The Chessmen of Mars HTML version

Chapter 11. The Choice Of Tara
THE dazzling sunlight of Barsoom clothed Manator in an aureole of splendor as the girl
and her captors rode into the city through The Gate of Enemies. Here the wall was some
fifty feet thick, and the sides of the passageway within the gate were covered with
parallel shelves of masonry from bottom to top. Within these shelves, or long, horizontal
niches, stood row upon row of small figures, appearing like tiny, grotesque statuettes of
men, their long, black hair falling below their feet and sometimes trailing to the shelf
beneath. The figures were scarce a foot in height and but for their diminutive proportions
might have been the mummified bodies of once living men. The girl noticed that as they
passed, the warriors saluted the figures with their spears after the manner of Barsoomian
fighting men in extending a military courtesy, and then they rode on into the avenue
beyond, which ran, wide and stately, through the city toward the east.
On either side were great buildings wondrously wrought. Paintings of great beauty and
antiquity covered many of the walls, their colors softened and blended by the suns of
ages. Upon the pavement the life of the newly-awakened city was already afoot. Women
in brilliant trappings, befeathered warriors, their bodies daubed with paint; artisans,
armed but less gaily caparisoned, took their various ways upon the duties of the day. A
giant zitidar, magnificent in rich harness, rumbled its broad-wheeled cart along the stone
pavement toward The Gate of Enemies. Life and color and beauty wrought together a
picture that filled the eyes of Tara of Helium with wonder and with admiration, for here
was a scene out of the dead past of dying Mars. Such had been the cities of the founders
of her race before Throxeus, mightiest of oceans, had disappeared from the face of a
world. And from balconies on either side men and women looked down in silence upon
the scene below.
The people in the street looked at the two prisoners, especially at the hideous Ghek, and
called out in question or comment to their guard; but the watchers upon the balconies
spoke not, nor did one so much as turn a head to note their passing. There were many
balconies on each building and not a one that did not hold its silent party of richly trapped
men and women, with here and there a child or two, but even the children maintained the
uniform silence and immobility of their elders. As they approached the center of the city
the girl saw that even the roofs bore companies of these idle watchers, harnessed and
bejeweled as for some gala-day of laughter and music, but no laughter broke from those
silent lips, nor any music from the strings of the instruments that many of them held in
jeweled fingers.
And now the avenue widened into an immense square, at the far end of which rose a
stately edifice gleaming white in virgin marble among the gaily painted buildings
surrounding it and its scarlet sward and gaily-flowering, green-foliaged shrubbery.
Toward this U-Dor led his prisoners and their guard to the great arched entrance before
which a line of fifty mounted warriors barred the way. When the commander of the guard
recognized U-Dor the guardsmen fell back to either side leaving a broad avenue through
which the party passed. Directly inside the entrance were inclined runways leading