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Chapter 8 The Depths of Omean

  • 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.