As I have said observing the peoples of Jasoom is one of my several interests, a study that became much more enlightening with John Carter to explain what I was seeing.
He, Dejah Thoris and I stood around the glass screen beneath the unwinking stars of Barsoom. Sava delicately adjusted the astronomical instruments and the image became larger and clearer. We seemed to be looking down from an altitude of perhaps a hundred feet on a mean little village set down in the midst of an endless yellow–green plain. The buildings were crudely constructed of weathered gray wood and the dirt track running between them was crowded by Jasoomians of all ages and both sexes moving slowly towards a larger white building crowned by a short spire.
"It must be Sunday," John Carter said. "The people are on their way to worship our God." He indicated the white building. "That is His church."
"So Jasoom has a god rather than a goddess," I said. "Tell me John Carter, why do your people cover themselves with layers of drab cloth?"
"Our climate is different from yours," he answered, "it is often cold and liquid and frozen water both frequently fall from the sky. We wear coverings to protect ourselves from the weather."
I shook my head at him; "No, John Carter, that will not do." I indicated a gauge. "It is not at all cold nor is there water falling on these villagers – so why have they not discarded their coverings?"
John Carter looked uncomfortable. "Well… the truth is it is our custom to wear coverings at all times."
"But why?" Dejah asked, astonished.
"I used to think it was to cover the shame of bodily disfigurement," said I. "But John Carter disproved that theory being as perfectly formed a man as I have ever seen." My sister's husband blushed and Dejah Thoris looked smug. "So - as Dejah asked; why?"
He sighed. "Kadjah, can you explain the reason for every custom of the Barsoomians?"
My sister and I both laughed. "You have a point there, John Carter," I had to admit.
He shrugged. "It is custom. And to be frank we believe that the right clothing enhances our appearance."
That got him disbelieving looks not only from Dejah and myself but from Sava as well. "All I can say is your people have a curious sense of aesthetics!" my sister said.
John Carter went on to explain that the village we were observing was a new settlement as his people had only recently begun to expand into the midlands of the North Western continent. He would have liked to show us some of their older cities but unfortunately all of these were obscured by hazes caused, he said, by the fuels his people burned for heat and light.
Finally our wandering eye fell upon an elegant stone building surrounded by lawns and trees of that strange green color with flower gardens laid out like brightly patterned carpets. This, John Carter said, was a mansion belonging to a wealthy merchant of 'New York' a great city on Jasoom.
Groups of Jasoomians dotted the lawns and gardens, the men and women often walking arm in arm. The men wore the same drab trappings and conical headdresses as the poor villagers but the women were draped in light fabrics trimmed with bright colors their garments made to fit them closely to the waist then flaring out into great bell shaped skirts. flowers and plumy feathers adorned their head coverings. The dresses looked cumbersome in the extreme but Dejah and I had to admit they were not unattractive.
Urta appeared at the opening of the spiral ramp linking the rooftop observatory to the rest of my suite. "The guests gather, Kadjah Thoris." Sava set the instruments to automatic scan and record and the four of us descended a floor to the workroom where my girls and I pursue our several avocations.
Rahab was at work at the tapestry loom occupying one corner with her skeins of many hued silk pegged to the wall beside it. The opposite corner held a half-finished folding screen of beautifully striated petrified wood from one of Barsoom's many dead forests together with an array of delicate chisels hanging on the wall behind, this belonged to Urta who was skilled in such work. Sava's workbench in a third corner held a selection of fine ground glass lenses and delicate golden gears belonging to the camera she was making. My desk occupied the final corner, flanked by low racks of books and recording spools. The entire room was ringed by wide windows which admitted plentiful light by day supplemented at night by the radium bulbs set in the fretted ceiling.
Rahab promptly rose and joined the rest of us in the lift. It carried us down two levels, past my reception hall to my private chambers where we removed the fur robes we had donned against the chill of Barsoom's night. We did not however shed the silk robes we wore beneath for it is none too warm even within walls inset with heating elements, especially as many of our room are open to gardens or terraces. We reentered the lift and descended to the main level of the palace where we were joined by several warriors of the Jeddak's guard; two for Dejah Thoris, two for me, and two (completely unnecessarily) for John Carter. We fell in with the brilliantly bejeweled crowd moving slowly towards the great reception halls. My slave girls soon turned down a side corridor leading to the service quarters. Urta and Rahab both had roles to play in the entertainment and Sava of course would serve me as usual.
The third door after that led to the small withdrawing room where we found the rest of the family assembled; parents, grandparents and my brothers, waiting for us before making their entrance.
"We are not late," I said defensively into the mildly reproachful silence.
"I do not say that you are," Grandfather replied. "Come, John Carter." He signaled to the guards and they threw open the doors leading to the reception hall beyond.
"The Jeddak comes!" I heard the herald proclaim, "Tardos Mors!" Grandfather stepped through the doors the brilliant lighting scintillating dazzlingly over the jewels encrusting his harness and weapons. "The Jed comes!" the herald continued; "Mors Kajak!" And my father followed Grandfather through the door. Then: "The Prince comes! John Carter!" "The Prince comes! Tarkil Kajak!" "The Prince comes! Gemil Kajak!"
Grandmother, mother, Dejah Thoris and I waited long enough to allow our men to reach the dais at the opposite end of the room before making our own entrances. "The Jeddara comes! Ileen Istar!" "The Jeddara comes! Thoris of Accer!" then it was my turn:
"The princess comes! Kadjah Thoris!" I stepped through the doorway. As usual the eyes of the assembled guests slid right past me to watch expectantly for Dejah Thoris' entrance - all but one pair.
Two dark eyes burning with something warmer than admiration remained fixed on mine. I had seen such looks many times but never directed at me! The eyes were set in a boldly modeled face that instantly became my ideal of male beauty. He wore his hair cropped short after the fashion of the northern cities and the metal adorning his leather harness was beautifully patinaed and decorated with finely chased designs both elegant and austere, but unadorned with jewels or gold.
My heart pounded in my ears and my breath came short. Then arm slipped through mine making me jump. "Kadjah Thoris?" my sister's sweet voice said in my ear, "why do you stand here?"
I suffered myself to be led to the dais, feeling those eyes on me all the while, and took my place between Mother and Dejah. To my delight the owner of said eyes was approaching my grandsire. He paused at the foot of the dais to make a bow which Tardos Mors returned meaning my admirer must be at least a Jed.
"Welcome, Mens Atrios," Grandfather said.
And now I knew exactly who he was. Dejah Thoris had of course had a plethora of suitors before John Carter won her heart and hand. Agan Atrios Jeddak of Mikena, an empire fully as large as Helium dominating the northern hemisphere of Barsoom, had proposed a double alliance; Dejah Thoris was to be his Jeddara and I mated with his younger brother. Formerly I had been indignant at being passed over in favor of my younger sister yet again. Needless to say my feelings were now very different!
"Tardos Mors, the dual marriage proposed by my brother can never now be, the Princess Dejah Thoris having chosen otherwise, but with your consent I would press my suit for the Princess Kadjah."
Grandfather smiled. "My consent you have. It is my granddaughter's you must win for no daughter of Helium is ever married save at her own wish."
Mens Atrios turned towards me our eyes locking. Once again I forgot how to breathe. He drew his long sword. It was a businesslike weapon as practical as his metal, the leather wrapping the grip well worn. "Kadjah Thoris, I lay my sword and my heart at your feet," he said suiting action to word.
I know it is the custom for a woman to temporize, to make conditions or at least delay her answer but such games are for the coy and cruel or those who don't know their own minds and I was neither. I returned the sword to him hilt first. "Take my heart in exchange for your own, my prince," I said. And that was that.
Mors Kajak looked at my mother. "Our daughters make up their minds quickly, my princess."
"As did I," Thoris of Accer answered.
The banquet passed like a dream. Normally I enjoy watching Urta dance but that night I could look at nothing but my prince. Truly I had never expected to fall in love – indeed had prayed that I would not as I never expected any man to notice me once he'd laid eyes on my sister. Mens Atrios seemed equally dazed, his eyes scarcely leaving mine.
"You are not a talker, my prince." I ventured as we took the floor to dance.
He smiled. "I cannot believe my good fortune, my princess. That I of all men should win the Jewel of Helium so quickly -"
I interrupted; "You have seen my sister, have you not?"
He glanced over his shoulder at Dejah Thoris seated at our table talking to John Carter at her side then turned back to me with a visible shrug. "She is lovely. But there is no comparison."
"So I have always been told," I answered wondering if my love's eyesight was all it should be.
I had never been as happy as I was in the following days - indeed looking back on my earlier life it seemed as if I'd never been happy before at all! Every bit of bitterness I'd ever felt towards family and city was dissolved by my new joy. Mens Atrios' continued delusion regarding the superiority of my beauty over that of my sister delighted me and my concerns for his sight and his sanity were soothed by John Carter. Laughing my brother assured me that every woman is the most beautiful in the eyes of the man who loves her.
I should have known something would go wrong. This is Barsoom and I am Kadjah Thoris!
John Carter's narrow escape from a poisonous Ventha worm discovered in his bath chamber at a most inconvenient moment roused no undue suspicion. Barsoom is full of dangerous creatures and for all our precautions our homes are not proof against them. The incident was dismissed as an unfortunate accident. It was rather more difficult to dismiss the explosion of the destroyer Thoris moments after John Carter had disembarked. A careful study of the wreckage revealed a fault in the energy interchange unit of the radium battery as the most likely cause. Well, accidents do happen – especially to John Carter!
It was however quite impossible to regard a near miss from a rifle – which would have been a deadly hit had my prince not pushed John Carter out of range just in time – as anything but an attempted assassination.
But who would want John Carter dead? The most likely suspects were the surviving nobility and elite merchants of Zodanga. But with half of them dead, and the other half enslaved it was impossible to see how any could have been in a position to hire a professional – if somewhat inept – assassin.
"Holy Issus truly favors my husband," Dejah Thoris said fervently.
"He must require her entire attention," I answered dryly.
We sat together in my roof garden under the shadow of a silken canopy nibbling idly at the contents of a bowl of fruit and sweets as we talked.
Dejah turned a kringol berry in nervous fingers. "But what enemies can John Carter have outside of the Zodangans?"
"That is the question," I agreed. Granted Barsoom has its share of madmen but madmen who can purchase the services of an assassin are fairly uncommon.
Rahab came out of my rooms, descending the ramp from the terrace and crossing the scarlet sward towards us. "Kadjah Thoris, Dejah Thoris, the Jeddak requests your presence in his study."
We found Grandfather seated behind his desk looking very grave with Father standing to his left and a distressed looking John Carter to his right. Mens Atrios stood facing them all, tight lipped and impassive.
I moved at once to his side. "What is happening here?"
"We have discovered who is behind the attempted assassination of John Carter; Agan Atrios!" my grandsire answered.
I looked at my prince. He refused to meet my eye, his face darkened by a flush of shame. My heart went out to him. What a horrible thing to learn about one's own brother. I took his hand. "Oh, Mens Atrios, I am so sorry!"
He looked down at me, face softening in something like relief. "As am I, Kadjah Thoris."
I looked at my grandfather. It took me a moment to correctly interpret his expression. My hand tightened on Mens Atrios'. "You cannot believe my prince had any hand in this!"
"It is not an unreasonably assumption," Mens Atrios said tensely.
"Yes it is!"
"I agree," that was John Carter, his arm around Dejah Thoris's waist he spoke directly to my grandfather. "I have come to know Mens Atrios quite well, sir. I would as soon believe myself capable of such infamy as he."
"You may well be right, John Carter," Grandfather said heavily. "But complicit or no his honor is tied to his brother. I cannot allow my house to be united with the metal of one so tarnished."
I gaped at him in horror and disbelief.
"I understand, Tardos Mors," Mens Atrios said in a stifled voice.
"I do not!" I cried, "It is you I am marrying not your brother!" I turned to Mors Kajak in appeal; "Father -"
"The Jeddak has spoken, daughter," he said quietly. "And I believe wisely."
Gently disengaging his hand from mine Mens Atrios bowed to the three behind the desk then turned and left the room.
I stared after him too stunned yet to truly feel the pain then turned like a she-banth upon my menfolk.
"How dare you sacrifice my happiness to your idiotic honor! Was it not enough for you to ignore and disregard me all my life? Must you destroy my sole chance to escape you as well?" I caught a brief glimpse of shocked and gaping faces before whirling to flee the room. I ran all the way back to the refuge of my own apartment.