The Chessmen of Mars

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 173

had resumed his seat there was a painful silence, for all knew
that the speaker had challenged the courage of O-Tar the Jeddak of
Manator and all awaited the reply of their ruler. In every mind was the
same thought--O-Tar must lead them at once to the chamber of O-Mai the
Cruel, or accept forever the stigma of cowardice, and there could be no
coward upon the throne of Manator. That they all knew and that O-Tar
knew, as well.

But O-Tar hesitated. He looked about upon the faces of those around him
at the banquet board; but he saw only the grim visages of relentless
warriors. There was no trace of leniency in the face of any. And then
his eyes wandered to a small entrance at one side of the great chamber.
An expression of relief expunged the scowl of anxiety from his features.

"Look!" he exclaimed. "See who has come!"



CHAPTER XX

THE CHARGE OF COWARDICE

Gahan, watching through the aperture between the hangings, saw the
frantic flight of their pursuers. A grim smile rested upon his lips as
he viewed the mad scramble for safety and saw them throw away their
swords and fight with one another to be first from the chamber of fear,
and when they were all gone he turned back toward Tara, the smile still
upon his lips; but the smile died the instant that he turned, for he
saw that Tara had disappeared.

"Tara!" he called in a loud voice, for he knew that there was no danger
that their pursuers would return; but there was no response, unless it
was a faint sound as of cackling laughter from afar. Hurriedly he
searched the passageway behind the hangings finding several doors, one
of which was ajar. Through this he entered the adjoining chamber which
was lighted more brilliantly for the moment by the soft rays of
hurtling Thuria taking her mad way through the heavens. Here he found
the dust upon the floor disturbed, and the imprint of sandals. They had
come this way--Tara and whatever the creature was that had stolen her.

But what could it have been? Gahan, a man of culture and high
intelligence, held few if any superstitions. In common with nearly all
races of Barsoom he clung, more or less inherently, to a certain
exalted form of ancestor worship, though it was rather the memory or
legends of the virtues and heroic deeds of his forebears that he
deified rather than themselves. He never expected any tangible evidence
of their existence after death; he did not believe that they had the
power either for

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