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The Chessmen of Mars

Chapter 17. A Play To The Death
CLEAR and sweet a trumpet spoke across The Fields of Jetan. From The High Tower its
cool voice floated across the city of Manator and above the babel of human discords
rising from the crowded mass that filled the seats of the stadium below. It called the
players for the first game, and simultaneously there fluttered to the peaks of a thousand
staffs on tower and battlement and the great wall of the stadium the rich, gay pennons of
the fighting chiefs of Manator. Thus was marked the opening of The Jeddak's Games, the
most important of the year and second only to the Grand Decennial Games.
Gahan of Gathol watched every play with eagle eye. The match was an unimportant one,
being but to settle some petty dispute between two chiefs, and was played with
professional jetan players for points only. No one was killed and there was but little blood
spilled. It lasted about an hour and was terminated by the chief of the losing side
deliberately permitting himself to be out-pointed, that the game might be called a draw.
Again the trumpet sounded, this time announcing the second and last game of the
afternoon. While this was not considered an important match, those being reserved for
the fourth and fifth days of the games, it promised to afford sufficient excitement since it
was a game to the death. The vital difference between the game played with living men
and that in which inanimate pieces are used, lies in the fact that while in the latter the
mere placing of a piece upon a square occupied by an opponent piece terminates the
move, in the former the two pieces thus brought together engage in a duel for possession
of the square. Therefore there enters into the former game not only the strategy of jetan
but the personal prowess and bravery of each individual piece, so that a knowledge not
only of one's own men but of each player upon the opposing side is of vast value to a
chief.
In this respect was Gahan handicapped, though the loyalty of his players did much to
offset his ignorance of them, since they aided him in arranging the board to the best
advantage and told him honestly the faults and virtues of each. One fought best in a
losing game; another was too slow; another too impetuous; this one had fire and a heart
of steel, but lacked endurance. Of the opponents, though, they knew little or nothing, and
now as the two sides took their places upon the black and orange squares of the great
jetan board Gahan obtained, for the first time, a close view of those who opposed him.
The Orange Chief had not yet entered the field, but his men were all in place. Val Dor
turned to Gahan. "They are all criminals from the pits of Manator," he said. "There is no
slave among them. We shall not have to fight against a single fellow-countryman and
every life we take will be the life of an enemy."
"It is well," replied Gahan; "but where is their Chief, and where the two Princesses?"
"They are coming now, see?" and he pointed across the field to where two women could
be seen approaching under guard.
 
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