The Chessmen of Mars HTML version

Chapter 10. Entrapped
TURAN the panthan approached the strange city under cover of the darkness. He
entertained little hope of finding either food or water outside the wall, but he would try
and then, if he failed, he would attempt to make his way into the city, for Tara of Helium
must have sustenance and have it soon. He saw that the walls were poorly sentineled, but
they were sufficiently high to render an attempt to scale them foredoomed to failure.
Taking advantage of underbrush and trees, Turan managed to reach the base of the wall
without detection. Silently he moved north past the gateway which was closed by a
massive gate which effectively barred even the slightest glimpse within the city beyond.
It was Turan's hope to find upon the north side of the city away from the hills a level
plain where grew the crops of the inhabitants, and here too water from their irrigating
system, but though he traveled far along that seemingly interminable wall he found no
fields nor any water. He searched also for some means of ingress to the city, yet here, too,
failure was his only reward, and now as he went keen eyes watched him from above and
a silent stalker kept pace with him for a time upon the summit of the wall; but presently
the shadower descended to the pavement within and hurrying swiftly raced ahead of the
stranger without.
He came presently to a small gate beside which was a low building and before the
doorway of the building a warrior standing guard. He spoke a few quick words to the
warrior and then entered the building only to return almost immediately to the street,
followed by fully forty warriors. Cautiously opening the gate the fellow peered carefully
along the wall upon the outside in the direction from which he had come. Evidently
satisfied, he issued a few words of instruction to those behind him, whereupon half the
warriors returned to the interior of the building, while the other half followed the man
stealthily through the gateway where they crouched low among the shrubbery in a half
circle just north of the gateway which they had left open. Here they waited in utter
silence, nor had they long to wait before Turan the panthan came cautiously along the
base of the wall. To the very gate he came and when he found it and that it was open he
paused for a moment, listening; then he approached and looked within. Assured that there
was none within sight to apprehend him he stepped through the gateway into the city.
He found himself in a narrow street that paralleled the wall. Upon the opposite side rose
buildings of an architecture unknown to him, yet strangely beautiful. While the buildings
were packed closely together there seemed to be no two alike and their fronts were of all
shapes and heights and of many hues. The skyline was broken by spire and dome and
minaret and tall, slender towers, while the walls supported many a balcony and in the soft
light of Cluros, the farther moon, now low in the west, he saw, to his surprise and
consternation, the figures of people upon the balconies. Directly opposite him were two
women and a man. They sat leaning upon the rail of the balcony looking, apparently,
directly at him; but if they saw him they gave no sign.