A Fighting Man of Mars

Fifteen

The Battle of Jahar

Edgar Rice Burroughs


GLANCING across my shoulder I saw that the two circling to our rear were already further away from us than he who stood facing us and realizing that the unexpectedness of our act would greatly enhance the chances of success, I gave the word.

“Now, Tavia,” I whispered, and together we leaped forward at a run straight for the naked savage facing us.

It was evident that he had not expected this and it was also evident that he was a slow witted beast, for as he saw us coming his lower jaw dropped and he just stood there, waiting to receive us; whereas if he had had any intelligence he would have fallen back to give his fellows time to attack us from the rear.

As our swords crossed I heard a savage growl from behind, such a growl as might issue from the throat of a wild beast. From the corner of my eye I saw Tavia glance back and then before I could realize what she intended, she sprang forward and ran her sword through the body of the man in front of me as he lunged at me with his own weapon, and now, wheeling together, we faced the other two who were running rapidly toward us and I can assure you that it was with a feeling of infinite relief that I realized that the odds were no longer so greatly against us.

As the two engaged us, I was handicapped at first by the necessity of constantly keeping an eye upon Tavia, but not for long.

In an instant I realized that a master hand was wielding that blade. Its point wove in and out past the clumsy guard of the savage and I knew, and I guessed he must have sensed, that his life lay in the hollow of the little hand that gripped the hilt. Then I turned my attention to my own antagonist.

These were not the best swordsmen that I have ever met, but they were far from being poor swordsmen. Their defense, however, far excelled their offense and this, I think, was due to two things, natural cowardice and the fact that they usually hunted in packs, which far outnumbered the quarry. Thus a good defense only was required, since the death blow might always be struck from behind by a companion of the one who engaged the quarry from in front.

Never before had I seen a woman fight and I should have thought that I should have been chagrined to have one fighting at my side, but instead I felt a strange thrill that was partly pride and partly something else that I could not analyze.

At first, I think, the fellow facing Tavia did not realize that she was a woman, but he must have soon as the scant harness of Barsoom hides little and certainly did not hide the rounded contours of Tavia’s girlish body. Perhaps, therefore, it was surprise that was his undoing, or possibly when he discovered her sex he became overconfident, but at any rate Tavia slipped her point into his heart just an instant before I finished my man.

I cannot say that we were greatly elated over our victory. Each of us felt compassion for the poor creatures who had been reduced to their horrid state by the tyranny of cruel Tul Axtar, but it had been their lives or ours and we were glad it had not been ours.

As a matter of precaution I took a quick look about us as the last of our antagonists fell and I was glad that I had, for I immediately discerned three creatures crouching at the top of a low hill not far distant.

“We are not done yet, Tavia,” I said. “Look!” and pointed in the direction of the three.

“Perhaps they do not care to share the fate of their fellows,” she said. “They are not approaching.”

“They can have peace if they want it as far as I am concerned,” I said. “Come, let us go on. If they follow us, then will be time enough to consider them.”

As we walked on toward the north we glanced back occasionally and presently we saw the three rise and come down the hill toward the bodies of their slain fellows, and as they did so we saw that they were women and that they were unarmed.

When they realized that we were departing and had no intention of attacking them, they broke into a run and, uttering loud, uncanny shrieks, raced madly toward the corpses.

“How pathetic,” said Tavia sadly. “Even these poor degraded creatures possess human emotions. They, too, can feel sorrow at the loss of loved ones.”

“Yes,” I said. “Poor things, I am sorry for them.”

Fearing that in the frenzy of their grief they might attempt to avenge their fallen mates, we kept a close eye upon them or we might not have witnessed the horrid sequel of the fray. I wish that we had not.

When the three women reached the corpses they fell upon them, but not with weeping and lamentation—they fell upon them to devour them.

Sickened, we turned away and walked rapidly toward the north until long after darkness had descended.

We felt that there was little danger of attack at night since there were no savage beasts in a country where there was nothing to support them and also that it was reasonable to assume that the hunting men would be abroad by day rather than by night, since at night they would be far less able to find quarry or follow it.

I suggested to Tavia that we rest for a short time and then push on for the balance of the night, find a place of concealment early in the day and remain there until night had fallen again, as I was sure that if we followed this plan we would make better time and suffer less exhaustion by traveling through the cool hours of darkness and at the same time would greatly minimize the danger of discovery and attack by whatever hostile people lay between us and Gathol.

Tavia agreed with me and so we rested for a short time, taking turns at sleeping and watching.

Later we pushed on and I am sure that we covered a great distance before dawn, though the high hills to the north of us still looked as far away as they had upon the previous day.

We now set about searching for some comfortable place of concealment where we might spend the daylight hours. Neither of us was suffering to any extent from either hunger or thirst, as the ancients would have done under like circumstances, for with the gradual diminution of water and vegetable matter upon Mars during countless ages all her creatures have by a slow process of evolution been enabled to go for long periods without either food or drink and we have also learned so to control our minds that we do not think of food or drink until we are able to procure it, which doubtless greatly assists us in controlling the cravings of our appetite.

After considerable search we found a deep and narrow ravine which seemed a most favorable place in which to hide, but, scarcely had we entered it, when I chanced to see two eyes looking down upon us from the summit of one of the ridges that flanked it. As I looked, the head in which the eyes were set was withdrawn below the summit.

“That puts an end to this place,” I said to Tavia, telling her what I had seen. “We must move on and look for a new sanctuary.”

As we emerged from the ravine at its upper end I glanced back, and again I saw the creature looking at us and once again he tried to hide himself from us. As we moved on I kept glancing back and occasionally I would see him—one of the hunting men of U-Gor. He was stalking us as the wild beast stalks its prey. The very thought of it filled me with disgust. Had he been a fighting man stalking us merely to kill, I should not have felt as I did, but the thought that he was stealthily trailing us because he desired to devour us was repellent—it was horrifying.

Hour after hour the thing kept upon our trail; doubtless he feared to attack because we outnumbered him, or perhaps he thought we might become separated, or lie down to sleep or do one of the number of things that travelers might do that would give him the opportunity he sought, but after awhile he must have given up hope. He no longer sought to conceal himself from us and once, as he mounted a low hill, he stood there silhouetted against the sky and throwing his head back, he gave voice to a shrill, uncanny cry that made the short hairs upon my neck stand erect. It was the hunting cry of the wild beast calling the pack to the kill.

I could feel Tavia shudder and press more closely to me and I put my arm about her in a gesture of protection, and thus we walked on in silence for a long time.

Twice again the creature voiced his uncanny cry until at last it was answered ahead of us and to the right.

Again we were forced to fight, but this time only two, and when we pushed on again it was with a feeling of depression that I could not shake off—depression for the utter hopelessness of our situation.

At the summit of a higher hill than we had before crossed, I halted. Some tall weeds grew there. “Let us lie down here, Tavia,” I said. “From here we can watch; let us be the watchers for a while. Sleep, and when night comes we shall move on.”

She looked tired and that worried me, but I think she was suffering more from the nervous strain of the eternal stalking than from physical fatigue. I know that it affected me and how much more might it affect a young girl than a trained fighting man. She lay very close to me, as though she felt safer thus and was soon asleep, while I watched.

From this high vantage point I could see a considerable area of country about us and it was not long before I detected figures of men prowling about like hunting banths and often it was apparent that one was stalking another. There were at least a half dozen such visible to me at one time. I saw one overtake his prey and leap upon it from behind. They were at too great a distance from me for me to discern accurately the details of the encounter, but I judged that the stalker ran his sword through the back of his quarry and then, like a hunting banth, he fell upon his kill and devoured it. I do not know that he finished it, but he was still eating when darkness fell.

Tavia had had a long sleep and when she awoke she reproached me for having permitted her to sleep so long and insisted that I must sleep.

From necessity I have learned to do with little sleep when conditions are such that I cannot spare the time, though I always make up for it later, and I have also learned to limit my sleep to any length of time that I choose, so that now I awoke promptly when my allotted time had elapsed and again we set out toward far Gathol.

Again this night, as upon the preceding one, we moved unmolested through the horrid land of U-Gor and when morning dawned we saw the high hills rising close before us.

“Perhaps these hills mark the northern limits of U-Gor,” I suggested.

“I think they do,” replied Tavia.

“They are only a short distance away now,” I said; “let us keep on until we have passed them. I cannot leave this accursed land behind me too soon.”

“Nor I,” said Tavia. “I sicken at the thought of what I have seen.”

We had crossed a narrow valley and were entering the hills when we heard the hateful hunting cry behind us. Turning, I saw a single man moving across the valley toward us. He knew that I had seen him, but he kept steadily on, occasionally stopping to voice his weird scream. He heard an answer come from the east and then another and another from different directions. We hastened onward, climbing the low foothills that led upward toward the summit far above, and as we looked back we saw the hunting men converging upon us from all sides. We had never seen so many of them at one time before.

“Perhaps if we get well up into the mountains we can elude them,” I said.

Tavia shook her head. “At least we have made a good fight, Hadron,” she said.

I saw that she was discouraged; nor could I wonder; yet a moment later she looked up at me and smiled brightly. “We still live, Hadron of Hastor!” she exclaimed.

“We still live and we have our swords,” I reminded her.

As we climbed they pressed upward behind us and presently I saw others coming through the hills from the right and from the left. We were turned from the low saddle over which I had hoped to cross the summit of the range, for hunting men had entered it from above and were coming down toward us. Directly ahead of us now loomed a high peak, the highest in the range as far as I could see, and only there, up its steep side, were there no hunting men to bar our way.

As we climbed, the sides of the mountain grew steeper until the ascent was not only most arduous, but sometimes difficult and dangerous; yet there was no alternative and we pressed onward toward the summit, while behind us came the hunting men of U-Gor. They were not rushing us and from that I felt confident that they knew that they had us cornered. I was looking for a place in which we might make a stand, but I found none and at last we reached the summit, a circular, level space perhaps a hundred feet in diameter.

As our pursuers were yet some little distance below us, I walked quickly around the outside of the table-like top of the peak. The entire northern face dropped sheer from the summit for a couple of hundred feet, definitely blocking our retreat. At every other point the hunting men were ascending. Our situation appeared hopeless; it was hopeless, and yet I refused to admit defeat.

The summit of the mountain was strewn with loose rock. I hurled a rock down at the nearest cannibal. It struck him upon the head and sent him hurtling down the mountain side, carrying a couple of his fellows with him. Then Tavia followed my example and together we bombarded them, but more often we scored misses than hits and there were so many of them and they were so fierce and so hungry that we did not even stem their advance. So numerous were they now that they reminded me of insects, crawling up there from below—huge, grotesque insects that would soon fall upon us and devour us.

As they came nearer they gave voice to a new cry that I had not heard before. It was a cry that differed from the hunting call, but was equally as terrible.

“Their war-cry,” said Tavia.

On and on with relentless persistency the throng swarmed upward toward us. We drew our swords; it was our last stand. Tavia pressed closer to me and for the first time I thought I felt her tremble.

“Do not let them take me,” she said. “It is not death that I fear.”

I knew what she meant and I took her in my arms. “I cannot do it, Tavia,” I said. “I cannot.”

“You must,” she replied in a firm voice. “If you care for me even as a friend, you cannot let these beasts take me alive.”

I know that I choked then so that I could not reply, but I knew that she was right and I drew my dagger.

“Good-bye, Hadron—my Hadron!”

Her breast was bared to receive my dagger, her face was upturned toward mine. It was still a brave face with no fear upon it, and oh how beautiful it was.

Impulsively, guided by a power I could not control, I bent and crushed my lips to hers. With half closed eyes she pressed her own lips upward more tightly against mine.

“Oh, Issus!” she breathed as she took them away, and then, “They come! Strike now, Hadron, and strike deep!”

The creatures were almost at the summit. I swung my hand upward that I might bury the slim dagger deeply in that perfect breast. To my surprise my knuckles struck something hard above me. I glanced upward. There was nothing there; yet something impelled me to feel again, to solve that uncanny mystery even in that instant of high tragedy.

Again I felt above me. By Issus, there was something there! My fingers passed over a smooth surface—a familiar surface.

It could not be, and yet I knew that it must be—the Jhama.

I asked no questions of myself nor of fate at that instant. The hunting men of U-Gor were almost upon us as my groping fingers found one of the mooring rings in the bow of the Jhama. Quickly I swung Tavia above my head.

“It is the Jhama. Climb to her deck,” I cried.

The dear girl, as quick to seize upon the fortuitous opportunities as any trained fighting man, did not pause to question, but swung herself upward to the deck with the agility of an athlete, and as I seized the mooring ring and drew myself upward she lay flat upon her belly and reaching down assisted me; nor was the strength in that slender frame unequal to the task.

The leaders of the horde had reached the summit. They paused in momentary confusion when they saw us climb into thin air and stand there apparently just above their heads, but hunger urged them on and they leaped for us, clambering upon one another’s back and shoulders to seize us and drag us down.

Two almost gained the deck as I fought them all back single-handed while Tavia had raised a hatch and leaped to the controls.

Another foul-faced thing reached the deck upon the opposite side and only chance revealed him to me before he had run his sword through my back. The Jhama was already rising as I turned to engage him. There was little room there in which to fight, but I had the advantage in that I knew the extent of the deck beneath my feet, while he could see nothing but thin air. I think it frightened him, too, and when I rushed him he stepped backward out into space and, with a scream of terror, hurtled downward toward the ground.

We were saved, but how in the name of all our ancestors had the Jhama chanced to be at this spot.

Perhaps Tul Axtar was aboard! The thought filled me with alarm for Tavia’s safety and with my sword ready I leaped through the hatchway into the cabin, but only Tavia was there.

We tried to arrive at some explanation of the miracle that had saved us, but no amount of conjecture brought forth any thing that was at all satisfactory.

“She was there when we needed her most,” said Tavia; “that fact should satisfy us.”

“I guess it will have to for the time being at least,” I said, “and now once more we can turn a ship’s nose toward Helium.”

We had passed but a short distance beyond the mountains when I sighted a ship in the distance and shortly thereafter another and another until I was aware that we were approaching a great fleet moving toward the east. As we came closer I descried the hulls painted with the ghastly blue of Jahar and I knew that this was Tul Axtar’s formidable armada.

And then we saw ships approaching from the east and I knew that it was the fleet of Helium. It could be no other; yet I must make certain, and so I sped in the direction of the nearest ship of this other fleet until I saw the banners and pennons of Helium floating from her upper works and the battle insignia of the Warlord painted upon her prow. Behind her came the other ships—a noble fleet moving to inevitable doom.

A Jaharian cruiser was moving toward the first great battleship as I raced to intercept them and bring one of my rifles into action.

I was forced to come close to my target as was the Jaharian cruiser, since the effective range of the disintegrating ray rifle is extremely limited.

Everything aboard the battleship of Helium was ready for action, but I knew why they had not fired a gun. It has ever been the boast of John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, that he would not start a war. The enemy must fire the first shot. If I could have reached them in time he would have realized the fatal consequences of this magnanimous and chivalrous code and the ships of Helium, with their long range guns, might have annihilated Jahar’s entire fleet before it could have brought its deadly rifles within range, but fate had ordained otherwise and now the best that I could hope was that I might reach the Jaharian ship before it was too late.

Tavia was at the controls. We were racing toward the blue cruiser of Jahar. I was standing at the forward rifle. In another moment we should be within range and then I saw the great battleship of Helium crumble in mid-air. Its wooden parts dropped slowly toward the ground and a thousand warriors plunged to a cruel death upon the barren land beneath.

Almost immediately the other ships of Helium were brought to a stop. They had witnessed the catastrophe that had engulfed the first ship of the line and the commander of the fleet had realized that they were menaced by a new force of which they had no knowledge.

The ships of Tul Axtar, encouraged by this first success, were now moving swiftly to the attack. The cruiser that had destroyed the great battleship was in the lead, but now I was within range of it.

Realizing that the blue protective paint of Jahar would safeguard the ship itself against the disintegrating ray, I had rammed home a cartridge of another type in the chamber and swinging the muzzle of the rifle so that it would rake the entire length of the ship, I pressed the button.

Instantly the men upon deck dissolved into thin air—only their harness and their metal and their weapons were left.

Directing Tavia to run the Jhama alongside, I raised the upper hatch and leaped to the deck of the cruiser and a moment later I had raised the signal of surrender above her. One can imagine the consternation aboard the nearer ships of Jahar as they saw that signal flying from her forward mast, for there was none sufficiently close to have witnessed what actually transpired aboard her.

Returning to the cabin of the Jhama I lowered the hatch and went at once to the periscope. Far in the rear of the first line of Jaharian ships I could just discern the royal insignia upon a great battleship, which told me that Tul Axtar was there, but in a safe position. I should have liked to reach his ship next, but the fleet was moving forward toward the ships of Helium and I dared not spare the time.

By now the ships of Helium had opened fire and shells were exploding about the leading ships of the Jaharian fleet—shells so nicely timed that they can be set to explode at any point up to the extreme range of the gun that discharges them. It takes nice gunnery to synchronize the timing with the target.

As ship after ship of the Jaharian fleet was hit, the others brought their big guns into action. Temporarily, at least, the disintegrating ray rifles had failed, but that they would succeed I knew if a single ship could get through the Heliumetic line, where among the great battleships she could destroy a dozen in the space of a few minutes.

The gunnery of the Jaharians was poor; their shells usually exploded high in air before they reached their target, but as the battle continued it improved; yet I knew that Jahar never could hope to defeat Helium with Helium’s own weapons.

A great battleship of Tul Axtar’s fleet was hit three times in succession almost alongside of me. I saw her drop by the stern and I knew that she was done for, and then I saw her commander rush to the bow and take the last long dive and I knew that there were brave men in Tul Axtar’s fleet as well as in the fleet of Helium, but Tul Axtar was not one of them, for in the distance I could see his flagship racing toward Jahar.

Despite the cowardice of the jeddak, the great fleet pushed on to the attack. If they had the courage they could still win, for their ships outnumbered the ships of Helium ten to one and as far as the eye could reach I could see them speeding from the north, from the south and from the west toward the scene of battle.

Closer and closer the ships of Helium were pressing toward the ships of Jahar. In his ignorance the Warlord was playing directly into the hands of the enemy. With their superior marksmanship and twenty battleships protected by the blue paint of Jahar, Helium could wipe out Tul Axtar’s great armada; of that I was confident, and with that thought came an inspiration. It might be done and only Tan Hadron of Hastor could do it.

Shells were falling all about us. The force of the explosions rocked the Jhama until she tossed and pitched like an ancient ship upon an ancient sea. Again and again were we perilously close to the line of fire of the Jaharian disintegrating ray rifles. I felt that I might no longer risk Tavia thus, yet I must carry out the plan that I had conceived.

It is strange how men change and for what seemingly trivial reasons. I had thought all my life that I would make any sacrifice for Helium, but now I knew that I would not sacrifice a single hair of that tousled head for all Barsoom. This, I soliloquized, is friendship.

Taking the controls I turned the bow of the Jhama toward one of the ships of Helium, that was standing temporarily out of the line of fire, and as we approached her side I turned the controls back over to Tavia, and, raising the forward hatch, sprang to the deck of the Jhama, raising both hands above my head in signal of surrender in the event that they might take me for a Jaharian.

What must they have thought when they saw me apparently floating upright upon thin air? That they were astonished was evident by the expressions on the faces of those nearest to me as the Jhama touched the side of the battleship.

They kept me covered as I came aboard, leaving Tavia to maneuver the Jhama.

Before I could announce myself I was recognized by a young officer of my own umak. With a cry of surprise he leaped forward and threw his arms about me. “Hadron of Hastor!” he cried. “Have I witnessed your resurrection from death; but no, you are too real, too much alive to be any wraith of the other world.”

“I am alive now,” I cried, “but none of us will be unless I can get word to your commander. Where is he?”

“Here,” said a voice behind me and I turned to see an old odwar who had been a great friend of my father’s. He recognized me immediately, but there was no time even for greetings.

“Warn the fleet that the ships of Jahar are armed with disintegrating ray rifles that can dissolve every ship as you saw the first one dissolve. They are only effective at short range.

“Keep at least a haad distance from them and you are relatively safe. And now if you will give me three men and direct the fire of your fleet away from the Jaharian ships on the south of their line, I will agree to have twenty ships for you in an hour—ships protected by the blue of Jahar in which you may face their disintegrating ray rifles with impunity.”

The odwar knew me well and upon his own responsibility he agreed to do what I asked.

Three padwars of my own class guaranteed to accompany me. I fetched Tavia aboard the battleship and turned her over to the protection of the old odwar, though she objected strenuously to being parted from me.

“We have gone through so much together, Hadron of Hastor,” she said, “let us go on to the end together.”

She had come quite close to me and spoken in a low voice that none might overhear. Her eyes, filled with pleading, were upturned to mine.

“I cannot risk you further, Tavia,” I said.

“There is so much danger then, you think?” she asked.

“We shall be in danger, of course,” I said; “this is war and one can never tell. Do not worry though. I shall come back safely.”

“Then it is that you fear that I shall be in the way,” she said, “and another can do the work better than I.”

“Of course not,” I replied. “I am thinking only of your safety.”

“If you are lost, I shall not live. I swear it,” she said, “so if you can trust me to do the work of a man, let me go with you instead of one of those.”

I hesitated. “Oh, Hadron of Hastor, please do not leave me here without you,” she said.

I could not resist her. “Very well, then,” I said, “come with me. I would rather have you than any other,” and so it was that Tavia replaced one of the padwars on the Jhama, much to the officer’s chagrin.

Before entering the Jhama I turned again to the old odwar. “If we are successful,” I said, “a number of Tul Axtar’s battleships will move slowly toward the Helium line beneath signals of surrender. Their crews will have been destroyed. Have boarding parties ready to take them over.”

Naturally every one aboard the battleship was intensely interested in the Jhama though all that they could see of her was the open hatch and the eye of the periscope. Officers and men lined the rail as we went aboard our invisible craft and as I closed the hatch, a loud cheer rang out above me.

My first act thoroughly evidenced my need of Tavia, for I put her at the after turret in charge of the rifle there, while one of the padwars took the controls and turned the prow of the Jhama toward the Jaharian fleet.

I was standing in a position where I could watch the changing scene upon the ground glass beneath the periscope and when a great battleship swung slowly into the miniature picture before me, I directed the padwar to lay a straight course for her, but a moment later I saw another battleship moving abreast of her, This was better and we changed our course to pass between the two.

They were moving gallantly toward the fleet of Helium, firing their big guns now and reserving their disintegrating ray rifles for closer range. What a magnificent sight they were, and yet how helpless. The tiny, invisible Jhama, with her little rifles, constituted a greater menace to them than did the entire fleet of Helium. On they drove, unconscious of the inevitable fate bearing down upon them.

“Sweep the starboard ship from stem to stern,” I called to Tavia. “I will take this fellow on our port,” and then to the padwar at the controls, “Half speed!”

Slowly we passed their bows. I touched the button upon my rifle and through the tiny sighting aperture I saw the crew dissolve in the path of those awful rays, as the two ships passed. We were very close—so close that I could see the expressions of consternation and horror on the faces of some of the warriors as they saw their fellows disappear before their eyes, and then their turn would come and they would be snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye, their weapons and their metal clattering to the deck.

As we dropped astern of them, our work completed, I had the padwar bring the Jhama about and alongside one of the ships, which I quickly boarded, running up the signal of surrender. With the death of the officer at her controls she had fallen off with the wind, but I quickly brought her up again and, setting her at half speed, her bow toward the ships of Helium, I locked the controls and left her.

Returning to the Jhama we crossed quickly to the other ship and a few moments later it, too, was moving slowly toward the fleet of the Warlord, the signal of surrender fluttering above it.

So quickly had the blow been struck that even the nearer ships of Jahar were some time in realizing that anything was amiss. Perhaps they were unable to believe their own eyes when they saw two of their great battleships surrender before having been struck by a single shot, but presently the commander of a light cruiser seemed to awaken to the seriousness of the situation, even though he could not fully have understood it. We were already moving toward another battleship when I saw the cruiser speeding directly toward one of our prizes and I knew that it would never reach the fleet of Helium if he boarded it, a thing which I must prevent at all costs. His course would bring him across our bow and as he passed I raked him with the forward rifle.

I saw that it would be impossible for the Jhama to overtake this swift cruiser, which was moving at full speed and so we had to let her go her way. At first I was afraid she would ram the nearer prize and had she hit her squarely at the rate that she was traveling, the cruiser would have plowed half way through the hull of the battleship. Fortunately, she missed the great ship by a hair and went speeding on into the midst of the fleet of Helium.

Instantly she was the target for a hundred guns, a barrage of shells was bursting about her and then there must have been a dozen bits simultaneously, for the cruiser simply disappeared—a mass of flying debris.

As I turned back to our work I saw the havoc being wrought by the big guns of Helium upon the enemy ships to the north of me. In the instant that I glanced I saw three great battleships take the final dive, while at least four others were drifting helplessly with the wind, but other ships of that mighty armada were swinging into action. As far as I could see they were coming from the north, from the south and from the west. There seemed no end to them and now, at last, I realized that only a miracle could give victory to Helium.

In accordance with my suggestion our own fleet was holding off, concentrating the fire of its big guns upon the nearer ships of Jahar—constantly seeking to keep those deadly rifles out of range.

Again we fell to work—to the grim work that the god of battle had allotted to us. One by one, twenty great battleships surrendered their deserted decks to us and as we worked I counted fully as many more destroyed by the guns of the Warlord.

In the prosecution of our work we had been compelled to destroy at least half a dozen small craft, such as scout fliers and light cruisers, and now these were racing erratically among the remaining ships of the Jaharian fleet, carrying consternation and doubtless terror to the hearts of Tul Axtar’s warriors, for all the nearer ships must have realized long since that some strange, new force had been loosed upon them by the ships of Helium.

By this time we had worked so far behind the Jaharian first line that we could no longer see the ships of Helium, though bursting shells attested the fact that they were still there.

From past experience I realized that it would be necessary to protect the captured Jaharian ships from being re-taken and so I turned back, taking a position where I could watch as many of them as possible and it was well that I did so, for we found it necessary to destroy the crews of three more ships before we reached the battle line of Helium.

Here they had already manned a dozen of the captured battleships of Jahar, and, with the banners and pennons of Helium above them, they had turned about and were moving into action against their sister ships.

It was then that the spirit of Jahar was broken. This, I think, was too much for them as doubtless the majority of them believed that these ships had gone over to the enemy voluntarily with all their officers and crews, for few, if any, could have known that the latter had been destroyed.

Their Jeddak had long since deserted them. Twenty of their largest ships had gone over to the enemy and now protected by the blue of Jahar and manned by the best gunners of Barsoom, were plowing through them, spreading death and destruction upon every hand.

A dozen of Tul Axtar’s ships surrendered voluntarily and then the others turned and scattered; very few of them headed toward Jahar and I knew by that that they believed that the city must inevitably fall.

The Warlord made no effort to pursue the fleeing craft; instead he stationed the ships that we had captured from the enemy, more than thirty all told now, entirely around the fleet of Helium to protect it from the disintegrating ray rifles of the enemy in the event of a renewed attack, and then slowly we moved on Jahar.


A Fighting Man Of Mars - Contents    |     Sixteen - Despair


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