Few outside of the Empire of Helium know and few within that realm trouble to acknowledge that there are two princesses in the House of Tardos Mors. The name of Dejah Thoris is known and her beauty hymned in the most remote courts of Barsoom. The name of Kadjah Thoris is rarely heard even within her father's palace and her praises spoken by none.
I am Kadjah Thoris, elder daughter of Mors Kajak Jed of Lesser Helium and Thoris of Accer his princess but all my life I have been eclipsed by the glorious Dejah Thoris, my younger sister. I confess that oft times the bitterness of my heart overflowed into anger against my kin, my city and my people – but not against Dejah Thoris, no never against my sister. Why so? Because in all of Helium's vast territories the sole person who loved and valued me as I longed to be loved and valued was that same Dejah Thoris thus I was no less devastated by her loss then the rest of Helium and though the thought that my disappearance would excite no such grief, no such frantic search, passed through my mind I did not dwell on it.
She could not be dead. She must not be dead. Holy Issus let my sister be alive! Oh Dejah, my darling Dejah Thoris…
Father found me grieving in a window embrasure of the gallery linking the official parts of our palace to the private apartments. "Do not weep so, daughter," he said kindly – he is always kind when he notices me at all – "Your sister is as strong and clever as she is lovely. We must not give up hope!" but his voice broke slightly on the word for he and I both knew how slight the chances were for any soul cast away upon our dying world.
Then, as is often the way on Barsoom, matters grew worse.
Zodanga, a hostile city on our eastern borders, had shamefully attacked the remnants of Dejah Thoris' expedition as the damaged ships limped home. They followed up this dishonorable behavior by taking advantage of the absence of our fleet, spread out over Barsoom searching for any trace of my sister, to lay siege to the twin cities. A few fliers managed to escape in the early days of the investment but as weeks passed, each bringing further death and destruction from above, hope of help reaching us in time faded.
Then one day, instead of the usual fleets of bombers, sunrise brought a party of Zodangans to our gates with spears reversed crying for parley. The delegation was admitted and my grandsire, father and the other jeds and jedwars assembled in the council chamber to give them audience. I too was present though not by invitation. To watch - oh let me speak plainly, to spy – upon the doings of the court was my chief amusement and there was no chamber in either royal palace to which I had not a secret way and some hiding place from which I might witness unseen all that was said or done. My watch post for the council chamber of the palace of Greater Helium lay between the two shells of the dome, the inner adorned with stars formed of gemstones and lit by radium bulbs, and the outer of highly polished white marble. Many years ago I had removed two of the radium bulbs to make eyeholes commanding the entirety of the chamber.
The Jeddak Tardos Mors, my father's father, sat on his throne of plain basalt directly below me with Mors Kajak, my sire on his right hand and his councilors ranged on the stone benches against the curving walls of the circular room. The delegation from Zodanga, deceptively noble seeming in their glittering harnesses, stood on the stylized tree of life inlaid in precious stones in the center of the floor. An unkempt figure in unadorned leather trappings stood in their midst like a guarded prisoner.
"First, O Tardos Mors, we return to you one of your own found alone and dying on the dead sea bottom," the leader proclaimed and pushed the dirty and undecorated man forward. I smothered a gasp. I knew him. It was Kantos Kan one of the few survivors of Dejah Thoris' expedition, a brave man and loyal warrior last heard of doing his part in the search for my sister.
I could not see my grandfather's expression but I could guess at it as he said; "Generous is the hospitality of Zodanga that cannot spare a guest water for bathing or fresh harness!"
The Zodangan's face darkened in anger, or maybe embarrassment. "Be that as it may, Noble Jeddak. We come as an embassage from Than Kosis, Jeddak of Zodanga, first to tell you your daughter is found and safe in our city -"
The councilors whispered in shock I looked at Kantos Kan and saw him give a slight nod. So it was true! Quietly I beat my head against the thin metal of the inner dome. I could easily guess what was coming next!
And sure enough; "The son of Than Kosis, Sab Than Prince of Zodanga, has fallen in love with the Princess of Helium -" the Princess you will note as if there was no other! "- and his father offers immediate peace and permanent friendship in return for her hand."
"And what of my daughter?" our father asked. "Does she love this Sab Than and add her voice to this fair offer."
Men of Barsoom do not lie easily and to his credit Than Kosis' ambassador didn't even try: "No, Mors Kajak, she does neither."
My grandsire rose from his throne, looming tall above the delegation and they shrank before his anger. "I speak for all of Helium when I say we would sooner look on the dead face of Dejah Thoris than consent to her forced marriage to a man not of her own choosing. As for myself, I would prefer dying amid the ashes of lost and burning Helium to blessing a union of the metal of the House of Mors with that of Zodanga!" Cheers rose from the benches demonstrating that grandfather did indeed speak for all Helium. And that was the end of the parley.
My grandfather passed from the council chamber to his private office accompanied by Father and Kantos Kan. I followed them by my secret ways and soon was settled snugly in another hiding place behind the bright reliefs painted on the panels covering a long sealed doorway.
"You have done enough, Kantos Kan!" my grandfather was saying as the three men entered.
"There are other warriors in Helium," added my father.
"Who know Zodanga?" Kantos Kan demanded. "I lived there nigh on thirty years before Than Kosis confiscated the wealth of our house and drove my kin forth to live or die as we would."
"Do you wonder that I would rather see my granddaughter safe in the arms of Issus than wed to the son of such a man?" Tardos Mors asked rhetorically.
"I will find her, my Jeddak, and bring her safe home to Helium if mortal man might accomplish it!" promised Kantos Kan.
"Go then, and your ancestors and mine give you fortune!" said my grandfather.
"But first have a good meal and a bath!" added my father with the good sense all too rare upon Barsoom.
Days of suspense crawled by. I prayed my sister would have the wit to buy time for rescue with false smiles and blandishments but doubted she would. Dejah, like our grandfather, is the soul of honor – which is all very well save when it overcomes all good sense and practicality. Some concessions to expediency are desirable, especially when in the hands of enemies who have no honor themselves.
I may be disesteemed by both family and city but that is not reflected in any way by my material circumstances. My chambers are as lavishly decorated with brilliantly dyed silks and rare furs and my coffers as full of fabulous jewels as Dejah Thoris's own. And I have no less than three slave girls in constant attendance upon me each with her specific duties; Urta tends to my person, Rahab to my chambers and Sava runs my errands and serves me at table. She and Urta have the additional duty of acting as my sparring partners.
The women of Barsoom no less than the men ordinarily go armed but usually with no more than a slender dagger useless save for slipping between the ribs of a man who embraces one unwilling or one's own to forestall a worse fate. Sava however is a warrior, a rare but not entirely unknown profession for a woman, and as skilled as any man. I elected to take advantage of the opportunity she offered for training in the use of real weapons and Urta chose to join me. Rahab proved less enthusiastic but even she now carries two long fighting daggers and knows how to use them to advantage. My private apartments open onto a terrace overlooking a small rooftop garden carpeted with soft scarlet turf and surrounded by walls of flowering vines which my slave girls and I use as a training ground.
A morning six or seven days after Kantos Kan had left on his mission found my slave girls and I practicing skills we had every expectation of needing to employ in the very near future. Sava prefers the saber with its curved single edged blade but Urta's weapon of choice is the conventional two edged long sword. Over the years I have developed a fighting style unique to myself. From childhood I have been able to use both hands with equal facility in needlework, writing - and swordplay. It seemed to me folly not to make full use of such an advantage thus it is my practice to fight two handed with a pair of single edged, curved short swords. After so many years of sparring together both Sava and Urta have learned many ways of countering my technique but I trusted conventionally trained swordsmen would be less adept.
Steel rang on steel as blades were briskly plied punctuated by an occasional squeal or laugh at a touch. Suddenly a voice so hoarse with tears that I scarcely recognized it cried from within; "Kadjah Thoris? Where is my daughter? Where is my only daughter?"
I turned towards the broad entrance of the reception hall of my chambers, fear in my heart. "Mother?" Thoris of Accer stumbled out onto the terrace, the morning sun showing me a face so devastated and drawn with grief that she seemed to have aged overnight to the full thousand years every Barsoomian may expect if not slain before times. "Mother!" I dropped my swords and ran for the low ramp that ascends to my rooms.
She met me on it and wrapped me in an embrace tight enough to choke off my breath. "Oh, Kadjah, oh my child, I still have one daughter, only the one!"
"Dejah Thoris!" I wheezed. "What has happened to her?"
"Your sister has promised herself to Sab Than of Zodanga," my grandfather replied heavily as he came out onto the terrace above us followed by my father supporting my grandmother the beautiful Ileen Istar.
I assisted Mother to a seat on one of the green ersite benches set under the terrace at the foot of the ramp before turning to my grandsire as he descended to us. "No, she cannot have been so mad!"
"She has," he answered heavily, sitting beside Mother and putting a comforting arm around her shaking shoulders. "The war is over. There will be no further bombardment and our fleets will be allowed to return."
"What can we do? We must do something!" I said desperately. I looked up at the two on the terrace. "Father -"
He smiled painfully down at me. "Than Kosis has thought of that, Helium is still blockaded and will remain so until after the wedding."
"Then we must see Dejah Thoris becomes a widow with all dispatch," I said.
Father and Grandfather both shook their heads. "The person of a kinsman is sacrosanct, Kadjah Thoris."
I shared a significant look with my grandmother. Dejah Thoris may have inherited Ileen Istar's fabled beauty but I have her mind – and grandmother, fortunately for Helium, is much more practical than either father or grandfather. Assassins are easily found and what Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak didn't know would hurt no one.
"How can Dejah Thoris be such a fool?" I grumbled later in my bath.
Rahab strewed a handful of pimalia petals on the gently steaming water. "She is trying to save Helium, Kadjah Thoris."
"By giving the heir to Zodanga a claim to the throne?" I demanded. "How safe will Tardos Mors, Mors Kajak, my brothers - or even I - sleep once this marriage has been consummated?"
Rahab bit her lip. "I didn't think of that," she admitted.
"No reason why you – a simple slave girl – should think such thoughts." I retorted. "A Princess of Helium however must!"
Urta folded me in a large warmed towel as I rose from the bath. "No doubt Dejah Thoris, like Tardos Mors, believes in the sacred ties of marriage kin," she said dryly.
"It would be like her," I had to agree.
All three of my slave girls moved purposefully around me. Urta dried my hair, smoothed it with scented oils and interwove it with loops of pure gold as Rahab fastened the ornaments of a Princess of Helium upon me and Sava supported a full length mirror in which I could see and judge my appearance. It was no better and no worse than usual. My little beauty, even enhanced by all that art can do, is so far inferior to that of Dejah Thoris that I have long since given over even wishing it were otherwise. My concern now was whether I would ever again see the splendid beauty of my sister.
Once again the Jeds and Jedwars assembled in the chamber of council and once again I was there to witness their conference but this time openly, seated on the steps of the dais at my grandfather's feet. My father took his place at his father's side and my mother and grandmother were enthroned in small golden chairs flanking Tardos Mors massive basalt judgment seat.
"Helium refuses peace at such a price!" Prince Stal Rask, a kinsman of ours, shouted. "Tell Than Kosis the men of Helium will sell their lives dearly before buying them with our beloved princess!" the men on the benches howled their support.
Tardos Mors raised his hand and the great chamber was instantly silent. "It is too late for that," he said heavily. "My granddaughter has pledged herself to Sab Than."
Stunned silence filled the chamber. Shoulders slumped in defeat, heads were buried in hands, and tears fell from eyes long unaccustomed to moisture as the nobles of Helium struggled to come to terms with the fact their princess was beyond their aid. You see it is the pledge that makes the marriage. The ceremony afterward is but a celebration of an already established fact. Oath pledge can only be dissolved by the mutual consent of the parties thereto – and somehow I didn't think Sab Than would so oblige us.
Finally a youthful Jedwar, newly promoted for valor, rose from his bench. "Then Dejah Thoris must be widowed with all possible dispatch." There are sane men in Helium, though one must search long and hard to find them!
My grandfather shook his head. "You speak treason Phan Pol, with his marriage Sab Than becomes a Prince of the House of Mors."
"With respect my Jeddak that is folly," Phan Pol replied with breathtaking frankness. Oh I liked this man! "Do any here believe Dejah Thoris marries the prince of Zodanga for any reason but to save Helium from destruction? To grant Sab Than kin right is no different from the assassin who invades the house claiming guest privilege!"
"Phan Pol speaks good sense, my king," said Ineen Istar fixing her wonderful eyes full on my grandfather's. "Can any man believe that Than Kosis will scruple to set assassins on you and our son, on his sons, nay even on the granddaughter sitting here at our feet, to obtain the throne of Helium for Sab Than?"
A look of horror came into Tardos Mors' face, and my father's too, as if that possibility had never crossed either of their minds. Sometimes I truly do despair. A rumbling growl of rage rose from the benches. Grandfather took a deep breath, visibly forcing himself to speak calmly; "You speak wisdom, my queen. And you Phan Pol are no traitor. Questions of honor cannot arise when dealing with the likes of Than Kosis. I agree Sab Than must die," he sighed, "though how we are to manage the deed is another matter. We will wait on opportunity."
And there we left it. What else could we do? Gradually our fleet filtered back over the next few days. Always heavily escorted by elements of the Zodangan fleet who promptly joined the forces encamped around the city. Clearly Than Kosis understood exactly how Heliumites felt about this new alliance, and was taking appropriate precautions. These included retaining the persons of my brothers, Tarkil Kajak and Gemil Kajak, believing correctly that they would not let a little thing like the armies and navies of Zodanga keep from their sister's side were they left at liberty!
I awoke to a weighty burden of grief, it took only a moment for me to remember why; today was my sister's wedding day! Oh my poor Dejah Thoris! And to make it all the bitterer her sacrifice wouldn't be rewarded by the peace she sought.
Sava served my breakfast on the terrace as is our custom. I managed a mouthful or two of somp fruit then put down my spoon. "I can't eat."
"Starving yourself will not help Dejah Thoris," said Urta.
"Nothing can help her," I answered and struggled to fight down tears. Rahab did not help by bursting into sobs herself.
Sava shook her by the shoulder. "That's enough of that my girl, and you too my princess. Let us distract our minds with exercise."
I put aside my tray and rose. "You mean a sparring match, Sava?"
She shook her head. "No, in our distracted frame of mind we'd be like to injure ourselves. What say you to a game of balalek, Kadjah Thoris?"
Anything was better than sitting and brooding over the horrors of my sister's fate so I agreed. Balalek is played with small hollow balls of gold, one for each player. The object of the game is to keep all the balls continually in the air, if a player allows one to drop she is eliminated – but her ball isn't. The fewer players the harder it is to keep all the balls in play, thus the challenge. The game went on for quite some time and while it did not completely distract me from my sister's plight it did keep me from dwelling uselessly upon it. Eventually Rahab was left in sole possession of the field deftly juggling all four balls. A bath in the tank of sun heated water shaded by a pergola at the far end of my roof garden followed.
I floated in the liquid warmth, soothed by the heady scent of the great clusters blossoms burdening the foiteria vines trained over the spun gold lattices, and by the delicate, wistful music of Urta's tri-pipes. Though the ache in my heart did not go away my racing thoughts were lulled to stillness – until the roar of ship engines overhead drowned the music and brought me fully back to myself.
I tumbled from the tank, followed by my girls, and we stood on the scarlet sward squinting upward as the recently restored armadas of Helium passed overhead on their way to where?
"Something has happened!" Rahab cried somewhat unnecessarily.
I wasted no time in words but raced for the ramp to my chambers and commanded the lift within them to carry me up to my grandsire's command post. We emerged, all four still wet from our bath, to find Father and Grandfather and their officers bent over the great ground glass screens set in table like frames, and their words made it clear they knew little more of what was happening than did we.
I pushed my way between two of the officers standing around the largest screen. It showed great battle ships bearing the colors of Zodanga and others hung about with our colors aloft and locked in battle of the conventional kind; pounding each other with broadsides as each side jostled for altitude.
Studying the screens I saw other ships, also bearing our colors, circling above the battle as seeming observers their batteries silent and pointed to them. "What are they doing, why do they hold aloof?"
Father shook his head, almost as confused as I. "Phan Pol reports they are powdering the Zodanga ships with small arms fire to excellent effect but he knows no more than we why they do not use their guns. They are not our ships though they fly our colors." I looked at him in astonishment and he explained; "They came from the direction of Zodanga their upper-works strung with our banner, but who commands them and why they have come to our aid we know not."
"From Zodanga," I breathed, an uncredulous hope rising in my breast. "Oh, Father, could it be Kantos Kan? Might not Dejah Thoris be with him?"
"If it is so then he is no man but a magician," said my grandfather.
The navy of Helium is the best in the world and it was not long before our ships gained altitude on the invaders downing their ships or forcing their surrender. Captured vessels manned by prize crews crowded our aerial docks but the men aboard could tell us nothing new about our unexpected ally.
Suddenly Urta, watching the battle through the great windows along with my other girls and the junior officers and signalmen, gave a cry; "Dejah Thoris!" following the line of her frantically pointing finger all in the command post saw what she had seen; my sister's personal colors being raised over the victorious ships.
The men cheered, chanting her name: "Dejah Thoris! Dejah Thoris!"
A signalman pushed his way through the crowd to my grandfather's side. "Sire! Sire! The princess comes – Phan Pol signals she is aboard the flag ship and he is bringing her directly to the palace!"
Whereupon I burst into tears.
I had to wait my turn to embrace my sister. Grandfather and father went first, but almost at once they were drawn aside into conference with Phan Pol. Then it was Grandmother and Mother's turn.
My attention in the meantime was distracted by the astonishing sight of a Green Martian woman standing well apart, her head hanging giving her a strangely timid air. I spoke to her: "Who are you, woman, and how come you here?"
"Sola is my name," she answered. "I am Dejah Thoris's friend and she is mine."
I did not ask how or why my sister had befriended her. She had done so, for now that was all I needed to know. "Then welcome, Sola. I am Kadjah Thoris and my sister's friends are as mine."
She smiled, her great, liquid eyes softening the fearsome sight. "So now I have three! I am rich indeed."
Before I could say more I heard Dejah Thoris's voice raised behind me: "Kadjah Thoris? Where are you, sister?"
"Here!" I cried and flung myself into her arms. "Oh Dejah, Dejah, I was so afraid I would never see you again!"
"As was I," she answered and pushed me back to arms length that she might look at me. Her lovely face contracted. "Oh sister, did you grieve so!"
"Yes!" then I understood her dismay and laughed. "No! I was bathing when your ships were sighted that is all." On Barsoom those in deepest grief and the blackest despair lay aside not only ornaments but weapons and harness walking abroad completely unadorned as outward sign that the world for them is empty and they desire naught but release from it.
"And what are these jewels you are wearing, my granddaughter?" Ileen Istar asked, as well she might for Dejah Thoris was all ablaze with the many-colored fires of the rarest gems thickly set in platinum and gold.
She made a moue of distaste. "This trash is the wedding finery of a princess of Zodanga which I am not, thanks to John Carter!"
Grandmother's eyebrows rose, "And who is John Carter?" she asked.
Dejah's color deepened. "He is my chieftain, the greatest warrior and noblest spirit on all Barsoom!"
Mother and I exchanged looks of dismay. By naming him her chieftain Dejah Thoris had just told us she had promised herself to a man we had never even heard of, much less seen! Befriending a Green Woman was as nothing compared to this!
"That is all very interesting my dear," Grandmother said composedly, "but what is his city and who are his people?"
Dejah laughed a little unsteadily. "That is hard to explain. Come, I would rid myself of these slave's gauds. Let us to my chambers and I will tell you all."
My sister stood still as her slave girls, tearful with joy and relief, disinvested her of her scorned finery. One plucked the multitudinous ornamental combs and pins from her high piled hair, another pulled bracelet after bracelet from her arms and a third, kneeling at her feet, unclasped the broad ankle-cuffs and removed the bejeweled sandals. Finally Dejah Thoris herself slipped the straps of the harness from her shoulders, unclasped the belt and let it fall spurning it with a bare foot.
"There!" she said running fingers through her loosened hair. "That is for you Sola, a spoil of war. Zora, the sandals and ankle cuffs are yours. Fanar you may keep the bracelets and Sharas the hair ornaments fall to you. They were gifts to a slave, let them adorn slaves!"
Mother, Grandmother, Sola and I followed Dejah Thoris into the bathroom leaving her girls staring stunned at their new wealth. She sank gratefully into the cool water, her hair floating around her.
"Now," Grandmother commanded, "Tell us of this John Carter."
She obeyed and it was the most extraordinary story I have ever heard, outstripping even the romances written of the elder days in excitement and incident. First Dejah Thoris had been captured by the Green Tharks encamped in the ancient city of Korad. There she had found her John Carter, also a captive but a privileged one having earned the honors of a chief by his prowess. By that same means he had won custody of Dejah Thoris placing her in the care of Sola, one of his attendants. Together they had planned their escape and Sola whose gentle heart and kind soul made her miserable among her own kind had decided to join them.
At that point in the story Grandmother got up and solemnly kissed Sola of the Tharks, naming her Sola of Helium and promising her a daughter's place in the House of Tardos Mors. Overwhelmed the Green Woman wept and our own highly wrought emotions caused us to join our tears to hers.
When we had calmed Dejah Thoris continued her story: Their plan had failed but John Carter had rescued her from the literal grasp of the fiendish Tal Hajus – whose infamy was known even to Red Martians – and they had fled together all three only to ride directly into the path of a troop of Warhoons! John Carter had put Dejah and Sola on their remaining thoat and himself stayed behind to prevent pursuit – succeeding, Dejah had thought, at the cost of his life. In truth he had been taken alive by the Warhoons and imprisoned in their pits where he found, of all people, Kantos Kan! Set to fight each other in the arena Kantos Kan had pretended to kill John Carter and been declared victor. He had been promised his freedom but the Warhoons had kept their word by abandoning him on the seabed where he was eventually found by the Zodangans. This was also Dejah Thoris and Sola's fate as they tried to make their way to Helium. In the meantime John Carter had escaped Warhoon and was also journeying to Helium by way of the Tephat canal. This of course led him straight into Zodanga where he again encountered Kantos Kan and the two of them joined forces to rescue Dejah. John Carter gained admission to the palace and even to her prison only to learn that she - the little fool! – had pledged herself to Sab Than!
Here the story was interrupted again this time by the scolding of my grandmother, my mother and myself. Dejah tried to defend herself at first but eventually conceded she had indeed been a fool and promised never to do the like again should similar circumstances arise – which I for one considered only too probable.
Having slain her guards John Carter was forced to flee, making still for Helium, but his compass had been damaged in his escape and instead he found himself again among the Tharks! Fortunately he, like Dejah Thoris, had succeeded in finding a friend among that fierce people, a Jed named Tars Tarkas who slew the evil Tal Hajus and succeeded him as Jeddak. He and John Carter then made alliance leading the vast horde of the Tharks against Zodanga just in time to interrupt Dejah Thoris' forced wedding. Sab Than, Than Kosis and most of their nobles were dead and the city itself had been given over to sack by the Green Men. I winced a little at the thought then shrugged it aside. A man dies, a woman dies and what does it matter when Barsoom itself is dying?
John Carter and his friend Tars Tarkas had left them to it, loading Thark warriors onto captured ships with prisoners for crews. They'd set course for Helium with the result we had seen. John Carter had sent word through Phan Pol of his intention to attack the Zodangan ground forces with his Thark allies and asked for a supporting attack from the city - which explained why Father and Grandfather were not with us.
"All this is very interesting, my dear," said Grandmother when Dejah Thoris's story had ended. "But it does not answer my question; who is this savior of yours and where does he come from?"
Dejah didn't look at all happy. "He says he is from Jasoom," she admitted reluctantly continuing hastily as Mother uttered a cry of dismay. "And I believe him. He has the look of the northern Jasoomians with their white skin and his eyes are a color I have never seen on Barsoom."
"But how did he get here?" I asked. "As you know I am an observer of our sister planet and I assure you, Dejah Thoris, they have no airships at all – much less vessels capable of travelling through the void."
Dejah looked still more uncomfortable. "Not even he knows how he comes to be on Barsoom. He told me he fell into a trance in a cave on his own world and found himself standing outside his body. He then left the cavern and looked up towards Barsoom – which he calls Mars - and the next moment he found himself lying on the ochre lichen of the dead sea's bottom trying to understand what had happened to him."
"You are saying he is a spirit?" Grandmother asked.
"Oh no! He is flesh," Dejah answered quickly – and then blushed redder than the scarlet gloresta flower.