DEJAH THORIS: THE CHILD
DAVID BRUCE BOZARTH
Copyright © 2000
My instructor tells me I have an eye for art.
My hands and fingers are naturally blessed as they work the exotic, pliable clays brought to Helium from the Artolian Hills and the deep caverns beneath Gathol. It does not bother me what John Carter thinks of my hobby as I agree with my teacher. I have an affinity for this form of creative expression and what else may better occupy my free time when my husband is away politicking, with Lesser Helium so empty to me now that Carthoris and Tara have left, they starting families of their own? The affairs of state directly involve only little of my time. My father and grandfather still guide such matters with steady decorum, and even when my lord is absent there is no great need for me to exert a powerful voice in our government.
I have found myself approaching these secluded wings rather frequently; even when my husband is home, I often retire to these apartments for some private time. He is pleased that I am keeping myself busy, that I know, but I get the vague impression he wishes I did so through some other venture.
Thuvia and I arranged classes together some time ago so that we could improve our attempts at painting and sketching, and although I have since moved on to pottery and sculpture I still occasionally pick up a brush to play with an idea. In the beginning my work was very light and inconsequential: some galloping thoats, Woola reclining by his master's feet, a pretty slave girl I had pose for me one afternoon.
However, there are some paintings I will not permit anyone to see, not even John. It took such effort for me to even show him the one--the picture that pained my heart the least, and after viewing the image he turned from me with such displeasure I vowed never to allow him entry into that private world again.
Perhaps I think too harshly of my husband's silence in this regard, but we have not truly spoken of the matter for many years. I have resigned myself to the fact that things already passed have become history, and history is only kept alive through dusty texts and ancient tomes hidden away in the libraries. I realize with a certain acute emptiness that, in some respects, this silence may be all that is left of the child to anyone other than myself: a name in that gigantic volume listing the jeddaks of Helium and their families; a date chronicling a birth and death. I do not like to think I would ever hate my husband, yet I know that if I dwell upon his apparent indifference regarding the child, understanding that faced with such determined silence the only way I may deal with my loss is through my art…
Well, yes, I suppose I could grow to hate him.
Thuvia was so attentive those first few years she and Carthoris lived in Helium. I must admit there was a time when I could but look upon that lovely girlish form and burn with jealousy: she who soon held within her arms a healthy, cognizant daughter who would grow to be one of the sweetest maidens upon the surface of Barsoom. When all of the problems associated with my own little love arose, her company later became a sincere attempt at compensating the distance my husband showed our circumstance. By that time, however, she had a child of her own and I cannot blame her for stepping back to attend to her own family.
I still can recall past the harsh tribulation of memories when there was only the thought of joy in our future lives together. Truly, intangibly, I believe that John never accepted the concept of a third child at all. It was always my desire, my wish, my longing that the loneliness within me be filled by another young prince or princess of Helium rather than louder, more frequent balls or numbing social galas. I will not say that I nagged my husband; I know him well enough that resorting to such shrewish action would have accomplished nothing. Nevertheless, I do recall my prodding regarding this matter insistent and perpetual, and as has always been the case, John Carter eventually gave in to my persuasive demands.
Thirteen eggs per year. I sat by each of them, day after day, visiting them in the morning and in the evening and at midday when the sun was at its zenith. Sometimes when Tara would come for a weekly jaunt she would rest by the incubator with me and we would chat together and share inconsequential gossip from our courts while the slaves served us cool drinks. Although my daughter had long since become a mother herself and was glad to keep me company, I knew that she did not understand the fervent importance of the eggs I watched--but how could she? She was still young, vibrant and beautiful; what of it if my husband still insisted that I was the most perfect creature ever to cross the breadth of two worlds? I was gradually aging, and perhaps my life span might amount to a thousand years, nevertheless I realized I was no longer the vital girl my mind pretended me to be.
I sometimes wonder if perhaps my age had something to do with how resolutely, one after the other over the months, each egg carefully nurtured failed to bless me with some indication of life. As the year lengthened I would gaze upon them with fierce desperation. Those perfect, glossy, snow-white shells seemed to mock every attempt to pierce through their rending solitude with my telepathic voice, searching through each and every one of them for one unmistakable mental wavelength that would qualify singularly as a glorious response. But each egg failed to quicken and my desperation grew as John Carter had only agreed to a period of one year for this purpose of my heart.
The thought of my seasoned maturity influencing the silence of the eggs does not overwhelm me as it once did, but it is a melancholy cloak that still sometimes wraps itself about my person, a lingering bittersweet wound that continually oozes and I fear shall never heal. Yet what joy broke through the storm within me when I finally heard my child's plaintive cry from within the thirteenth incubator, awakened to sudden cognizance by time and my restless attentions, and realizing who I was and how I loved him, my son reached quietly out to me--
Although it was an unusually warm afternoon, the shiver that germinated at the nape of my neck passed convulsively throughout my entire body. I could feel those ethereal fingers searching wretchedly for me, blindly, as though through a great darkness. My heart beat viciously within my chest; I called pleading to my son. He continued to fumble awkwardly, crossing the intangible space between us, tripping over himself. My breath caught strangled in my throat when I finally discerned the shadowed hues of my child's responsive song.
There is an animal from Jasoom that my husband has often described: a nightingale, a bird so lovely as to defy description, and yet ironically the most unique aspect of its enviable pulchritude is the terrible sadness revealed in its song. I have neither seen nor ever heard a nightingale, however I recalled distantly the told essence of its lonely being as my son haltingly strung misshapen emotions and nebulous desires together, flung the line of them out toward me with unfocused desperation. It was as though I was forced to dart this way and that, spinning around over here and tumbling forward again, as I attempted to gather my son's fractured concepts together, his vague longings, all the while trying to piece the random fragments into some semblance of recognizable intelligence.
I stayed on the roof beside the incubator until the sudden evening of Barsoom descended. My husband sent a slave to fetch me, but I was reluctant to leave my son. I caressed the glass covering the egg one last time before turning to follow the slave down into the palace. A dire feeling unexpectedly consumed me--I was leaving my boy out in the open and that any strange phantom could come and destroy his delicate little life regardless of however many trained warriors guarded his tiny pedestal. At the ramp I turned to cast another desperate look upon that snow-white promise nestled in sand still holding the heat of the day. I heard my child crying out to me, hysterically now that distance had weakened the strength of my mental voice. My features contorted. The slave asked me if I was in distress.
I walked briskly toward the incubator, issuing a command in the formal voice of the Princess of Helium: "Bring my sleeping silks and furs here. Inform the Warlord I will not be joining him this night."
Wrapped within my silks from Ptarth, seated upon the black and yellow furs of the exotic polar orluk and thus shielded warmly against the cold night, I leaned against the gilded incubator whispering gently to my child. I unexpectedly heard my lord's familiar footfalls crossing the bright tile a zode later. My husband came to me, stood over me, watched as I removed my hand reluctantly from the smooth eggshell. I twisted my face up to glance at him. His eyes were warm as he said with a quiet smile, "Am I to understand that we are to have another child?"
His countenance reflected subdued pride, a docile pleasure so different from the obvious joy he had displayed when first hearing of our other children's quickening. My eyes were glazed. I found myself nodding slowly at him. "Yes, my chieftain--a son!"
My voice cracked and I saw him glance from my upturned face to the glossy shell of the snow-white egg. I could not read his thoughts and it took all of my telepathic control for him not to know mine, yet I realized he was aware something was amiss. I put my hand lightly on his forearm, then worked my fingertips deep into the tough muscled flesh made hard by his exercise of swords in the art of war. I moved closer to him.
"My lord," I began, kissing him, "you have seen how important these attempts have been to me this last year. To have success after all this time—I, I wish to make a little camp here so that I may stay with the boy until he grows strong within his egg. I sense"--I bowed my forehead against his great breast, so hesitant to speak the truth--"a weakness in this child. Will you honor me and allow me this time from you to care for our son?"
For an instant a slight frown crossed his handsome features, then he said nothing, waiting.
"I cannot explain my feeling, only that I know this child needs me near." This was the most honest expression I currently would give him. My palm worked in tight circles across my husband's bare abdomen. I sensed his vague displeasure, yet just as quickly I knew he would not deny me. John put his strong hands on my shoulders and pulled me gently toward him.
"My Dejah Thoris," John Carter said, "you have always known better than I what to do with circumstances such as these. Make your bed here. I will forego our decorated chambers for however long the strengthening of our son takes and camp here with you."
He dismissed the guards that night and he loved me, there in the bright naked light of both Cluros and Thuria. I will admit I was not as attentive to him as I could have been, and for that lack of interest he was politely disgruntled. But since our son had awoken to sentience I was distracted by the infant's confused pain and acute emotional distress, these emanations from the egg were just too wretched to ignore--even in the face of my husband's most personal attentions.
As I lay beside my husband that night, his strong arm wrapped tightly about me even in sleep, I focused pleasant emotions and colors within my mind and patiently sent them to my son. I had enjoined John Carter to do the same, but for some reason my husband's telepathic abilities could not make contact with the child. I know this peeved him greatly, for there had been nearly instant rapport between my mate and the embryos of Carthoris and Tara. I stayed awake for many zodes considering the inexplicable silence between my husband and the child, yet I was more concerned for the child who reached out for me than the father's inability to detect the spark of life sheltered within the incubator.
The moons of Barsoom fully crossed the sky completing their ancient nightly rendezvous, and as I distantly watched them I could not help but mull over my present circumstance. I came to realize that my child's fractured song would be less disturbing to me had he been the first of my eggs ever to grab onto life. What difference would I have known if this little prince had initially been conceived instead of Carthoris? Regardless of the warnings of my elders and those giants of science and medicine who have always stood nearby during rare occurrences of trauma and illness, I would have been optimistic as well as resolutely myopic: This child is no different than any other--perhaps his development is merely somewhat delayed. He will become stable under my care and shall grow to be as perfect as any other child!
Yet by dawn that wretched, dark seed of doubt had already sprouted and was just blooming; I could not ignore the loathsome fact that something was amiss with my child. Saying nothing of my premonitions to John Carter, however, he after breakfast took leave of my royal presence on a ten-day tour of Hastor's shipyards. I decided to take advantage of his sudden absence, that very morning requesting that the royal physician examine the egg.
I waited impatiently as the round little man scrutinized my son. He finally began putting his curious, intricate instruments back into his bag. It was a long moment before he turned to address me.
"If my princess will permit," he began, running a delicate hand through thinning hair, "please allow me to consult with others who are more learned than I."
I did not hesitate to give my permission, and after the physician had departed, I summoned my grown children and their respective mates to the palace. I wished to express my joy that one of my eggs had finally quickened, yet also I desperately desired to share my concerns regarding my son's mental and emotional stability.
Carthoris and Thuvia arrived long before Tara and Gahan, who had much farther to travel, and I spent quiet time alone with each. They listened intently as I expressed my fears, and at the end of our discussion, I asked them both to meet the child: "Just try to share your love with him."
Carthoris was pensive as he later descended from the roof. He presently joined an officer in the courtyard, effectively sidestepping me to avoid a confrontation. His mind shield was fully intact; I could not determine one iota of his thoughts or the outcome of his visit to the incubator. Slighted, I glanced toward Thuvia with a peeved expression. Her own features had darkened watching her husband's retreating figure, but just as suddenly the irritation disappeared, and she beckoned me accompany her as she began climbing the marble floored ramp.
Thuvia has always been something of a wonder to me. I continually remain amazed how this lithe girl can tame the most fearsome of banths as though they are palace soraks gathering at her feet. Her mental voice is strong and her intuition keen. I therefore was internally desperate for her appraisal of the emotional state of my young son and watched barely able to draw breath as she approached the incubator.
"May I?" she paused above the sheltered egg, tossed her head to show me a questioning look. I nodded.
The girl bent over the incubator and gently unclasped the lock of the glass case, lifting it carefully from around my egg. The previous evening, in the romantic light of Cluros and Thuria the shell had glowed the purest white, yet in this revealing brightness of day the egg now displayed a faint, sickly yellow—this was new, or at least I did not recall seeing the discoloration before. I sensed that Thuvia noted my growing distress as she cupped her palms delicately about the pristine shelter of my sleeping boy.
There was a long moment of verbal silence, although the mental waves in the air around me were heavy with strength and feeling. My boy suddenly twisted and writhed within his shell; Thuvia was not the woman whose comfort he needed and he cried out to me, again and again. I finally could no longer withstand such frantic distress and approached the incubator. My palm gently curved over the narrowest contour of the egg; the child instantly became less hysterical even though it was another long moment before he became truly quiet. Thuvia stepped away from the incubator and exhaled a piece of torn breath as she ran a hand through her free dark hair.
She said pointedly to me, "What word has Vad Varo spoken about the prince?"
Considering my desperate circumstances, it was fortunate that the one-time assistant of Barsoom's foremost medical scientist, Ras Thavas, was that very week visiting Lesser Helium to attend to personal matters. Once I had invited him to the palace and explained my predicament to him, the prince of Duhor was only too willing to be of assistance to me, and his knowledgeable presence remained steady and reliable amongst us over the course of the next few years.
My young son was never alone. He received careful administrations from Vad Varo every morning and evening, and I visited my child in the times between, watched his stained shell slowly grow to healthy proportions. I often slept out on the roof with him on worrisome nights and at those times I could not help recalling the lack of such trials in the care of Carthoris or Tara; they had quickened without incident and hatched right on schedule.
Gradually, my outlook concerning the future health of my son flowed into something more optimistic, yet I gazed wretchedly about at the broken pieces of my delicate hope, so horribly shattered one black winter night three months into the incubation--shattered so completely by the one closest to me. My chieftain, my John Carter, came to me with grave decision and told me we should put down this malformed egg, release our son's tortured soul.
I believe I lost myself completely at that moment and reflect upon my lack of decorum then with some curious, depressed interest. I remember my husband taking a cautious step back as my babbling rage poured rushing forth, unheeded spittle slicing the air between the audible cuts of my vicious red lips.
"You, calot, dare address the Princess of Helium in such unforgivable callous manner? You forget yourself, Jasoomian!"
John's gray eyes were as cold as slate, forcing me to withstand the equally cool nature of his careful words: "I vocalize such unfriendly thoughts only because I see how troubled you are, Princess, and that tortures me because your happiness is cherished to me above all else. Even facing the harsh statutes of nature we have already found ourselves blessed with two wonderful children--how dare we believe that such a miracle could happen at third time?"
I realized my arms were suddenly encircling my body, an unsuccessful attempt at protecting me from the swirling black miasma converging too suddenly upon my trembling form. Yet through the throbbing pain of my mind, the despair of my heart, through my overpowering nausea I finally choked out intelligible words and ripped my gaze from the floor, focused pleading wet eyes on my graven lord.
"Tell me, my chieftain, have you yet heard your son's sweet thoughts? For if you had you could never suggest such a hideous thing!"
John Carter, the Warlord of Barsoom, narrowed his gaze above a thin-lipped frown. His mental reply was as chill as the ice of the Carrion Caves. "You know that I have not." He turned away, back straight, and strode away—and I knew that I had hurt him terribly, for he was perplexed that he alone of all those who surrounded this imperfect egg could not link his thoughts with the child. My husband does not like to admit failure at anything; thus to remind him of that failure was a heavy blow.
We did not speak of the extraordinary treatments or expense after that; there seemed to be a line between us on this subject that neither could cross without risking everything we held dear. Our turbulent years of emotional distress, however, did not last as long as perhaps one part of me would have liked them to--the time eventually arrived for even an imperfect child to break the shell, and my young son was apparently in a hurry to meet me. His incubation lasted only four of the five necessary formative years.
Near dawn I was awoken by sudden and unusual activity from the egg, and I found myself racing that early morning from my boudoir to the roof. The sun, brilliant white, flooded the palace tower moments before the landscape below. The sentries who guarded the incubator withdrew as far as possible as I knelt beside the glass enclosure, and Inan chose that moment to tangibly enter our world. My attentive motherhood heard the slightest movements within the egg. I saw the shadows forming on the shell's discolored surface. My heart fluttered; I turned excitedly to the guard and called, "Hasten to summon the Warlord! His son will hatch this day!"
John was beside me almost instantly, Vad Varo and the royal medical team quickly followed after. I lifted the glass casing from around my boy and watched the cracks of the shell focus together into one weak point. I whispered to him, "You can do it! You are a prince of Helium!"
The shell cracked.
I froze with horror when I first saw that tiny hand extend through the broken eggshell beyond the artificially hardened calcium. My sobs caught writhing in my throat as I viewed the pallid flesh stretched too tightly across three misshapen fingers and the stub of a fourth, an awkwardly twisted partial thumb. John Carter rose, but did not move as I, spurred by sudden desperation, defied all the laws of Barsoomian reproduction and gently pried the rest of my child's delicate shelter away. My husband's aloof detachment, his decided disapproval, was almost tangible in the air about us as I lifted my limp, silent son out into the glaring sunlight.
My husband is a hard man, and I do so love him for that attribute because it is his strength and dedication that has done so much for Helium and Barsoom--yet sometimes I fear he is more of Barsoom than the rest of us born on this dying planet. Like the green man, it is his opinion that any hatchling incapable of extricating itself from the shell should perish, and though his love and loyalty are as essential to my life as food and water I shall find him eternally lacking in this regard. Eternally.
My son! Mine--since it was painfully obvious that John Carter would only tolerate the child on my behalf. He was beautiful--or was it merely my aching desire that made him seem so, however misshapen? Through our mind link the boy instantly understood my initial disgust and his cerebral personality shrank whimpering from me. Callous woman that I am! Tears coursed down my cheeks as I pulled my newborn son to my body and clasped his thin, tortured shape against my breast. I felt his irregular heartbeat as I clutched him, willing my warmth into his unusually cool frame, hearing the attempts of his labored breathing, cursing myself for being so wretchedly Barsoomian that I could only immediately see his weakness and imperfection.
Vad Varo, so disturbingly alike in appearance as my virile husband, broke through my misery and displayed a kindness John had yet to exhibit. He placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. The physician prince of Duhor quietly said, "My lady, your son needs to be cleaned and I would examine him so that I might discover the full extent of his illness."
I ignored the man momentarily. Focusing a pointed, fiery gaze on John Carter I firmly declared, "His name is Inan. It will be written that he is Inan Tadak!"
Upon hearing my announcement, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my father shift his weight uncomfortably. I suddenly hated him for the gesture, unconscious or deliberate. Inan Tadak was the name of my mother's great-grandfather and there are paintings of him in the Hall of Giants in central Helium. He was a very beautiful man and it is chronicled in the historical texts that, this side of Polodona, he was the most gorgeous warrior ever to breathe the thin air of Barsoom.
Vad Varo and the royal physicians, who had worked closely together for some time, succeeded in prying little Inan from my arms. I watched through reddened eyes as they whisked him down into the protective warmth on the palace. My father and grandfather and everyone else said comforting things, that the doctors would fix him and he would soon be as strong and lovely as any other child. I disliked their lies then, I dislike the memory of them now. I cannot remember whether I said anything in reply, I just recall that suddenly John Carter and I were the only two on the roof, and it was a long while before he even approached to touch me.
"My princess," he began, too brightly.
I turned upon my husband with unexpected fury, smacking his hand away. "The Princess of Helium wishes not for your company, Jasoomian!"
His intake of breath hissed as though he was that strange white dragon Tan Hadron had told us of meeting so many years before. John took a step backward from me, his eyes hard. He said, "If the Princess of Helium wishes not for her lord's company then he will regretfully retire from her presence!" But there was no regret in that heated reply and before I could frame an adequate apology, he departed.
I do not know how long I stood alone beside that empty incubator. I slept out on the roof by myself that night. Vad Varo had confined Inan for observation. I was forbidden to visit him lest I upset Inan further with my presence, although perhaps a more honest explanation for my willing distance--a terrible one--is I held no desire to see my son so mechanical with all of the tubes and needles protruding from his cold little body.
The first week of Inan's delicate life was difficult to endure. Vad Varo came to me one afternoon and asked if I would sit with him for a moment so we could talk. I agreed, and we reclined together on an ersite bench located in my favorite section of the western gardens. Vad Varo said to me, "My lady, I bring word of your son's progress. Initially, there was a fear that perhaps he would be somewhat immobile, for there was a doubt that his bones would strengthen and harden enough to support his weight as he grows."
"But that fear is no longer an issue."
"Correct." And Vad Varo folded his hands carefully in his lap. "Your son's skeletal structure is very strong--that is where the problem lies."
I leaned back from him in my seat. "I do not understand your meaning, sir."
Vad Varo glanced from me and it was a moment before he spoke again, but he gave me the courtesy of addressing me directly when he said, "If young Inan's skeleton would take longer to solidify, then we might be able to more accurately mold it into some reasonable shape. But, despite his being premature, he has a hefty supply of minerals and a thick blood which has made most of his internal organs and devices quite resilient."
"Yet there is still trouble with his heart and lungs," I said, reminding myself rather than prodding a remark from the gentle Vad Varo. "And the digits of his left hand will remain forever deformed and, practically speaking, useless aside from their ability to grasp small things."
"That is true, my lady. I'm afraid he will always be bent double as he is now--" The prince of Duhor paused, his thought unfinished.
A sudden anger flashed within me at his hesitance, and I heard myself demanding hotly, "What else would you speak to me, Vad Varo?"
Those black eyes bored into mine. "I greatly doubt he will ever be fully aware of his surroundings, my lady. There are strong signs of mental retardation that I pray will recede; however, I am not sure they ever completely will. That is all, Princess."
Vad Varo stood in preparation for his departure. As I sat gazing down at the backs of my tightly clenched fingers, the man cleared his throat pointedly. He said quietly to me, "I want to tell you that I have already received the Warlord's permission to bring my wife here so that I may stay and watch more closely the development of your son. I will remain as long as is necessary, my lady, to ensure the perfect welfare of the young prince."
I had never desired any man other than my husband, but I must admit such simple kindness as expressed to me that day by that pale Jasoomian moved me. I found my eyes trailing after his stoic figure as he left me sitting alone in the gardens. Perhaps if John had been more understanding, more attentive to my needs during those difficult times, I would not have realized I was thinking so fondly of the prince of Duhor. I sat for a long while and gradually submerged any inappropriate emotions that were surfacing, for if my family was to continue with strength and integrity I needed not only to care for my ailing son but also my ruffled husband. When I departed from the gardens that day my mind was set to invite my lord back into my world--a troubled world though he might find it.
The weeks passed into months and the months into years. Inan's language thought patterns became focused and recognizable at the horribly tardy age of five, although when he finally did reach his mental wavelengths out to me with articulate skill and strength, what an exquisite, pained pleasure enveloped my soul. My boy was intelligent--perhaps more intelligent than myself! I would sit with his hunched form for hours, hearing his solemn thoughts of life and personal existence reverberating throughout my skull. Vad Varo often joined us and we three would contemplate the future of Barsoom together, the relative mortality of our individual lives, but always we would end the discussion with a song. I more completely cherish those occasions when Vad Varo and I were able to convince Inan to share with us one of his original compositions. Vad Varo had given my son a flute the year before, encouraging him to play it so that he might further strengthen his lungs, but soon the instrument became less a manner of exercise and more an aspect of entertainment and self expression.
I recall one particular time the three of us relaxed in the observatory together. A long, hot Barsoomian day had drawn to a close and my young son sat on the floor, cross-legged, his slim, slight body supported by several over-large pillows. His lips, so perfect while the rest of his body was so misshapen, helped support the flute clutched in his twisted hand as his other five digits raced adeptly along and above the instrument's polished wood. Vad Varo and I faced my boy and I could see the physician flush as he watched the young prince--watched almost with a father's pride. It was strange to me that I should so suddenly realize his affection for Inan when I sensed a fourth presence in the room. Turning quickly, I saw my husband's great shadow just departing the open doorway.
Separating myself from the others, I noticed the curious look my son gave me. I offered a silent smile of reassurance as I stood away from the divan and made my way into the arched corridor outside the observatory. In the shadows of the far end I saw a tall form bent over the gilt-edged balcony railing. I stepped silently down the length of the corridor, slowing as I noted my husband's troubled stance. John Carter's hands gripped the railing so tightly his knuckles glowed white, his virile forearms were columns of tensed flesh. His black-haired head lay low upon his chest.
I did not address him, but when I had drawn close enough to lay a gentle hand on his shoulder my chieftain stiffened. "Not now, my princess," he said with hollow voice.
"You are upset," I told him.
The vulnerable personality I then saw as the great Warlord slowly raised his head was a sadness I had seen only one other time. Many years ago Tara had been swept away in a savage sandstorm. Weeks later, still uncertain of our daughter's fate—and fearing the worst—I had, unknown to him, observed my husband's private grief one evening as he sat alone in the south garden, unconsciously stroking the smooth hide of our daughter's pet sorak. Remembering the cause of his pain that time and seeing it once again on his handsome face, my features abruptly softened with love and concern. I began kneading the tense flesh at the nape of his neck. Leaning close, I whispered, "My lord, there is no reason to fear baring your heart to me!"
I was startled when he suddenly altered the angle of his powerful shoulders and turned fully to face me. A part of me expected him to keep his mind shield intact when I saw the indescribable expression in his eyes. For a moment it appeared he would turn silently away as he so often did in recent years. But John Carter did not turn away. He cupped a cool palm to my cheek and said with glistening eyes, "I wonder how completely he sees the imperfection in me?"
There was no one else in the corridor, but still I glanced about to ensure the privacy of my husband's audible emotion. I stepped closer, encircling a trembling arm about his hard-muscled waist. He did not speak for some time, and I dared not! I watched his eyes shift and move, almost as entities unto themselves. Yet finally the shadow deepened across my face as his head lowered and tender lips grazed my forehead. His voice was choked with heart wrenching emotion. "It was one of us that passed the weakness onto our child, and I know that it was not passed by the perfect aspect of the Princess of Helium."
His timbre was low, husky--ashamed. He knelt before me, head down, shoulders bowed. He would not look into my eyes. That ageless man finally whispered in a voice so forlorn: "He is a happy child, and there is a great gift in his music, but it is no wonder our son so loves the Prince of Duhor when even his own father cannot speak to him! I see the joy in your eyes when you are with Inan and see the pain when you look upon me. How you must hate me for what I bequeathed our child--"
"No!" I cried as the horrible, dark curtain that had so long distanced me from my chieftain was torn away by instant and belated understanding. I, too, knelt and threw my arms about his neck, sobbing. "Not you, my chieftain! Never you!"
I will never tell anyone if the mighty warlord of a world wept upon his consort's shoulder that quiet afternoon.
My young son never spoke a single verbal word, not even to me, but he created the most magnificent stories and adventures through his skillful manipulation of that slim, polished flute. Often when I would walk in the gardens with my husband at night I could hear the lilting notes of my son's welcoming song. The perfect melodies carried far out into the courtyards at the sweet demand of his restless fingers, sending us his uncompromising love, and yet always his work was tinged with the greatest loneliness. I know he realized completely how delicate, how uncertain, was his future existence among us.
Inan Tadak, prince of Helium, died silently when he was seven years of age.
My husband, that man who loves Barsoom more than his own world, adamantly refused the traditional burial barge and lonely journey down the River Iss for our son. The tradition continues long after John Carter exposed the fallacy of Heaven in Valley Dor because the people of Barsoom have need of a method to dispose of the dead, but John Carter would have none of that practicality. Inan Tadak was lovingly placed to rest in a private sanctuary built of the finest white ersite and decorated simply with bands of gold and platinum. The tiny mausoleum is just east of my personal courtyard. Even now, some ten years after Inan Tadak's passing, I sometimes see my husband quietly walking across the well-manicured sward viewing the gorgeous blooms of glorestra planted at his direction about that place where a part of each of our hearts also lies.
I know now that all those perceptions of John Carter's displeasure and aloofness during Inan's life was nothing more than his broken heart and distress at being unable to communicate with his son. So many found joy and pain in the child's brilliance and articulation from a viewpoint no other Barsoomian has ever experienced while my husband grimly endured an unexpected exile in silence. It was Inan's music that most touched the heart of my chieftain because the sound of Inan's flute was the only "voice" that John Carter could hear. So deeply moved by these melodies was the prince of Helium that he commissioned the country's finest musicians to keep alive the melodies created by our son, that these sweet and haunting songs might be heard by the people so they would know something of Inan Tadak's brief genius.
I can see the glittering roof of our son's blessed apartment from certain windows located in the chambers I have chosen to collect my artwork. There is a solitary window flooding light and fresh air into one particular, secluded corridor, and on quiet days I often find myself traversing this hall heading toward that light. I pass by the paintings of Inan in contemplative thought, he gazing pensively out into the gardens from his favorite balcony. I pass by the portraits I did from memory, he smiling so slightly as he played a light air on the flute for his older brother. There is Inan hugging Woola after a game of catch. There is Inan reading a book of poetry.
Sometimes when I extend a hand to caress his image I feel as though Inan has not died at all. I can still feel his skinny arms wrapped tightly about my body. I can still feel those thin little lips pressing warmly against my cheek. His mental voice, so clear when he would speak, seems yet to whisper on cold nights when I miss him the most.
I almost hear him: I love you, Mother.
And never will I give any other reply: I love you, my son.
Whether or not Inan Tadak lives in a different place I hope that somewhere he can hear me.
I will always remember you. May your happy flute forever dance.
Some thirty years ago I wondered how the marriage of John Carter and Dejah Thoris progressed. There were no books of Barsoom by Edgar Rice Burroughs left unread. Having a somewhat active imagination I outlined the story you have just read, in great detail, but never got around to writing the THE CHILD in final form. In 1996 I discovered the fans of ERB via the Internet and eventually published my own web sites, which evolved into ERBList.com. In 2000 one of the members of ERBList, my ERB discussion listserver, expressed her interest in writing pastiches such as the ones she had read.
Her enthusiasm was infectious and she had read the first three Barsoom novels to get a feeling for the work. "I'd like to write something for your site," she wrote by email. "But I don't know what to write!"
She had written some stories of her own and sent them to me, though the subjects were not ERB related. I saw she had a good command of language and a sensitive nature. Our email exchanges continued for several months, picking my brain for things Barsoomian and she eventually penned a tale of Thuvia that was an extraordinary and unique look at that character. After it was posted she asked, "What next?"
I sent her my outline of THE CHILD to see where she might take the characters. A week later the first four page draft was returned, rough but serviceable enough to provide conversation points. I made some edits and suggestions, expanding a page. Twenty-four hours later a more polished and expanded version was submitted, again expanded a page. The base story was complete but the window dressing–Barsoom itself and the culture and some aspects of the Virginian's personality--required more treatment. I filled in those parts, sent it off for comment and approval, then published THE CHILD under her name as "based on an story idea by David Bruce Bozarth."
THE CHILD, when first released, was greeted with good reviews by pastiche readers everywhere. A few readers made observations THE CHILD had to be written by me, not a girl who had never penned an ERBesque tale. They were right, in part. I did add fifty percent to the word count but I did not create the pathos or heart my friend wrote.
Sadly, however, my friend was faced with an ultimatum from family and local community: Take Down Those Stories. I will not go into detail why the ultimatum was delivered, but the result was that mere months after posting her Thuvia and THE CHILD stories I did as my friend regretfully asked. Some of you pastiche readers might remember her name. Remember it, but do not use it on the web. Though I disagreed with my friend's decision I completely understood why it was necessary for HER.
Three years have passed since that time. Though I can do nothing regarding my friend's earlier story about Thuvia, a maid of Mars, DEJAH THORIS: THE CHILD is mine by idea and much encouragement and editing. I bring this tale back to the pastiche pages where it belongs, a story by David Bruce Bozarth and Friend.