I threw myself upon the furs and silks heaped on the low platform in the center of my sleeping chamber burying my face in the softness of a thick white apt pelt as the tears finally came in a flood.
'Unfair! Unfair!' I wailed mentally as sobs choked my voice. Dejah Thoris had her prince, why must I be deprived of mine? Men! I hated them all, yes even Mens Atrios, how dare he leave me! The fool! The madman! Oh my darling, my darling… I was incoherent with rage and grief and well on the way to madness myself when I felt a touch on my shoulder.
"Not until you look me in the face and tell me to go," answered a voice that belonged to neither Urta, nor Rahab nor Sava.
"Mens Atrios!" I twisted round and clung to him, now weeping onto the hardness of his metal which I trusted was not given to rust. "I thought you'd gone. I thought you'd left me!"
"Never while I live," my prince vowed. "Kadjah Thoris, Kadjah Thoris, look at me." I obeyed gladly. "I understand your grandfather's decision yes, but I do not and cannot submit to it. Nor can I forgive my brother his treachery. I have a kingdom of my own, my princess. Pharos is no great empire like Helium but it is beautiful, almost beautiful enough to be a fit home for you. Will you come with me? Will you be my queen?"
"Of course, you idiot!" I choked. "I hate this city, I hate it. I have been so miserable here! I want to go and never come back. When can we leave?"
He grimaced. "I may go freely at any time – indeed the sooner the better! Getting you out unnoticed will be more difficult."
I smiled smugly. "No it won't.
I had never used my secret ways to leave the palace – why should I? – but I knew of no less than three hidden exits, unguarded and unknown to any but myself. Getting out my plans I spread them upon my bed table and traced the routes one by one for Mens Atrios' benefit. "This one passes through the pits and comes out at the main channel of the city cloaca. I'd rather not take that one."
"Nor I," he said, his breath warm on by ear as he hung over my shoulder.
"This one goes through the attics and tween spaces to an old door in a sheer wall here – I think there was once a wing of the palace there but now it overlooks a side avenue. We could use that door with equilibrimotors but floaters so close to the palace are likely to attract notice. I think the third route will be our best choice."
Our plans laid I summoned my three slave girls. They stared in astonishment at Mens Atrios at my side.
"How did you get in here?" Sava blurted.
"Over the roofs," he answered and smiled down at me. "But your mistress knows a better route whereby we may leave."
"Leave?" Urta asked looking from my prince to me. "You are going with him Kadjah Thoris?"
"Mens Atrios had no hand in the attacks on John Carter," I answered, "and I don't care what his brother is or has done I am pledged to him and will not break my word even at my grandsire's command." I handed each a signed and sealed document. "You are free. Tell my grandfather I am gone with my prince, never to return to Helium. I want neither dowry nor blessing from him or my father either. Tell my sister and my mother and grandmother -" I paused. "No, you need tell them nothing. They will understand what I do and why."
"How can we tell them anything when we will not be here?" said Sava.
I looked at her, taken aback. "But – I promise my grandfather will respect your freedom. Surely you can -"
"I mean," Sava interrupted, "we will not be here because we will be gone with you, my princess." Behind Urta and Rahab nodded emphatic agreement.
"But – but you are free," I said.
"Yes, we know," Sava answered. "And we chose to use that freedom to follow you and your prince. Is that so hard for you to understand, Kadjah Thoris?"
I folded her in my arms, blinking back tears. "No, no. But I do thank you for it!"
It was as well we had the girls with us. It made aspects of our plan that had seemed so difficult very easy. Rahab for example could walk openly into any storeroom and out again with a filled pocket-pouch no questions asked where I would certainly have attracted notice. And Sava found it no more difficult to slip into the guardroom at the base of my lift and out again with a full set of warriors' metal en-signed with my grandsire's insignia.
Mens Atrios exchanged his own plain but elegant metal for a richly be-gemmed set such as was worn by our palace guards while we girls changed into our plain fighting harnesses of braided leather then covered them with the glittering ornaments of a palace woman. Neither slave nor servant these women are the wives and daughters of officers and officials given the freedom of the palace to adorn our court for no Jeddak can ever have too many beautiful women in his palace. Then Urta swept our hair up into the appropriate coiffure with swift, deft fingers and finally took out her palette of cosmetics with which she expertly altered our features just enough to make each of us unrecognizable at first glance – useless labor in my case since nobody ever bothers to look at me at all!
Rahab wore her daggers but Sava rolled her sword and Urta's and mine up in a length of silk which she then slung from her shoulder. I thought briefly and wistfully of my books and recordings then dismissed them from my mind. I would have no need books to fill up empty days in Pharos.
When we were ready I raised a trapdoor hidden beneath the marble and ersite tiles of my sleep-chamber floor and dropped lightly into the space beneath followed by my prince and my girls.
"What is this place?" Mens Atrios asked softly looking with wonder at the massive beams and trusses hemming us in on every side.
"A 'tween space," I replied in a normal tone of voice. "These are the supports for the palace roof. We need not fear being heard here. Follow me." I wriggled my way confidently between and sometimes under the mighty bars of carborundum dimmed by the tarnish of unknown ages until we came to a wall of that same metal pierced by a small door.
"Now we must be silent," I told my prince, my hand on the door's latch. "This is one of the great vents that carries air from great wind catchers on the roofs above down to the inner chambers and would carry our words to who knows what ears. You will find hand-holds on the sides intended, like this door, for repairmen." I swung myself inside, swarming easily down the polished sides of the vent thanks to those same sturdy hand-holds.
A gigantic impellor on the roof drove the air downward creating a strong but not uncomfortable breeze. Smaller impellors hummed in openings piercing all three metal walls driving fresh air into the vents running between floors. I descended until I came to a branching vent opening whose fan I had long since removed and wriggled through it into a small, long sealed closet that was however quite clean as I often passed through it. Mens Atrios had some trouble fitting through the vent but after removing all his harness he managed it with me pulling at his arms and the girls pushing from behind.
"Where are we now?" he asked as he re-donned his metal.
"On the third level," I answered. "This part of the palace was sealed off during a renovation of the Jeddak's personal quarters in my great-grandfather's day. Follow me." The small utility closet opened onto a broad corridor decorated with delicately tinted reliefs engraved on ivory panels. "This used to be the formal entrance to the Jeddak's suite I continued to Mens Atrios. I opened a gold plated door. "And this was the private entrance." A short passage led to a steep and tightly spiraling ramp its scarlet floor tiles rough finished for traction with golden chains strung along the walls to hold on to.
The three doors in the small vestibule at the ramp's end had all been walled up but that didn't matter as a section of the carved sorapus wood paneling stood open. "These mural passages honeycomb the ancient walls at the core of the palace," I murmured to my prince. "As far as I know only I and my girls remember their existence. Certainly I've never seen sign of anybody else using them." This was perhaps understandable as the passages, hewn through solid stone, are so narrow that Mens Atrios had to edge sideways and even I felt cold marble brush my shoulder tips and flanks as I slide easily through the blackness accustomed by long habit to finding my way through the maze of passages by touch alone. The trailing fingers of my right hand passed over one, two, three openings then I reach out with my left searching the smooth wall for the raised edges of the square of tile covering a peephole. I looked through it into one of the large side halls of the palace leading to double doors opening onto a side street running under the palace walls. The doors stood open and the big room was full of people passing in and out under the casual gaze of a pair of bored sentries, after acertaining that nobody was looking our way I touched a lever that sank into the stone and a section of marble walling drew aside.
"Quickly!" I hissed. My companions whisked through one after another and finally I followed the panel sliding closed behind me. Nobody had seen. We joined the stream of off duty guardsmen, palace women, petitioners and sightseers streaming towards the high doors passing unnoticed and unchallenged into the street beyond.
"Where to now?" I asked my prince. Now it was his turn to lead. He took me by the hand and headed westward towards the city walls. I looked over my shoulder. Sava, Urta and Rahab were right behind us and I realized I was taking with me all that I would miss in Helium.
Mens Atrios brought us to a stumpy tower supporting a landing stage for freighters. We took a creaking lift upwards and emerged into a shadowy hanger, its doors gaping westward giving a clear view over the walls to the ochre plains beyond.
"What a piece of junk!" Urta blurted.
I started to reprove her but Mens Atrios squeezed my hand and gave her an unoffended grin. "Exactly what I said at first my first sight of her but that is all to the good for no one would expect to find a princess and prince of Barsoom's two greatest empires on such a tub."
He had a point there. The boat was perhaps sixty sofads (1) long and about forty broad giving it a bulbous, ungraceful look. A cargo crane jutted from the center of the mid-deck between the fore and aft cabins. As I followed Mens Atrios up the boarding ladder I saw the aluminum steel plates of her sides were dull and scratched from long hard usage and so was the ursa-wood of her deck but at least it was clean.
Two men came out of the after-cabin and two more from the steering house forward. All wore the plain leather of merchant airmen though their fine physiques and airs of command gave it the lie.
"These are my most trusted warriors," Mens Atrios said.
A black browed Red man wearing his hair in the long braids of the Toonolian Marsh cities stepped forward. "The sword of Bar Cado is at your feet, O Queen," he said suiting action to word.
A handsome square jawed warrior with short cropped hair like my prince's and a scar beside one eye bent to lay his sword next to Bar Cado's. "The blade of Krix Sator is also your majesty's to command."
The third of my prince's trusted men was even taller than the first two and magnificently built with his longish hair tied back by leather thongs. The sword he laid at my feet was a huge double handed scimitar; "And that of Mak Koth."
The fifth man folded his great arms across a vast expanse of chest and glared down at us all from his seven sofads of height. "You pick an ill time for your court manners!" he all but sneered. "What is all this, Mens Atrios? I thought you went to fetch your princess not a whole harem!"
My prince gave me an apologetic look. "And this is my old Armsmaster, Koor of Hekka."
Which of course explained everything; old retainers rather pride themselves on not standing on ceremony with masters they have known from the egg. I swept up Bar Cado and Krix Sator's swords in one hand and Mak Koth's great blade in the other and proffered them back to their various owners hilt first. "I accept your service with gratitude, gentlemen, but the Armsmaster is right, this is not the time for fair speeches." I then favored Koor with a cool look, "Sava, Urta and Rahab are my sworn followers, Master of Arms, not concubines for my prince."
"So watch your mouth," Sava growled under her breath. She meant to be heard and she was. Koor ignored her but I saw the other men exchange covert smiles.
"Are we cleared for take-off?" my prince asked.
"Long since, if we linger any longer we are likely to attract notice," Koor growled and led the way into the steering house. Mens Atrios threw me an apologetic smile and followed along with Bar Cado and Mak Koth.
Krix Sator remained behind. "If the queen and her women will follow me," he murmured and ushered us into the after-cabin.
It proved to be a semicircular chamber more than large enough to accommodate all nine of us. Radium bulbs dotted a ceiling that would undoubtedly prove uncomfortably low for both Mak Koth and Koor of Hekka. Divans piled high with furs and silks lined the curved wall. They were further furnished with headrests and small tables of polished wood.
"I'm sure we will be very comfortable," I told him and he bowed acknowledgment.
Sava unrolled the silk wrappings of the bundle she carried revealing out swords. Krix Sator watched with surprise and respect as we put them on. Then the deck under our feet lurched slightly indicating take off.
I went outside and saw the hangar tower falling away behind us and the blunt bow of the freighter pointed northwest. Turning my back forever on the city of my birth I fixed my mind forward on my new home and kingdom, Pharos.
NOTE: 'Sofad' is the Martian foot equal to 11.694 inches.