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Книга Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Содержание - VII The Phantom Bowmen

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«Who is Tario?» asked Carthoris.

«Jeddak of Lothar,» replied the guide, leading them up the broad avenue down which they had but a moment since seen the phantom army marching.

For half an hour they walked along lovely avenues between the most gorgeous buildings that the two had ever seen. Few people were in evidence. Carthoris could not but note the deserted appearance of the mighty city.

At last they came to the royal palace. Carthoris saw it from a distance, and guessing the nature of the magnificent pile wondered that even here there should be so little sign of activity and life.

Not even a single guard was visible before the great entrance gate, nor in the gardens beyond, into which he could see, was there sign of the myriad life that pulses within the precincts of the royal estates of the red jeddaks.

«Here,» said their guide, «is the palace of Tario.»

As he spoke Carthoris again let his gaze rest upon the wondrous palace. With a startled exclamation he rubbed his eyes and looked again. No! He could not be mistaken. Before the massive gate stood a score of sentries. Within, the avenue leading to the main building was lined on either side by ranks of bowmen. The gardens were dotted with officers and soldiers moving quickly to and fro, as though bent upon the duties of the minute.

What manner of people were these who could conjure an army out of thin air? He glanced toward Thuvia. She, too, evidently had witnessed the transformation.

With a little shudder she pressed more closely toward him.

«What do you make of it?» she whispered. «It is most uncanny.»

«I cannot account for it,» replied Carthoris, «unless we have gone mad.»

Carthoris turned quickly toward the Lotharian. The fellow was smiling broadly.

«I thought that you just said that there were no soldiers in Lothar,» said the Heliumite, with a gesture toward the guardsmen. «What are these?»

«Ask Tario,» replied the other. «We shall soon be before him.»

Nor was it long before they entered a lofty chamber at one end of which a man reclined upon a rich couch that stood upon a high dais.

As the trio approached, the man turned dreamy eyes sleepily upon them. Twenty feet from the dais their conductor halted, and, whispering to Thuvia and Carthoris to follow his example, threw himself headlong to the floor. Then rising to hands and knees, he commenced crawling toward the foot of the throne, swinging his head to and fro and wiggling his body as you have seen a hound do when approaching its master.

Thuvia glanced quickly toward Carthoris. He was standing erect, with high-held head and arms folded across his broad chest. A haughty smile curved his lips.

The man upon the dais was eyeing him intently, and Carthoris of Helium was looking straight in the other's face.

«Who be these, Jav?» asked the man of him who crawled upon his belly along the floor.

«O Tario, most glorious Jeddak,» replied Jav, «these be strangers who came with the hordes of Torquas to our gates, saying that they were prisoners of the green men. They tell strange tales of cities far beyond Lothar.»

«Arise, Jav,» commanded Tario, «and ask these two why they show not to Tario the respect that is his due.»

Jav arose and faced the strangers. At sight of their erect positions his face went livid. He leaped toward them.

«Creatures!» he screamed. «Down! Down upon your bellies before the last of the jeddaks of Barsoom!»

VII The Phantom Bowmen

As Jav leaped toward him Carthoris laid his hand upon the hilt of his long-sword. The Lotharian halted. The great apartment was empty save for the four at the dais, yet as Jav stepped back from the menace of the Heliumite's threatening attitude the latter found himself surrounded by a score of bowmen.

From whence had they sprung? Both Carthoris and Thuvia looked their astonishment.

Now the former's sword leaped from its scabbard, and at the same instant the bowmen drew back their slim shafts.

Tario had half raised himself upon one elbow. For the first time he saw the full figure of Thuvia, who had been concealed behind the person of Carthoris.

«Enough!» cried the jeddak, raising a protesting hand, but at that very instant the sword of the Heliumite cut viciously at its nearest antagonist.

As the keen edge reached its goal Carthoris let the point fall to the floor, as with wide eyes he stepped backward in consternation, throwing the back of his left hand across his brow. His steel had cut but empty air-his antagonist had vanished-there were no bowmen in the room!

«It is evident that these are strangers,» said Tario to Jav. «Let us first determine that they knowingly affronted us before we take measures for punishment.»

Then he turned to Carthoris, but ever his gaze wandered to the perfect lines of Thuvia's glorious figure, which the harness of a Barsoomian princess accentuated rather than concealed.

«Who are you,» he asked, «who knows not the etiquette of the court of the last of jeddaks?»

«I am Carthoris, Prince of Helium,» replied the Heliumite. «And this is Thuvia, Princess of Ptarth. In the courts of our fathers men do not prostrate themselves before royalty. Not since the First Born tore their immortal goddess limb from limb have men crawled upon their bellies to any throne upon Barsoom. Now think you that the daughter of one mighty jeddak and the son of another would so humiliate themselves?»

Tario looked at Carthoris for a long time. At last he spoke.

«There is no other jeddak upon Barsoom than Tario,» he said. «There is no other race than that of Lothar, unless the hordes of Torquas may be dignified by such an appellation. Lotharians are white; your skins are red. There are no women left upon Barsoom. Your companion is a woman.»

He half rose from the couch, leaning far forward and pointing an accusing finger at Carthoris.

«You are a lie!» he shrieked. «You are both lies, and you dare to come before Tario, last and mightiest of the jeddaks of Barsoom, and assert your reality. Some one shall pay well for this, Jav, and unless I mistake it is yourself who has dared thus flippantly to trifle with the good nature of your jeddak.

«Remove the man. Leave the woman. We shall see if both be lies. And later, Jav, you shall suffer for your temerity. There be few of us left, but-Komal must be fed. Go!»

Carthoris could see that Jav trembled as he prostrated himself once more before his ruler, and then, rising, turned toward the Prince of Helium.

«Come!» he said.

«And leave the Princess of Ptarth here alone?» cried Carthoris.

Jav brushed closely past him, whispering:

«Follow me-he cannot harm her, except to kill; and that he can do whether you remain or not. We had best go now-trust me.»

Carthoris did not understand, but something in the urgency of the other's tone assured him, and so he turned away, but not without a glance toward Thuvia in which he attempted to make her understand that it was in her own interest that he left her.

For answer she turned her back full upon him, but not without first throwing him such a look of contempt that brought the scarlet to his cheek.

Then he hesitated, but Jav seized him by the wrist.

«Come!» he whispered. «Or he will have the bowmen upon you, and this time there will be no escape. Did you not see how futile is your steel against thin air!»

Carthoris turned unwillingly to follow. As the two left the room he turned to his companion.

«If I may not kill thin air,» he asked, «how, then, shall I fear that thin air may kill me?»

«You saw the Torquasians fall before the bowmen?» asked Jav.

Carthoris nodded.

«So would you fall before them, and without one single chance for self-defence or revenge.»

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