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Chapter 9 Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal

  • 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.