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Chapter 5 On the Kaolian Road

  • If there be a fate that is sometimes cruel to me, there surely is a kind an_erciful Providence which watches over me.
  • As I toppled from the tower into the horrid abyss below I counted mysel_lready dead; and Thurid must have done likewise, for he evidently did no_ven trouble himself to look after me, but must have turned and mounted th_aiting flier at once.
  • Ten feet only I fell, and then a loop of my tough, leathern harness caugh_pon one of the cylindrical stone projections in the tower's surface—and held.
  • Even when I had ceased to fall I could not believe the miracle that ha_reserved me from instant death, and for a moment I hung there, cold swea_xuding from every pore of my body.
  • But when at last I had worked myself back to a firm position I hesitated t_scend, since I could not know that Thurid was not still awaiting me above.
  • Presently, however, there came to my ears the whirring of the propellers of _lier, and as each moment the sound grew fainter I realized that the party ha_roceeded toward the south without assuring themselves as to my fate.
  • Cautiously I retraced my way to the roof, and I must admit that it was with n_leasant sensation that I raised my eyes once more above its edge; but, to m_elief, there was no one in sight, and a moment later I stood safely upon it_road surface.
  • To reach the hangar and drag forth the only other flier which it contained wa_he work of but an instant; and just as the two thern warriors whom Mata_hang had left to prevent this very contingency emerged upon the roof from th_ower's interior, I rose above them with a taunting laugh.
  • Then I dived rapidly to the inner court where I had last seen Woola, and to m_mmense relief found the faithful beast still there.
  • The twelve great banths lay in the doorways of their lairs, eyeing him an_rowling ominously, but they had not disobeyed Thuvia's injunction; and _hanked the fate that had made her their keeper within the Golden Cliffs, an_ndowed her with the kind and sympathetic nature that had won the loyalty an_ffection of these fierce beasts for her.
  • Woola leaped in frantic joy when he discovered me; and as the flier touche_he pavement of the court for a brief instant he bounded to the deck besid_e, and in the bearlike manifestation of his exuberant happiness all bu_aused me to wreck the vessel against the courtyard's rocky wall.
  • Amid the angry shouting of thern guardsmen we rose high above the las_ortress of the Holy Therns, and then raced straight toward the northeast an_aol, the destination which I had heard from the lips of Matai Shang.
  • Far ahead, a tiny speck in the distance, I made out another flier late in th_fternoon. It could be none other than that which bore my lost love and m_nemies.
  • I had gained considerably on the craft by night; and then, knowing that the_ust have sighted me and would show no lights after dark, I set my destinatio_ompass upon her—that wonderful little Martian mechanism which, once attune_o the object of destination, points away toward it, irrespective of ever_hange in its location.
  • All that night we raced through the Barsoomian void, passing over low hill_nd dead sea bottoms; above long-deserted cities and populous centers of re_artian habitation upon the ribbon-like lines of cultivated land which borde_he globe-encircling waterways, which Earth men call the canals of Mars.
  • Dawn showed that I had gained appreciably upon the flier ahead of me. It was _arger craft than mine, and not so swift; but even so, it had covered a_mmense distance since the flight began.
  • The change in vegetation below showed me that we were rapidly nearing th_quator. I was now near enough to my quarry to have used my bow gun; but, though I could see that Dejah Thoris was not on deck, I feared to fire upo_he craft which bore her.
  • Thurid was deterred by no such scruples; and though it must have bee_ifficult for him to believe that it was really I who followed them, he coul_ot very well doubt the witness of his own eyes; and so he trained their ster_un upon me with his own hands, and an instant later an explosive radiu_rojectile whizzed perilously close above my deck.
  • The black's next shot was more accurate, striking my flier full upon the pro_nd exploding with the instant of contact, ripping wide open the bow buoyanc_anks and disabling the engine.
  • So quickly did my bow drop after the shot that I scarce had time to lash Wool_o the deck and buckle my own harness to a gunwale ring before the craft wa_anging stern up and making her last long drop to ground.
  • Her stern buoyancy tanks prevented her dropping with great rapidity; bu_hurid was firing rapidly now in an attempt to burst these also, that I migh_e dashed to death in the swift fall that would instantly follow a successfu_hot.
  • Shot after shot tore past or into us, but by a miracle neither Woola nor I wa_it, nor were the after tanks punctured. This good fortune could not las_ndefinitely, and, assured that Thurid would not again leave me alive, _waited the bursting of the next shell that hit; and then, throwing my hand_bove my head, I let go my hold and crumpled, limp and inert, dangling in m_arness like a corpse.
  • The ruse worked, and Thurid fired no more at us. Presently I heard th_iminishing sound of whirring propellers and realized that again I was safe.
  • Slowly the stricken flier sank to the ground, and when I had freed myself an_oola from the entangling wreckage I found that we were upon the verge of _atural forest—so rare a thing upon the bosom of dying Mars that, outside o_he forest in the Valley Dor beside the Lost Sea of Korus, I never before ha_een its like upon the planet.
  • From books and travelers I had learned something of the little-known land o_aol, which lies along the equator almost halfway round the planet to the eas_f Helium.
  • It comprises a sunken area of extreme tropical heat, and is inhabited by _ation of red men varying but little in manners, customs, and appearance fro_he balance of the red men of Barsoom.
  • I knew that they were among those of the outer world who still clun_enaciously to the discredited religion of the Holy Therns, and that Mata_hang would find a ready welcome and safe refuge among them; while John Carte_ould look for nothing better than an ignoble death at their hands.
  • The isolation of the Kaolians is rendered almost complete by the fact that n_aterway connects their land with that of any other nation, nor have they an_eed of a waterway since the low, swampy land which comprises the entire are_f their domain self-waters their abundant tropical crops.
  • For great distances in all directions rugged hills and arid stretches of dea_ea bottom discourage intercourse with them, and since there is practically n_uch thing as foreign commerce upon warlike Barsoom, where each nation i_ufficient to itself, really little has been known relative to the court o_he Jeddak of Kaol and the numerous strange, but interesting, people over who_e rules.
  • Occasional hunting parties have traveled to this out-of-the-way corner of th_lobe, but the hostility of the natives has usually brought disaster upo_hem, so that even the sport of hunting the strange and savage creatures whic_aunt the jungle fastnesses of Kaol has of later years proved insufficien_ure even to the most intrepid warriors.
  • It was upon the verge of the land of the Kaols that I now knew myself to be, but in what direction to search for Dejah Thoris, or how far into the heart o_he great forest I might have to penetrate I had not the faintest idea.
  • But not so Woola.
  • Scarcely had I disentangled him than he raised his head high in air an_ommenced circling about at the edge of the forest. Presently he halted, and, turning to see if I were following, set off straight into the maze of trees i_he direction we had been going before Thurid's shot had put an end to ou_lier.
  • As best I could, I stumbled after him down a steep declivity beginning at th_orest's edge.
  • Immense trees reared their mighty heads far above us, their broad frond_ompletely shutting off the slightest glimpse of the sky. It was easy to se_hy the Kaolians needed no navy; their cities, hidden in the midst of thi_owering forest, must be entirely invisible from above, nor could a landing b_ade by any but the smallest fliers, and then only with the greatest risk o_ccident.
  • How Thurid and Matai Shang were to land I could not imagine, though later _as to learn that to the level of the forest top there rises in each city o_aol a slender watchtower which guards the Kaolians by day and by nigh_gainst the secret approach of a hostile fleet. To one of these the hekkado_f the Holy Therns had no difficulty in approaching, and by its means th_arty was safely lowered to the ground.
  • As Woola and I approached the bottom of the declivity the ground became sof_nd mushy, so that it was with the greatest difficulty that we made an_eadway whatever.
  • Slender purple grasses topped with red and yellow fern-like fronds grew rankl_ll about us to the height of several feet above my head.
  • Myriad creepers hung festooned in graceful loops from tree to tree, and amon_hem were several varieties of the Martian "man-flower," whose blooms hav_yes and hands with which to see and seize the insects which form their diet.
  • The repulsive calot tree was, too, much in evidence. It is a carnivorous plan_f about the bigness of a large sage-brush such as dots our western plains.
  • Each branch ends in a set of strong jaws, which have been known to drag dow_nd devour large and formidable beasts of prey.
  • Both Woola and I had several narrow escapes from these greedy, arboreou_onsters.
  • Occasional areas of firm sod gave us intervals of rest from the arduous labo_f traversing this gorgeous, twilight swamp, and it was upon one of these tha_ finally decided to make camp for the night which my chronometer warned m_ould soon be upon us.
  • Many varieties of fruit grew in abundance about us; and as Martian calots ar_mnivorous, Woola had no difficulty in making a square meal after I ha_rought down the viands for him. Then, having eaten, too, I lay down with m_ack to that of my faithful hound, and dropped into a deep and dreamles_leep.
  • The forest was shrouded in impenetrable darkness when a low growl from Wool_wakened me. All about us I could hear the stealthy movement of great, padde_eet, and now and then the wicked gleam of green eyes upon us. Arising, I dre_y long-sword and waited.
  • Suddenly a deep-toned, horrid roar burst from some savage throat almost at m_ide. What a fool I had been not to have found safer lodgings for myself an_oola among the branches of one of the countless trees that surrounded us!
  • By daylight it would have been comparatively easy to have hoisted Woola alof_n one manner or another, but now it was too late. There was nothing for i_ut to stand our ground and take our medicine, though, from the hideous racke_hich now assailed our ears, and for which that first roar had seemed to b_he signal, I judged that we must be in the midst of hundreds, perhap_housands, of the fierce, man-eating denizens of the Kaolian jungle.
  • All the balance of the night they kept up their infernal din, but why they di_ot attack us I could not guess, nor am I sure to this day, unless it is tha_one of them ever venture upon the patches of scarlet sward which dot th_wamp.
  • When morning broke they were still there, walking about as in a circle, bu_lways just beyond the edge of the sward. A more terrifying aggregation o_ierce and blood-thirsty monsters it would be difficult to imagine.
  • Singly and in pairs they commenced wandering off into the jungle shortly afte_unrise, and when the last of them had departed Woola and I resumed ou_ourney.
  • Occasionally we caught glimpses of horrid beasts all during the day; but, fortunately, we were never far from a sward island, and when they saw us thei_ursuit always ended at the verge of the solid sod.
  • Toward noon we stumbled upon a well-constructed road running in the genera_irection we had been pursuing. Everything about this highway marked it as th_ork of skilled engineers, and I was confident, from the indications o_ntiquity which it bore, as well as from the very evident signs of its bein_till in everyday use, that it must lead to one of the principal cities o_aol.
  • Just as we entered it from one side a huge monster emerged from the jungl_pon the other, and at sight of us charged madly in our direction.
  • Imagine, if you can, a bald-faced hornet of your earthly experience grown t_he size of a prize Hereford bull, and you will have some faint conception o_he ferocious appearance and awesome formidability of the winged monster tha_ore down upon me.
  • Frightful jaws in front and mighty, poisoned sting behind made my relativel_uny long-sword seem a pitiful weapon of defense indeed. Nor could I hope t_scape the lightning-like movements or hide from those myriad facet eyes whic_overed three-fourths of the hideous head, permitting the creature to see i_ll directions at one and the same time.
  • Even my powerful and ferocious Woola was as helpless as a kitten before tha_rightful thing. But to flee were useless, even had it ever been to my likin_o turn my back upon a danger; so I stood my ground, Woola snarling at m_ide, my only hope to die as I had always lived—fighting.
  • The creature was upon us now, and at the instant there seemed to me a singl_light chance for victory. If I could but remove the terrible menace o_ertain death hidden in the poison sacs that fed the sting the struggle woul_e less unequal.
  • At the thought I called to Woola to leap upon the creature's head and han_here, and as his mighty jaws closed upon that fiendish face, and glistenin_angs buried themselves in the bone and cartilage and lower part of one of th_uge eyes, I dived beneath the great body as the creature rose, dragging Wool_rom the ground, that it might bring its sting beneath and pierce the body o_he thing hanging to its head.
  • To put myself in the path of that poison-laden lance was to court instan_eath, but it was the only way; and as the thing shot lightning-like toward m_ swung my long-sword in a terrific cut that severed the deadly member clos_o the gorgeously marked body.
  • Then, like a battering-ram, one of the powerful hind legs caught me full i_he chest and hurled me, half stunned and wholly winded, clear across th_road highway and into the underbrush of the jungle that fringes it.
  • Fortunately, I passed between the boles of trees; had I struck one of them _hould have been badly injured, if not killed, so swiftly had I bee_atapulted by that enormous hind leg.
  • Dazed though I was, I stumbled to my feet and staggered back to Woola'_ssistance, to find his savage antagonist circling ten feet above the ground, beating madly at the clinging calot with all six powerful legs.
  • Even during my sudden flight through the air I had not once released my gri_pon my long-sword, and now I ran beneath the two battling monsters, jabbin_he winged terror repeatedly with its sharp point.
  • The thing might easily have risen out of my reach, but evidently it knew a_ittle concerning retreat in the face of danger as either Woola or I, for i_ropped quickly toward me, and before I could escape had grasped my shoulde_etween its powerful jaws.
  • Time and again the now useless stub of its giant sting struck futilely agains_y body, but the blows alone were almost as effective as the kick of a horse; so that when I say futilely, I refer only to the natural function of th_isabled member—eventually the thing would have hammered me to a pulp. Nor wa_t far from accomplishing this when an interruption occurred that put an en_orever to its hostilities.
  • From where I hung a few feet above the road I could see along the highway _ew hundred yards to where it turned toward the east, and just as I had abou_iven up all hope of escaping the perilous position in which I now was I saw _ed warrior come into view from around the bend.
  • He was mounted on a splendid thoat, one of the smaller species used by re_en, and in his hand was a wondrous long, light lance.
  • His mount was walking sedately when I first perceived them, but the instan_hat the red man's eyes fell upon us a word to the thoat brought the animal a_ull charge down upon us. The long lance of the warrior dipped toward us, an_s thoat and rider hurtled beneath, the point passed through the body of ou_ntagonist.
  • With a convulsive shudder the thing stiffened, the jaws relaxed, dropping m_o the ground, and then, careening once in mid air, the creature plunge_eadforemost to the road, full upon Woola, who still clung tenaciously to it_ory head.
  • By the time I had regained my feet the red man had turned and ridden back t_s. Woola, finding his enemy inert and lifeless, released his hold at m_ommand and wriggled from beneath the body that had covered him, and togethe_e faced the warrior looking down upon us.
  • I started to thank the stranger for his timely assistance, but he cut me of_eremptorily.
  • "Who are you," he asked, "who dare enter the land of Kaol and hunt in th_oyal forest of the jeddak?"
  • Then, as he noted my white skin through the coating of grime and blood tha_overed me, his eyes went wide and in an altered tone he whispered: "Can it b_hat you are a Holy Thern?"
  • I might have deceived the fellow for a time, as I had deceived others, but _ad cast away the yellow wig and the holy diadem in the presence of Mata_hang, and I knew that it would not be long ere my new acquaintance discovere_hat I was no thern at all.
  • "I am not a thern," I replied, and then, flinging caution to the winds, _aid: "I am John Carter, Prince of Helium, whose name may not be entirel_nknown to you."
  • If his eyes had gone wide when he thought that I was a Holy Thern, they fairl_opped now that he knew that I was John Carter. I grasped my long-sword mor_irmly as I spoke the words which I was sure would precipitate an attack, bu_o my surprise they precipitated nothing of the kind.
  • "John Carter, Prince of Helium," he repeated slowly, as though he could no_uite grasp the truth of the statement. "John Carter, the mightiest warrior o_arsoom!"
  • And then he dismounted and placed his hand upon my shoulder after the manne_f most friendly greeting upon Mars.
  • "It is my duty, and it should be my pleasure, to kill you, John Carter," h_aid, "but always in my heart of hearts have I admired your prowess an_elieved in your sincerity the while I have questioned and disbelieved th_herns and their religion.
  • "It would mean my instant death were my heresy to be suspected in the court o_ulan Tith, but if I may serve you, Prince, you have but to command Torka_ar, Dwar of the Kaolian Road."
  • Truth and honesty were writ large upon the warrior's noble countenance, s_hat I could not but have trusted him, enemy though he should have been. Hi_itle of Captain of the Kaolian Road explained his timely presence in th_eart of the savage forest, for every highway upon Barsoom is patrolled b_oughty warriors of the noble class, nor is there any service more honorabl_han this lonely and dangerous duty in the less frequented sections of th_omains of the red men of Barsoom.
  • "Torkar Bar has already placed a great debt of gratitude upon my shoulders," _eplied, pointing to the carcass of the creature from whose heart he wa_ragging his long spear.
  • The red man smiled.
  • "It was fortunate that I came when I did," he said. "Only this poisoned spea_ricking the very heart of a sith can kill it quickly enough to save its prey.
  • In this section of Kaol we are all armed with a long sith spear, whose poin_s smeared with the poison of the creature it is intended to kill; no othe_irus acts so quickly upon the beast as its own.
  • "Look," he continued, drawing his dagger and making an incision in the carcas_ foot above the root of the sting, from which he presently drew forth tw_acs, each of which held fully a gallon of the deadly liquid.
  • "Thus we maintain our supply, though were it not for certain commercial use_o which the virus is put, it would scarcely be necessary to add to ou_resent store, since the sith is almost extinct.
  • "Only occasionally do we now run upon one. Of old, however, Kaol was overru_ith the frightful monsters that often came in herds of twenty or thirty, darting down from above into our cities and carrying away women, children, an_ven warriors."
  • As he spoke I had been wondering just how much I might safely tell this man o_he mission which brought me to his land, but his next words anticipated th_roaching of the subject on my part, and rendered me thankful that I had no_poken too soon.
  • "And now as to yourself, John Carter," he said, "I shall not ask your busines_ere, nor do I wish to hear it. I have eyes and ears and ordinar_ntelligence, and yesterday morning I saw the party that came to the city o_aol from the north in a small flier. But one thing I ask of you, and that is: the word of John Carter that he contemplates no overt act against either th_ation of Kaol or its jeddak."
  • "You may have my word as to that, Torkar Bar," I replied.
  • "My way leads along the Kaolian road, away from the city of Kaol," h_ontinued. "I have seen no one—John Carter least of all. Nor have you see_orkar Bar, nor ever heard of him. You understand?"
  • "Perfectly," I replied.
  • He laid his hand upon my shoulder.
  • "This road leads directly into the city of Kaol," he said. "I wish yo_ortune," and vaulting to the back of his thoat he trotted away without even _ackward glance.
  • It was after dark when Woola and I spied through the mighty forest the grea_all which surrounds the city of Kaol.
  • We had traversed the entire way without mishap or adventure, and though th_ew we had met had eyed the great calot wonderingly, none had pierced the re_igment with which I had smoothly smeared every square inch of my body.
  • But to traverse the surrounding country, and to enter the guarded city o_ulan Tith, Jeddak of Kaol, were two very different things. No man enters _artian city without giving a very detailed and satisfactory account o_imself, nor did I delude myself with the belief that I could for a momen_mpose upon the acumen of the officers of the guard to whom I should be take_he moment I applied at any one of the gates.
  • My only hope seemed to lie in entering the city surreptitiously under cover o_he darkness, and once in, trust to my own wits to hide myself in some crowde_uarter where detection would be less liable to occur.
  • With this idea in view I circled the great wall, keeping within the fringe o_he forest, which is cut away for a short distance from the wall all about th_ity, that no enemy may utilize the trees as a means of ingress.
  • Several times I attempted to scale the barrier at different points, but no_ven my earthly muscles could overcome that cleverly constructed rampart. To _eight of thirty feet the face of the wall slanted outward, and then fo_lmost an equal distance it was perpendicular, above which it slanted in agai_or some fifteen feet to the crest.
  • And smooth! Polished glass could not be more so. Finally I had to admit tha_t last I had discovered a Barsoomian fortification which I could no_egotiate.
  • Discouraged, I withdrew into the forest beside a broad highway which entere_he city from the east, and with Woola beside me lay down to sleep.