The Chessmen of Mars HTML version

Chapter 15. The Old Man Of The Pits
"I SHALL not desert you, Ghek," said Tara of Helium, simply.
"Go! Go!" whispered the kaldane. "You can do me no good. Go, or all I have done is for
Tara shook her head. "I cannot," she said.
"They will slay her," said Ghek to Turan, and the panthan, torn between loyalty to this
strange creature who had offered its life for him, and love of the woman, hesitated but a
moment, then he swept Tara from her feet and lifting her in his arms leaped up the steps
that led to the throne of Manator. Behind the throne he parted the arras and found the
secret opening. Into this he bore the girl and down a long, narrow corridor and winding
runways that led to lower levels until they came to the pits of the palace of O-Tar. Here
was a labyrinth of passages and chambers presenting a thousand hiding-places.
As Turan bore Tara up the steps toward the throne a score of warriors rose as though to
rush forward to intercept them. "Stay!" cried Ghek, "or your jeddak dies," and they halted
in their tracks, waiting the will of this strange, uncanny creature.
Presently Ghek took his eyes from the eyes of O-Tar and the jeddak shook himself as one
who would be rid of a bad dream and straightened up, half dazed still.
"Look," said Ghek, then, "I have given your jeddak his life,
nor have I harmed one of those whom I might easily have slain when they were in my
power. No harm have I or my friends done in the city of Manator. Why then should you
persecute us? Give us our lives. Give us our liberty."
O-Tar, now in command of his faculties, stooped and regained his sword. In the room
was silence as all waited to hear the jeddak's answer.
"Just are the laws of Manator," he said at last. "Perhaps, after all, there is truth in the
words of the stranger. Return him then to the pits and pursue the others and capture them.
Through the mercy of O-Tar they shall be permitted to win their freedom upon the Field
of Jetan, in the coming games."
Still ashen was the face of the jeddak as Ghek was led away and his appearance was that
of a man who had been snatched from the brink of eternity into which he has gazed, not
with the composure of great courage, but with fear. There were those in the throne room
who knew that the execution of the three prisoners had but been delayed and the
responsibility placed upon the shoulders of others, and one of those who knew was U-
Thor, the great jed of Manatos. His curling lip betokened his scorn of the jeddak who had