John continues on his journey to Zodanga, stopping at various farms along the way. We get a lot of world building details about how Martian irrigation works. We also learn that there is no weather problems, or pest problems involved with Barsoomian agriculture. In addition, we discover that Dejah Thoris is widely believed to be dead, even though no body was recovered. (All that was found was the thoats Dejah, John and Sola had been riding.)
(Special Note: Unlike in the movie, Zodanga is a normal city, not the evil cousin of Howl’s Moving Castle.)
John makes it to Zodanga, and for some reason sends Woola away from him. He gains admittance to the city with and gets ready to find lodging before looking for work using his letters of recommendation. While he’s walking through the city he spots Kantor Can, who is very surprised to be greeted by John. Kantor is apparently in Zodanga searching for the whereabouts of Dejah Thoris. It seems that the princess is not dead after all, merely being hidden by the prince of the city who has decided he’s in love with her.
They of course immediately decide to be in cahoots. With a great deal of subterfuge Kantor helps John get a job as an air scout, and teaches him how to fly the aircraft. We learn about the mysterious “eighth ray” which is used to propel Barsoomian aircraft. There is also mention of a ninth ray, though what this does is not mentioned or I missed it during all the world building that went down.
After a short time working as an air scout, John is rewarded for aiding a cousin of the jeddak of Zodanga in battle. He is given a new job as a member of the jeddak’s personal guard.
Chapter Twenty Two: I Find Dejah
John reports for duty and immediately discovers Dejah’s whereabouts. He discovers her whereabouts when she makes an appearance in the jeddak’s throne room to tell him to forget the part where she declared that she hated his son. She further states she is completely certain that the guy who kidnapped her and has had her imprisoned (with his father’s permission) in the city is absolutely the guy for her. All she wants is for the war to end before she marries him. All the jeddak of Zodanga wants is for Dejah’s father to accept his terms. (I really, really wish that Burroughs was actually able to write political intrigue. This is not it, by the way.)
John by the way is a whiny moron about this marriage announcement. He decides that Dejah must have forgotten about him completely. He totally fails to take into account the possibility that Dejah is speaking under duress. It does not occur to him that Dejah might think that he’s dead and is trying to make the best of a very dangerous situation. He further decides that he absolutely must confront Dejah directly and demand that she repeat the “cruel truth” to him.
John heads off to Dejah’s room. There is a guard there who demands an order or a password. John has neither, and tries to force his way into the room. This is a very bad idea, but John is the god of bad ideas and nothing can stop him once he gets a full head of steam. John kills all of the guards present at the scene. (And despite all the noise he’s making, there are no reinforcements.)
Neither Sola nor Dejah recognize John at first, but when they do, Dejah is vastly upset because he has come “too late.” She’s already promised to wed the prince, which means she can’t go away with John. John does not understand this, even when Dejah uses small words. She also mourns the fact that John does not know her customs and therefore, hadn’t known he should ask for such a promise. (This is of course Dejah’s fault because she was too busy being on a very high horse.)
They manage to have an intense heart to heart talk, despite the fact that John pushed his way past the guards, a few of whom have rushed off to report! Burroughs is a writer who never lets the action get in the way of soppy melodramatic dialogs. So Dejah finally levels with him on the various customs and rules of social behavior John has been breaking left and right because when there is a potential romance, open and honest communication is the last thing you want. They attempt some problem solving, only to run into more cultural red tape. (And meanwhile, the guards still haven’t shown up.)
Here are the following problems:
1. Dejah has already promised to marry the prince. She can’t go back on her word and she can’t run away.
2. John cannot kill the prince because Dejah cannot marry the man who killed her husband.
3. Most of this baloney is because Dejah couldn’t be bothered to explain to John that his romantic advances should have come with a ring.
John is deeply disappointed but still determined to find a way to solve this problem. He wanders off and gets lost in the palace corridors. There is no mention if he finds a way to clean off the blood and other gross stuff that probably resulted when he killed those guards. (In other words, Burroughs forgot the part about blood and the way it tends to get all over the place when you kill people. Please don’t tell me about how goriness isn’t a thing that happens in old adventure serials. If you have dead bodies all over the place, there should also be blood all over the place, unless the dead bodies have been around for a while.)
John is able to find his way out of the maze of corridors by mixing in with a group of guardsmen. These guardsmen fail to notice anything unusual about John, such as being covered in blood. From there, John is able to find a good hiding place and conveniently be on scene when the deaths of the four guardsmen are discovered. He is also on hand when the jeddak learns that John is most likely the one responsible for those deaths.
Now John is even more hot water! Fortunately, our hero is able to escape the palace.