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Книга Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Содержание - IX The Battle in the Plain

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IX The Battle in the Plain

The distance from the bottom of the funnel to the floor of the chamber beneath it could not have been great, for all three of the victims of Tario's wrath alighted unscathed.

Carthoris, still clasping Thuvia tightly to his breast, came to the ground catlike, upon his feet, breaking the shock for the girl. Scarce had his feet touched the rough stone flagging of this new chamber than his sword flashed out ready for instant use. But though the room was lighted, there was no sign of enemy about.

Carthoris looked toward Jav. The man was pasty white with fear.

«What is to be our fate?» asked the Heliumite. «Tell me, man! Shake off your terror long enough to tell me, so I may be prepared to sell my life and that of the Princess of Ptarth as dearly as possible.»

«Komal!» whispered Jav. «We are to be devoured by Komal!»

«Your deity?» asked Carthoris.

The Lotharian nodded his head. Then he pointed toward a low doorway at one end of the chamber.

«From thence will he come upon us. Lay aside your puny sword, fool. It will but enrage him the more and make our sufferings the worse.»

Carthoris smiled, gripping his long-sword the more firmly.

Presently Jav gave a horrified moan, at the same time pointing toward the door.

«He has come,» he whimpered.

Carthoris and Thuvia looked in the direction the Lotharian had indicated, expecting to see some strange and fearful creature in human form; but to their astonishment they saw the broad head and great-maned shoulders of a huge banth, the largest that either ever had seen.

Slowly and with dignity the mighty beast advanced into the room. Jav had fallen to the floor, and was wriggling his body in the same servile manner that he had adopted toward Tario. He spoke to the fierce beast as he would have spoken to a human being, pleading with it for mercy.

Carthoris stepped between Thuvia and the banth, his sword ready to contest the beast's victory over them. Thuvia turned toward Jav.

«Is this Komal, your god?» she asked.

Jav nodded affirmatively. The girl smiled, and then, brushing past Carthoris, she stepped swiftly toward the growling carnivore.

In low, firm tones she spoke to it as she had spoken to the banths of the Golden Cliffs and the scavengers before the walls of Lothar.

The beast ceased its growling. With lowered head and catlike purr, it came slinking to the girl's feet. Thuvia turned toward Carthoris.

«It is but a banth,» she said. «We have nothing to fear from it.»

Carthoris smiled.

«I did not fear it,» he replied, «for I, too, believed it to be only a banth, and I have my long-sword.»

Jav sat up and gazed at the spectacle before him-the slender girl weaving her fingers in the tawny mane of the huge creature that he had thought divine, while Komal rubbed his hideous snout against her side.

«So this is your god!» laughed Thuvia.

Jav looked bewildered. He scarce knew whether he dare chance offending Komal or not, for so strong is the power of superstition that even though we know that we have been reverencing a sham, yet still we hesitate to admit the validity of our new-found convictions.

«Yes,» he said, «this is Komal. For ages the enemies of Tario have been hurled to this pit to fill his maw, for Komal must be fed.»

«Is there any way out of this chamber to the avenues of the city?» asked Carthoris.

Jav shrugged.

«I do not know,» he replied. «Never have I been here before, nor ever have I cared to do so.»

«Come,» suggested Thuvia, «let us explore. There must be a way out.»

Together the three approached the doorway through which Komal had entered the apartment that was to have witnessed their deaths. Beyond was a low-roofed lair, with a small door at the far end.

This, to their delight, opened to the lifting of an ordinary latch, letting them into a circular arena, surrounded by tiers of seats.

«Here is where Komal is fed in public,» explained Jav. «Had Tario dared it would have been here that our fates had been sealed; but he feared too much thy keen blade, red man, and so he hurled us all downward to the pit. I did not know how closely connected were the two chambers. Now we may easily reach the avenues and the city gates. Only the bowmen may dispute the right of way, and, knowing their secret, I doubt that they have power to harm us.»

Another door led to a flight of steps that rose from the arena level upward through the seats to an exit at the back of the hall. Beyond this was a straight, broad corridor, running directly through the palace to the gardens at the side.

No one appeared to question them as they advanced, mighty Komal pacing by the girl's side.

«Where are the people of the palace-the jeddak's retinue?» asked Carthoris. «Even in the city streets as we came through I scarce saw sign of a human being, yet all about are evidences of a mighty population.»

Jav sighed.

«Poor Lothar,» he said. «It is indeed a city of ghosts. There are scarce a thousand of us left, who once were numbered in the millions. Our great city is peopled by the creatures of our own imaginings. For our own needs we do not take the trouble to materialize these peoples of our brain, yet they are apparent to us.

«Even now I see great throngs lining the avenue, hastening to and fro in the round of their duties. I see women and children laughing on the balconies-these we are forbidden to materialize; but yet I see them-they are here. . But why not?» he mused. «No longer need I fear Tario-he has done his worst, and failed. Why not indeed?

«Stay, friends,» he continued. «Would you see Lothar in all her glory?»

Carthoris and Thuvia nodded their assent, more out of courtesy than because they fully grasped the import of his mutterings.

Jav gazed at them penetratingly for an instant, then, with a wave of his hand, cried: «Look!»

The sight that met them was awe-inspiring. Where before there had been naught but deserted pavements and scarlet swards, yawning windows and tenantless doors, now swarmed a countless multitude of happy, laughing people.

«It is the past,» said Jav in a low voice. «They do not see us-they but live the old dead past of ancient Lothar-the dead and crumbled Lothar of antiquity, which stood upon the shore of Throxus, mightiest of the five oceans.

«See those fine, upstanding men swinging along the broad avenue? See the young girls and the women smile upon them? See the men greet them with love and respect? Those be seafarers coming up from their ships which lie at the quays at the city's edge.

«Brave men, they-ah, but the glory of Lothar has faded! See their weapons. They alone bore arms, for they crossed the five seas to strange places where dangers were. With their passing passed the martial spirit of the Lotharians, leaving, as the ages rolled by, a race of spineless cowards.

«We hated war, and so we trained not our youth in warlike ways. Thus followed our undoing, for when the seas dried and the green hordes encroached upon us we could do naught but flee. But we remembered the seafaring bowmen of the days of our glory-it is the memory of these which we hurl upon our enemies.»

As Jav ceased speaking, the picture faded, and once more, the three took up their way toward the distant gates, along deserted avenues.

Twice they sighted Lotharians of flesh and blood. At sight of them and the huge banth which they must have recognized as Komal, the citizens turned and fled.

«They will carry word of our flight to Tario,» cried Jav, «and soon he will send his bowmen after us. Let us hope that our theory is correct, and that their shafts are powerless against minds cognizant of their unreality. Otherwise we are doomed.

«Explain, red man, to the woman the truths that I have explained to you, that she may meet the arrows with a stronger counter-suggestion of immunity.»

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