Back home Glossary About Cover
white The Barsoom series
  branch Llana of Gathol
    branch The black pirates of Barsoom
Previous page Next page navigation 22/53 dots branch Chapter 8.  
         
Next paragraph       Ptang told me that he had never known more interest to be displayed in a duel to the death than followed the announcement of the wager between Xaxak and Nastor.
Next paragraph       "No common warrior is to represent Nastor," he said. "He has persuaded a dator to fight for him, a man who is considered the best swordsman in Kamtol. His name is Nolat. I have never before known of a prince fighting a slave; but they say that Nolat owes Nastor a great deal of money and that Nastor will cancel the debt if Nolat wins, which Nolat is sure that he will he is so sure that he has pledged his palace to raise money to bet upon himself."
Next paragraph       "Not such a stupid thing for him to do, after all," I said; "for if he loses he won't need a palace."
Next paragraph       Ptang laughed. "I hope he doesn't need it," he said; "but don't be over-confident, for he is rated the best swordsman among the First Born; and there are supposed to be no better swordsmen in all Barsoom."
Next paragraph       Before the day arrived that I was to fight Nolat, Xaxak and Ptang grew more and more nervous; as did all of Xaxak's warriors, who seemed to feel a personal interest in me that is, with the exception of Ban-tor, whose enmity I had aroused by disarming him.
Next paragraph       Ban-tor had placed a number of wagers against me; and he kept bragging about this, insisting that I was no match for Nolat and that I should be killed in short order.
Next paragraph       I slept in a small room by myself on old, discarded furs, as befitted a slave.
Next paragraph       My room connected with that occupied by Ptang; and had only one door, which opened into Ptang's room. It was on the second floor of the palace and overlooked the lower end of the garden.
Next paragraph       The night before the encounter I was awakened by a noise in my room, and as I opened my eyes I saw a man leap out of the window with a sword in his hand; but, as neither of Mars' two moons was in the sky, it was not light enough for me to be sure that I could recognize him; yet there was something very familiar about him.
Next paragraph       The next morning I told Ptang about my nocturnal visitor. Neither of us, however, could imagine why anyone would want to enter my room in stealth, as I had nothing to steal.
Next paragraph       "It might have been an assassin who wanted to stop the fight," suggested Ptang.
Next paragraph       "I doubt that," I said; "for he had plenty of opportunity to kill me, as I didn't awaken until he was leaping through the window."
Next paragraph       "You missed nothing?" asked Ptang.
Next paragraph       "I had nothing to miss," I replied, "except my harness and weapons, and I am wearing them now."
Next paragraph       Ptang finally suggested that the fellow may have thought that a female slave slept in the room; and when he found out his error, took his departure; and with that we dropped the matter from our minds.
Next paragraph       We went to the stadium about the fourth zode, and we went in style in fact it was a regular pageant. There were Xaxak and his wife, with her female slaves, and Xaxak's officers and warriors. We were all mounted on gaily caparisoned thoats; pennants waved above us, and mounted trumpeters preceded us. Nastor was there with the same sort of retinue. We all paraded around the arena to the accompaniment of "Kaors!" and growls the kaors were applause and the growls were boos. I received a great many more growls than kaors, for after all I was a slave pitted against a prince, a man of their own blood.
Next paragraph       There were some wrestling and boxing matches and a number of duels for first blood only, but what the people were waiting for was the duel to the death.
Next paragraph       People are very much alike everywhere. On Earth, they go to boxing matches hoping for blood and a knockout; they go to the wrestling matches hoping to see someone thrown out of the ring and crippled; and when they go to automobile races they hope to see somebody killed. They will not admit these things, but without the element of danger and the risk of death these sports wouldn't draw a hatful of people.
Next paragraph       At last the moment came for me to enter the arena, and I did so before a most distinguished audience. Doxus, Jeddak of the First Born, was there with his Jeddara. The loges and boxes were crowded with the nobility of Kamtol. It was a gorgeous spectacle; the harnesses of the men and women were resplendent with precious metals and jewels, and from every vantage point flew pennants and banners.
Next paragraph       Nolat was escorted to the jeddak's box and presented; then to the box of Xaxak, where he bowed; and last of all to the box of Nastor, for whom he was fighting a stranger to the death.
Next paragraph       I, being a slave, was not presented to the jeddak; but I was taken before Nastor; so that he could identify me as the individual against whom he had placed his wagers. It was, of course, a mere formality; but in accordance with the rules of the Games.
Next paragraph       I had caught only a brief glimpse of Nastor's entourage as we had paraded around the arena; as they had been behind us; but now I got a good look at them, as I stood in the arena before Nastor, and I saw Llana of Gathol sitting there beside the dator. Now, indeed, would I kill Nastor's man!
Next paragraph       Llana of Gathol gasped and started to speak to me; but I shook my head, for I was afraid she would call me by name, which might, here among the First Born, have been the equivalent of a death sentence. It was always a surprise to me that none of these men recognized me; for my white skin and gray eyes make me a marked man, and if any of them had been in the Valley Dor when I was there they must have remembered me. I was to learn later why none of these Black Pirates of Barsoom knew me.
Next paragraph       "Why did you do that, slave?" demanded Nastor.
Next paragraph       "Do what?" I asked.
Next paragraph       "Shake your head," he replied.
Next paragraph       "Perhaps I am nervous," I said.
Next paragraph       "And well you may be, slave, for you are about to die," he snapped, nastily.
Next paragraph       I was taken then to a point in the arena opposite the jeddak's box. Ptang was with me, as a sort of a second, I suppose. They let us stand there alone for several minutes, presumably to shake my nerves; then Nolat approached, accompanied by another noble dator. There was a fifth man; possibly he might have been called a referee; although he didn't have much to do besides giving the signal for the duel to commence.
Next paragraph       Nolat was a large, powerful man; and built like a fighter. He was a very handsome man, but with a haughty, supercilious expression. Ptang had told me that we were supposed to salute each other with our swords before we engaged; and as soon as I got in position, I saluted; but Nolat merely sneered and said, "Come, slave! You are about to die."
Next paragraph       "You made a mistake, Nolat," I said, as we engaged.
Next paragraph       "What do you mean?" he demanded, lunging at me.
Next paragraph       "You should have saluted your better," I said, parrying his lunge. "Now it will go harder with you unless you would like to stop and salute me as you should have at first."
Next paragraph       "Insolent calot!" he growled, and thrust viciously at me.
Next paragraph       For reply, I cut a gash in his left cheek. "I told you you should have saluted,"
Next paragraph       I mocked.
Next paragraph       Nolat became furious, then, and came at me with the evident intention of ending the encounter immediately. I sliced him along the other cheek, then; and a moment later I carved a bloody cross upon his left breast, a difficult maneuver requiring exceptional agility and skill, since his right side was always presented to me; or always should have been had he been quick enough to follow my foot work.
Next paragraph       That audience was as silent as a tomb, except for the kaors from Xaxak's contingent. Nolat was bleeding profusely, and he had slowed down considerably.
Next paragraph       Suddenly somebody shouted, "Death!" Then other voices took it up. They wanted the kill; and as it was quite evident that Nolat couldn't kill me, I assumed that they wished me to kill him. Instead, I disarmed him, sending his blade flying halfway across the arena. The referee ran after it; at last I had given him something to do.
Next paragraph       I turned to Nolat's second. "I offer the man his life," I said in a tone of voice loud enough to have been heard in any part of the stadium.
Next paragraph       Immediately there were shots of " Kaor!" and "Death!" The "Deaths" were in the majority.
Next paragraph       "He offers you your life, Nolat," said the second.
Next paragraph       "But the wagers must be paid precisely as though I had killed you," I said.
Next paragraph       "It is to the death," said Nolat. "I shall fight."
Next paragraph       Well, he was a brave man; and because of that I hated to kill him.
Next paragraph       His sword was returned to him by now, and we fell to it again. This time Nolat did not smile nor sneer, and he had no nasty remarks to make to me. He was in deadly earnest, fighting for his life like a cornered rat. He was an excellent swordsman; but I do not think that he was the best swordsman among the First Born; for I had seen many of them fight before, and I could have named a dozen who could have killed him offhand.
Next paragraph       I could have killed him myself any time that I had wished to, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to do it. It seemed a shame to kill such a good swordsman and such a brave man; so I pricked him a few times and disarmed him again. I did the same thing three more times; and then, while the referee was running after Nolat's sword again, I stepped to the jeddak's loge and saluted.
Next paragraph       "What are you doing here, slave?" demanded an officer of the jeddak's guard.
Next paragraph       "I come to ask for the life of Nolat," I replied. "He is a good swordsman and a brave man and I am not a murderer; and it would be murder to kill him now."
Next paragraph       "It is a strange request," said Doxus; "the duel was to the death; it must go on."
Next paragraph       "I am a stranger here," I said, "but where I come from if a contestant can show fraud or chicanery he is awarded the decision without having to finish the contest."
Next paragraph       "Do you mean to imply that there has been fraud or chicanery on the part of either the Dator Nastor or the Dator Nolat?" demanded Doxus.
Next paragraph       "I mean to say that a man entered my room last night while I slept, took my sword, and left a shorter one in the scabbard. This sword is several inches shorter than Nolat's; I noticed it when we first engaged. It is not my sword, as Xaxak and Ptang can testify if they will examine it."
Next paragraph       Doxus summoned Xaxak and Ptang and asked them if they could identify the sword.
Next paragraph       Xaxak said that he could only identify it as coming from his armory; that he did not know the sword that had been issued to me, but that Ptang did; then Doxus turned to Ptang.
Next paragraph       "Is this the sword that was issued to the slave, Dotar Sojat?" he demanded.
Next paragraph       "No; it is not," replied Ptang.
Next paragraph       "Do you recognize it?"
Next paragraph       "I do."
Next paragraph       "To whom did it belong?"
        "It is the sword of a warrior named Ban-tor," replied Ptang.
         
navigation