Read 1 - Warriors of Mars Online

Authors: Edward P. Bradbury

1 - Warriors of Mars (3 page)

The bed consisted of a wide, hard
bench, on which was a thin mattress. A large fur rug was laid over this, and it
seemed rather too heavy, since the day had been very warm. To some, perhaps,
the bed would have been too austere but, as it happened, it was the kind I
preferred.

I fell asleep immediately, having
shed my clothes, and I awoke only once in the middle of the Martian night—which
is, of course, longer than ours—feeling very cold. I had not realized how much
the temperature could change. I pulled the rug about me and was soon asleep
again.

 

 

Chapter Three
 
THE INVADERS

 

A FEMALE servant entered in the morning, after knocking
lightly on the door. I was standing at the window looking out over the
beautiful streets and houses of Varnal. At first I felt embarrassed by my
nakedness. But then I realized that there was no need since it was abnormal
here to wear many clothes, and then, it seemed, only for decoration.

What did continue to embarrass me,
however, was the look of open admiration she gave me as she handed me my
breakfast tray of fruit and basu.

After she had gone I sat down to
eat the fruit—a large one very similar to grape-fruit but with a slightly less
bitter taste—and drink the basu.

I was just finishing when there
was another knock on the door. I called, "Come in!" in English,
thinking that this would do the trick. It did. In walked Shizala, smiling.

Seeing her again, it seemed that I
had dreamed of her all night, for she was as beautiful—if not more so—as I
remembered her. Her blonde hair was swept back from her shoulders and back. She
had on a black, gauzy cloak and at her waist was the wide belt containing
holstered gun and short sword. These, I gathered, were ceremonial weapons of office,
for I could not imagine such a graceful girl having much familiarity with the
artifacts of war. On her feet she wore sandals, laced up the calf almost to the
knee. That was all she was wearing—but it was enough.

She picked up the circlet she had
worn the day before and put it on.

"I thought you might wish to
ride around the city and see everything," I heard her voice say in my
head. "Would you like that?"

"Very much," I replied.
"If you can spare the time."

"It would please me to do
so." She gave me a warm smile.

I could not make up my mind
whether she felt as attracted to me as I was to her, or whether she was just
being normally polite. It was a puzzle which was already beginning to fill a
great deal of my thoughts.

"First," she continued,
"it would be better if you spent a couple of hours with the Sheev teaching
machine. After that you will be able to converse in our language without
recourse to these rather clumsy things."

As she led me down corridors and
staircases, I asked her why, if the tongue of Vashu were common, there should
be such a thing as a languageteaching machine. She replied that it had been
designed for use on other planets but, since the other planets in the solar
system only appeared to be inhabited by animals, it had never been used.

She led me below ground. The
cellars of the palace seemed to go down many levels, but at last we reached a
place lighted by the same sort of dim bulb as the one in my room. These bulbs
were also of Sheev manufacture, Shizala told me, and had once burned much
brighter than they did now. The room was small and contained a single piece of
equipment. It was large and made of metal I did not recognize—probably an
alloy. It glowed a little, adding to the light in the room. It seemed to
consist of a cabinet with an alcove moulded to accommodate the form of a seated
human being.

I could see no other machinery and
I would dearly have loved to strip the cabinet down to see what was inside—but
curbed my impatience.

"Please sit there," said
Shizala, indicating the cabinet. "According to what I have been told, the
cabinet will be activated immediately you do so. You may feel yourself black
out, but do not be disturbed."

I did as she asked and, sure
enough, as soon as I was seated the cabinet began to hum softly. A cap came
down from above and fitted itself over my head,
then
I
began to feel dizzy and soon became unconscious.

I did not know how much time had
passed until I came to, finding myself still seated in the now no longer
activated cabinet. I looked at Shizala a little dazedly. My head was aching
slightly.

"How do you feel?" she
asked.

"Fine," I said, getting
up.

But I had not said 'fine' at all,
I realized. I had said vrazha—the Martian word that was its nearest equivalent.

I had spoken Martian!

"It works!" I cried.
"What sort of machine is it that can achieve that so swiftly?"

"I do not know. We are
content simply to use the things of the Sheev. We were warned in the far past
never to tamper with their gifts since it might result in disaster for us!
Their mighty civilization once suffered a disaster, but we have only a few
legends which speak of it and they are bound up in talk of supernatural
entities in
whom
we no longer believe."

Respecting what was evidently a
deeply rooted custom never to question the Sheev inventions, I remained silent,
though every instinct made me want to get at the language-teaching machine,
probably a highly sophisticated computer containing
an
hypnotic device of some kind.

My headache had gone by the time
we reached the upper levels of the palace and walked through the great hall out
into the city. At the bottom of the wide, white steps two strange beasts were
waiting.

They were about the same size as
Shire horses— the famous English Great Horse which had once borne knights into
battle. But horses they were not. Their origin seemed to stem from the same
basic root as Man! They were ape-like creatures with wide kangaroo tails, their
hind legs larger than the forelegs. They were on all fours now and saddles were
on their backs. Their great heads, placid and intelligent, turned to look at us
as we came down the steps.

I had a few qualms about mounting
mine, since it did bear certain affinities to my own race, but once aboard it
seemed natural that I should ride it. Its back was wider than that of a horse
and involved stretching one's legs out in front, and cupping the feet in the
stirrups attached to another part of the harness up ahead. The saddle had a
solid support allowing the rider to stretch backwards at ease. It was rather
like being seated in a sports car, and was very comfortable.

In a kind of holster on my right
were several lances, though I had no idea of their purpose. I found that by
gentle tugs on the reins, the dahara would respond quickly to any command I
made.

With Shizala leading the way, we
trotted off through the plaza and down the main street of Varnal.

The city was as exquisite as ever
under the deep yellow sun. The sky was cloudless and I began to relax, feeling
that I could spend the rest of my life in Varnal and its surrounds. Here a dome
caught the light and flashed brightly; there a little white house nestled
between an impressive ziggurat on one side and a slender tower on the other.
People moved about in a leisurely yet purposeful way. A fruit market was busy,
but there was none of the noise and bustle of a similar Earthly market-place.
As we rode around the city, Shizala told me much about it.

The Karnala as a race had always
been primarily traders. Their origins were the same as many races—they had
started off as barbarian raiders and finally settled on one part of the country
they had liked. But instead of turning to farming they had continued to travel
as traders instead of raiders. Because of daring expeditions to far parts of
Vashu, they had become very rich, trading southern artifacts for northern
precious metals, and so on.

The Karnala were also great
artists, musicians and—what was highly worthwhile in terms of trade as well as
everything else—the finest book producers in their world. The printing presses
of Karnala, I learned, were of a flatbed type, not so fast as the rotary
machines on Earth, but producing what appeared to my eye much sharper printing.
The Sanskrit-like lettering I still could not read but, as Shizala took me
round a small press, showing me some of the beautifully made books it produced,
I soon learned to recognize many words as she pointed them out to me.

These books were in great demand
across the whole continent and were a great asset to the Karnala, as were their
artists and writers who produced the raw material.

Other industries thrived in
Varnal. Their swordsmiths were also renowned throughout the world, I learned.
The smiths still worked by the old methods, using furnace and anvil much as
smiths on Earth worked—an earth that was yet to come, I realized.

Some farming was done now, but on
a big scale and not by private landowners. Square miles of cereals were
sown,
I was told, and harvested all at once by volunteers
from all over the Karnala nation. What was not used was stored in case of hard
times, for the Karnala were well aware that a nation based on trade and
industry cannot buy food in famine and will only survive if it can produce its
own.

The absence of any places of
worship was noticeable and I asked Shizala about this. She replied that there
was no official religion of any kind, but for those who wanted to believe in a
higher being it was better to look for Him in their own minds and hearts, not
to seek Him in the words of others.

On the other hand, there were
public schools, libraries, clinics, social centers, hotels and the like, and no
one seemed under-privileged or unhappy in Varnal.

The Karnala political philosophy
seemed to be one of armed neutrality. They were a strong nation and prepared
for any attack. Besides this, an oldfashioned martial code still seemed to
exist, because an aggressor never attacked without good warning.

After telling me this, Shizala
added: "Apart from the more savage tribes, and they are no threat.
Those-and the Blue Giants."

"Who are the Blue
Giants?" I asked.

"The
Argzoon.
They are fierce and without code or conscience. They dwell in
the far north and only venture out on raids. They have only once come this far
south, and then my father's army drove them away ..." She bowed her head
and tightened her grip of the reins.

"And never returned?" I
said sympathetically, feeling I had to say something.

"Just
so."

She jostled the reins and the
dahara began to trot faster. I imitated her and we were soon galloping along
the wide streets through which the delicate green mist wound, and up towards
the golden hills—the Calling Hills.

We were soon out of the city and
rushing through the strange trees which seemed to be calling for us as we moved
among them.

After a while Shizala slowed her
steed and I did likewise. She turned to me with a smile.

"I acted wilfully—I hope you
will forgive me."

"I could forgive you
anything," I said, almost without thinking.

She gave me a quizzical,
intelligent look which again I could not interpret.

"Perhaps," she said.
"I should mention ..."

Again I spoke on impulse.
"Let us not talk—we are interrupting the voices of the trees. Let us just
ride and listen."

She smiled.
"Very
well."

As we rode I suddenly began to
wonder how I was going to live on Mars. I had accepted that I would like to
stay in the idyllic city of Varnal— I would never willingly leave a place which
sheltered such a graceful beauty as the girl riding beside me at that
moment—but how was I going to earn my living?

As a scientist I could probably
contribute something to the industries. It struck me that Shizala might be
interested if I suggested that she elect me as some sort of Court Scientific
Adviser! This would allow me to serve a useful function in the community and at
the same time enable me to be close to her and see a great deal of her.

At that time, of course, I was
acting almost intuitively. I had not as yet wondered if the customs of the
Karnala would even permit me to propose marriage to Shizala—and, anyway, there
was a very good chance that Shizala would want nothing to do with me. Why
should she? Although she had not questioned what I had told her about where I
had come from and how I had arrived on her planet, for all she knew I might be
a lunatic.

My mind was confused as I rode
along. At length we decided we had best return to the city and the palace, and
I directed my strange steed back with some reluctance.

The visiting Prince of Mishim Tep,
Telem Fas Ogdai, was waiting on the steps of the palace when we arrived. He had
one foot on a higher step and his hand rested on the hilt of his long,
broadbladed sword. He wore soft boots and a heavy cloak of dark material. He
looked both angry and impatient, and twice as I dismounted and walked up the steps
towards him, removed his hand from his sword-hilt to finger the plain gold
bangle on
bis
wrist.

He ignored me but flashed a glance
at Shizala and then turned his back on both of us, rumbling up the steps into
the palace.

Shizala looked at me apologetically.
"I am sorry, Michael Kane—but I had better speak to the Bradhinak. Will
you excuse me? You will find food in the hall."

I bowed.
"Of
course.
I hope to see you again later."

She gave me a quick, half-nervous
smile and then she was tripping up the steps after Bradhinak.

Some diplomatic problem, I
guessed, since the prince was evidently an emissary of some kind and was here
on diplomatic business as well as a friendly visit.

Perhaps Karnala's strength had
been sapped in the battle and the following expedition which had lost them
their king. Perhaps they were forced to rely on stronger allies while they
built up their strength again—and perhaps Mishim Tep was one of these allies.
All this speculation seemed likely— and much of it was subsequently proved
correct.

I entered the great hall. A kind
off buffet meal had been laid out on the table by servants.
Cold
meat, fruit, the inevitable basu, sweetmeats and so forth.
I sampled a
little of everything and found almost all of it to my liking. I exchanged small
talk with some of the men and women around the table. They were evidently very
curious about me but too polite to ask too many direct questions— which I did
not feel in any mood to answer at that moment.

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