Chapter 23 Escape on Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

We were taken to a dungeon below the palace of the jong, into which Gangor had moved. It was a most unsanitary and unpleasant place. They chained us to the wall; our jailer, who did it, being unnecessarily rough with us. He wore the keys to the dungeon and our padlocks on a chain about his neck. He took the chain off to use the key when he fettered us; and he struck us each several times with it, just to satisfy his lust for cruelty. There could have been no other reason; as we offered no resistance, nor did we even speak to him. If I ever had murder in my heart, it was then; and for a long time I planned how I might kill him. It was then that an idea came to me.

After the fellow had left us, I noticed how dejected Doran appeared; and I told him to cheer up, that we had to die sometime. I didn't feel very cheerful myself. I kept thinking of Duare. She would never know what had happened to me; but she would guess that I was dead, for she would know that only death would keep me from returning to her.

"How can I be cheerful?" said Doran, "when it was my silly plan that brought us here to die."

"It is no more your fault than ours," said Kandar. "We had to take a chance. It was merely a misfortune, not a fault, which caused it to fail."

"I shall never forgive myself," insisted Doran.

We remained in that dungeon for a couple of weeks. A slave brought us food once a day; we saw no one else; and then, at last, our jailer returned. He was quite alone. I backed close to the wall as he came in.

"I just came to tell you," he said, "that you are to die the first thing in the morning. Your heads are to be cut off."

"It is that homely head of yours that should be cut off," I said. "What are you, anyway, a Myposan?"

I saw Kandar and Doran looking at me in astonishment.

"Shut up!" growled the jailer, "or I'll give you another taste of the chain."

"Get out of here!" I yelled at him. "You stink. Go take a bath before you come down here again among your betters."

The fellow was so mad that he couldn't speak; but he came for me, as I knew he would—he came with his chain swinging. It was what I had planned—it was happening just as I had hoped it would; and when he came within reach of me, I seized his throat in both my hands. He tried to scream for help; but I had his wind choked off, and he couldn't. But he was beating me all the time with his chain. I pushed him over closer to Kandar.

"Grab his chain," I said, "before he beats me to death."

Kandar got hold of it and held on, while I choked the brute. I thought of the blows that he had struck us so wantonly, and I gave his neck an extra twist. I have killed many men in self-defense or in line of duty; some I have been glad to kill, but usually it has made me sad to think that I must take a human life. Not so now, I enjoyed every second of it until his corpse hung limp in my grasp.

I snatched the chain from about its neck and let it slip to the floor; then I unlocked my padlock and freed myself. Quickly, I did the same for Kandar and Doran.

"At first," said Doran, "I couldn't understand why you wanted to enrage that fellow and get another beating for nothing, but the moment he stepped toward you I guessed what you had in mind. It was a very clever trick."

"Yes," I said, "but what now?"

"Maybe this is where we come in?" said Kandar. "We were both born and raised in this palace. We know more about it than the jong, our father, did."

"More than anyone in Japal," added Doran. "You know how little boys are. We explored every corner of the place."

"And you know a way out?" I asked.

"Yes," said Kandar, "but there's a hitch."

"What is it?" I asked.

"There is a secret passage leading from the palace out into the city. It ends in a building near the wall. In the cellar of that building another passage starts that leads outside the city."

"But where's the hitch?" I repeated.

"The hitch is," he said, "that the secret passage starts in the jong's own sleeping apartments, and the chances are that Gangor occupies them now."

"We'll have to wait until he is away," said Doran.

"Can we get to them without being apprehended?" I asked.

"We can try," said Kandar. "I think it can be done after dark."

"It is after dark now," I said.

"So we start," said Doran.

"And may our luck hold," added Kandar.

Kandar led the way along a dark corridor and up a flight of stairs at the top of which he cautiously opened a door and looked into the room beyond.

"All right," he whispered, "come on."

He led us into the palace kitchen, and through that and several pantries into a huge state dining room. The jongs of Japal lived well. We followed Kandar to the end of the room farthest from the main entrance, and here he showed us a little door hidden behind hangings.

"Where the jong used to escape when he became bored," he explained.

Beyond the door was a narrow corridor. "Go quietly," cautioned Kandor. "This corridor leads to the jong's sleeping apartments. We'll have a look in them and see if Gangor is there."

We crept along noiselessly through the dark little corridor until Kandar halted at a door. We pressed close behind him as he opened it a crack. The room beyond was in darkness.

"Gangor is probably drinking with some of his cronies," whispered Kandar, "and hasn't retired yet. We are in luck. Come on, follow me; but still go quietly."

We crept across that dark room, Doran touching Kandar to keep in contact and follow him, and I touching Doran. It seemed a perfectly enormous room to me, and traversing it that way in total darkness, I somehow lost my balance just enough to cause me to throw one foot out to regain my equilibrium. Well, I threw it in the wrong place at the wrong time. It hit a table or something and knocked it over. The thing fell with a crash that would have awakened the dead; and instantly there was a cry, and a light went on.

There was Gangor right in front of us sitting up on his sleeping couch, screaming for the guard. On a table at the side of the couch lay my pistol. Gangor had taken it away from the warrior of the guard all right. It would have been better for him had he not.

As I leaped forward and snatched it from the table, a dozen warriors burst into the apartment. "This way!" Kandar shouted to me, and the three of us backed away toward the secret entrance to the corridor leading from the palace. At least I thought that that was where he was leading us, but he wasn't. As he told me later, he had not wished to reveal the secret to Gangor and his warriors.

I menaced the advancing guardsmen with my pistol. "Stand back!" I ordered. "Don't come closer, or I'll kill you!"

"Kill them!" screamed Gangor. "Kill them all!"

A warrior rushed me. I pressed the trigger—but nothing happened. For the first time since I had had it, my r-ray pistol failed me—failed me when it was a question of life or death and even more; a question as to whether I was ever to return to Duare again.

But, unarmed as I was, there were other weapons at hand. Maybe they had not been designed as instruments of death, but they were to serve their purpose. I seized a bench and hurled it into the face of the advancing warrior. He went down; and immediately Kandar and Doran grasped the possibilities of the furnishings of the apartment, and seized upon the nearest things at hand.

Behind them a cluster of spears had been arranged upon the wall as a decoration. I saw them and dragged them down. Now we were armed! But the odds were against us—twelve against three; or rather eleven now, for the man I had hit with the bench lay where he had fallen, and Gangor only sat on his couch screaming for more guardsmen. I saw Kandar working his way toward him; and so Doran and I moved with him, keeping our backs against the wall.

Fencing with spears is quite an interesting experience; while thus engaged, one does not doze, I can assure you. It happened that the spear which had fallen to me was light and rather long, a fact which gave me an advantage that I was not long in realizing and seizing upon. I found that while I could not parry well with one hand, I could jab quite effectively; so, picking up a light table to use as a shield, I succeeded so well that I jabbed an antagonist in the heart after parrying his thrust with my table.

Doran and Kandar had each killed a man, and now the remainder of them seemed less keen to push the assault. Kandar had worked around until he was close beside Gangor's couch; and as he jerked his spear from the heart of a dead guardsman, he wheeled and drove it through Gangor's body.

Gangor did not die immediately. He lay sprawled across his couch vomiting blood; and between paroxisms, screaming in agony. Jantor, jong of Japal, had been avenged.

Now more warriors were pushing into the chamber; and it looked pretty bad for us three, when there burst upon our ears the sound of gongs and trumpets. As if by magic, the fighting stopped, as we all listened.