The Gods of Mars

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 92

men and
great white apes.

The brutal beasts moved among the crowd as pet dogs might. If they
were in the way the blacks pushed them roughly to one side, or whacked
them with the flat of a sword, and the animals slunk away as in great
fear.

Presently we came upon our destination, a great amphitheatre situated
at the further edge of the plain, and about half a mile beyond the
garden walls.

Through a massive arched gateway the blacks poured in to take their
seats, while our guards led us to a smaller entrance near one end of
the structure.

Through this we passed into an enclosure beneath the seats, where we
found a number of other prisoners herded together under guard. Some of
them were in irons, but for the most part they seemed sufficiently awed
by the presence of their guards to preclude any possibility of
attempted escape.

During the trip from Shador I had had no opportunity to talk with my
fellow-prisoner, but now that we were safely within the barred paddock
our guards abated their watchfulness, with the result that I found
myself able to approach the red Martian youth for whom I felt such a
strange attraction.

"What is the object of this assembly?" I asked him. "Are we to fight
for the edification of the First Born, or is it something worse than
that?"

"It is a part of the monthly rites of Issus," he replied, "in which
black men wash the sins from their souls in the blood of men from the
outer world. If, perchance, the black is killed, it is evidence of his
disloyalty to Issus--the unpardonable sin. If he lives through the
contest he is held acquitted of the charge that forced the sentence of
the rites, as it is called, upon him.

"The forms of combat vary. A number of us may be pitted together
against an equal number, or twice the number of blacks; or singly we
may be sent forth to face wild beasts, or some famous black warrior."

"And if we are victorious," I asked, "what then--freedom?"

He laughed.

"Freedom, forsooth. The only freedom for us death. None who enters
the domains of the First Born ever leave. If we prove able fighters we
are permitted to fight often. If we are not mighty fighters--" He
shrugged his shoulders. "Sooner or later we die in the arena."

"And you have fought often?" I asked.

"Very often," he replied. "It is my only pleasure. Some hundred black
devils have I accounted for during

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