The Chessmen of Mars
Chapter 3. The Headless Humans
ABOVE the roof of the palace that housed the Jed of Gathol and his entourage, the
cruiser Vanator tore at her stout moorings. The groaning tackle bespoke the mad fury of
the gale, while the worried faces of those members of the crew whose duties demanded
their presence on the straining craft gave corroborative evidence of the gravity of the
situation. Only stout lashings prevented these men from being swept from the deck, while
those upon the roof below were constantly compelled to cling to rails and stanchions to
save themselves from being carried away by each new burst of meteoric fury. Upon the
prow of the Vanator was painted the device of Gathol, but no pennants were displayed in
the upper works since the storm had carried away several in rapid succession, just as it
seemed to the watching men that it must carry away the ship itself. They could not
believe that any tackle could withstand for long this Titanic force. To each of the twelve
lashings clung a brawny warrior with drawn short-sword. Had but a single mooring given
to the power of the tempest eleven short-swords would have cut the others; since,
partially moored, the ship was doomed, while free in the tempest it stood at least some
slight chance for life.
"By the blood of Issus, I believe they will hold!" screamed one warrior to another.
"And if they do not hold may the spirits of our ancestors reward the brave warriors upon
the Vanator," replied another of those upon the roof of the palace, "for it will not be long
from the moment her cables part before her crew dons the leather of the dead; but yet,
Tanus, I believe they will hold. Give thanks at least that we did not sail before the
tempest fell, since now each of us has a chance to live."
"Yes," replied Tanus, "I should hate to be abroad today upon the stoutest ship that sails
the Barsoomian sky."
It was then that Gahan the Jed appeared upon the roof. With him were the balance of his
own party and a dozen warriors of Helium. The young chief turned to his followers.
"I sail at once upon the Vanator," he said, "in search of Tara of Helium who is thought to
have been carried away upon a one-man flier by the storm. I do not need to explain to
you the slender chances the Vanator has to withstand the fury of the tempest, nor will I
order you to your deaths. Let those who wish remain behind without dishonor. The others
will follow me," and he leaped for the rope ladder that lashed wildly in the gale.
The first man to follow him was Tanus and when the last reached the deck of the cruiser
there remained upon the palace roof only the twelve warriors of Helium, who, with naked
swords, had taken the posts of the Gatholians at the moorings.
Not a single warrior who had remained aboard the Vanator would leave her now.