Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBLIST FEATURES FAQs, Articles, Reviews, Persona Directory, Hall of Memory SUMMARY PROJECT Summarizing ERB's works one chapter at a time FAN FICTION Shorts, Novels, Poetry, Plays, Pulps ERBmania! Articles, Contributors: Tangor Responds, Edgardemain, ERB: In Focus, Nkima Speaks, Beyond 30W, Tantor Trumpets, Dime Lectures, Korak in Pal-ul-don, Public Domain novels of ERB GLOSSARIES Worlds of: Barsoom, Pellucidar, Moon, Amtor, Caspak, Pal-u-don
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2003
Copyright © 2003
Ras Thavas looked up from his work as the major-domo entered his office. "Jusaj, is something wrong?"
"No sir, but you have a visitor."
The master mind looked at the cylinders of his chronometer and frowned. "My next appointment is not until the sixth zode."
The man nodded. "That is correct. She is a lady of Zodanga, arrived this afternoon. She begs only a moment of your time."
"I see. Well," Ras Thavas rose from his desk and bent down to give his mighty calot a generous mane rub. The master mind endured the head butt from the calot with a laugh. "Show the lady in, Jusaj. Let us not keep her waiting."
The major-domo bowed and left the office. A moment later the red man escorted a majestic matron into the master mind's office. Ras Thavas noted her manner and dress which seemed to indicate middle age--five hundred to seven hundred years old--and the startled expression on her face the instant she saw him.
Jusaj announced, "Kalina Sov, wife of the third Jed of Zodanga."
Ras Thavas stood as the major-domo led the woman to a chair before his massive desk, then sat in the matching chair after she was settled. During all this time her eyes did not leave his face.
"That will be all," Ras Thavas said to his aide.
When the door to his office closed, Ras Thavas leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, his hands folded. "I cannot help but notice that you seem very troubled as you look upon my face. What is it, Kalina Sov?"
"You--" the woman choked back a sob then took a deep breath. "I am sorry, Ras Thavas, you remind me of someone I once knew."
Intrigued, Ras Thavas gently asked. "Who would that be? I have not been to Zodanga in more than three hundred years."
The woman deliberately composed herself. Looking at Ras Thavas for a long moment, then looking away. "My youngest son," she replied. "My sister's daughter is studying in Thavas. My sister visited her last month, saw you, and when she returned, commented on how much you look like my son."
Ras Thavas leaned back in his chair, a slight frown puckered his brow. "I do not understand, dear lady."
"Tel Av was an adventurer, the most determined of all my sons to find fame and fortune. He became a panthan, a mercenary for hire, and fought in dozens of small conflicts from the southern hemisphere to the northern. His visits home were seldom, but I always knew his figure in a crowd--so tall, handsome, and muscular!" For a moment the woman's eyes misted with memory.
Kalina Sov blotted her eyes then apologized to the master mind of Barsoom. "I had to come see for myself," she said. "My son did not return from his last campaign and, for these many years since, I have known he was dead, else he would have found some way to contact me. When my sister told me how closely you resembled my son I--"
The pain and anguish the woman had controlled up to that moment failed. The woman wept, her grief brand new again.
Ras Thavas wrung his hands for a moment, then rose to kneel at the woman's side. He took her hands into his and kissed them. "Do not cry, mother," he said.
Ras Thavas' hunting calot, one of the most impressive specimens known, came from behind the desk. The creature placed her muzzle in the woman's lap, a gesture of sympathy.
The woman's tears vanished almost instantly at the animal's approach. "How wonderful!" Kalina Sov looked upon the hideous face of the fierce calot with surprise and gratitude. "It is as if the beast understands!"
Ras Thavas nodded. "Thasa Ras is a very extraordinary calot. Her empathy is quite unusual."
In the master mind's brain came a voice that only he could hear, the voice of his wife's brain which had been transplanted into the calot's body when she betrayed their marriage and his science. "She is the one," Thasa Ras laughed. "She is the mother of the body you wear. I smell it! Tell her you killed her son so that you might be immortal! Tell her!"
Ras Thavas wilted only a touch under the scathing reproach from his wife. She lived in the body of a calot because of indiscretions, her human body locked in a secret vault below the New City of Thavas, and rarely did she not remind Ras Thavas of what he had done to her.
Thasa Ras gently nudged the woman, amusing her with a lick and an equally amusing sneeze, yet her thoughts viciously hammered her husband. "See what you have done? This woman weeps because you wear the body of her son. You killed him. You have killed me by putting me in this animal's body. It must end, Ras Thavas! End it!"
The master mind of Barsoom caressed the calot's snout and gently turned the creature's muzzle to one side. Standing, he offered his hand to Kalina Sov. "I am sorry to have caused this distress, lady. Please, stay for dinner. Whatever I can do, please let me know."
Kalina Sov accepted the handsome man's hand. She suppressed a dream that her son linked his arm through hers and escorted her down the hallway and into the streets of the fabulous New City of Thavas, yet that dream did sustain her and it was enough.
The calot accompanied the master mind and the woman of Zodanga. The beast curled at their feet under a table at one of the finer inns of Thavas, and paced close behind as Ras Thavas walked the woman to her airship, to the door of her cabin.
Ras Thavas bowed low. "Thank you for telling me about your son. Thank you for forgiving me that I look like him."
Kalina Sov hesitated, stopping her hand as it rose to touch the face of Ras Thavas. "May I?"
Ras Thavas stood mute, but receptive. Kalina Sov leaned close, rising on tip-toe to barely touch her lips against the master mind's cheek. "You have been most gracious to an old woman. Good night, Ras Thavas."
The red man made sure that his smile was the last thing Kalina Sov saw. The instant the door to her cabin closed Ras Thavas turned and swiftly left the passenger ship, descended the boarding tower, and turned toward the Southern Gate. The calot kept pace. Thasa Ras needled her husband, chastising him. "Coward! You killed her son so that you might live! You put me in this body! You preach the high morality, but you cannot even confess to your own crimes! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!"
Outside the Southern Gate, on the dimly illuminated dock where airboats and sailing craft were moored, Ras Thavas suddenly voiced a long cry of rage and emotion. The cry was so genuine and unexpected that Thasa Ras was instantly concerned when her husband sank to his knees. The master mind covered his face and wept.
"Ras Thavas?" the calot with the human brain came near. "Husband?"
The master mind of Barsoom shifted position. He sat cross-legged on the dock, staring at the twin moons passing above the dark outlines of the jungle-capped islands to the south.
The calot used her snout to lift one of his arms and placed her head in the master mind's lap. "Speak to me, Ras Thavas!"
"What is there to say, Thasa Ras? Every accusation you have made is correct. I have not been happy with what I did years ago to acquire the flesh I now wear. I think about that more constantly than you can ever know--it is my shame--but until this day I did not know whose body I wore. Now my torment will be more complete!"
The moons had set below the horizon when Thasa Ras spoke again. "Why did you not tell her? She should know." It was not an accusation, it was a question from the heart.
Ras Thavas sighed. He placed his arms about the calot's neck. "I could have told Kalina Sov that I murdered her son. But tomorrow she will go home with a pleasant memory, and yet will have hope that her son still lives, somewhere. I destroyed one life. I could not destroy another!"
Calots cannot weep, but that the moment Thasa Ras desperately desired that ability. "They say," the "they" being every savant on Barsoom, "that you are the wisest man alive. Tonight, love. I can believe that."
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