."
She laughed. "I ran away from the richest man in the world," she said. "At least I guess he must have been the richest man in the world, for who could be richer than Tul Axtar, Jeddak of Jahar?"
"You belong to Tul Axtar, Jeddak of Jahar?" I exclaimed.