"Nutus merely wishes to see the body that he may know his commands have been executed. I am now supposed to be gone to the spot where we have her hidden that I may fetch her in secrecy to Dusar. None is to know that she has ever been in the keeping of a Dusarian. I do not need to tell you what would befall Dusar should Ptarth and Helium and Kaol ever learn the truth."
Return not to Dusar without her, upon pain of death!" Astok, Prince of Dusar, well knew his royal father's temper. He knew that in the tyrant's heart there pulsed no single throb of love for any creature. Astok's mother had been a slave woman. Nutus had never loved her. He had never loved another.
Assassination runs riot in the great Barsoomian cities; yet to murder a woman is a crime so unthinkable that even the most hardened of the paid assassins would shrink from you in horror should you suggest such a thing to him. Nutus was apparently oblivious to his son's all-too-patent terror at his suggestion.
Only a handful of loyal servitors besides my royal father and myself know that you were stolen from the gardens of Thuvan Dihn by Astok, Prince of Dusar, or that to-day you be imprisoned in my palace. "Refuse, Thuvia of Ptarth, and you must die to save Dusar there is no other way. Nutus, the jeddak, has so decreed. I have spoken."
"I prefer to die standing," she replied. "As you will," said Vas Kor, feeling the point of his blade with his left thumb. "In the name of Nutus, Jeddak of Dusar!" he cried, and ran quickly toward her. "In the name of Carthoris, Prince of Helium!" came in low tones from the doorway. Vas Kor turned to see the panthan he had recruited at his son's house leaping across the floor toward him.
Even if his father could not be persuaded, they could fly to Ptarth, laying all the blame of the knavery and intrigue that had thrown four great nations into war, upon the shoulders of Nutus. And who was there that would doubt the justice of the charge? "Thuvia," he said, "I come once again, for the last time, to lay my heart at your feet.
He had sworn his men to silence in the matter of the identity of the girl, for until he had seen his father, Nutus, Jeddak of Dusar, he dared not let any one know whom he had brought with him from the south. But when he appeared in the great audience chamber before the cruel-lipped man who was his sire, he found his courage oozing, and he dared not speak of the princess hid within his palace.
He did not see him stoop with ear close pressed to a tiny ventilator. "May the white apes take us all," cried Astok ruefully, "if we are not in as ugly a snarl as you have ever seen! Nutus thinks that we have her in hiding far away from Dusar. He has bidden me bring her here." He paused. No man should have heard from his lips the thing he was trying to tell.
In youth he had tried to find a bride at the courts of several of his powerful neighbours, but their women would have none of him. After a dozen daughters of his own nobility had sought self-destruction rather than wed him he had given up. And then it had been that he had legally wed one of his slaves that he might have a son to stand among the jeds when Nutus died and a new jeddak was chosen.
To kill them before he knew where Thuvia was hid was simply to leave her to death at the hands of others; for sooner or later Nutus would learn her whereabouts, and Nutus, Jeddak of Dusar, could not afford to let her live. Turjun put himself in the path of Vas Kor that he might not be overlooked.