Now I realized why the black pirate had kept me engrossed with his strang_ale. For miles he had sensed the approach of succour, and but for that singl_ell-tale glance the battleship would have been directly above us in anothe_oment, and the boarding party which was doubtless even now swinging in thei_arness from the ship's keel, would have swarmed our deck, placing my risin_ope of escape in sudden and total eclipse.
I was too old a hand in aerial warfare to be at a loss now for the righ_anoeuvre. Simultaneously I reversed the engines and dropped the little vesse_ sheer hundred feet.
Above my head I could see the dangling forms of the boarding party as th_attleship raced over us. Then I rose at a sharp angle, throwing my spee_ever to its last notch.
Like a bolt from a crossbow my splendid craft shot its steel prow straight a_he whirring propellers of the giant above us. If I could but touch them th_uge bulk would be disabled for hours and escape once more possible.
At the same instant the sun shot above the horizon, disclosing a hundred grim, black faces peering over the stern of the battleship upon us.
At sight of us a shout of rage went up from a hundred throats. Orders wer_houted, but it was too late to save the giant propellers, and with a crash w_ammed them.
Instantly with the shock of impact I reversed my engine, but my prow wa_edged in the hole it had made in the battleship's stern. Only a second I hun_here before tearing away, but that second was amply long to swarm my dec_ith black devils.
There was no fight. In the first place there was no room to fight. We wer_imply submerged by numbers. Then as swords menaced me a command from Xoda_tayed the hands of his fellows.
"Secure them," he said, "but do not injure them."
Several of the pirates already had released Xodar. He now personally attende_o my disarming and saw that I was properly bound. At least he thought tha_he binding was secure. It would have been had I been a Martian, but I had t_mile at the puny strands that confined my wrists. When the time came I coul_nap them as they had been cotton string.
The girl they bound also, and then they fastened us together. In the meantim_hey had brought our craft alongside the disabled battleship, and soon we wer_ransported to the latter's deck.
Fully a thousand black men manned the great engine of destruction. Her deck_ere crowded with them as they pressed forward as far as discipline woul_ermit to get a glimpse of their captives.
The girl's beauty elicited many brutal comments and vulgar jests. It wa_vident that these self-thought supermen were far inferior to the red men o_arsoom in refinement and in chivalry.
My close-cropped black hair and thern complexion were the subjects of muc_omment. When Xodar told his fellow nobles of my fighting ability and strang_rigin they crowded about me with numerous questions.
The fact that I wore the harness and metal of a thern who had been killed by _ember of my party convinced them that I was an enemy of their hereditar_oes, and placed me on a better footing in their estimation.
Without exception the blacks were handsome men, and well built. The officer_ere conspicuous through the wondrous magnificence of their resplenden_rappings. Many harnesses were so encrusted with gold, platinum, silver an_recious stones as to entirely hide the leather beneath.
The harness of the commanding officer was a solid mass of diamonds. Agains_he ebony background of his skin they blazed out with a peculiarly accentuate_ffulgence. The whole scene was enchanting. The handsome men; the barbari_plendour of the accoutrements; the polished skeel wood of the deck; th_loriously grained sorapus of the cabins, inlaid with priceless jewels an_recious metals in intricate and beautiful design; the burnished gold of han_ails; the shining metal of the guns.
Phaidor and I were taken below decks, where, still fast bound, we were throw_nto a small compartment which contained a single port-hole. As our escor_eft us they barred the door behind them.
We could hear the men working on the broken propellers, and from the port-hol_e could see that the vessel was drifting lazily toward the south.
For some time neither of us spoke. Each was occupied with his own thoughts.
For my part I was wondering as to the fate of Tars Tarkas and the girl, Thuvia.
Even if they succeeded in eluding pursuit they must eventually fall into th_ands of either red men or green, and as fugitives from the Valley Dor the_ould look for but little else than a swift and terrible death.
How I wished that I might have accompanied them. It seemed to me that I coul_ot fail to impress upon the intelligent red men of Barsoom the wicke_eception that a cruel and senseless superstition had foisted upon them.
Tardos Mors would believe me. Of that I was positive. And that he would hav_he courage of his convictions my knowledge of his character assured me. Deja_horis would believe me. Not a doubt as to that entered my head. Then ther_ere a thousand of my red and green warrior friends whom I knew would fac_ternal damnation gladly for my sake. Like Tars Tarkas, where I led they woul_ollow.
My only danger lay in that should I ever escape the black pirates it might b_o fall into the hands of unfriendly red or green men. Then it would mea_hort shrift for me.
Well, there seemed little to worry about on that score, for the likelihood o_y ever escaping the blacks was extremely remote.
The girl and I were linked together by a rope which permitted us to move onl_bout three or four feet from each other. When we had entered the compartmen_e had seated ourselves upon a low bench beneath the porthole. The bench wa_he only furniture of the room. It was of sorapus wood. The floor, ceiling an_alls were of carborundum aluminum, a light, impenetrable compositio_xtensively utilized in the construction of Martian fighting ships.
As I had sat meditating upon the future my eyes had been riveted upon th_ort-hole which was just level with them as I sat. Suddenly I looked towar_haidor. She was regarding me with a strange expression I had not before see_pon her face. She was very beautiful then.
Instantly her white lids veiled her eyes, and I thought I discovered _elicate flush tingeing her cheek. Evidently she was embarrassed at havin_een detected in the act of staring at a lesser creature, I thought.
"Do you find the study of the lower orders interesting?" I asked, laughing.
She looked up again with a nervous but relieved little laugh.
"Oh very," she said, "especially when they have such excellent profiles."
It was my turn to flush, but I did not. I felt that she was poking fun at me, and I admired a brave heart that could look for humour on the road to death, and so I laughed with her.
"Do you know where we are going?" she said.
"To solve the mystery of the eternal hereafter, I imagine," I replied.
"I am going to a worse fate than that," she said, with a little shudder.
"What do you mean?"
"I can only guess," she replied, "since no thern damsel of all the million_hat have been stolen away by black pirates during the ages they have raide_ur domains has ever returned to narrate her experiences among them. That the_ever take a man prisoner lends strength to the belief that the fate of th_irls they steal is worse than death."
"Is it not a just retribution?" I could not help but ask.
"What do you mean?"
"Do not the therns themselves do likewise with the poor creatures who take th_oluntary pilgrimage down the River of Mystery? Was not Thuvia for fiftee_ears a plaything and a slave? Is it less than just that you should suffer a_ou have caused others to suffer?"
"You do not understand," she replied. "We therns are a holy race. It is a_onour to a lesser creature to be a slave among us. Did we not occasionall_ave a few of the lower orders that stupidly float down an unknown river to a_nknown end all would become the prey of the plant men and the apes."
"But do you not by every means encourage the superstition among those of th_utside world?" I argued. "That is the wickedest of your deeds. Can you tel_e why you foster the cruel deception?"
"All life on Barsoom," she said, "is created solely for the support of th_ace of therns. How else could we live did the outer world not furnish ou_abour and our food? Think you that a thern would demean himself by labour?"
"It is true then that you eat human flesh?" I asked in horror.
She looked at me in pitying commiseration for my ignorance.
"Truly we eat the flesh of the lower orders. Do not you also?"
"The flesh of beasts, yes," I replied, "but not the flesh of man."
"As man may eat of the flesh of beasts, so may gods eat of the flesh of man.
The Holy Therns are the gods of Barsoom."
I was disgusted and I imagine that I showed it.
"You are an unbeliever now," she continued gently, "but should we be fortunat_nough to escape the clutches of the black pirates and come again to the cour_f Matai Shang I think that we shall find an argument to convince you of th_rror of your ways. And—," she hesitated, "perhaps we shall find a way to kee_ou as—as—one of us."
Again her eyes dropped to the floor, and a faint colour suffused her cheek. _ould not understand her meaning; nor did I for a long time. Dejah Thoris wa_ont to say that in some things I was a veritable simpleton, and I guess tha_he was right.
"I fear that I would ill requite your father's hospitality," I answered,
"since the first thing that I should do were I a thern would be to set a_rmed guard at the mouth of the River Iss to escort the poor deluded voyager_ack to the outer world. Also should I devote my life to the extermination o_he hideous plant men and their horrible companions, the great white apes."
She looked at me really horror struck.
"No, no," she cried, "you must not say such terribly sacrilegious things—yo_ust not even think them. Should they ever guess that you entertained suc_rightful thoughts, should we chance to regain the temples of the therns, the_ould mete out a frightful death to you. Not even my—my—" Again she flushed, and started over. "Not even I could save you."
I said no more. Evidently it was useless. She was even more steeped i_uperstition than the Martians of the outer world. They only worshipped _eautiful hope for a life of love and peace and happiness in the hereafter.
The therns worshipped the hideous plant men and the apes, or at least the_everenced them as the abodes of the departed spirits of their own dead.
At this point the door of our prison opened to admit Xodar.
He smiled pleasantly at me, and when he smiled his expression wa_indly—anything but cruel or vindictive.
"Since you cannot escape under any circumstances," he said, "I cannot see th_ecessity for keeping you confined below. I will cut your bonds and you ma_ome on deck. You will witness something very interesting, and as you neve_hall return to the outer world it will do no harm to permit you to see it.
You will see what no other than the First Born and their slaves know th_xistence of—the subterranean entrance to the Holy Land, to the real heaven o_arsoom.
"It will be an excellent lesson for this daughter of the therns," he added,
"for she shall see the Temple of Issus, and Issus, perchance, shall embrac_er."
Phaidor's head went high.
"What blasphemy is this, dog of a pirate?" she cried. "Issus would wipe ou_our entire breed an' you ever came within sight of her temple."
"You have much to learn, thern," replied Xodar, with an ugly smile, "nor do _nvy you the manner in which you will learn it."
As we came on deck I saw to my surprise that the vessel was passing over _reat field of snow and ice. As far as the eye could reach in any directio_aught else was visible.
There could be but one solution to the mystery. We were above the south pola_ce cap. Only at the poles of Mars is there ice or snow upon the planet. N_ign of life appeared below us. Evidently we were too far south even for th_reat fur-bearing animals which the Martians so delight in hunting.
Xodar was at my side as I stood looking out over the ship's rail.
"What course?" I asked him.
"A little west of south," he replied. "You will see the Otz Valley directly.
We shall skirt it for a few hundred miles."
"The Otz Valley!" I exclaimed; "but, man, is not there where lie the domain_f the therns from which I but just escaped?"
"Yes," answered Xodar. "You crossed this ice field last night in the lon_hase that you led us. The Otz Valley lies in a mighty depression at the sout_ole. It is sunk thousands of feet below the level of the surrounding country, like a great round bowl. A hundred miles from its northern boundary rise th_tz Mountains which circle the inner Valley of Dor, in the exact centre o_hich lies the Lost Sea of Korus. On the shore of this sea stands the Golde_emple of Issus in the Land of the First Born. It is there that we are bound."
As I looked I commenced to realize why it was that in all the ages only on_ad escaped from the Valley Dor. My only wonder was that even the one had bee_uccessful. To cross this frozen, wind-swept waste of bleak ice alone and o_oot would be impossible.
"Only by air boat could the journey be made," I finished aloud.
"It was thus that one did escape the therns in bygone times; but none has eve_scaped the First Born," said Xodar, with a touch of pride in his voice.
We had now reached the southernmost extremity of the great ice barrier. I_nded abruptly in a sheer wall thousands of feet high at the base of whic_tretched a level valley, broken here and there by low rolling hills an_ittle clumps of forest, and with tiny rivers formed by the melting of the ic_arrier at its base.
Once we passed far above what seemed to be a deep canyon-like rift stretchin_rom the ice wall on the north across the valley as far as the eye coul_each. "That is the bed of the River Iss," said Xodar. "It runs far beneat_he ice field, and below the level of the Valley Otz, but its canyon is ope_ere."
Presently I descried what I took to be a village, and pointing it out to Xoda_sked him what it might be.
"It is a village of lost souls," he answered, laughing. "This strip betwee_he ice barrier and the mountains is considered neutral ground. Some turn of_rom their voluntary pilgrimage down the Iss, and, scaling the awful walls o_ts canyon below us, stop in the valley. Also a slave now and then escape_rom the therns and makes his way hither.
"They do not attempt to recapture such, since there is no escape from thi_uter valley, and as a matter of fact they fear the patrolling cruisers of th_irst Born too much to venture from their own domains.
"The poor creatures of this outer valley are not molested by us since the_ave nothing that we desire, nor are they numerically strong enough to give u_n interesting fight—so we too leave them alone.
"There are several villages of them, but they have increased in numbers bu_ittle in many years since they are always warring among themselves."
Now we swung a little north of west, leaving the valley of lost souls, an_hortly I discerned over our starboard bow what appeared to be a blac_ountain rising from the desolate waste of ice. It was not high and seemed t_ave a flat top.
Xodar had left us to attend to some duty on the vessel, and Phaidor and _tood alone beside the rail. The girl had not once spoken since we had bee_rought to the deck.
"Is what he has been telling me true?" I asked her.
"In part, yes," she answered. "That about the outer valley is true, but wha_e says of the location of the Temple of Issus in the centre of his country i_alse. If it is not false—" she hesitated. "Oh it cannot be true, it cannot b_rue. For if it were true then for countless ages have my people gone t_orture and ignominious death at the hands of their cruel enemies, instead o_o the beautiful Life Eternal that we have been taught to believe Issus hold_or us."
"As the lesser Barsoomians of the outer world have been lured by you to th_errible Valley Dor, so may it be that the therns themselves have been lure_y the First Born to an equally horrid fate," I suggested. "It would be _tern and awful retribution, Phaidor; but a just one."
"I cannot believe it," she said.
"We shall see," I answered, and then we fell silent again for we were rapidl_pproaching the black mountains, which in some indefinable way seemed linke_ith the answer to our problem.
As we neared the dark, truncated cone the vessel's speed was diminished unti_e barely moved. Then we topped the crest of the mountain and below us I sa_awning the mouth of a huge circular well, the bottom of which was lost i_nky blackness.
The diameter of this enormous pit was fully a thousand feet. The walls wer_mooth and appeared to be composed of a black, basaltic rock.
For a moment the vessel hovered motionless directly above the centre of th_aping void, then slowly she began to settle into the black chasm. Lower an_ower she sank until as darkness enveloped us her lights were thrown on and i_he dim halo of her own radiance the monster battleship dropped on and on dow_nto what seemed to me must be the very bowels of Barsoom.
For quite half an hour we descended and then the shaft terminated abruptly i_he dome of a mighty subterranean world. Below us rose and fell the billows o_ buried sea. A phosphorescent radiance illuminated the scene. Thousands o_hips dotted the bosom of the ocean. Little islands rose here and there t_upport the strange and colourless vegetation of this strange world.
Slowly and with majestic grace the battleship dropped until she rested on th_ater. Her great propellers had been drawn and housed during our descent o_he shaft and in their place had been run out the smaller but more powerfu_ater propellers. As these commenced to revolve the ship took up its journe_nce more, riding the new element as buoyantly and as safely as she had th_ir.
Phaidor and I were dumbfounded. Neither had either heard or dreamed that suc_ world existed beneath the surface of Barsoom.
Nearly all the vessels we saw were war craft. There were a few lighters an_arges, but none of the great merchantmen such as ply the upper air betwee_he cities of the outer world.
"Here is the harbour of the navy of the First Born," said a voice behind us, and turning we saw Xodar watching us with an amused smile on his lips.
"This sea," he continued, "is larger than Korus. It receives the waters of th_esser sea above it. To keep it from filling above a certain level we hav_our great pumping stations that force the oversupply back into the reservoir_ar north from which the red men draw the water which irrigates their far_ands."
A new light burst on me with this explanation. The red men had alway_onsidered it a miracle that caused great columns of water to spurt from th_olid rock of their reservoir sides to increase the supply of the preciou_iquid which is so scarce in the outer world of Mars.
Never had their learned men been able to fathom the secret of the source o_his enormous volume of water. As ages passed they had simply come to accep_t as a matter of course and ceased to question its origin.
We passed several islands on which were strangely shaped circular buildings, apparently roofless, and pierced midway between the ground and their tops wit_mall, heavily barred windows. They bore the earmarks of prisons, which wer_urther accentuated by the armed guards who squatted on low benches without, or patrolled the short beach lines.
Few of these islets contained over an acre of ground, but presently we sighte_ much larger one directly ahead. This proved to be our destination, and th_reat ship was soon made fast against the steep shore.
Xodar signalled us to follow him and with a half-dozen officers and men w_eft the battleship and approached a large oval structure a couple of hundre_ards from the shore.
"You shall soon see Issus," said Xodar to Phaidor. "The few prisoners we tak_re presented to her. Occasionally she selects slaves from among them t_eplenish the ranks of her handmaidens. None serves Issus above a singl_ear," and there was a grim smile on the black's lips that lent a cruel an_inister meaning to his simple statement.
Phaidor, though loath to believe that Issus was allied to such as these, ha_ommenced to entertain doubts and fears. She clung very closely to me, n_onger the proud daughter of the Master of Life and Death upon Barsoom, but _oung and frightened girl in the power of relentless enemies.
The building which we now entered was entirely roofless. In its centre was _ong tank of water, set below the level of the floor like the swimming pool o_ natatorium. Near one side of the pool floated an odd-looking black object.
Whether it were some strange monster of these buried waters, or a queer raft, I could not at once perceive.
We were soon to know, however, for as we reached the edge of the pool directl_bove the thing, Xodar cried out a few words in a strange tongue. Immediatel_ hatch cover was raised from the surface of the object, and a black seama_prang from the bowels of the strange craft.
Xodar addressed the seaman.
"Transmit to your officer," he said, "the commands of Dator Xodar. Say to hi_hat Dator Xodar, with officers and men, escorting two prisoners, would b_ransported to the gardens of Issus beside the Golden Temple."
"Blessed be the shell of thy first ancestor, most noble Dator," replied th_an. "It shall be done even as thou sayest," and raising both hands, palm_ackward, above his head after the manner of salute which is common to al_aces of Barsoom, he disappeared once more into the entrails of his ship.
A moment later an officer resplendent in the gorgeous trappings of his ran_ppeared on deck and welcomed Xodar to the vessel, and in the latter's wake w_iled aboard and below.
The cabin in which we found ourselves extended entirely across the ship, having port-holes on either side below the water line. No sooner were al_elow than a number of commands were given, in accordance with which the hatc_as closed and secured, and the vessel commenced to vibrate to the rhythmi_urr of its machinery.
"Where can we be going in such a tiny pool of water?" asked Phaidor.
"Not up," I replied, "for I noticed particularly that while the building i_oofless it is covered with a strong metal grating."
"Then where?" she asked again.
"From the appearance of the craft I judge we are going down," I replied.
Phaidor shuddered. For such long ages have the waters of Barsoom's seas been _hing of tradition only that even this daughter of the therns, born as she ha_een within sight of Mars' only remaining sea, had the same terror of dee_ater as is a common attribute of all Martians.
Presently the sensation of sinking became very apparent. We were going dow_wiftly. Now we could hear the water rushing past the port-holes, and in th_im light that filtered through them to the water beyond the swirling eddie_ere plainly visible.
Phaidor grasped my arm.
"Save me!" she whispered. "Save me and your every wish shall be granted.
Anything within the power of the Holy Therns to give will be yours. Phaidor—"
she stumbled a little here, and then in a very low voice, "Phaidor already i_ours."
I felt very sorry for the poor child, and placed my hand over hers where i_ested on my arm. I presume my motive was misunderstood, for with a swif_lance about the apartment to assure herself that we were alone, she thre_oth her arms about my neck and dragged my face down to hers.