As I entered and saluted, Lorquas Ptomel signaled me to advance, and, fixin_is great, hideous eyes upon me, addressed me thus:
"You have been with us a few days, yet during that time you have by you_rowess won a high position among us. Be that as it may, you are not one o_s; you owe us no allegiance.
"Your position is a peculiar one," he continued; "you are a prisoner and ye_ou give commands which must be obeyed; you are an alien and yet you are _harkian chieftain; you are a midget and yet you can kill a mighty warrio_ith one blow of your fist. And now you are reported to have been plotting t_scape with another prisoner of another race; a prisoner who, from her ow_dmission, half believes you are returned from the valley of Dor. Either on_f these accusations, if proved, would be sufficient grounds for you_xecution, but we are a just people and you shall have a trial on our retur_o Thark, if Tal Hajus so commands.
"But," he continued, in his fierce guttural tones, "if you run off with th_ed girl it is I who shall have to account to Tal Hajus; it is I who shal_ave to face Tars Tarkas, and either demonstrate my right to command, or th_etal from my dead carcass will go to a better man, for such is the custom o_he Tharks.
"I have no quarrel with Tars Tarkas; together we rule supreme the greatest o_he lesser communities among the green men; we do not wish to fight betwee_urselves; and so if you were dead, John Carter, I should be glad. Under tw_onditions only, however, may you be killed by us without orders from Ta_ajus; in personal combat in self-defense, should you attack one of us, o_ere you apprehended in an attempt to escape.
"As a matter of justice I must warn you that we only await one of these tw_xcuses for ridding ourselves of so great a responsibility. The safe deliver_f the red girl to Tal Hajus is of the greatest importance. Not in a thousan_ears have the Tharks made such a capture; she is the granddaughter of th_reatest of the red jeddaks, who is also our bitterest enemy. I have spoken.
The red girl told us that we were without the softer sentiments of humanity,
but we are a just and truthful race. You may go."
Turning, I left the audience chamber. So this was the beginning of Sarkoja'_ersecution! I knew that none other could be responsible for this report whic_ad reached the ears of Lorquas Ptomel so quickly, and now I recalled thos_ortions of our conversation which had touched upon escape and upon my origin.
Sarkoja was at this time Tars Tarkas' oldest and most trusted female. As suc_he was a mighty power behind the throne, for no warrior had the confidence o_orquas Ptomel to such an extent as did his ablest lieutenant, Tars Tarkas.
However, instead of putting thoughts of possible escape from my mind, m_udience with Lorquas Ptomel only served to center my every faculty on thi_ubject. Now, more than before, the absolute necessity for escape, in so fa_s Dejah Thoris was concerned, was impressed upon me, for I was convinced tha_ome horrible fate awaited her at the headquarters of Tal Hajus.
As described by Sola, this monster was the exaggerated personification of al_he ages of cruelty, ferocity, and brutality from which he had descended.
Cold, cunning, calculating; he was, also, in marked contrast to most of hi_ellows, a slave to that brute passion which the waning demands fo_rocreation upon their dying planet has almost stilled in the Martian breast.
The thought that the divine Dejah Thoris might fall into the clutches of suc_n abysmal atavism started the cold sweat upon me. Far better that we sav_riendly bullets for ourselves at the last moment, as did those brave frontie_omen of my lost land, who took their own lives rather than fall into th_ands of the Indian braves.
As I wandered about the plaza lost in my gloomy forebodings Tars Tarka_pproached me on his way from the audience chamber. His demeanor toward me wa_nchanged, and he greeted me as though we had not just parted a few moment_efore.
"Where are your quarters, John Carter?" he asked.
"I have selected none," I replied. "It seemed best that I quartered either b_yself or among the other warriors, and I was awaiting an opportunity to as_our advice. As you know," and I smiled, "I am not yet familiar with all th_ustoms of the Tharks."
"Come with me," he directed, and together we moved off across the plaza to _uilding which I was glad to see adjoined that occupied by Sola and he_harges.
"My quarters are on the first floor of this building," he said, "and th_econd floor also is fully occupied by warriors, but the third floor and th_loors above are vacant; you may take your choice of these.
"I understand," he continued, "that you have given up your woman to the re_risoner. Well, as you have said, your ways are not our ways, but you ca_ight well enough to do about as you please, and so, if you wish to give you_oman to a captive, it is your own affair; but as a chieftain you should hav_hose to serve you, and in accordance with our customs you may select any o_ll the females from the retinues of the chieftains whose metal you now wear."
I thanked him, but assured him that I could get along very nicely withou_ssistance except in the matter of preparing food, and so he promised to sen_omen to me for this purpose and also for the care of my arms and th_anufacture of my ammunition, which he said would be necessary. I suggeste_hat they might also bring some of the sleeping silks and furs which belonge_o me as spoils of combat, for the nights were cold and I had none of my own.
He promised to do so, and departed. Left alone, I ascended the windin_orridor to the upper floors in search of suitable quarters. The beauties o_he other buildings were repeated in this, and, as usual, I was soon lost in _our of investigation and discovery.
I finally chose a front room on the third floor, because this brought m_earer to Dejah Thoris, whose apartment was on the second floor of th_djoining building, and it flashed upon me that I could rig up some means o_ommunication whereby she might signal me in case she needed either m_ervices or my protection.
Adjoining my sleeping apartment were baths, dressing rooms, and other sleepin_nd living apartments, in all some ten rooms on this floor. The windows of th_ack rooms overlooked an enormous court, which formed the center of the squar_ade by the buildings which faced the four contiguous streets, and which wa_ow given over to the quartering of the various animals belonging to th_arriors occupying the adjoining buildings.
While the court was entirely overgrown with the yellow, moss-like vegetatio_hich blankets practically the entire surface of Mars, yet numerous fountains,
statuary, benches, and pergola-like contraptions bore witness to the beaut_hich the court must have presented in bygone times, when graced by the fair-
haired, laughing people whom stern and unalterable cosmic laws had driven no_nly from their homes, but from all except the vague legends of thei_escendants.
One could easily picture the gorgeous foliage of the luxuriant Martia_egetation which once filled this scene with life and color; the gracefu_igures of the beautiful women, the straight and handsome men; the happ_rolicking children—all sunlight, happiness and peace. It was difficult t_ealize that they had gone; down through ages of darkness, cruelty, an_gnorance, until their hereditary instincts of culture and humanitarianism ha_isen ascendant once more in the final composite race which now is dominan_pon Mars.
My thoughts were cut short by the advent of several young females bearin_oads of weapons, silks, furs, jewels, cooking utensils, and casks of food an_rink, including considerable loot from the air craft. All this, it seemed,
had been the property of the two chieftains I had slain, and now, by th_ustoms of the Tharks, it had become mine. At my direction they placed th_tuff in one of the back rooms, and then departed, only to return with _econd load, which they advised me constituted the balance of my goods. On th_econd trip they were accompanied by ten or fifteen other women and youths,
who, it seemed, formed the retinues of the two chieftains.
They were not their families, nor their wives, nor their servants; th_elationship was peculiar, and so unlike anything known to us that it is mos_ifficult to describe. All property among the green Martians is owned i_ommon by the community, except the personal weapons, ornaments and sleepin_ilks and furs of the individuals. These alone can one claim undisputed righ_o, nor may he accumulate more of these than are required for his actua_eeds. The surplus he holds merely as custodian, and it is passed on to th_ounger members of the community as necessity demands.
The women and children of a man's retinue may be likened to a military uni_or which he is responsible in various ways, as in matters of instruction,
discipline, sustenance, and the exigencies of their continual roamings an_heir unending strife with other communities and with the red Martians. Hi_omen are in no sense wives. The green Martians use no word corresponding i_eaning with this earthly word. Their mating is a matter of community interes_olely, and is directed without reference to natural selection. The council o_hieftains of each community control the matter as surely as the owner of _entucky racing stud directs the scientific breeding of his stock for th_mprovement of the whole.
In theory it may sound well, as is often the case with theories, but th_esults of ages of this unnatural practice, coupled with the communit_nterest in the offspring being held paramount to that of the mother, is show_n the cold, cruel creatures, and their gloomy, loveless, mirthless existence.
It is true that the green Martians are absolutely virtuous, both men an_omen, with the exception of such degenerates as Tal Hajus; but better far _iner balance of human characteristics even at the expense of a slight an_ccasional loss of chastity.
Finding that I must assume responsibility for these creatures, whether I woul_r not, I made the best of it and directed them to find quarters on the uppe_loors, leaving the third floor to me. One of the girls I charged with th_uties of my simple cuisine, and directed the others to take up the variou_ctivities which had formerly constituted their vocations. Thereafter I sa_ittle of them, nor did I care to.