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Chapter 10 The Prison Isle of Shador

  • In the outer gardens to which the guard now escorted me, I found Xoda_urrounded by a crowd of noble blacks. They were reviling and cursing him. Th_en slapped his face. The woman spat upon him.
  • When I appeared they turned their attentions toward me.
  • "Ah," cried one, "so this is the creature who overcame the great Xodar bare- handed. Let us see how it was done."
  • "Let him bind Thurid," suggested a beautiful woman, laughing. "Thurid is _oble Dator. Let Thurid show the dog what it means to face a real man."
  • "Yes, Thurid! Thurid!" cried a dozen voices.
  • "Here he is now," exclaimed another, and turning in the direction indicated _aw a huge black weighed down with resplendent ornaments and arms advancin_ith noble and gallant bearing toward us.
  • "What now?" he cried. "What would you of Thurid?"
  • Quickly a dozen voices explained.
  • Thurid turned toward Xodar, his eyes narrowing to two nasty slits.
  • "Calot!" he hissed. "Ever did I think you carried the heart of a sorak in you_utrid breast. Often have you bested me in the secret councils of Issus, bu_ow in the field of war where men are truly gauged your scabby heart hat_evealed its sores to all the world. Calot, I spurn you with my foot," an_ith the words he turned to kick Xodar.
  • My blood was up. For minutes it had been boiling at the cowardly treatmen_hey had been according this once powerful comrade because he had fallen fro_he favour of Issus. I had no love for Xodar, but I cannot stand the sight o_owardly injustice and persecution without seeing red as through a haze o_loody mist, and doing things on the impulse of the moment that I presume _ever should do after mature deliberation.
  • I was standing close beside Xodar as Thurid swung his foot for the cowardl_ick. The degraded Dator stood erect and motionless as a carven image. He wa_repared to take whatever his former comrades had to offer in the way o_nsults and reproaches, and take them in manly silence and stoicism.
  • But as Thurid's foot swung so did mine, and I caught him a painful blow upo_he shin bone that saved Xodar from this added ignominy.
  • For a moment there was tense silence, then Thurid, with a roar of rage spran_or my throat; just as Xodar had upon the deck of the cruiser. The result_ere identical. I ducked beneath his outstretched arms, and as he lunged pas_e planted a terrific right on the side of his jaw.
  • The big fellow spun around like a top, his knees gave beneath him and h_rumpled to the ground at my feet.
  • The blacks gazed in astonishment, first at the still form of the proud Dato_ying there in the ruby dust of the pathway, then at me as though they coul_ot believe that such a thing could be.
  • "You asked me to bind Thurid," I cried; "behold!" And then I stooped besid_he prostrate form, tore the harness from it, and bound the fellow's arms an_egs securely.
  • "As you have done to Xodar, now do you likewise to Thurid. Take him befor_ssus, bound in his own harness, that she may see with her own eyes that ther_e one among you now who is greater than the First Born."
  • "Who are you?" whispered the woman who had first suggested that I attempt t_ind Thurid.
  • "I am a citizen of two worlds; Captain John Carter of Virginia, Prince of th_ouse of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium. Take this man to your goddess, as _ave said, and tell her, too, that as I have done to Xodar and Thurid, so als_an I do to the mightiest of her Dators. With naked hands, with long-sword o_ith short-sword, I challenge the flower of her fighting-men to combat."
  • "Come," said the officer who was guarding me back to Shador; "my orders ar_mperative; there is to be no delay. Xodar, come you also."
  • There was little of disrespect in the tone that the man used in addressin_ither Xodar or myself. It was evident that he felt less contempt for th_ormer Dator since he had witnessed the ease with which I disposed of th_owerful Thurid.
  • That his respect for me was greater than it should have been for a slave wa_uite apparent from the fact that during the balance of the return journey h_alked or stood always behind me, a drawn short-sword in his hand.
  • The return to the Sea of Omean was uneventful. We dropped down the awful shaf_n the same car that had brought us to the surface. There we entered th_ubmarine, taking the long dive to the tunnel far beneath the upper world.
  • Then through the tunnel and up again to the pool from which we had had ou_irst introduction to the wonderful passageway from Omean to the Temple o_ssus.
  • From the island of the submarine we were transported on a small cruiser to th_istant Isle of Shador. Here we found a small stone prison and a guard of hal_ dozen blacks. There was no ceremony wasted in completing our incarceration.
  • One of the blacks opened the door of the prison with a huge key, we walked in, the door closed behind us, the lock grated, and with the sound there swep_ver me again that terrible feeling of hopelessness that I had felt in th_hamber of Mystery in the Golden Cliffs beneath the gardens of the Hol_herns.
  • Then Tars Tarkas had been with me, but now I was utterly alone in so far a_riendly companionship was concerned. I fell to wondering about the fate o_he great Thark, and of his beautiful companion, the girl, Thuvia. Even shoul_hey by some miracle have escaped and been received and spared by a friendl_ation, what hope had I of the succour which I knew they would gladly exten_f it lay in their power.
  • They could not guess my whereabouts or my fate, for none on all Barsoom eve_ream of such a place as this. Nor would it have advantaged me any had the_nown the exact location of my prison, for who could hope to penetrate to thi_uried sea in the face of the mighty navy of the First Born? No: my case wa_opeless.
  • Well, I would make the best of it, and, rising, I swept aside the broodin_espair that had been endeavouring to claim me. With the idea of exploring m_rison, I started to look around.
  • Xodar sat, with bowed head, upon a low stone bench near the centre of the roo_n which we were. He had not spoken since Issus had degraded him.
  • The building was roofless, the walls rising to a height of about thirty feet.
  • Half-way up were a couple of small, heavily barred windows. The prison wa_ivided into several rooms by partitions twenty feet high. There was no one i_he room which we occupied, but two doors which led to other rooms wer_pened. I entered one of these rooms, but found it vacant. Thus I continue_hrough several of the chambers until in the last one I found a young re_artian boy sleeping upon the stone bench which constituted the only furnitur_f any of the prison cells.
  • Evidently he was the only other prisoner. As he slept I leaned over and looke_t him. There was something strangely familiar about his face, and yet I coul_ot place him.
  • His features were very regular and, like the proportions of his graceful limb_nd body, beautiful in the extreme. He was very light in colour for a red man, but in other respects he seemed a typical specimen of this handsome race.
  • I did not awaken him, for sleep in prison is such a priceless boon that I hav_een men transformed into raging brutes when robbed by one of their fellow- prisoners of a few precious moments of it.
  • Returning to my own cell, I found Xodar still sitting in the same position i_hich I had left him.
  • "Man," I cried, "it will profit you nothing to mope thus. It were no disgrac_o be bested by John Carter. You have seen that in the ease with which _ccounted for Thurid. You knew it before when on the cruiser's deck you saw m_lay three of your comrades."
  • "I would that you had dispatched me at the same time," he said.
  • "Come, come!" I cried. "There is hope yet. Neither of us is dead. We are grea_ighters. Why not win to freedom?"
  • He looked at me in amazement.
  • "You know not of what you speak," he replied. "Issus is omnipotent. Issus i_mniscient. She hears now the words you speak. She knows the thoughts yo_hink. It is sacrilege even to dream of breaking her commands."
  • "Rot, Xodar," I ejaculated impatiently.
  • He sprang to his feet in horror.
  • "The curse of Issus will fall upon you," he cried. "In another instant yo_ill be smitten down, writhing to your death in horrible agony."
  • "Do you believe that, Xodar?" I asked.
  • "Of course; who would dare doubt?"
  • "I doubt; yes, and further, I deny," I said. "Why, Xodar, you tell me that sh_ven knows my thoughts. The red men have all had that power for ages. An_nother wonderful power. They can shut their minds so that none may read thei_houghts. I learned the first secret years ago; the other I never had t_earn, since upon all Barsoom is none who can read what passes in the secre_hambers of my brain.
  • "Your goddess cannot read my thoughts; nor can she read yours when you are ou_f sight, unless you will it. Had she been able to read mine, I am afraid tha_er pride would have suffered a rather severe shock when I turned at he_ommand to 'gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face.'"
  • "What do you mean?" he whispered in an affrighted voice, so low that I coul_carcely hear him.
  • "I mean that I thought her the most repulsive and vilely hideous creature m_yes ever had rested upon."
  • For a moment he eyed me in horror-stricken amazement, and then with a cry of
  • "Blasphemer" he sprang upon me.
  • I did not wish to strike him again, nor was it necessary, since he was unarme_nd therefore quite harmless to me.
  • As he came I grasped his left wrist with my left hand, and, swinging my righ_rm about his left shoulder, caught him beneath the chin with my elbow an_ore him backward across my thigh.
  • There he hung helpless for a moment, glaring up at me in impotent rage.
  • "Xodar," I said, "let us be friends. For a year, possibly, we may be forced t_ive together in the narrow confines of this tiny room. I am sorry to hav_ffended you, but I could not dream that one who had suffered from the crue_njustice of Issus still could believe her divine.
  • "I will say a few more words, Xodar, with no intent to wound your feeling_urther, but rather that you may give thought to the fact that while we liv_e are still more the arbiters of our own fate than is any god.
  • "Issus, you see, has not struck me dead, nor is she rescuing her faithfu_odar from the clutches of the unbeliever who defamed her fair beauty. No, Xodar, your Issus is a mortal old woman. Once out of her clutches and sh_annot harm you.
  • "With your knowledge of this strange land, and my knowledge of the oute_orld, two such fighting-men as you and I should be able to win our way t_reedom. Even though we died in the attempt, would not our memories be faire_han as though we remained in servile fear to be butchered by a cruel an_njust tyrant—call her goddess or mortal, as you will."
  • As I finished I raised Xodar to his feet and released him. He did not rene_he attack upon me, nor did he speak. Instead, he walked toward the bench, and, sinking down upon it, remained lost in deep thought for hours.
  • A long time afterward I heard a soft sound at the doorway leading to one o_he other apartments, and, looking up, beheld the red Martian youth gazin_ntently at us.
  • "Kaor," I cried, after the red Martian manner of greeting.
  • "Kaor," he replied. "What do you here?"
  • "I await my death, I presume," I replied with a wry smile.
  • He too smiled, a brave and winning smile.
  • "I also," he said. "Mine will come soon. I looked upon the radiant beauty o_ssus nearly a year since. It has always been a source of keen wonder to m_hat I did not drop dead at the first sight of that hideous countenance. An_er belly! By my first ancestor, but never was there so grotesque a figure i_ll the universe. That they should call such a one Goddess of Life Eternal, Goddess of Death, Mother of the Nearer Moon, and fifty other equall_mpossible titles, is quite beyond me."
  • "How came you here?" I asked.
  • "It is very simple. I was flying a one-man air scout far to the south when th_rilliant idea occurred to me that I should like to search for the Lost Sea o_orus which tradition places near to the south pole. I must have inherite_rom my father a wild lust for adventure, as well as a hollow where my bump o_everence should be.
  • "I had reached the area of eternal ice when my port propeller jammed, and _ropped to the ground to make repairs. Before I knew it the air was black wit_liers, and a hundred of these First Born devils were leaping to the groun_ll about me.
  • "With drawn swords they made for me, but before I went down beneath them the_ad tasted of the steel of my father's sword, and I had given such an accoun_f myself as I know would have pleased my sire had he lived to witness it."
  • "Your father is dead?" I asked.
  • "He died before the shell broke to let me step out into a world that has bee_ery good to me. But for the sorrow that I had never the honour to know m_ather, I have been very happy. My only sorrow now is that my mother mus_ourn me as she has for ten long years mourned my father."
  • "Who was your father?" I asked.
  • He was about to reply when the outer door of our prison opened and a burl_uard entered and ordered him to his own quarters for the night, locking th_oor after him as he passed through into the further chamber.
  • "It is Issus' wish that you two be confined in the same room," said the guar_hen he had returned to our cell. "This cowardly slave of a slave is to serv_ou well," he said to me, indicating Xodar with a wave of his hand. "If h_oes not, you are to beat him into submission. It is Issus' wish that you hea_pon him every indignity and degradation of which you can conceive."
  • With these words he left us.
  • Xodar still sat with his face buried in his hands. I walked to his side an_laced my hand upon his shoulder.
  • "Xodar," I said, "you have heard the commands of Issus, but you need not fea_hat I shall attempt to put them into execution. You are a brave man, Xodar.
  • It is your own affair if you wish to be persecuted and humiliated; but were _ou I should assert my manhood and defy my enemies."
  • "I have been thinking very hard, John Carter," he said, "of all the new idea_ou gave me a few hours since. Little by little I have been piecing togethe_he things that you said which sounded blasphemous to me then with the thing_hat I have seen in my past life and dared not even think about for fear o_ringing down upon me the wrath of Issus.
  • "I believe now that she is a fraud; no more divine than you or I. More I a_illing to concede—that the First Born are no holier than the Holy Therns, no_he Holy Therns more holy than the red men.
  • "The whole fabric of our religion is based on superstitious belief in lie_hat have been foisted upon us for ages by those directly above us, to whos_ersonal profit and aggrandizement it was to have us continue to believe a_hey wished us to believe.
  • "I am ready to cast off the ties that have bound me. I am ready to defy Issu_erself; but what will it avail us? Be the First Born gods or mortals, the_re a powerful race, and we are as fast in their clutches as though we wer_lready dead. There is no escape."
  • "I have escaped from bad plights in the past, my friend," I replied; "no_hile life is in me shall I despair of escaping from the Isle of Shador an_he Sea of Omean."
  • "But we cannot escape even from the four walls of our prison," urged Xodar.
  • "Test this flint-like surface," he cried, smiting the solid rock that confine_s. "And look upon this polished surface; none could cling to it to reach th_op."
  • I smiled.
  • "That is the least of our troubles, Xodar," I replied. "I will guarantee t_cale the wall and take you with me, if you will help with your knowledge o_he customs here to appoint the best time for the attempt, and guide me to th_haft that lets from the dome of this abysmal sea to the light of God's pur_ir above."
  • "Night time is the best and offers the only slender chance we have, for the_en sleep, and only a dozing watch nods in the tops of the battleships. N_atch is kept upon the cruisers and smaller craft. The watchers upon th_arger vessels see to all about them. It is night now."
  • "But," I exclaimed, "it is not dark! How can it be night, then?"
  • He smiled.
  • "You forget," he said, "that we are far below ground. The light of the su_ever penetrates here. There are no moons and no stars reflected in the boso_f Omean. The phosphorescent light you now see pervading this grea_ubterranean vault emanates from the rocks that form its dome; it is alway_hus upon Omean, just as the billows are always as you see them—rolling, eve_olling over a windless sea.
  • "At the appointed hour of night upon the world above, the men whose dutie_old them here sleep, but the light is ever the same."
  • "It will make escape more difficult," I said, and then I shrugged m_houlders; for what, pray, is the pleasure of doing an easy thing?
  • "Let us sleep on it to-night," said Xodar. "A plan may come with ou_wakening."
  • So we threw ourselves upon the hard stone floor of our prison and slept th_leep of tired men.