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Chapter 12 A Prisoner With Power

  • 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.