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Tangor 2004

Ras Thavas:
Lost in the Marsh

David Bruce Bozarth

Cover: Tangor

Thasa Ras stirred in her sleep. She felt uncomfortable, not knowing why, though the constant worry of knowing the New City of Thavas was under threat once again by Toonol was never far from her thoughts. The prospect of war occupied and pre-occupied her husband Ras Thavas, the master mind of Barsoom and leader of the city.

What could she do to help, trapped in the body of his hunting calot? Her brain had been transplanted into an animal's body because she had years earlier perverted the scientific knowledge her husband had shared and also betrayed their marriage by taking a lover. Her sleep was no longer troubled with dreams of killing her husband for his restraint and inventive resolution, she knew that most men of Barsoom would have immediately terminated an adulterous wife without a second thought.

Together they had ranged the vast surface of dying Barsoom, suffering adventures and knowledge, and new vistas and with some affection tempered by the reality; yet, when her home was threatened by the continually contentious Toonolians there was little that she could do to defend the New City of Thavas. Her brain was clad in the body of one of the most respected of Barsoom's predators, but though her intellect, knowledge and skill remained intact, she could communicate only with Ras Thavas through their special telepathic link, and had only ten legs, a massive jaw with triple rows of teeth, and no capability to serve in technical ability.

Thasa Ras was concerned. Her husband was harried by continual reports from Tan Hadron's scouts and the officers of the New City of Thavas' small though well-equipped military. Envoys from distant nations with trade considerations in the region and a half dozen religious factions recently come into the Toonolian Marsh area had expressed their concerns. A war with Toonol would...

Ras Thavas heard his wife's council, of course, perhaps processed that conversation as well, but in final form Thasa Ras' brain resided in a calot's body and there was little she could do during the current crisis. Only two others in all the New City knew that a human brain powered the body of a beast–both dear friends in recent years--but not even that private urging upon her husband was sufficient to admit Thasa Ras to all of the constant meetings. And that gentle dismissal by her husband rankled: even on days when the sun shone sweetly though the double wide windows of their private balcony and the woman in a beast's body slept in the warmth rather than raging.

Yet, that sleep was not easy. It was, in fact, nightmarish. The calot's body twitched and turned. The human brain slipped between dream and sleep.

Thasa Ras gasped with astonishment and nearly drowned as her body hit warm marsh water near the shore of an island on the rim of the Toonolian Marsh. Overhead, barely five ads above the surface, a large airship with unknown markings headed north.

A mucous covered body touched one of her legs and Thasa Ras immediately ignored the airship and swam to the nearby shore. Silians of all kinds resided in the waters of the Toonolian Marsh; some as large as banths and as vicious, some as small as a red woman's least finger, but equally dangerous because of their venomous bite. Scrambling ashore, Thasa Ras inspected her leg for a bite...and froze.

She did not have ten legs! She did not have a massive, compact, and powerful body. She did not have a great jaw with triple rows of savage teeth. She had two legs, shapely, a narrow waist, breasts, two arms and hands, and when she raised them to her face, two eyes, two ears, a nose, mouth and wet hair that clung to her skull, neck and back. Confused, Thasa Ras looked to the heavens and, at that moment just before the airship passed over the crest of the next vegetation topped island, saw a human body thrown over the side.

Thasa Ras touched herself, pinched her flesh, and scowled with pain. Her scientifically trained brain accepted all input while emotionally disbelieving all she tabulated. Her husband had only the night before refused to return her body, wearily saying once again that her plea and remorse was not yet sincere; however, Thasa Ras rose on two legs very like those she remembered as a human woman!

For an instant her vision blurred, adjusting. Too long had her eyes been only an ad off the ground in the body of a calot.

The stern of the airship disappeared from view but the sound of the propellers lasted for a time longer. Looking at the narrow channel between the shore upon which she stood and the island nearest where the human body had been dropped over the airship's rail was not that great. For a moment Thasa Ras regretted the loss of her beast body, the strength, teeth, and endurance, but she had what she always had in the calot's body: her brain and courage. Thasa Ras waded out from the shore, avoiding a splash that might interest the larger silians, and quietly swam to the next island. The sun was a quarter above the horizon.

The woman entered the low growth at the shore then ducked beneath the higher growth as she went inland. There was little slope to the ground, her feet broke through the mat of grass into a damp muck, indicating only a few sofads difference between the water level and the highest part of the island. Voiceless birds rose in surprised flight as Thasa Ras passed an enormous pimillia plant in full bloom. Thasa Ras raised a hand to her breast, equally startled-–once again confused by having a hand that could touch a human breast!

What had happened? Ras Thavas had denied her. They had argued, as usual. As usual the argument had meant nothing. Ras Thavas left to consult with his commanders. Thasa Ras in the calot's body had slept on the balcony and ate what the servants had brought in the morning. She had considered a personal hunt in the marsh and decided against it because the threat of war was very real and the New City of Thavas was her home and Ras Thavas was her husband. She did love him and hate him, and admire him and despise him and...

Thasa Ras sank to the ground, pulling several broad glorestra fronds down for concealment. She heard the sound again-–quite unlike any of the expected noises of the Toonolian Marsh. Maintaining her cover, Thasa Ras risked her voice: "Are you injured?"

"Only my pride," came the reply. An eternity later: "Please come save me or kill me. At this point I don't much care which!"

Thasa Ras dared peek through the foliage and saw a red man trapped in sucking mud.

"Don't get trapped!" the man warned as the wife of the master mind raced to his side.

"Don't struggle!" Thasa Ras offered advice, searching the grasses and debris.

"Dear lady," the man replied, "I am too smart for that, but you are not as smart as you appear."

Thasa Ras drew up in an instant, her anger full-blown--then laughed. The man had tossed his swords to the edge of the mud and had removed his harness. "It might reach," she replied.

The sun was still above the horizon but not by much when the red man gripped Thasa Ras' hand and wiggled out of the mud hole. His body was covered with the grey-black mud. After catching his breath the man said "I would kiss you if I knew you but courtesy states that all I can do is say thank you."

"Thank me later," Thasa Ras smiled. "You are not saved yet. To the water. I need to find some needle moss."

"What?" the man stumbled to his feet, then realized that some of the lumps on his body were not clumps of mud.

"No!" Thasa Ras warned. "Do not pull the parasites off! You will leave their heads in your skin and each will become infected. You will not die but will be very sick. Only needle moss or a fire will make the parasites let go. This way..."

The man bathed in knee-deep water until the mud was removed. He ignored the slimy thumb-length creatures his hands encountered. With a guarded eye he watched the woman with a wad of needle moss in her hand stab each of the parasites on his body. As she had promised, the creatures vacated-–died-–and the woman was diligent in her ministrations until all of the parasites were removed.

There was a cost, however. The woman's hand bled from dozens of needle pricks. The man dipped water from the marsh and laved the slim woman's appendages. "You save my life and rid me of pests. What may Gantun Gur, the Assassin of Amhor, do for you?"

The hour of night was approaching. Thasa Ras, with the experience of her time as a calot and her life in Thavas at the edge of the Toonolian Marsh replied, "Gather your weapons. If I may, your knife. We must shelter for the night." Then...after the man had given her a keen-edged knife, she added, "This is not your first time in the marsh, Tor-Dur-Bar!"

The red man drew his long sword, a startled frown on his forehead. Before he could speak, Thasa Ras said: "I am the wife of Ras Thavas. I know what was done years ago. Your secret is safe with me, hormad; yet, I need to know what you know. I need to know what has happened to my husband and my city and why are you here?"

Gantun Gur paused. "I heard that Ras Thavas married. Only his wife could know what...to answer your question I do not know why I am here. I awoke on an airship. A dozen faces unfamiliar questioned me regarding Ras Thavas and his whereabouts. I had nothing to tell them for I have not been back to the Toonolian Marsh since I parted company with Vor Daj. They threw me overboard. And you?"

Thasa Ras also paused for a moment before replying. She could not reveal that when she went to sleep her brain was in a calot's body and when she awoke in the marsh she was again human. "Like you, Gantun Gur, I have no recollection of how I was brought to this place. But I can say that I was not interrogated. This is very curious."

"Yes," the man from Amhor who had the brain of an artificial life form Thasa Ras' husband had created many years previous agreed. "It is more than passing strange! Even in Amhor we hear of the continuing conflict between Toonol and the New City of Thavas. I have often thought of offering my services to your husband."

Thasa Ras did not conceal her laugh. "As an assassin? Gantun Gur, answer truthfully: Have you done other than take advantage of your title as assassin of Amhor? Have you killed anyone since your hormad brain was transplanted into the assassin's body?

The copper-red skin of red men rarely reveals a blush, and the night which came in nearly an instant as the sun dropped below the horizon was more than concealing, but the shudder in the reply was truthful. "No, I have not, and please, dear lady, do not repeat that admission. I like my place in Amhorian society. I do not have to kill anyone to have respect. I–-"

"I will not betray your secret, Gantun Gur," Thasa Ras smiled. "Can you swim?"

The red man stood at the woman's side. They had reached the opposite side of the small mud bank upon which they stood. The dim light of Cluros, one of the twin moons of Barsoom, revealed a larger, more substantial island twenty ads away, the dark water between the islands was of unknown depth. "I can," the Amhorian said, "but not well."

Thasa Ras gripped the man's upper arm. "It is not far. But if you are worried about your abilities then give me your harness and weapons. I am a strong swimmer and such accouterments will not hinder me and you will not be weighed down by the metal."

The man thought this was a good plan. He removed his harness and weapons. Thasa Ras quickly donned the leather and waded into the water.

The crossing was quickly made, the water never rising greater than Thasa Ras' narrow waist. At the opposite shore Gantun Gur laughed with embarrassment. "Sorry to trouble you. May I have my weapons back now?"

Thasa Ras smiled in return. "You may have your knife, Tor-Dur-Bar, but nothing else. I will not trouble you and you best not trouble me until I find out what is going on..."

The hormad brain in the red man's body swiftly understood. "I see that you know the entire story regarding my time with Vad Varo. A knife, thank you. And I will not abandon you like I did those years ago with friends in difficulty. I have learned what honor means."

A camp was made. Tree silians were killed for the evening meal and eaten raw. Thasa Ras took one side of the encampment and did not sleep. The red man snored on his.

Thasa Ras woke to the sound of airships passing overhead. She had moved away from the night camp into the fork of a skeel tree while Gantun Gur slept. The airships moved north to south, which confused the wife of Ras Thavas. All threats to the New City of Thavas were either from the East or the West.

The woman returned to the camp and did not see the red man. She was not disappointed because Gantun Gur had shown his colors once before and-- A heavy body moving through the brush caused the long sword to appear in the woman's capable hand. Gantun Gur stumbled into sight, bearing an armload of usa, sompas, and nuts.

"Breakfast, Thasa Ras. I thought I would gather food while you were, well, whatever you were doing. There is another wave of airships approaching from the north. Two cruisers and ten or eleven five man scouts." As the assassin of Amhor spoke he divided the food. "I do not recognize the markings on the ships. Come, there is a place we can observe without being seen."

Thasa Ras bit into a juicy sompas fruit as Gantun Gur led the way to the edge of a boulder-strewn clearing which exposed a large segment of sky by denying the tall growth any root or soil, though they could remain well hidden in the shadows beneath the greater jungle. A startled darseen lizard sunning on a rock scuttled away, a brief flash of neutral color that vanished in an instant in the darkness beneath a glorious pimillia bush.

Her first clear glimpse of the airships startled the wife of the master mind of Barsoom. The ships were virtually identical to the last series of vessels the New City of Thavas had purchased from the shipyards of Hastor, a vassal city/state of Helium. Helium was that mighty nation ruled by Mors Kajak, Tardos Mors, and John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom.

Thasa Ras wondered which of the Toonolian Marsh nations possessed the ability to purchase such ships? She enumerated a half dozen in an instant, Toonol being foremost because the New City of Thavas was the jewel of the marsh islands and was under constant threat, but her husband had recently concluded a purchase of ten vessels and all had been delivered. These ships which had passed overhead were not headed toward either of the New City's current rivals, so where were they bound?

Gantun Gur interrupted Thasa Ras' thoughts. "What is that?" The red man pointed to a billowing mass in the sky, a mass that turned darker with each passing minute.

"A cloud. Perhaps a rain cloud."

"I have heard of those, the assassin of Amhor replied. "Mythical. Water descending from the sky. Flooding land. Perhaps we should get to higher ground?"

Tangor © 2003

Thasa Ras could not fault the man's thinking, nor was there any purpose served remaining where they were. The island proved to have high ground, in fact had rock outcrops that required joint assistance in scaling. The higher they climbed the greater was the expanse of nearby channels and islands visible--until the clouds above released a brief though extremely dense fall of rain.

The woman and the assassin of Amhor continued to hear aircraft entering the area. "Something is amiss," Thasa Ras observed. "The Toonolian Marsh is vast but few nations other than Thavas, Toonol or Phundahl have the experience or resources to exploit it."

"I agree," Gantun Gur replied. "I think their center of interest is a few islands to the south. You might have noticed that most of the ships are in a descent pattern..."

"Yes, damn you!"

At that moment Gantun Gur held Thasa Ras above the edge of a rocky precipice which had taken some effort for the couple to scale. The words said could not be retracted, nor would the woman have found fault if the man who was once a hormad simply released his grip. Gantun Gur's face was dark with emotion but he handed Thasa Ras to the summit without comment. Before the man could turn away, Thasa Ras gripped his arm.

"Forgive me, Gantun Gur. I did not mean to speak so harshly. I have been rude and inconsiderate. I have been condescending and superior. I have taken advantage of your good nature and I am truly ashamed. Your weapons, sir," Thasa Ras raised her hands to remove the harness and was startled when the assassin of Amhor gently gripped her wrists.

"I would feel safer if you keep the swords. Even with years of practice I am clumsy at best." Before he released the woman's hands he said, "Now, off we go south. As you say, something is amiss and we should find out what!"

Gantun Gur had turned, but drew up short when Thasa Ras touched his elbow. "You might need this," she said. The assassin of Amhor arched an eyebrow at having the return of his radium pistol. "I am a lousy shot," Thasa Ras lied. "I trained with blades and never learned firearms."

The hormad was not fooled, but the gesture and trust extended caused a grin to appear. There were words he wanted to say. Exhibiting a wisdom Ras Thavas had never chronicled in his notes regarding the hormad experiments--perhaps because her husband had been delusional and bent on conquering Barsoom at the time--Gantun Gur offered his hand and led the way across the summit.

As they descended the opposite slope the Amhorian talked. "I did not like your husband. Of course, I did not like him because I did not understand him. It did not help to know that he created me in a vat." All of these negative statements were delivered with a genuine smile. "I should hate Vad Varo for making my life more complicated, yet; lady of Thavas, I would change nothing. I have spoken of this to no one. After all, to admit that my brain is that of an artificial life form grafted into the body of one of Amhor's assassin heroes and that I am not much better than an idiot, is not a profitable exercise. Vad Varo needed help, enlisted me..."

For a long moment Gantun Gur did not speak. When he resumed Thasa Ras noted the sincere melancholy. "I will not fail you as I did Vad Varo, Thasa Ras! I might be a hormad, a creation that Ras Thavas eradicated from the face of Barsoom, but I have learned. Please tell him that the next time you see him."

The red man's hand gripped Thasa Ras' with an implied promise that she would again see her husband. "He wrought well enough that I can pass for human, and in this his work was good. I also remember why that work was commenced and," the man paused at the side of a glorestra bush to pluck a fragrant blossom which he handed to the woman, "and know that Ras Thavas fully and completely turned his back on that horrendous science which produced me."

"Not so!" Thasa Ras exclaimed. Her hand trembled as it held the vibrantly colored flower. "Look at you! Strong in mind and spirit! There is nothing horrendous about you!"

Gantun Gur sadly smiled. "Again, you give more credit for what I appear to be without knowing what I am--though I know exactly what and who I am. This way," he ducked under the low branches of an usa tree, plucking several starchy fruits during the passage.

At the end of a long descent in near darkness because of the heavy growth despite the new day's sunlight, Thasa Ras sat down at the water's edge. Gantun Gur frowned.

"Are you all right, Lady Thavas?"

Many things had run though the woman's brain this day, some illuminating, some extraordinary, and some emotional. "Stop that!"

Gantun Gur turned away from the water's edge and squatted on his haunches. "Only because you know who I am will I say 'forgive the idiot.' Only by luck and chance have I appeared to be the Assassin of Amhor. What is it I must stop?"

Thasa Ras rubbed her eyes. Surely dust or pollen had entered her eyes--and she knew that delusion would not fly because there was no dust in the Toonolian Marsh and pollen had never affected her. "Until this morning past my husband had transplanted my brain into the body of his hunting calot and there I have resided for more years than I care to remember!"

Gantun Gur was startled. "What an adventure! I have often wondered what it would be like to have my brain in the body of a great ape or..."

"Oh!" Thasa Ras cried. "Shut up!"

The real assassin of Amhor would have responded to that outburst in any number of ways, but the imposter assassin wilted and turned away. He did not even have the courage to beg forgiveness for having caused pain which he did not understand.

Another flight of ships, smaller vessels, passed overhead. The couple hid in the shadows of the jungle growth. Gantun Gur pulled down fronds from a pimillia bush to make their concealment more secure. After the ships began their descent over the next island the assassin released his grip about Thasa Ras' waist, not remembering how he had taken her in hand and protected her. It embarrassed Gantun Gur because he could never forget how he had not had those same inclinations with Vad Varo and the company of...

Thasa Ras put her arms about the man's body as he began to rise. "I am the idiot, Gantun Gur! Do you know why my brain was in the calot's body?" Thasa Ras poured out her story between sobs of anger and sobs of regret and sobs of impatience. "You are not the abomination, Gantun Gur! You chose to secure your life in the Marsh those many years ago and have lived among the people you wished to adopt. I chose to betray my husband's knowledge and our vows and..."

Gantun Gur gently placed his hand over the woman's distraught mouth. "I hear something!"

Thasa Ras froze. Then realized there was no sound other than the few insects nearby and the distant fluttering of voiceless birds passing through the jungle. She looked into the hormad's eyes and said: "You are a good man."

Gantun Gur made no reply, but he did walk more erect and with more assurance as they swam to the next island, made a crossing, and entered the water to wade to an extended mud bank concealed by tall marsh grasses of every height and color. Well past the sun's zenith they gladly entered the water to swim to the next island, one more substantial than all the others within their immediate vision. The Amhorian Assassin had a brief, desperate encounter with a six foot silian–which he dispatched before Thasa Ras could do more than react. The battle over, the swim resumed and at the island's shore Thasa Ras discovered why the man had seemed to struggle the remaining distance.

"Dinner," Gantun Gur proclaimed as he dragged the sinuous silian onto the shore. Before Thasa Ras could offer a comment the Amhorian had correctly located and deftly removed the venomous forepart of the silian. The red man sighed. "Oh, for the spices and seasonings of the house cook back home–-or even a fire to cook this beast!"

Thasa Ras laughed at the hormad's deliberately over-dramatic angst. They rested for a time after eating the silian then continued north, taking advantage of connecting mud banks and shallow water as much as possible, though even that made the going slow. By nightfall they had traveled less than ten haads.

Gantun Gur was not happy with their location after the sun set. They were on a mud bank of grasses with no trees or cover. There was a larger tree-covered island in the near distance. "I say we try the water, Thasa Ras. Best to be under trees when the sun rises. Can you continue?"

Thasa Ras was weary; yet, the man at her side was correct. They had to move on. Her reply to his question was to enter the water walking the bottom as long as possible then swimming when the channel became too deep. The weight of the weapons and harness seemed greater with each stroke and more than once during that crossing she wished she was clad once again in the indefatigable body of her husband's hunting calot.

The tree-crowned island, illuminated by starlight, seemed as distant as when she started. Her lungs burned with effort and her limbs felt like leaden weights. More than once her stroke and breathing clashed and foul-tasting water entered her mouth and nostrils.

Gantun Gur heard the woman's distress. "Are you all right?" his whisper came across the dark water.

"How far?"

"We are nearly there," the Assassin of Amhor replied. The hormad in a human body swam close to the woman who was obviously showing signs of distress. "The shore is near," he urged. A moment later, "Fifty ads." He tested the depth, searching for bottom. "We're still in the channel."

"I'll make it," Thasa Ras spat water out of her mouth.

The Amhorian smiled. The woman's angry reply indicated she was not yet done, but when his next test for bottom proved positive, he dared to increase the anger of Thasa Ras by grabbing her about the waist and holding her head above the water. "Rest a moment," he said, ignoring the woman's feeble blows upon his head and shoulders.

Thasa Ras subsided in an instant and allowed Gantun Gur to walk them through the water until her feet touched the bottom mud. Even then, she allowed the man to carry her a few steps further before she forced her weary feet to operate. There was no gradual slope to the island because the channel cut close to the shore. There was a muddy scramble to dry land that left both of them covered with mud. For long moments the couple lay on the rough marsh grass catching their breath, then as the moon Thuria broke the horizon Gantun Gur splashed water onto Thasa Ras.

"What?" Thasa Ras scowled. "You–-"

Gantun Gur laughed. "You look like a First Born with all that mud on you."

"Me?" Thasa Ras giggled as she had not done in years. "You look like an animated mud bank!"

The two splashed water back and forth with amusement and relief until a distant metallic clang froze their actions.

Gantun Gur's hand was filled with his knife as he looked toward the island's jungle shrouded spine. Thasa Ras did not draw her sword, but her attention was equally focused. "We are not alone," she said.

"Best we find out who shares this island with us," the Amhorian suggested.

The island was larger than most in the Toonolian Marsh. They climbed long slopes of grass and moss and a high rocky ridge cloaked with large expanses of trees and jungle growth. At the summit they paused, startled by the cluster of lights outlining a crescent shaped harbor. There was a massive vessel floating on the dark waters that was larger than any known. Airships of one hundred to three hundred men in size appeared to be annoying insects as they hovered over the behemoth. Twenty thousand or more workers toiled under harsh artificial lights completing sections or provisioning the immense vessel.

"It is not a water craft," Gantun Gur observed. "It is too large to navigate the waters of the marsh."

"It is an airship," Thasa Ras agreed, "but one that has never been seen on Barsoom before. It is as large as many cities!"

"There!" Gantun Gur gripped Thasa Ras by the shoulder and pointed to a group of airships descending to the harbor. "I recognize those--Zodanga!"

"And there," Thasa Ras pointed to the landing zone, "are ships from Toonol! What brings these two together?"

"Shall we find out?" Gantun Gur asked.

The Amhorian did not wait for a reply.

Thasa Ras caught up with the man halfway down the slope, whereupon they continued their approach with more caution. This island had been in use for some time. Warehouses and stockpiles of materials and provisions had been in place for many months. A small town had been built to accommodate the workers. They saw military patrols on land, air, and water which slowed their passage but did not stop them from entering the area.

Tangor © 2003

The closer they came to the shore, the more monstrous was the ship under construction. The vessel's hull floated on water, but it was obvious it was an airship because the bulges of Eight Ray buoyancy tanks were prominent.

The pair successfully eluded all patrols and workers to near the center of activity. Dozens of engineers and scientists labored over drawings and specifications while a much smaller group supervised–Toonolian, Zodangan, and–-Thasa Ras froze as she recognized a half-dozen faces. These red men were members of the Thavas Council!

"Wait here," Thasa Ras commanded. "I have to hear what is going on. If I do not come back seek Ras Thavas at The New City and tell him I said the danger is within."

"I will go with you," Gantun Gur said. "I-–"

Thasa Ras' reply was harsh. "One of us must give the warning," she said. "But only one of us can get the facts. You have been a good friend, Gantun Gur. I trust you will continue to be a good friend!"

Gantun Gur could not help notice the woman's hand upon his shoulder. He blinked several times with emotion then said, "You be careful!"

Thasa Ras kissed Gantun Gur's cheek. As she made her way through the jungle and man-made streets she realized her lips had caressed only three men in her life. Her husband, her artificial lover, and Gantun Gur, the coward, the hormad, the...friend. She hoped he would follow through if she was unsuccessful.

Thasa Ras worked her way through the crowds of workers and patrols and...

"Have a nice nap?" Ras Thavas rubbed the calot's mane with an affectionate hand. "Wake up, dear, we have company for lunch."

Thasa Ras was disoriented. Her head was only an ad above the floor and she had ten legs, not two. Before she could reply a group of men entered their apartment above the New City of Thavas. Jusaj, the majordomo, made introductions.

Tan Hadron, of course, then Helium's ambassador, the men from Dusar, Duhor, and Invak, and "...a late arrival, Ras Thavas. Gantun Gur of Amhor."

The Amhorian pressed forward and spoke earnestly. "Ras Thavas, I am not a delegate for whatever this lunch portends though I took such opportunity when I arrived at your tower this morning and heard others speak of it--but I do have news of import for your ears alone!"

Thasa Ras the calot looked upon the face that was not that of the man in her dream, but after Ras Thavas granted Gantun Gur a private audience--with Jusaj and Odwar Tan Hadron in attendence--his words spoke true to those dream events and she was very confused!

Tan Hadron and Ras Thavas were very interested in what the Amhorian Assassin had to say, particularly the warning that members of the Council of Thavas might be involved in the military build-up.

"Join us for lunch, Gantun Gur," Ras Thavas suggested. "Afterwards you, Tan Hadron, and I will have a long talk."

Jusaj ushered Tan Hadron from the apartment, but paused with concern when the Amhorian knelt to ruffle the calot's mane, Jusaj uttered a quick warning. "I wouldn't, sir! That calot is known to..."

Gantun Gur ignored the majordomo's warning. "I'll take my chances," he said. Kneeling, reaching out to the calot, the Assassin of Amhor said: "I have delivered your message."

Ras Thavas frowned with astonishment when the calot's tongue gently caressed the Amhorian's cheek. The master mind of Barsoom gestured for Jusaj to leave the apartment and in the same motion, urged the Amhorian to take a seat on one of the upholstered benches. The master mind took a chair and contemplated the Amhorian and the calot, the latter which had taken a position next to the red man.

Sensing no need to be overly diplomatic or obtuse, Ras Thavas began, "You have done well, Tor-Dur-Bar." The master mind of Barsoom knew that Gantum Gur understood that comment completely, which made the rest easier: "I have a feeling there is more to your story than a warning that forces have allied against Thavas."

"Yes," Gantun Gur replied, "there is much more. For several weeks, since I came south from Amhor with a group of friends to hunt and fish in the Great Toonolian Marsh, I have had dreams of a woman, a woman unlike any other. At first I thought these dreams were wishful fantasies of what I should have done those years ago and did not, but when I awoke two days past, the girl did not leave my mind. It was as if we could talk and my dreams and hers were entwined.

"Today, just a half zode after dawn, our small airship approached an unexpected--and quite large--military base six hundred haads west of the New City of Thavas. The captain of our pleasure vessel deemed it wise to avoid the base, and we all agreed, but the girl in my head identified ships and men and apparent treachery to you and Thavas and asked that I give the warning if she could not. I urged the captain, over the protest of my friends, to make a high-speed passage to Thavas. I cannot explain how this dream that was more than a dream came to be."

Gantun Gur leaned forward, clasping his hands together, his brow furrowed. "Nor can I explain how it is that I know the mind that has touched mine over the last few days, and spoke to me today, resides in the body of this fine calot."

Ras Thavas offered a theory. "Your brain is as special as the one in the calot's, Gantun Gur. Both are unique in all of Barsoom. You are a hormad in a red man's body. I have observed your progress from afar and you had done very well in your adopted country. You also have an uncanny ability. Have you never wondered why you, as an assassin of great fame, have never been called upon to ply your trade by any person, group, or country?

The master mind paused for a moment. Gantun Gur's attention was fixed on the first citizen of Thavas. Ras Thavas continued: "Now that we have met face to face, Gantun Gur, I sense a telepathic emanation which few but the most powerful telepaths might notice; you exude peace and contentment. I suspect that special process is the link which allowed this other powerful mind to connect with you," Ras Thavas reached out and scratched the sensitive skin between the calot's eyes.

Gantun Gur narrowed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. "Then what the girl told me is true? That you--"

The architect of the New City of Thavas nodded.

The Assassin of Amhor swiftly rose and drew his sword. "You must return her brain to its rightful body!"

Ras Thavas did not change his position nor show anger or surprise. He merely stated, "I am unarmed, Gantun Gur. If you kill me Thasa Ras will never be restored, for only I know where her body is secured. Besides, good fellow, you really have no desire to pursue this..."

For an instant it appeared that Ras Thavas had judged wrongly, then the Amhorian's sword point wavered. The deadly tip of the weapon lowered to the ersite flooring as Gantun Gur glanced at the calot. The assassin in name only contritely apologized. "I am sorry, Thasa Ras. I am incapable of harming a human being."

Gantun Gur offered his sword to Ras Thavas, prepared to suffer whatever punishment the leader of the New City of Thavas dictated. The Amhorian was startled when the master mind refused the weapon.

"Thasa Ras is not disappointed, Gantun Gur. She thanks you for the sentiment. I believe if you will relax and draw upon that part of your brain where peace and happiness resides she can tell you that herself." Ras Thavas rose from the chair and walked to the skeel wood door. The husband of Thasa Ras opened the portal and then paused, speaking with sincerity:

"Thank you for your warning, Gantun Gur. You have done a great service to the New City of Thavas. I am sure we shall find some way to reward your selfless act. I must confer with my lieutenants, but meanwhile, please stay as long as you wish here in my tower, or go out and enjoy the city. Thasa Ras is happy to be your guide. We shall speak later." Ras Thavas departed.

The calot gently nudged the stunned Amhorian with her snout. Gantun Gur turned away from the door through which the greatest mind of Barsoom had passed and knelt down to look into the eyes of the fearsome calot. With some effort the Amhorian opened his mind and began to receive fragments of thoughts and images.

"..more handsome than in my dream," the calot said. "I am happy as I am, Gantun Gur. You are very gallant but there is much about my relationship with my husband you do not know or could understand."

"In that much I am relieved, for if I had not heard it from you I might have done something stupid like asking one of my assassin friends to force Ras Thavas to do what I could not force him to do."

The Amhorian almost saw the girl's smile, but he did hear her merry laughter. "Dear man! Do not worry about me! Are you hungry? I am starved."

And so, Gantun Gur, the Assassin of Amhor, grinned with wonder as a calot led him down the ramps of the master mind's tower into the streets of Thavas and to a inn that "...always has mountains of thoat bones!"

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