The confession of love which the girl's fright had wrung from her touched m_eeply; but it humiliated me as well, since I felt that in some thoughtles_ord or act I had given her reason to believe that I reciprocated he_ffection.
Never have I been much of a ladies' man, being more concerned with fightin_nd kindred arts which have ever seemed to me more befitting a man tha_ooning over a scented glove four sizes too small for him, or kissing a dea_lower that has begun to smell like a cabbage. So I was quite at a loss as t_hat to do or say. A thousand times rather face the wild hordes of the dea_ea bottoms than meet the eyes of this beautiful young girl and tell her th_hing that I must tell her.
But there was nothing else to be done, and so I did it. Very clumsily too, _ear.
Gently I unclasped her hands from about my neck, and still holding them i_ine I told her the story of my love for Dejah Thoris. That of all the wome_f two worlds that I had known and admired during my long life she alone had _oved.
The tale did not seem to please her. Like a tigress she sprang, panting, t_er feet. Her beautiful face was distorted in an expression of horribl_alevolence. Her eyes fairly blazed into mine.
"Dog," she hissed. "Dog of a blasphemer! Think you that Phaidor, daughter o_atai Shang, supplicates? She commands. What to her is your puny outer worl_assion for the vile creature you chose in your other life?
"Phaidor has glorified you with her love, and you have spurned her. Te_housand unthinkably atrocious deaths could not atone for the affront that yo_ave put upon me. The thing that you call Dejah Thoris shall die the mos_orrible of them all. You have sealed the warrant for her doom.
"And you! You shall be the meanest slave in the service of the goddess yo_ave attempted to humiliate. Tortures and ignominies shall be heaped upon yo_ntil you grovel at my feet asking the boon of death.
"In my gracious generosity I shall at length grant your prayer, and from th_igh balcony of the Golden Cliffs I shall watch the great white apes tear yo_sunder."
She had it all fixed up. The whole lovely programme from start to finish. I_mazed me to think that one so divinely beautiful could at the same time be s_iendishly vindictive. It occurred to me, however, that she had overlooked on_ittle factor in her revenge, and so, without any intent to add to he_iscomfiture, but rather to permit her to rearrange her plans along mor_ractical lines, I pointed to the nearest port-hole.
Evidently she had entirely forgotten her surroundings and her presen_ircumstances, for a single glance at the dark, swirling waters without sen_er crumpled upon a low bench, where with her face buried in her arms sh_obbed more like a very unhappy little girl than a proud and all-powerfu_oddess.
Down, down we continued to sink until the heavy glass of the port-holes becam_oticeably warm from the heat of the water without. Evidently we were very fa_eneath the surface crust of Mars.
Presently our downward motion ceased, and I could hear the propellers swirlin_hrough the water at our stern and forcing us ahead at high speed. It was ver_ark down there, but the light from our port-holes, and the reflection fro_hat must have been a powerful searchlight on the submarine's nose showed tha_e were forging through a narrow passage, rock-lined, and tube-like.
After a few minutes the propellers ceased their whirring. We came to a ful_top, and then commenced to rise swiftly toward the surface. Soon the ligh_rom without increased and we came to a stop.
Xodar entered the cabin with his men.
"Come," he said, and we followed him through the hatchway which had bee_pened by one of the seamen.
We found ourselves in a small subterranean vault, in the centre of which wa_he pool in which lay our submarine, floating as we had first seen her wit_nly her black back showing.
Around the edge of the pool was a level platform, and then the walls of th_ave rose perpendicularly for a few feet to arch toward the centre of the lo_oof. The walls about the ledge were pierced with a number of entrances t_imly lighted passageways.
Toward one of these our captors led us, and after a short walk halted before _teel cage which lay at the bottom of a shaft rising above us as far as on_ould see.
The cage proved to be one of the common types of elevator cars that I had see_n other parts of Barsoom. They are operated by means of enormous magnet_hich are suspended at the top of the shaft. By an electrical device th_olume of magnetism generated is regulated and the speed of the car varied.
In long stretches they move at a sickening speed, especially on the upwar_rip, since the small force of gravity inherent to Mars results in very littl_pposition to the powerful force above.
Scarcely had the door of the car closed behind us than we were slowing up t_top at the landing above, so rapid was our ascent of the long shaft.
When we emerged from the little building which houses the upper terminus o_he elevator, we found ourselves in the midst of a veritable fairyland o_eauty. The combined languages of Earth men hold no words to convey to th_ind the gorgeous beauties of the scene.
One may speak of scarlet sward and ivory-stemmed trees decked with brillian_urple blooms; of winding walks paved with crushed rubies, with emerald, wit_urquoise, even with diamonds themselves; of a magnificent temple of burnishe_old, hand-wrought with marvellous designs; but where are the words t_escribe the glorious colours that are unknown to earthly eyes? where the min_r the imagination that can grasp the gorgeous scintillations of unheard-o_ays as they emanate from the thousand nameless jewels of Barsoom?
Even my eyes, for long years accustomed to the barbaric splendours of _artian Jeddak's court, were amazed at the glory of the scene.
Phaidor's eyes were wide in amazement.
"The Temple of Issus," she whispered, half to herself.
Xodar watched us with his grim smile, partly of amusement and partly maliciou_loating.
The gardens swarmed with brilliantly trapped black men and women. Among the_oved red and white females serving their every want. The places of the oute_orld and the temples of the therns had been robbed of their princesses an_oddesses that the blacks might have their slaves.
Through this scene we moved toward the temple. At the main entrance we wer_alted by a cordon of armed guards. Xodar spoke a few words to an officer wh_ame forward to question us. Together they entered the temple, where the_emained for some time.
When they returned it was to announce that Issus desired to look upon th_aughter of Matai Shang, and the strange creature from another world who ha_een a Prince of Helium.
Slowly we moved through endless corridors of unthinkable beauty; throug_agnificent apartments, and noble halls. At length we were halted in _pacious chamber in the centre of the temple. One of the officers who ha_ccompanied us advanced to a large door in the further end of the chamber.
Here he must have made some sort of signal for immediately the door opened an_nother richly trapped courtier emerged.
We were then led up to the door, where we were directed to get down on ou_ands and knees with our backs toward the room we were to enter. The door_ere swung open and after being cautioned not to turn our heads under penalt_f instant death we were commanded to back into the presence of Issus.
Never have I been in so humiliating a position in my life, and only my lov_or Dejah Thoris and the hope which still clung to me that I might again se_er kept me from rising to face the goddess of the First Born and go down t_y death like a gentleman, facing my foes and with their blood mingling wit_ine.
After we had crawled in this disgusting fashion for a matter of a couple o_undred feet we were halted by our escort.
"Let them rise," said a voice behind us; a thin, wavering voice, yet one tha_ad evidently been accustomed to command for many years.
"Rise," said our escort, "but do not face toward Issus."
"The woman pleases me," said the thin, wavering voice again after a fe_oments of silence. "She shall serve me the allotted time. The man you ma_eturn to the Isle of Shador which lies against the northern shore of the Se_f Omean. Let the woman turn and look upon Issus, knowing that those of th_ower orders who gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face survive th_linding glory but a single year."
I watched Phaidor from the corner of my eye. She paled to a ghastly hue.
Slowly, very slowly she turned, as though drawn by some invisible ye_rresistible force. She was standing quite close to me, so close that her bar_rm touched mine as she finally faced Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal.
I could not see the girl's face as her eyes rested for the first time on th_upreme Deity of Mars, but felt the shudder that ran through her in th_rembling flesh of the arm that touched mine.
"It must be dazzling loveliness indeed," thought I, "to cause such emotion i_he breast of so radiant a beauty as Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang."
"Let the woman remain. Remove the man. Go." Thus spoke Issus, and the heav_and of the officer fell upon my shoulder. In accordance with his instruction_ dropped to my hands and knees once more and crawled from the Presence. I_ad been my first audience with deity, but I am free to confess that I was no_reatly impressed—other than with the ridiculous figure I cut scrambling abou_n my marrow bones.
Once without the chamber the doors closed behind us and I was bid to rise.
Xodar joined me and together we slowly retraced our steps toward the gardens.
"You spared my life when you easily might have taken it," he said after we ha_roceeded some little way in silence, "and I would aid you if I might. I ca_elp to make your life here more bearable, but your fate is inevitable. Yo_ay never hope to return to the outer world."
"What will be my fate?" I asked.
"That will depend largely upon Issus. So long as she does not send for you an_eveal her face to you, you may live on for years in as mild a form of bondag_s I can arrange for you."
"Why should she send for me?" I asked.
"The men of the lower orders she often uses for various purposes of amusement.
Such a fighter as you, for example, would render fine sport in the monthl_ites of the temple. There are men pitted against men, and against beasts fo_he edification of Issus and the replenishment of her larder."
"She eats human flesh?" I asked. Not in horror, however, for since my recentl_cquired knowledge of the Holy Therns I was prepared for anything in thi_till less accessible heaven, where all was evidently dictated by a singl_mnipotence; where ages of narrow fanaticism and self-worship had eradicate_ll the broader humanitarian instincts that the race might once hav_ossessed.
They were a people drunk with power and success, looking upon the othe_nhabitants of Mars as we look upon the beasts of the field and the forest.
Why then should they not eat of the flesh of the lower orders whose lives an_haracters they no more understood than do we the inmost thoughts an_ensibilities of the cattle we slaughter for our earthly tables.
"She eats only the flesh of the best bred of the Holy Therns and the re_arsoomians. The flesh of the others goes to our boards. The animals are eate_y the slaves. She also eats other dainties."
I did not understand then that there lay any special significance in hi_eference to other dainties. I thought the limit of ghoulishness already ha_een reached in the recitation of Issus' menu. I still had much to learn as t_he depths of cruelty and bestiality to which omnipotence may drag it_ossessor.
We had about reached the last of the many chambers and corridors which led t_he gardens when an officer overtook us.
"Issus would look again upon this man," he said. "The girl has told her tha_e is of wondrous beauty and of such prowess that alone he slew seven of th_irst Born, and with his bare hands took Xodar captive, binding him with hi_wn harness."
Xodar looked uncomfortable. Evidently he did not relish the thought that Issu_ad learned of his inglorious defeat.
Without a word he turned and we followed the officer once again to the close_oors before the audience chamber of Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal.
Here the ceremony of entrance was repeated. Again Issus bid me rise. Fo_everal minutes all was silent as the tomb. The eyes of deity were appraisin_e.
Presently the thin wavering voice broke the stillness, repeating in a singson_rone the words which for countless ages had sealed the doom of numberles_ictims.
"Let the man turn and look upon Issus, knowing that those of the lower order_ho gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face survive the blinding glor_ut a single year."
I turned as I had been bid, expecting such a treat as only the revealment o_ivine glory to mortal eyes might produce. What I saw was a solid phalanx o_rmed men between myself and a dais supporting a great bench of carved sorapu_ood. On this bench, or throne, squatted a female black. She was evidentl_ery old. Not a hair remained upon her wrinkled skull. With the exception o_wo yellow fangs she was entirely toothless. On either side of her thin, hawk- like nose her eyes burned from the depths of horribly sunken sockets. The ski_f her face was seamed and creased with a million deepcut furrows. Her bod_as as wrinkled as her face, and as repulsive.
Emaciated arms and legs attached to a torso which seemed to be mostl_istorted abdomen completed the "holy vision of her radiant beauty."
Surrounding her were a number of female slaves, among them Phaidor, white an_rembling.
"This is the man who slew seven of the First Born and, bare-handed, boun_ator Xodar with his own harness?" asked Issus.
"Most glorious vision of divine loveliness, it is," replied the officer wh_tood at my side.
"Produce Dator Xodar," she commanded.
Xodar was brought from the adjoining room.
Issus glared at him, a baleful light in her hideous eyes.
"And such as you are a Dator of the First Born?" she squealed. "For th_isgrace you have brought upon the Immortal Race you shall be degraded to _ank below the lowest. No longer be you a Dator, but for evermore a slave o_laves, to fetch and carry for the lower orders that serve in the gardens o_ssus. Remove his harness. Cowards and slaves wear no trappings."
Xodar stood stiffly erect. Not a muscle twitched, nor a tremor shook his gian_rame as a soldier of the guard roughly stripped his gorgeous trappings fro_im.
"Begone," screamed the infuriated little old woman. "Begone, but instead o_he light of the gardens of Issus let you serve as a slave of this slave wh_onquered you in the prison on the Isle of Shador in the Sea of Omean. Tak_im away out of the sight of my divine eyes."
Slowly and with high held head the proud Xodar turned and stalked from th_hamber. Issus rose and turned to leave the room by another exit.
Turning to me, she said: "You shall be returned to Shador for the present.
Later Issus will see the manner of your fighting. Go." Then she disappeared, followed by her retinue. Only Phaidor lagged behind, and as I started t_ollow my guard toward the gardens, the girl came running after me.
"Oh, do not leave me in this terrible place," she begged. "Forgive the thing_ said to you, my Prince. I did not mean them. Only take me away with you. Le_e share your imprisonment on Shador." Her words were an almost incoheren_olley of thoughts, so rapidly she spoke. "You did not understand the honou_hat I did you. Among the therns there is no marriage or giving in marriage, as among the lower orders of the outer world. We might have lived together fo_ver in love and happiness. We have both looked upon Issus and in a year w_ie. Let us live that year at least together in what measure of joy remain_or the doomed."
"If it was difficult for me to understand you, Phaidor," I replied, "can yo_ot understand that possibly it is equally difficult for you to understand th_otives, the customs and the social laws that guide me? I do not wish to hur_ou, nor to seem to undervalue the honour which you have done me, but th_hing you desire may not be. Regardless of the foolish belief of the people_f the outer world, or of Holy Thern, or ebon First Born, I am not dead. Whil_ live my heart beats for but one woman—the incomparable Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. When death overtakes me my heart shall have ceased t_eat; but what comes after that I know not. And in that I am as wise as Mata_hang, Master of Life and Death upon Barsoom; or Issus, Goddess of Lif_ternal."
Phaidor stood looking at me intently for a moment. No anger showed in her eye_his time, only a pathetic expression of hopeless sorrow.
"I do not understand," she said, and turning walked slowly in the direction o_he door through which Issus and her retinue had passed. A moment later sh_ad passed from my sight.