Tangor 2008

Ras Thavas:
Marsh Hunt


David Bruce Bozarth

Cover: Tangor


"It would be the height of rudeness to refuse," Ras Thavas said. "After all, Mothri of Bantoom wishes to show how well his people have implemented our suggestions over the last year. The Atana, however, is being refitted so I must go in one of the patrol craft. There won't be room for Thasa Ras. Would you mind, Jusaj?"

"Not at all, master. The calot and I get along quite well."

"Yes, I know this. Well, I'll leave her in your capable hands. Should be back in four days."

"Safe journey, Ras Thavas."


Rojina pouted. "Must you go hunting with the calot? Jusaj, we rarely have time together as it is!"

Jusaj looked from the eager calot waiting at the door of their apartment to the slim, arms-folded figure of his lovely wife. "I promised," he said.

Rojina's lower lip trembled angrily. "Anything Ras Thavas asks Jusaj will do! Oh, I know that isn't fair, but it has been months since we had time together!" Then she stamped her foot and smiled, showing that her anger was real, but that she was also understanding. She came into her husband's arms and embraced him. "Go! Kill something!"

"Rojina—"

"Oh, please go. I feel bad enough complaining when I know you spend so much time in that office you must need to get away. How long will you be gone?"

Jusaj squeezed Rojina tightly, kissing her cheek. "Overnight. Back tomorrow evening. I love you."

Rojina gently beat her small fists against his chest. "Go!" then "I love you, too!" She pushed man and calot out the door then closed it.

For a moment Jusaj stood looking at the polished panel of skeel wood, indecisive. Thasa Ras whined expectantly at his knee. Jusaj shrugged. "To the marsh, Thasa Ras!"

The majordomo of Ras Thavas, First Citizen of New City of Thavas, greeted the pre-dawn mist of the Toonolian Marsh with an animated breath. He had been behind a desk too long. This hunt with Thasa Ras was just the thing to break the monotony of necessary business.

To those early workers along the quays outside the Southern Gate the sight of a man and calot leaving the city was not unusual. Silian hunters often left the protective walls at this time for several reasons: banths were seeking their daytime sleep, the silians were burrowing into the muck and mud, and the wild calots were not yet active. One can travel great distances if one is not battling the creatures of the marsh.

"Where to, Thasa Ras?" Jusaj asked with a grin.

Unlike the others who marveled at the size of the supple and beautiful calot, Jusaj knew something they could not. Inside the skull of the magnificent hunting calot was the human brain of Ras Thavas' wife, gone missing for many centuries. She he loved so well that when Thasa Ras betrayed their marriage, rather than kill her for that infidelity, the master mind had surgically transplanted her brain into a body where she could do no harm with her marvelous scientific mind or advance her avarice for power.

Even Jusaj was not supposed to know, yet there was little about his master that escaped the faithful Jusaj. It was his sworn duty, if sworn only to himself, to assist and protect Ras Thavas. This he would have done out of respect for the master mind. This he most willingly did because Ras Thavas had once saved the life of Rojina through a miracle of his vast medical knowledge.

Jusaj frowned slightly at the thought of his wife. He wondered just how angry the mother of his adult children might be. He again considered if he should put off the hunt. Thasa Ras hissed, calling his attention to a change in direction. Jusaj followed.

As the man and calot crossed the causeway from Isle One to Isle Three, then the main bridge to the southern shore of the Toonolian Marsh, Jusaj recalled the terrible day when everything changed. For months Thasa Ras had hidden herself in a laboratory fitted out with intricate locks and guarded by two panthans of her own hire. Ras Thavas, who loved his young wife with great intensity, grew more morose as the days passed.

Jusaj could see the change in his master's demeanor, the growing crease of frown as each new supply request came from Thasa Ras' scientific work. Jusaj saw the same requests—as they must pass through his office first—and though he was not a scientist like Ras Thavas, he was not unintelligent. Those requests seemed to indicate a dark possibility.

A thousand years earlier Ras Thavas had been a different man. His science and medical prowess had served greed and power. In that previous life the master mind was among the most feared of men. Among the secrets discovered by Ras Thavas, through countless experiments on unwilling subjects, was the transfer of the human brain from one body to another. He had also perfected the creation of artificial life, with disastrous results. It was not until Ras Thavas himself had received benefit—the placement of his aged brain into the body of a perfect young male, whose brain he destroyed—did the master mind begin to realize how evil his pursuit of knowledge and wealth had become. That epiphany had seen the rebirth of Ras Thavas to savant, protector, teacher, a creator of genuine prosperity for people he came to love as his own family. That man was the Ras Thavas who found an orphaned girl—new hatched—and raised her. He showered his love and intellect upon Thasa Ras, as she was named, and Jusaj as the master mind's majordomo also fell under the beautiful girl's infectious spell. She was a keen intellect in her studies, she was constant in affection and, as Jusaj had privately predicted to his wife Rojina, in time Ras Thavas married the young woman.

For a dozen years there was such happiness; yet, the more Thasa Ras learned of her husband's science the more aloof she became—and that culminated in the events of that terrible day, rather, those moments just after midnight when Ras Thavas—alone, or so he thought—went to the laboratory of Thasa Ras. He demanded entrance from the panthans. When they refused he slew them so swiftly that Jusaj could do nothing to assist. The master mind then effortlessly broke through the locks and opened the door.

From his vantage point at the corridor crossing Jusaj saw Thasa Ras in the arms of a handsome stranger. In an instant the man was dead by the hand of Ras Thavas. The husband of Thasa Ras kicked shut the door. For nearly a xat a cacophony of breaking glass, shattered equipment, and falling objects ensued. Jusaj dared not enter—the wrath of a betrayed spouse is one of the eternal traditions. She deserved death. Yet, when the door next opened Ras Thavas emerged, his hand cruelly gripped upon the arm of his tight-lipped and defiant wife.

The master mind strode from the place of death and destruction. There was such an grim intensity to his face! They passed through pools of light along the street leading to First Tower, the oldest of the New City buildings, That look on the face of Ras Thavas filled Jusaj's heart with dread.

Into the basement of First Tower Ras Thavas led his wife, but not until the master mind's favorite hunting calot had come at her master's telepathic call. Feeling as if he betrayed his master's trust Jusaj followed, and that was because certain work orders and material requests from Ras Thavas had come across his desk in recent days for work in this very building, in this exact location.

Not a soul was about. First Tower was exclusively a teaching facility and was unoccupied at night. Into the basement room went the master mind, Thasa Ras, and the calot. The door closed.

Many hours later Ras Thavas and the calot emerged. Concealed behind a bookcase, Jusaj waited until the weeping man and the unusually fractious calot departed. He entered the room and found nothing more than an emergency first aid station. There was no sign of Thasa Ras.

Something horrible had happened in this room. Jusaj knew the strength and humanity of Ras Thavas. He had never seen his master so devastated as when he left the basement. What that terrible thing might be came to the majordomo's mind and he, too, felt deeply troubled.

Jusaj realized Ras Thavas was not thinking clearly, or was thinking so clearly that he could think of nothing else, but the majordomo could—and did. Jusaj returned to the laboratory of Thasa Ras. He removed the bodies and dumped them into the dark waters of the marsh where the scavengers would quickly dispose of the remains. Well past sunrise saw Jusaj dismantling the destroyed apparatus until the laboratory was vacant.

All during that work he considered what he had seen and what he knew of Ras Thavas, the reformed mad scientist, and his master's full love for Thasa Ras. Jusaj was not surprised his master could not kill her, yet Ras Thavas had given her the means, a powerful predator body, to kill him. Perhaps there was a strange justice in that for them both...

In time it became accepted that Ras Thavas, who openly grieved—though the people could not know that grief was self-inflicted—would come to terms with his loss. They did love their First Citizen. Some speculated that the Jeddak of Toonol had abducted Thasa Ras to gain some advantage over the master mind, some thought she had perished as a result of a failed experiment. Others believed the corphals of the marsh mists had snatched her for arcane purposes. Only Ras Thavas, the calot, and Jusaj knew the truth.

Those events occurred three-hundred-fifty years ago, Jusaj recalled. Since then Ras Thavas and his "wonder calot" had embarked on the exploration of the ancient and dying world of Barsoom. By their own efforts new lands and resources had been found, new societies, long removed from the mainstream, had been reintegrated.

As those years passed Jusaj watched the love/hate bond between master mind and calot. At times there were displays of affection and devotion, or spite and malice, but constant was their need to be together. Should either be in danger the other instantly leapt into the fray. They were, Jusaj thought, in many ways more intimate than any human male and female could ever be.

The mists gone with the rising sun, Jusaj trotted behind the swift moving calot. She seemed to have a destination in mind. Jusaj did not question the path as simply getting away from the New City of Thavas was a treat.

After twenty haads the calot stopped, casting about with nose, seeming to be momentarily lost. A near silent whine came from her trembling body. The tip of her supple tail twitched nervously.

Jusaj joked: "My dear, aren't we going to hunt?" Though the majordomo had never revealed what he thought, he always treated the calot as if she were human—just as Ras Thavas did. The calot had, of course, never answered but that she took commands so well from Ras Thavas had earned her the "wonder calot" reputation. But this time she answered.

At least it seemed she did.

The calot shook its head negatively.

"Are we going somewhere?" Jusaj asked.

The calot nodded.

Jusaj located a boulder a few sofads from the water's grassy edge and sat down.

"Do you understand me?"

The calot came to Jusaj and squatted on her ten short legs. Her large eyes stared into the majordomo's. The great head nodded. Jusaj asked the one question he never thought he might ask:

"Are you Thasa Ras?"

The calot nodded.

"Ras Thavas, that night in the basement of First Tower, put your brain in the calot's body."

Yes.

"Why are we here? No—you can't answer that. Are we here to find something?"

Yes.

"Is it hidden?"

Yes—and no.

"Is it hidden in a place we have to find?"

Yes.

"A natural place like a cave or under a rock?"

No.

"A building or a structure?"

Yes.

"New or ancient—er, new?"

Yes.

"Built since New City of Thavas?"

Yes.

Jusaj nodded. "One of the ecological stations?"

Yes. The calot quivered with excitement.

The man leaned forward, touching the snout of Thasa Ras, his voice soft. "Built before that night?"

There was a sad whine from the calot. Yes.

Jusaj furrowed his brow in concentration. One of his many benefits to Ras Thavas was being endowed with a photographic memory. "There were three built about that time. Two were tower stations to track tidal movements and evaporation. One was a silian research location and of the three that is the only one with habitable facilities. Is that where we go?"

Yes! The calot leapt to her feet and twisted happily.

Jusaj rose. He walked to a tumble of moss-covered rocks and climbed up, gazing for landmarks. He located his position on one of the increasingly more accurate maps maintained by the cartography students. He pointed northeast, into the marsh.

"I presume you came by air and that's why you're a bit lost, Thasa Ras. Should be there. We'll have to get a bit muddy if we go straight, but another six or seven haads along the shore should give us dry ground to reach the cabin."

Thasa Ras trotted to the water. She bent fanged snout low and sniffed. Jusaj, joining, started to wade into the black, algae-coated water. Thasa Ras put her body between and shook her head, darting along the shoreline.

Jusaj followed at a run. If the calot truly exerted itself he could not have matched pace. Only thoats are swifter than a determined calot. In a short time man and calot reached a spit of sand linking the shoreline to a small rocky island where three pimilia bushes, in glorious bloom, surrounded a four room stone structure. The calot's tail rose high, a sibilant hiss escaped the creature's taut body.

"This is the place?"

Yes! The calot danced nervously, bouncing on alternating pairs of legs.

"Shall we?" Jusaj started toward the cabin, but Thasa Ras did not.

The calot cast about, looking for something. The majordomo watched as the search became more frantic then asked: "What are you looking for?"

Thasa Ras stopped. She turned those soulful eyes toward Jusaj. For an instant it appeared the creature could weep, then she saw something at his waist that restored her spirits. Thasa Ras nudged the short sword at Jusaj's waist. She did that several times until he pulled the weapon from the sheath.

"Now what?" Jusaj asked.

The calot immediately lay flat on the ground. Confused, Jusaj asked. "Down? You want me to dig here?"

No.

"I don't—oh! Do you want me to put the sword on the ground?"

Yes!

As soon as his hand left the hilt Thasa Ras gripped it with mighty jaws lined with three rows of teeth. She turned to a section of sand unmarred by their footprints and slowly, almost painfully, drew the tip of the sword through the sand.

Jusaj watched, perplexed momentarily, then understood. The glyphs for "three", "six", and "two" were made before Thasa Ras moved back and let the sword drop to the ground.

"A combination," Jusaj said, kneeling to retrieve the sword. "Three, six, two." A warm, rough tongue caressed his bronzed face.

"Show me."

Moments later they were inside the deserted station, which was only used during the silian fall mating season. Thasa Ras attempted to shove a bed frame empty of sleeping silks and furs to one side. Jusaj moved it. She pawed at a particular stone in the flooring. He pried it up. Beneath the paver was a metal door with three tumblers. He entered the combination. It did not open until he used the tip of his sword—it had been many years since last opened.

A musty smell, soon dissipated, barely touched the nostrils of Jusaj as he removed a half-dozen notebooks similar to those Ras Thavas used in his scientific work. Stepping into the main room, where the light was better, Jusaj immediately noted the handwriting as that of Thasa Ras. He instantly shut the cover. The calot saw that and ceased a nervous sway.

"This is what you sought?"

Yes.

"What do you want me to do with it?"

The calot turned her gaze to the heating stove necessary during the winter months. Jusaj walked to the stove and knelt beside it.

"You want these destroyed?"

Yes.

The majordomo asked no more questions. He built a small fire from fuel stacked by the stove. The calot watched, exuding both eagerness and regret—remorse? Jusaj was not sure. He raised the first book, the thickest one. When the calot's jaw jerked toward the stove he tossed it inside where the flames leapt more brightly because of the paper.

He repeated the act with each of the books, and for all but the last, the calot gave the same response. The final notebook, however, seemed to be of importance to Thasa Ras. With a gentle nudge of her fang-filled snout she urged Jusaj to open the cover.

My husband is an amazing man. At least that is how the world perceives him. I know he is incredibly brilliant, well-respected, loved—and hated. A more well-versed individual in any of the known sciences would be difficult to find. By his own sweat and determination he created a brand new city in the wilderness of the Toonolian Marsh which has become a sanctuary for peace and learning. For this one thing alone a million people love him—and a few tyrants hate and fear him. Few truly hate my husband, for he is a good man now, but a thousand years ago he practiced medical arts that bordered upon abomination. Yet, some do hate him. They hate his rebirth to decency and responsibility, or his unyielding defense of his city and people, or his ability to bring reasoned discourse during times of trial anywhere in the world. But someone hates him for all these things and for all the opportunities he has so stupidly squandered by failing to lead—to rule!—and loves him with all her heart.

I am that person.

There was more. Jusaj read of a young woman's dreams of wealth and power and her increasing rage at a exceptional husband who could rule all of Barsoom, if only he made the attempt. The scorn in that missive toward a man Jusaj had respected for centuries touched the majordomo with alternating waves of rage, anger, pity, shock—and those feelings were tempered with the sure knowledge that Ras Thavas and Thasa Ras "the wonder calot" were inseparable—they were each incomplete without the other.

"Why did you ask me to read this?" Jusaj closed the book. "Did you really hate him that much?"

There was a long silence in the cabin. Yes.

"Do you hate him now?"

No pause at all: NO!

"Do you love him?"

YES!

Jusaj looked through the open door. He sat on the floor next to the heating stove, watching the shadows lengthening in the afternoon sun. Somewhere in the distance a wild calot hissed. A number of frantic splashes along the shore indicated small creatures escaping into the water.

Jusaj turned his eyes toward the calot, who lay beside him, head high, tongue lolling as she panted in the heat. "Do you want me to tell him?"

The calot, as a species, cannot vocalize well, but a plaintive whine came from the powerful body. Jusaj reached out and tugged the calot's short mane. "I won't tell. He loves you. I know this."

The calot lay her great head in Jusaj's lap, blew a sigh, and closed her eyes. Jusaj stroked the calot's mane and silently watched a flock of four-winged insects hovering over the stagnant water along the left side of the sandy spit.

The fire was almost out when Thasa Ras took the last notebook from Jusaj and put it in the fire.


Jusaj and the calot stayed at the cabin overnight. At sunrise they hunted and took two silians—one for Thasa Ras, which she ate raw, and one that Jusaj cooked.

As they headed back to the Southern Gate Jusaj "conversed" with Thasa Ras. The longer they "spoke" the more adept the exchange. Jusaj soon determined that Thasa Ras and Ras Thavas were happy, that their life was as they wished. Then he asked:

"Can you get your body back?"

No.

For a moment Jusaj was shocked. The majordomo thought he knew the master mind well enough to believe Ras Thavas would have maintained that option.

"That is disappointing. I truly thought Ras Thavas would have preserved your body."

The calot stopped, forcing Jusaj to do the same. He sensed she disapproved of his statement. He asked the kind of question she could answer. "Did Ras Thavas destroy your body?"

NO!

Jusaj frowned as he often did with the guess and answer method. "Who?"

Thasa Ras lowered her head to the ground.

"You?" Jusaj asked, astonished.

The calot looked at the man who was more than a servant to her husband, he was the best friend of Ras Thavas, and one who had—all these years—treated the "calot" with respect. Thasa Ras slowly nodded her head.

Yes.

Jusaj was deeply touched. The human form of Thasa Ras had been very beautiful—but not half as beautiful as that great fearsome beast looking up at him. She had trusted him to do what she could not, and he knew why. Those old studies, that letter, even though hundreds of years had passed, had the power to injure someone she loved. And she had chosen him to assist her. Jusaj knelt down and placed his hands on each side of her powerful jaw, giving a gentle shake. "A thousand questions I might ask. I ask none. You must love him very much."

YES!


Jusaj and the calot parted ways shortly after entering the Southern Gate. It was late afternoon. The mighty calot frisked about, exploring the streets and scents of New City of Thavas, equally as famous as her master, the First Citizen. At any inn Thasa Ras might find a plate of thoat bones, or strips of zitidar haunch. She gamboled with youths or chased other calots in calot games.

Jusaj entered his apartments across the corridor from the office of Ras Thavas. He briefly kissed his wife and put away his gear. He then begged leave to bathe before dinner.

Rojina chatted pleasantly during wine and food. There was no mention of their spat before the hunt. She was as she had always been—would always be—the bright spot in his life. Later, as they lay curled together under the glow of two moons shining through their windows overlooking the purple-shadowed islands, she sighed.

"That was nice!" Rojina kissed his hand then held it tight to her heaving breast. "You should go hunting more often!"

"Yes," Jusaj grinned happily, "only next time you come with me!"

* * * * *

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