As Carthoris, Xodar, Tars Tarkas, and I stood gazing at the magnificent vesse_hich meant so much to all of us, we saw a second and then a third top th_ummit of the hills and glide gracefully after their sister.
Now a score of one-man air scouts were launching from the upper decks of th_earer vessel, and in a moment more were speeding in long, swift dives to th_round about us.
In another instant we were surrounded by armed sailors, and an officer ha_tepped forward to address us, when his eyes fell upon Carthoris. With a_xclamation of surprised pleasure he sprang forward, and, placing his hand_pon the boy's shoulder, called him by name.
"Carthoris, my Prince," he cried, "Kaor! Kaor! Hor Vastus greets the son o_ejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, and of her husband, John Carter. Where hav_ou been, O my Prince? All Helium has been plunged in sorrow. Terrible hav_een the calamities that have befallen your great-grandsire's mighty natio_ince the fatal day that saw you leave our midst."
"Grieve not, my good Hor Vastus," cried Carthoris, "since I bring not bac_yself alone to cheer my mother's heart and the hearts of my beloved people, but also one whom all Barsoom loved best—her greatest warrior and he_aviour—John Carter, Prince of Helium!"
Hor Vastus turned in the direction indicated by Carthoris, and as his eye_ell upon me he was like to have collapsed from sheer surprise.
"John Carter!" he exclaimed, and then a sudden troubled look came into hi_yes. "My Prince," he started, "where hast thou—" and then he stopped, but _new the question that his lips dared not frame. The loyal fellow would not b_he one to force from mine a confession of the terrible truth that I ha_eturned from the bosom of the Iss, the River of Mystery, back from the shor_f the Lost Sea of Korus, and the Valley Dor.
"Ah, my Prince," he continued, as though no thought had interrupted hi_reeting, "that you are back is sufficient, and let Hor Vastus' sword have th_igh honour of being first at thy feet." With these words the noble fello_nbuckled his scabbard and flung his sword upon the ground before me.
Could you know the customs and the character of red Martians you woul_ppreciate the depth of meaning that that simple act conveyed to me and to al_bout us who witnessed it. The thing was equivalent to saying, "My sword, m_ody, my life, my soul are yours to do with as you wish. Until death and afte_eath I look to you alone for authority for my every act. Be you right o_rong, your word shall be my only truth. Whoso raises his hand against yo_ust answer to my sword."
It is the oath of fealty that men occasionally pay to a Jeddak whose hig_haracter and chivalrous acts have inspired the enthusiastic love of hi_ollowers. Never had I known this high tribute paid to a lesser mortal. Ther_as but one response possible. I stooped and lifted the sword from the ground, raised the hilt to my lips, and then, stepping to Hor Vastus, I buckled th_eapon upon him with my own hands.
"Hor Vastus," I said, placing my hand upon his shoulder, "you know best th_romptings of your own heart. That I shall need your sword I have littl_oubt, but accept from John Carter upon his sacred honour the assurance tha_e will never call upon you to draw this sword other than in the cause o_ruth, justice, and righteousness."
"That I knew, my Prince," he replied, "ere ever I threw my beloved blade a_hy feet."
As we spoke other fliers came and went between the ground and the battleship, and presently a larger boat was launched from above, one capable of carrying _ozen persons, perhaps, and dropped lightly near us. As she touched, a_fficer sprang from her deck to the ground, and, advancing to Hor Vastus, saluted.
"Kantos Kan desires that this party whom we have rescued be brough_mmediately to the deck of the Xavarian," he said.
As we approached the little craft I looked about for the members of my part_nd for the first time noticed that Thuvia was not among them. Questionin_licited the fact that none had seen her since Carthoris had sent her thoa_alloping madly toward the hills, in the hope of carrying her out of harm'_ay.
Immediately Hor Vastus dispatched a dozen air scouts in as many directions t_earch for her. It could not be possible that she had gone far since we ha_ast seen her. We others stepped to the deck of the craft that had been sen_o fetch us, and a moment later were upon the Xavarian.
The first man to greet me was Kantos Kan himself. My old friend had won to th_ighest place in the navy of Helium, but he was still to me the same brav_omrade who had shared with me the privations of a Warhoon dungeon, th_errible atrocities of the Great Games, and later the dangers of our searc_or Dejah Thoris within the hostile city of Zodanga.
Then I had been an unknown wanderer upon a strange planet, and he a simpl_adwar in the navy of Helium. To-day he commanded all Helium's great terror_f the skies, and I was a Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak o_elium.
He did not ask me where I had been. Like Hor Vastus, he too dreaded the trut_nd would not be the one to wrest a statement from me. That it must come som_ime he well knew, but until it came he seemed satisfied to but know that _as with him once more. He greeted Carthoris and Tars Tarkas with the keenes_elight, but he asked neither where he had been. He could scarcely keep hi_ands off the boy.
"You do not know, John Carter," he said to me, "how we of Helium love this so_f yours. It is as though all the great love we bore his noble father and hi_oor mother had been centred in him. When it became known that he was lost, ten million people wept."
"What mean you, Kantos Kan," I whispered, "by 'his poor mother'?" for th_ords had seemed to carry a sinister meaning which I could not fathom.
He drew me to one side.
"For a year," he said, "Ever since Carthoris disappeared, Dejah Thoris ha_rieved and mourned for her lost boy. The blow of years ago, when you did no_eturn from the atmosphere plant, was lessened to some extent by the duties o_otherhood, for your son broke his white shell that very night."
"That she suffered terribly then, all Helium knew, for did not all Heliu_uffer with her the loss of her lord! But with the boy gone there was nothin_eft, and after expedition upon expedition returned with the same hopeles_ale of no clue as to his whereabouts, our beloved Princess drooped lower an_ower, until all who saw her felt that it could be but a matter of days er_he went to join her loved ones within the precincts of the Valley Dor.
"As a last resort, Mors Kajak, her father, and Tardos Mors, her grandfather, took command of two mighty expeditions, and a month ago sailed away to explor_very inch of ground in the northern hemisphere of Barsoom. For two weeks n_ord has come back from them, but rumours were rife that they had met with _errible disaster and that all were dead.
"About this time Zat Arras renewed his importunities for her hand in marriage.
He has been for ever after her since you disappeared. She hated him and feare_im, but with both her father and grandfather gone, Zat Arras was ver_owerful, for he is still Jed of Zodanga, to which position, you wil_emember, Tardos Mors appointed him after you had refused the honour.
"He had a secret audience with her six days ago. What took place none knows, but the next day Dejah Thoris had disappeared, and with her had gone a doze_f her household guard and body servants, including Sola the green woman—Tar_arkas' daughter, you recall. No word left they of their intentions, but it i_lways thus with those who go upon the voluntary pilgrimage from which non_eturns. We cannot think aught than that Dejah Thoris has sought the icy boso_f Iss, and that her devoted servants have chosen to accompany her.
"Zat Arras was at Helium when she disappeared. He commands this fleet whic_as been searching for her since. No trace of her have we found, and I fea_hat it be a futile quest."
While we talked, Hor Vastus' fliers were returning to the Xavarian. Not one, however, had discovered a trace of Thuvia. I was much depressed over the new_f Dejah Thoris' disappearance, and now there was added the further burden o_pprehension concerning the fate of this girl whom I believed to be th_aughter of some proud Barsoomian house, and it had been my intention to mak_very effort to return her to her people.
I was about to ask Kantos Kan to prosecute a further search for her when _lier from the flagship of the fleet arrived at the Xavarian with an office_earing a message to Kantos Kan from Arras.
My friend read the dispatch and then turned to me.
"Zat Arras commands me to bring our 'prisoners' before him. There is naugh_lse to do. He is supreme in Helium, yet it would be far more in keeping wit_hivalry and good taste were he to come hither and greet the saviour o_arsoom with the honours that are his due."
"You know full well, my friend," I said, smiling, "that Zat Arras has goo_ause to hate me. Nothing would please him better than to humiliate me an_hen to kill me. Now that he has so excellent an excuse, let us go and see i_e has the courage to take advantage of it."
Summoning Carthoris, Tars Tarkas, and Xodar, we entered the small flier wit_antos Kan and Zat Arras' officer, and in a moment were stepping to the dec_f Zat Arras' flagship.
As we approached the Jed of Zodanga no sign of greeting or recognition crosse_is face; not even to Carthoris did he vouchsafe a friendly word. His attitud_as cold, haughty, and uncompromising.
"Kaor, Zat Arras," I said in greeting, but he did not respond.
"Why were these prisoners not disarmed?" he asked to Kantos Kan.
"They are not prisoners, Zat Arras," replied the officer.
"Two of them are of Helium's noblest family. Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, i_ardos Mors' best beloved ally. The other is a friend and companion of th_rince of Helium—that is enough for me to know."
"It is not enough for me, however," retorted Zat Arras. "More must I hear fro_hose who have taken the pilgrimage than their names. Where have you been, John Carter?"
"I have just come from the Valley Dor and the Land of the First Born, Za_rras," I replied.
"Ah!" he exclaimed in evident pleasure, "you do not deny it, then? You hav_eturned from the bosom of Iss?"
"I have come back from a land of false hope, from a valley of torture an_eath; with my companions I have escaped from the hideous clutches of lyin_iends. I have come back to the Barsoom that I saved from a painless death t_gain save her, but this time from death in its most frightful form."
"Cease, blasphemer!" cried Zat Arras. "Hope not to save thy cowardly carcas_y inventing horrid lies to—" But he got no further. One does not call Joh_arter "coward" and "liar" thus lightly, and Zat Arras should have known it.
Before a hand could be raised to stop me, I was at his side and one han_rasped his throat.
"Come I from heaven or hell, Zat Arras, you will find me still the same Joh_arter that I have always been; nor did ever man call me such names an_ive—without apologizing." And with that I commenced to bend him back acros_y knee and tighten my grip upon his throat.
"Seize him!" cried Zat Arras, and a dozen officers sprang forward to assis_im.
Kantos Kan came close and whispered to me.
"Desist, I beg of you. It will but involve us all, for I cannot see these me_ay hands upon you without aiding you. My officers and men will join me and w_hall have a mutiny then that may lead to the revolution. For the sake o_ardos Mors and Helium, desist."
At his words I released Zat Arras and, turning my back upon him, walked towar_he ship's rail.
"Come, Kantos Kan," I said, "the Prince of Helium would return to th_avarian."
None interfered. Zat Arras stood white and trembling amidst his officers. Som_here were who looked upon him with scorn and drew toward me, while one, a ma_ong in the service and confidence of Tardos Mors, spoke to me in a low ton_s I passed him.
"You may count my metal among your fighting-men, John Carter," he said.
I thanked him and passed on. In silence we embarked, and shortly after steppe_nce more upon the deck of the Xavarian. Fifteen minutes later we receive_rders from the flagship to proceed toward Helium.
Our journey thither was uneventful. Carthoris and I were wrapped in th_loomiest of thoughts. Kantos Kan was sombre in contemplation of the furthe_alamity that might fall upon Helium should Zat Arras attempt to follow th_ge-old precedent that allotted a terrible death to fugitives from the Valle_or. Tars Tarkas grieved for the loss of his daughter. Xodar alone was care- free—a fugitive and outlaw, he could be no worse off in Helium than elsewhere.
"Let us hope that we may at least go out with good red blood upon our blades,"
he said. It was a simple wish and one most likely to be gratified.
Among the officers of the Xavarian I thought I could discern division int_actions ere we had reached Helium. There were those who gathered abou_arthoris and myself whenever the opportunity presented, while about an equa_umber held aloof from us. They offered us only the most courteous treatment, but were evidently bound by their superstitious belief in the doctrine of Do_nd Iss and Korus. I could not blame them, for I knew how strong a hold _reed, however ridiculous it may be, may gain upon an otherwise intelligen_eople.
By returning from Dor we had committed a sacrilege; by recounting ou_dventures there, and stating the facts as they existed we had outraged th_eligion of their fathers. We were blasphemers—lying heretics. Even those wh_till clung to us from personal love and loyalty I think did so in the face o_he fact that at heart they questioned our veracity—it is very hard to accep_ new religion for an old, no matter how alluring the promises of the new ma_e; but to reject the old as a tissue of falsehoods without being offere_nything in its stead is indeed a most difficult thing to ask of any people.
Kantos Kan would not talk of our experiences among the therns and the Firs_orn.
"It is enough," he said, "that I jeopardize my life here and hereafter b_ountenancing you at all—do not ask me to add still further to my sins b_istening to what I have always been taught was the rankest heresy."
I knew that sooner or later the time must come when our friends and enemie_ould be forced to declare themselves openly. When we reached Helium ther_ust be an accounting, and if Tardos Mors had not returned I feared that th_nmity of Zat Arras might weigh heavily against us, for he represented th_overnment of Helium. To take sides against him were equivalent to treason.
The majority of the troops would doubtless follow the lead of their officers, and I knew that many of the highest and most powerful men of both land and ai_orces would cleave to John Carter in the face of god, man, or devil.
On the other hand, the majority of the populace unquestionably would deman_hat we pay the penalty of our sacrilege. The outlook seemed dark fro_hatever angle I viewed it, but my mind was so torn with anguish at th_hought of Dejah Thoris that I realize now that I gave the terrible questio_f Helium's plight but scant attention at that time.
There was always before me, day and night, a horrible nightmare of th_rightful scenes through which I knew my Princess might even then b_assing—the horrid plant men—the ferocious white apes. At times I would cove_y face with my hands in a vain effort to shut out the fearful thing from m_ind.
It was in the forenoon that we arrived above the mile-high scarlet tower whic_arks greater Helium from her twin city. As we descended in great circle_oward the navy docks a mighty multitude could be seen surging in the street_eneath. Helium had been notified by radio-aerogram of our approach.
From the deck of the Xavarian we four, Carthoris, Tars Tarkas, Xodar, and I, were transferred to a lesser flier to be transported to quarters within th_emple of Reward. It is here that Martian justice is meted to benefactor an_alefactor. Here the hero is decorated. Here the felon is condemned. We wer_aken into the temple from the landing stage upon the roof, so that we did no_ass among the people at all, as is customary. Always before I had see_risoners of note, or returned wanderers of eminence, paraded from the Gate o_eddaks to the Temple of Reward up the broad Avenue of Ancestors through dens_rowds of jeering or cheering citizens.
I knew that Zat Arras dared not trust the people near to us, for he feare_hat their love for Carthoris and myself might break into a demonstratio_hich would wipe out their superstitious horror of the crime we were to b_harged with. What his plans were I could only guess, but that they wer_inister was evidenced by the fact that only his most trusted servitor_ccompanied us upon the flier to the Temple of Reward.
We were lodged in a room upon the south side of the temple, overlooking th_venue of Ancestors down which we could see the full length to the Gate o_eddaks, five miles away. The people in the temple plaza and in the street_or a distance of a full mile were standing as close packed as it was possibl_or them to get. They were very orderly—there were neither scoffs no_laudits, and when they saw us at the window above them there were many wh_uried their faces in their arms and wept.
Late in the afternoon a messenger arrived from Zat Arras to inform us that w_ould be tried by an impartial body of nobles in the great hall of the templ_t the 1st zode[](footnotes.xml#footnote_1) on the following day, or abou_:40 A.M. Earth time.