When The Princess Disappeared
BY THE BARDS OF BARSOOM
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Blurb, What is a Round Robin?, Foreword
|Map of Thilum and Environs||Mar 1988 (Boxarth)|
|1. Dejah Thoris: The Girl||May 1997 (Bozarth)|
|2. Junie Watts: Living In Hell||Jun 1997 (Bearden)|
|3. Milieos: Houseguests||Jul 1997 (Nunez)|
|4. Dejah Thoris: "What is my purpose now?"||Aug 1997 (Bozarth)|
|5. Junie Watts: Life in Thilum||Sep 1997 (Bearden)|
|6: Milieos: Mundane to Murderous||Oct 1997 (Nunez)|
|7: Dejah Thoris: The Secret in The Hills||Nov 1997 (Bozarth)|
|8: Holkat: The Unknown People of Barsoom||Dec 1997 (Klasek)|
|9: Junie Watts: Thaandor||Jan 1998 (Bearden)|
|10: Milieos: The Science of War||Feb 1998 (Nunez)|
|11: Holkat: The Perpetual State||Mar 1998 (Bozarth)|
|12: Junie Watts: A Traitor In Thilum||Apr 1998 (Bozarth)|
|13: Dejah Thoris: Caged by Kindness||May 1998 (Bozarth)|
The Bards of Barsoom bring to the World Wide Web the first Barsoomian pastiche serial ever! On or about the first of each month a new chapter will be published. When The Princess Disappeared is a story told from first person viewpoints. Each chapter heading identifies the principal narrator. Our serial deals with sensitive and serious subjects, therefore your comments and feedback are strongly desired. Let us know what you think of When The Princess Disappeared.
What is a Round Robin?
A round robin is an organized writing project where a group of authors challenge each other by producing sequential passages in a larger work. All round robins start with a basic premise suggested to all the players. A project format is agreed upon ie. how much output is expected and when to pass to the next author. The resulting work rapidly evolves into something unexpected and entertaining because imaginations are stretched and peer pressure exerts the utmost from the participants.
A Foreword from the authors:
Tangor (David Bruce Bozarth) Co-Author and Project Editor, May 1997
I have worked with my fellow Bards of Barsoom on a previous round robin project The Caverns of Mars. It was a "let's get acquainted" project that revealed a great potential for future works. The premise for When The Princess Disappeared is the result of messages between Jason Gridley (Andy Nunez), Tars Tarkas (Don Bearden) and myself after we concluded Caverns. That premise, "What if Dejah Thoris disappeared —intentionally—and a black person transported to Barsoom from America shortly after Martin Luther King was assassinated, and that transportee was female, and Barsoomian biology and medicine were central to the story theme?" Hey, I just HAD to be part of THAT project!
Jason Gridley (Andy Nunez) Co-Author, May 1997
I have been an ERB fan since I could understand English, and have wanted to write since high school, so writing ERB is my favorite thing in life other than my family. I just wish I could get paid for writing it! When Tangor first approached me with the Caverns of Mars idea, I thought, why not? At 25 lines a shot, it wouldn't take up much time. It turned out to be fun. I composed at the keyboard, putting down whatever came to mind while trying to keep true to Barsoom. You can judge the end result for yourselves elsewhere on this website. Tangor further challenged me with the current storyline. The challenge was what sold me. As a writer, I am continually trying to expand my experience so that hopefully I can produce something marketable. The idea of writing from a totally alien point of view was at first a little daunting, but I made up my mind to give it my all, and When the Princess Vanished was born. We three Bards have one thing in common. We love our subject matter and we want to give you readers nothing but the best. Tars Tarkas gave me some great stuff to bounce off of, so that by the time you readers are a good chunk into the story, some wild stuff is going on. Remember, though, that the story has a conscience. It's not a typical hack and slash. Think of it as a mirror of our youth. We have labored hard in the production of this epic, all for the fans. I hope you all enjoy it.
Tars Tarkas (Don Bearden) Co-Author, May 1997
(Foreword has not been received)
Erich von Harben (Terry Klasek) Co-Author, December 1997
I have loved English since my first literature course in high school. I discovered ERB in the early 60s. I got $3 per week from parents for lunch, and I worked in the lunchroom for FREE lunch! Hence, $3 per week for books. Discovered Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage and pulp fiction as well. In 71 I founded a comic collectors club, and ended up enjoying writing every word the newsletter contained. Did a Holmes society for 4 years, and DID that newsletter too. Started a Short wave Radio club, and wrote and did the layout & design, too. I was conned into doing a monthly VFW District newsletter, and won National awards for writing and design for 3 years. Now I am doing a Vietnam vets of America newsletter. I have written many Holmes stories and articles, plus lots of poetry and fiction. Got the fanatic writing bug in college. Took Creative Writing I & II, Fiction Writing, Poetry Writing, Journalism (4 courses), and Play writing. Sold many things to magazines. I just HAD to get involved in some ERB writing, and I don't want to stop!
Chapter 1 - Dejah Thoris:
My husband is a marvelous man who occupies a singular position among the governments and institutions of Barsoom. He is known as "the Warlord," which title sets him above even the thirty- one Jeddaks of the planet. Because of his prominence, and mine as the Princess of Helium, demands are made upon us both, demands we acknowledge—and perform—when it is possible.
John Carter asked me to attend the national new year celebration at the palace of his old friend Kulan Tith. My husband could not attend, having to head some project of immediate need with the chief scientists of Helium, Zodanga and Gathol.
"You love the forests of Kaol this time of year," he had said. The lights were extinguished and a stillness had lain over our sleeping chamber that evening. His hand, callused from the constant practice of swordplay, touched me gently, a familiar caress that still thrilled me after these many years—but it was also a caress that irritated me as it was one a man might use to further his own ends rather than being forthright and honest.
"If you cannot attend, you cannot," I had responded by turning on my side to present my back and a cool shoulder. "I will gladly represent Helium. Perhaps Tara and the grandchildren might..."
Even before John replied I knew the answer to that wistful thought. My daughter was too busy—always too busy. Gahan insisted on private tutors. It was nearly impossible to see my daughter's children without a cadre of educators and guards in full attendance.
There was no possibility of Thuvia accompanying me. She was involved with preservation efforts for whatever endangered species had caught her fancy this year. Her children were away from home, spending the new year season with their grandfather in Ptarth. Carthoris, naturally, worked hand in hand with his father, thus I would travel alone to Kaol.
"I spoke to Jed Orl-Dan. His wife Rexa Hultan has agreed to accompany you as handmaiden," John whispered in my ear.
He put his arm about me, a hard column of muscle, and pulled me against his naked length. Damn him for assuming I would want that chattering fool of a young jed's wife as a travel companion and damn him for assuming my response to his caress!
His kisses on my throat warmed me, they fired me.
Damn me for responding!
Rexa Hultan is a beautiful woman. Though my husband claims I am the most beautiful woman on two planets, I sometimes have my doubts as there are many beautiful women in the courts of Barsoom. Rexa is tall, taller than I, and rounded in a plush manner. Her walk is an inviting gentle sway. I wondered if I moved as gracefully across the hanger tower's landing stage.
The Tjanath liner White Diamondhovered at the elevated departure platform. The White Diamondis a 400 passenger ship of new design, portly in appearance to provide more seating and overnight accommodations, yet well-streamlined for adequate speed. The trip to Kaol from Lesser Helium was to take three days and four nights—our departure was scheduled near sunset. John Carter came to see us off, though he was hurried by the presence of Carthoris and two Zodangans who had come to the hanger tower to catch the royal yacht.
"Sorry for the public transport, dear," John kissed me. "Though it might take a day longer, you'll probably enjoy the ride more—it is time for us to think about upgrading our personal transportation."
I smiled in response, though it lacked any emotion. What good would be served if I expressed dissatisfaction or anger? None. There were things I could change and should, and things I could change but shouldn't and there were things that never changed, but should and things I should change but couldn't—and changing John Carter's priorities when "the fate of the world hangs in the balance" as expressed between passionate kisses and making love is not one of those things I will ever change.
Rexa Hultan and I boarded the liner. We paused at the rail to wave goodbye, but Jack, my son, and the stern-faced Zodangans had already walked away. My husband did not look back. Peeved, I almost said something to Rexa, but thought better of it.
"Let us get settled in our cabins," I suggested. "We'll soon be underway."
The cabins aboard the White Diamondwere very adequate. Tjanath liners had a reputation for luxury in the air and I was relieved to find the claims valid. In my life I have traveled rough and have known severe hardship on the journey, therefore I have no desire to repeat such discomfort if avoidable.
The first class maid, a lovely Thern girl, efficiently stored my luggage then left to settle other passengers in our section. I heard heavy noises amidships, obviously large cargo was being taken aboard. Outside the open porthole, which faced away from the immense hanger tower, the view of Lesser Helium was splendid. My father's city lay across the gentle hills, stretching toward the coming sunset, and the subdued colors of private gardens and well-manicured public areas delighted the eye.
I love my country as much as I love my husband. The feelings of love for my family guide my every thought, my entire being. Honor and loyalty, outgrowths of my commitment to love, are very much part of my character. Yet, there is a small part of me that rebels at the convention and expectation—that unquestioned assumption that Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, consort of the Warlord, daughter and granddaughter of Jeddaks, will always be subservient to the needs of government or her husband!
Each year the tiny voice grows more insistent, filling my thoughts. Not the shared thoughts that all Barsoomians, and many of the higher orders of animals exchange telepathically, but those deep, inner voices of the secret mind, the part that is truly Dejah Thoris. I do not heed that voice for I am as rigidly ruled by social requirement as any wretch heeds the slave-master's whip on a Phundahlian slaver's chain. It galls me to have so little say in my destiny, yet I am most grateful to be loved by my heroic American, my family and my people. No arduous life do I lead, there is no physical want which cannot be satisfied, and I have my children and grandchildren; yet, I am unsatisfied at times...
A knock on the door reminds me that I am embarked on this "duty" Jack has asked of me. As there are few servants on the White Diamond, and none in my cabin, I answer the door myself. It was Rexa.
"Oh, do come on deck, dear. The ship is leaving and the view is breathtaking!"
Before I could form a shallow excuse Rexa took my elbow and drew me into the corridor. She closed the cabin door then escorted me topside. "I'll not let you miss it, your highness!"
The White Diamondwas free of all moorings and drifting southwest with the propellers at idle. When it was well away from the tower the props would be adjusted to bite the atmosphere, but at the moment, they provided a slight vibration and a curiously soothing hum.
Rexa took me to the rail where passengers waved to the nearly faceless throng atop the hanger's platform. I knew no one waved to me from below so I looked beyond the tower into the gathering twilight, thinking the sun had set on my life in the years since I fell in love with John Carter, Virginian.
The White Diamond is exceedingly fleet for such a large ship. The crew was well trained. Though the ship stopped at three connection points between Helium and Zodanga, my sleep was undisturbed. The following morning Rexa Hultan and I enjoyed a pleasant breakfast approximately one zode after departing Zodanga. The dining area was on the top deck and was glassed in on three sides facing onto the ship's transom. We could see where the ship had been but could see nothing of the country into which we headed.
"I say, Dejah Thoris, you are such poor company this morning! Did you not sleep well?"
I thinned my lips in apology. "I am preoccupied, dear. Perhaps a walk though Jhuma at the midday lay over will put me right."
Rexa arched a pretty brow. "You mean, 'walk'?"
I laughed. "Is there a problem with your leg? Does it, perhaps, a have a bone in it? Of course, 'walk'. We are grown women, Rexa. We can fend for ourselves."
My companion giggled. "I suppose so, but there are a great many entertainments on board ship."
"Gambling, theater, music...yes, but where is your spirit of adventure, girl? Have you no desire to see new places—and new faces?"
I sometimes forget that lesser royalty never tires of the Warlord's court though I have such utter familiarity with it. I could see Rexa Hultan's disappointment and again I was peeved, but with myself this time. "We'll do whatever you like today. Tomorrow we'll do whatever I like. Deal?"
I will say that Rexa Hultan, though often mistaken as being purely ornamental by those who do not give her credit for having intelligence, is also an intuitive woman when she makes the effort. "Oh, Dee, forgive me. You're the one who never gets out. We'll do what you want this trip. Some other time I will come rescue you from the palace and we'll do whatever I want. I won't take 'no' for an answer."
"Good! Then it's settled."
Shortly after noon, a time scheduled to avoid interference with serving lunch on the White Diamond, the huge Tjanath liner descended to the twin mooring masts of Jhuma, a small city north northwest of Zodanga. There are many such cities in the general area, but from this point on I will not provide specific locations for reasons which will soon become apparent.
We were near Polodana, the equator, and the temperature exceeded that of Helium's warmest days this time of year. Rexa and I wrapped ourselves in light drapes to reflect the greater part of the sun's heat and, in part, to disguise ourselves. We looked no different than the fifty or so passengers who disembarked to sightsee or to make other travel connections in the city. I glanced over my shoulder as we walked away from the ship's elevator, again impressed with the gleaming works of the huge liner hovering a handful of ads above the mooring field. Helium was not yet in production of commercial craft—our industry was primarily involved with manufacturing warships of various sizes for herself and any other nation which could afford to pay the rate.
Rexa was true to her word, being cheerful and enthusiastic. We had three zodes to explore Jhuma, enough time to cross the small city on foot three times over. As much as I love the bustle and vitality of the twin cities of Helium, I have a weakness for the slow pace of small towns, particularly the settlements which ring the great basins of the vanished oceans of Barsoom.
Jhuma had examples of architecture dating back 100,000 years, imposing structures fashioned from the bedrock of the planet. Next to those time-softened buildings were crude shacks cobbled together from such ephemeral materials as wood, canvas, or thoat hides. The juxtaposition of diverging cultures produced a charming ambience, a confirmation that the human existence was as enduring as the land itself.
I walked along, deep in my thoughts, studying everything with a critical eye. Rexa chattered pleasantly, remarking on things which interested her, though she was more intrigued by the color and smell of the place than any links to a distant past.
"And the people," she said. "They seem so friendly."
I chuckled. "The men, or the women, Rexa?"
"What do you mean?"
"If an unescorted woman is friendly to you, then she's probably friendly. If she has a man on her arm and is friendly, she is suspect. If a man is friendly to you, unescorted by a woman or not, he's probably interested in something else. You are gorgeous, Rexa Hultan. You will attract attention."
"No more than you, Dejah," Rexa laughed. "But we are both happily married women and such attentions are beneath our notice." She paused, then leaned closer and added with a wink, "Aren't they?"
We laughed quietly and walked on, arms linked together. I was not quite sure where we were, having turned around one too many times, but had no worries about returning to the ship because we had plenty of time and the town was so small. I simply enjoyed myself walking through the city as a woman—well, yes, a pretty woman—but drawing no further comment than on my beauty. I had no desire to draw attention as the Princess of Helium, or worse, brave the crowds that surely would have gathered had I been on the arm of my husband, Jack Carter, Jasoomian of infernal renown. I chided myself for minor perversities which that little rebel voice flushed out.
I laughed suddenly. "It has been fun getting out by ourselves, Rexa. I do hope you keep that promise to rescue me some time or other. I rarely enjoy a walk on a public street like we are doing right now."
Rexa said nothing, though she nodded, which was exactly the right thing to do. My opinion of the jed's wife rose tremendously.
We found a little shop which produced excellent jewelry and spent a xat there. I treated Rexa Hultan with a small pin as a memento of our visit, and she gave me a beautiful little ring. We walked out admiring our gifts and stopped to have a cool drink at a family-owned inn not far from the mooring field. Refreshed, Rexa and I began to turn unhurried steps toward the White Diamond.
Before we reached the field, however, we had to pass through a run-down section of town, having come nearly full circle in our wanderings. The street itself was clear, the local law enforcement taking some credit in that regard, but each curb was lined with rude hovels in which resided the sick, infirm, lame and deformed. Most larger Barsoomian settlements have such sections of outcasts and it was our ill-luck to have found this one by chance. I am not immune to the suffering of others, but I recognize my inability to help them all—and that realization only makes my empathy more difficult to bear.
Rexa was as quiet as I—our telepathic links were overloaded by the broadcast misery. It was this tremendous mental effect, more than the underlying disease and deformity, which caused the separation of ill from the healthy. My companion gradually wilted under the horrible burden with each step—again causing me to reexamine my preconceptions regarding the beautiful Rexa Hultan.
"Are you all right, dear?" I asked, taking Rexa's arm.
"I will manage," she stammered. "Oh, Dejah, is there nothing we can do?"
Moisture glistened in her eyes. I increased our pace, almost dragging Rexa along.
We were almost clear of the section when I stopped dead, amazed by what I saw. "Go ahead, Rexa. I'll join you shortly."
She would have refused, being loyal, but I pushed Rexa Hultan forward and her feet immediately responded to her inner suffering, though her sense of duty was compromised.
I paid no attention to Rexa after she started walking. I was more concerned with the small huddle squatting at the edge of the curb. The girl was black, like a First Born, but subtly different from that race. This person's hair was densely matted, intricately and tightly curled. Her skin glistened with sweat, something few Barsoomians do. Her nose was quite broad compared to the human races of my planet, though not unpleasant to look upon. Her mouth was large, with full, wide lips. Her cheekbones were high and broad, and her eyes somewhat deep-set beneath a strong brow. She was quite stunning in her appearance—or would have been if she were not half-starved. Legs and arms, where they protruded from the decrepit blanket wrapped about shoulders and body, were stick thin; the joints seemed overlarge because flesh and muscle were so spare.
Her appearance alone would have captured my attention, but it was her low band telepathic despair which drew me to the female. The broadcast was an unintelligible emotional appeal for help, totally devoid of actual communication!
The girl's hand was out, for surely she was not more than that in years, and her voice, dry and uncertain, pleaded, "Teepi. Teepi for the lame."
"You are not lame," I said.
She looked up at me with clouded eyes, as if she had not seen me approach. "Teepi?" she begged.
"Your name?" I asked.
"Teepi?" she repeated.
I asked her name again, but in the English my Jack had taught me over the years. I did so because my Virginian was telepathically inert, but even more so than this girl. "Who are you, child?"
Her reaction was no greater than had been mine when I learned Issus at Valley Dor had intended to kill me. The girl pushed away from me, eyes terrified. She wailed. "Oh Lord, have you sent a red angel to take me?"
As she lay there, arms raised to ward off a spirit or some unseen doom, I saw something else. The poor thing was hideously deformed. Her abdomen was swollen and it was not because of over-eating. Her stomach also displayed that anatomical feature that Jack, but no other except Vad Varo wore—a 'belly button'.
"Calm down, girl," I said. "Do you understand me?"
"Am I dead? Is this hell?"
"This is Barsoom—what your people call the planet Mars. What's wrong with you?"
The girl's terror decreased quickly—sane conversation tends to defuse horror. "What's wrong is I am not where I should be!"
I redirected my question with a pointing finger. "What's wrong?"
"I'm going to have a baby."
Jack had discussed the reproductive functions of his people before we married. He was honest enough to have doubts that we might successfully mate and have offspring. As Jasoomian males are virtually identical anatomically with Barsoomian males, and the difference appears to be centered in the oviparous female, we entered our marriage with great hopes. Thanks to the first ancestor, our species were mutually compatible—which the fertilization of Carthoris and Tara's eggs proved. We have had three other fertilizations, but unfortunately none of the eggs ever quickened. Perhaps our miracle of life was over and only Carthoris and Tara...
That old pain was shoved aside. The black girl on the dirty pavement, naked except for an ugly, unsanitary blanket, was in more need than the admittedly fortunate Princess of Helium. There was a slaver's mark on her upper thigh. a delicate scar indicating a chain originating in Phundahl.
"Where's your master?"
"You mean the yellow bastard who knocked me up and marked me or the black son-of-a-bitch who wailed to his pagan gods when the demon wench began to swell? Everybody's had a turn at Junie Watts. Poor Junie. Poor, poor Junie!"
Her words were less coherent as I have set down here. She wept some, stayed stubbornly silent for a time, she also raged unhappily; I sharpened my voice because we were getting nowhere. "I will help you."
She talked to herself, a symptom of starvation and illness. "Junie, girl, you're seeing things" or "Watch that woman, Junie Watts, they come to take you away."
I helped the girl to her feet and threw that nasty blanket away. She covered her heavy breasts with crossed arms as I removed my white wrap and put it around her. Junie Watts smelled like an unkempt thoat barn. I almost gagged putting my arm around her.
"Calm down, child. Come with me." She was too weak to argue.
Rexa shuddered as I approached with the unsteady girl. "Dee," she forgot herself and called me by the name only Jack used, "what have you done?"
"Nothing, yet. Give me your garment and all the money you have."
"Don't be silly, your highness. Leave that thing. We'll miss our flight!" Rexa was frightened. She looked at Junie Watts as if the girl were the specter of death. I would have none of stupid superstition from Rexa Hultan. "This poor Jasoomian child needs nurturing. She needs a friend."
"Jasoomian? Well, have her put in the hold and take her to Kaol," Rexa said. "The physicians at Kulan Tith's palace would be eager to examine her."
"And that," I said, "is the very reason I will notsubject the girl to their scrutiny. To them she would be an interesting biological oddity rather than a living, breathing, emotionally-scarred young woman. Jasoomian women to do not lay eggs—they bear their children alive—and to my knowledge this is the first such birth on all of Barsoom!"
Rexa considered my words with deliberate calm and quietly agreed. Now that the shock was past and we were away from the telepathic bedlam of the outcasts, Rexa firmed her chin, quite unlike her usual self. "I shall take care of her. I will take her home with me and..."
"And what?" I asked. "Rexa, you are a sweet dear, but believe me, you have no concept of what this girl needs or what is going to happen."
"Do you?" she asked, showing a trace of irritation.
Rexa Hultan was correct and I owed her an apology yet again. "Forgive me, Rexa. That was rude and unnecessary. I just feel I am the one who must do this. Involving you, John Carter, or anyone of my acquaintance would only terrify this poor child. She has begun to trust me," I said and looked down into those brown eyes where Junie Watts sat on a road side bench.
"You said you would come rescue me from the palace, Rexa Hultan. You can do me that service now. This child needs my help. I want to give it. Help me help her."
Rexa was undecided. It was one thing, in her mind, to spirit the Princess of Helium away for a few days of travel and relaxation and something quite different to assisting me in disappearing for a time. The woman lowered her head, twisting her hands nervously.
"Your husband will not sit still, Dejah Thoris. Nor will he think kindly of me for allowing you to do this."
I touched Rexa's hand, for she spoke the truth. "Jack Carter's bark is worse than his bite when it comes to dealing with women. Tell him I said 'Behave yourself, Jack'. Can you do this for me, Rexa?"
She unwrapped the reflective garment and helped me put it on. She unbuckled the girdle at her waist and it was not a light pouch she passed over. "Where will you go?" Rexa Hultan asked.
"The less you know, the better it will be. Wait here with Junie Watts."
I went to a nearby shop and asked for stylus and paper. I also purchased travel bread, fruits, a portion of sliced roast thoat and a handful of hard candies as well as two canteens of mantilla milk. I wrote a message to my husband, returned the stylus to the shopkeeper and hurried back to Rexa, who stopped pacing as soon as she saw me.
I gave Rexa the note. It was open and I made sure she read it:
Rexa brings this message to you personally so you will know I have not been kidnapped—but I am not where I am supposed to be. Do not send out the fleets nor scour the countryside, I do not need rescuing. I need time to myself.
If you love me, you will honor my request.
I will come home in two months time.
I embraced the tall woman. "Thank you. If my husband gives you a hard time call upon yours—that is what they are good for while we take care of day-to-day living."
Rexa shook her head reluctantly. "I feel I'm making a mistake. What if that...that...girl is diseased? What if you catch it and die? I could never forgive myself."
"I have caught that disease before," I chuckled. "I survived and have two lovely children. I will get a message to you—and only you— in a few days. I will not tell you where we are because Junie Watts does not need notoriety at this time, but I will let you know we are all right."
Rexa said nothing, again showing a maturity others had overlooked. We embraced again, then I turned and gathered Junie Watts and the food I had purchased. I took the girl along a direction which should take us near an overland transport company Rexa Hultan and I had passed earlier during the day.
Chapter 2 - Junie Watts:
Living in Hell
The dark-haired woman wrapped me in that white cloth and left the other woman with me. Was the big blond there to keep me from escaping? I didn't know nor did I care; I had suffered so much it hardly mattered where I was or who was with me. I was so sick and weak and weary. I couldn't run anywhere, even if I had a place to run to. I sat on a stone bench beside the road and felt sorry for myself.
I didn't see the red woman return but I looked up when she called my name. "Junie Watts. I have food and drink." She gave me a little of both right then. "Not too much," she said. "You can have more later."
I shuffled along, going where she steered without caring what happened because of the ugliness that had already happened to me.
At some point the other woman disappeared and we reached the edge of the city. We stood outside an overland transport company. "Three thoats," the woman told the proprietor. While the man went to get our thoats, the beautiful woman turned to me.
"You may call me Dee."
"Yes, ma'am." Smart girls don't tell strangers too much.
When the thoats arrived, Dee loaded the supplies onto one and led me to another. She adjusted the saddle like she knew what she was doing and then placed a folded fur on it. She stared at the thoat like she was thinking hard and golly! the animal extended a foreleg and bent down like a trick elephant at a circus. Dee made me step up on the thoat's foreleg and then straddle the creature. I was uncomfortable and scared. My stomach stuck out and overbalanced me so much I thought I would fall.
Dee spoke rapidly to the man, who looked at me like I had two heads. She repeated her request, more forcefully, and the man fetched a harness similar to the kind men used to carry swords and knives and strange pistols. It was not stiff leather; it felt like suede, and Dee directed me by motion and hand on how to put the harness on. Once it was secured the red woman attached a leather strip to a ring at my waist. She fastened the thong's other end to a tie-ring embedded in the saddle. A second thong was attached to my other side and she had me secured to the saddle so I couldn't fall.
"Are you ready, Junie Watts?" Dee asked. I nodded.The lady made the other thoat bow. She stepped up and mounted its back as gracefully as a debutante entering a limousine.
"Don't I need reins or a rope or something to guide this thing?" I asked.
"Think at the thoat. Tell it to follow mine."
"How?" I asked.
Dee made her animal step slowly and the pack animal followed. I tried as hard as I could but nothing happened. The harder I tried, the more erratic the thoat acted. It began squirming uneasily; that scared me and I think it only made things worse.
Dee brought her thoat near mine. "That's all right, Junie Watts. We'll try again later. I will take over for now."
Almost immediately, my thoat settled down and walked beside Dee's. I had seen people ride these ill-tempered beasts, but this was the first time I had seen anyone control three at once and I said as much!
The small woman turned and smiled. "I have had the advantage of studying with my daughter-in-law. She is very gifted at controlling the lower animals. Over the years I have developed my own abilities."
That was all of our first conversation. Dee seemed to sense that I really wasn't ready to talk. I was too concerned watching that huge head full of teeth in front of me. I had seen wild desert thoats fighting and knew they were vicious tempered. I could just see this one turning around to take a bite out of me. After a few hours, however, I realized that wasn't going to happen and some of the fear left me.
As I relaxed little by little, I let myself look around a bit. We had entered hills— mostly covered with odd-looking trees and brush. It was thick as a jungle compared to the open lands and deserts I'd seen far to the north. Every once in a while we crossed a small stream which was usually arched over by tall trees and heavy foliage. It was cooler there compared to the hot sun which seemed always over head.
At one stream Dee stopped the animals and dismounted. She motioned for me to do the same. My fingers and hands worked okay, but when I tried to step down, my legs and feet acted funny.
"Too long in the saddle and not enough food. We'll rest here for a few hours and eat something. We might even take a bath."
Dee pushed the wrap back from my head and touched my hair and dirty scalp. I lowered my eyes, ashamed. "See that small pool over there? You go strip and soak while I start dinner. I'll come help you in a minute."
I never had a woman other than my grandmother wash my hair. I certainly never had no lady like Dee scrub me where I couldn't reach or towel me dry and then feed me something like a stew all thick and good tasting.
"Feel up to riding a little further?" Dee asked after washing and putting everything away. "The man at the transport company said we should be able to make the next town before full dark. There's an inn there."
We rode until twilight, which isn't much here, night coming swift as a gunshot. Dee slowed the animals in the road and looked ahead for a long minute. "It could be over the next hill, or it could be haads, miles, away. We'll camp on that knoll over there beside that gloresta bush."
Dee made a tent from what looked like a napkin and in the morning she folded it back to napkin size. The material was extremely light and thin, but so strong that you couldn't tear it. It kept us out the cold night wind as we snuggled into our furs.
At noon of the third day we stopped to eat at a beautiful little canyon just off the main road. After we ate, I lay down behind one of the thoats to rest. I must have dozed because I was awakened by a commotion nearby.
A large red man had wrestled Dee to the ground. It didn't take much to figure out he meant to do—I had been there myself.
Dee fought like a tiger. She twisted and turned and scratched. The man kept losing his grip because she was no lady and knew how to hurt a man. She had been good to me and I couldn't stand by and do nothing. I jumped to my feet, looking for something to hit him with. The thoat squealed when I moved so suddenly and the man looked up, surprised. Then he grinned at me, turning his attention back on the lady. But before I could do anything at all, he grunted hard and went stiff, then funny limp.
Dee cursed softly as she wiggled out from under. I ran to help her, confused. I pulled hard on the man and he just rolled over, flopping his arms and I saw it. Dee reached out and pulled a slim knife from the man's twitching body.
"Thank you, Junie Watts. You distracted him at the right time."
"Oh, Lord!" I gasped, covering my mouth. My stomach churned at the sight of all that blood on Dee and the knife and oozing from that man's chest. I threw up everything that I had eaten that day. Pregnancy sure is a pain.
Dee helped me to sit and used some of our water to wash my face. "Put this over your eyes," she said, pressing the damp cloth across my brow. "You'll feel better."
I did, and it did, but I also knew she made me do it so I couldn't see her drag that man's body into the brush. I was weak and scared.
"We can't stay here," Dee started packing. "He might have friends. "I'll get that, Junie Watts. You just get mounted and hold on tight."
A few minutes later the red woman had all three thoats at a bone-jarring gallop. Oh, she seemed like some heroine of mythology, riding straight-backed astride her monstrous mount. Her head held high, her face composed, you wouldn't believe just a short time earlier she'd snarled and bit and fought and killed a man.
We stayed off the main road, but riding within sight of it for a few miles, then Dee turned toward a stand of forest stretching across the hills like a rumpled blanket. We were soon under the canopy and after entering a hundred feet or so, Dee slowed the thoats to a walk.
"He must have followed us from the last town. He wanted this," she slapped the pocket pouch on her harness, which jingled with the sound of coins, "and decided he wanted a little more. His mistake—and mine. I apparently failed to watch our back trail and in nearly cost us dear. I will not make that mistake again."
She talked to me more than I talked to her. I wanted to tell her she was the best person I had met since I woke up on Barsoom, as she called it. I wanted to, but old habits die hard. Revealing yourself, giving others something they can use against you is for the stupid. Dee seemed nice enough, but was she really my friend? I had seen her kill a man and then take off as if nothing had happened. I was as much in fear as awe of her.
That evening, we ate a small meal and retired to the tent. I lay thinking about my life on Barsoom and about the woman who had practically adopted me.
"Dee," I ventured, "why are all men such beasts?"
"Not all of them are. It's just that the bad ones are the only ones you hear about," she answered. "There are many good men. They just don't stand out like the bad."
I hesitated. "Most of the men I've known were fiends. They care for no one but themselves and what they can get."
Dee sat for a few minutes, then she said, "I'll listen if you want to talk."
"As if talking ever did any good!" was my sarcastic reply. I rolled over and my side and pretended to sleep.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to talk about the past few months.
I wouldn't tell her about the deaths of the only people who had seemed to care about the black people on earth. She wouldn't understand because slavery wasn't limited to blacks on Barsoom. I had seen red, yellow and black men and women enslaved. Why, I had even seen a giant four-armed green man wearing a collar!
The red woman sat at the open tent flap looking out. She was wrapped in a fur against the temperature which was dropping rapidly. "Aren't you sleepy, child?" she asked.
"You wanted to know about me," I began.
Dee turned to face me. "Only if you want, Junie."
"Ok," I said. "You already know that I come from Earth. I don't know how I got here or why, but I awoke on a plain with short pink grass. I had no clothes or anything—no water, no food, nothing. I didn't know where I was, or even if I was alive. It didn't feel like Heaven, but I wasn't sure if it was Hell.
"That first night I took shelter between two large boulders to keep from freezing. I saw two moons; one traveled so much faster than the other that it rose and set twice before I could sleep.
"After three days without food or water an ugly yellow man with a beard nearly to his waist found me. He wore a harness, but nothing else. He had a short knife and a large pistol-like object. He rode a thoat that also carried a large pack.
"He yammered at me. I didn't understand what he was saying but I knew that look. He looked at me like I was something he could take and own.
"He scared me with that look and jabbering and I tried to run away but he rode me down and knocked me over with his animal. He dismounted as I staggered to my feet. He grabbed me and touched me ugly and I tried to get his knife. Oh," I cringed with memory and covered my head, "he beat me so bad I passed out."
I couldn't talk any more. Dee reached out and took my hand reassuringly. It was her way of reminding me that I wasn't out on that desert and that I wasn't alone anymore. For the first time I almost let myself believe a person not of my race might be a friend. I sniffled and wiped my eyes then continued:
"When I awoke, I found my feet and hands in chains and a collar fastened around my neck.
"As soon as he saw that I was awake, the bastard crawled on top of me. I tried to fight but there wasn't a thing I could do and he was rough and violent and then he was done. He laughed at me all curled up and crying.
"That night the yellow man took a long piece of steel from his pack and heated it in the fire. He kept checking the end of it until it was red hot. Then, without warning, the bastard branded me!"
I covered that mark on my thigh, still ashamed to bear it. It wasn't horrible looking, it was almost attractive, but it wasn't how it looked that made it so ugly, it was what it stood for that made it completely hideous.
"The pain was so great I fainted. The next morning he used me then kicked me to rebuild the fire to cook what he set out. I did not understand so he said a word and hit me and said it again and hit me and said it until I said it and did it and every day thereafter that's how he taught me enough language to do what he wanted.
"It wasn't much because he was not an imaginative or industrious man. Besides topping me almost daily, he made potions from plants he had me grind with mortar and pestle, foul-smelling medicines he sold to occasional travelers or in small, dusty villages we sometimes entered.
"He was never comfortable in a town. Always nervous like a thief, which I think he also was. But in the towns he had another use for me, one that lined his pockets better than the income from his obnoxious and ineffective potions. He sometimes sold use of my body to whoever paid his price.
"For nearly one hundred days we traveled south with me walking and carrying a pack while he rode the thoat. I did not know the word for slave, but I had rapidly learned what slavery was like.
"I never heard his name in all my time with him, or if I did, I didn't recognize it as such.
"One day, as we traveled through an unpopulated area, I heard a whirring noise overhead. Above me was a strange airplane or something like it. Its wings were close to the side and shaped to catch the most air possible. The plane, for that's what I considered it, was only large enough for 1 or 2 people. It hung directly over us, hovering like a helicopter.
"A man's face looked over the low rail. His face was black, even blacker than my own.
"The plane moved to the side and began to descend, coming to rest less than ten feet from us. A tall, black man stepped from the plane. I saw that he wore a harness from which hung two swords and various other things that could have be weapons. Like my yellow master, he was naked as Adam.
"I was surprised when the man bowed deeply to me! He began to speak but I understood one word in ten. The yellow man stepped between and said something disparaging by the tone of his voice. The black man drew himself erect, a formidable sight, and made a sneering reply. Soon he and the yellow man were in an argument. The words grew more heated until the yellow man grabbed me by the hair and pulled me forward. He lifted and spread my leg, shaming me terribly, and showed the black man the mark burned into my leg.
"The black man scowled for a moment then made an inquiry. The yellow man shook his head. The stranger asked again, only this time he produced a pouch that jingled loudly when he shook it. The yellow man stroked his beard thoughtfully. He made a counter-offer and the black man scowled, but agreed. He tossed the pouch and the pistol-like weapon to the yellow man. My master smiled at the deal made and stripped the pack from my shoulders. Before I knew what he was about, the man had shoved me to the ground before the black. I had been sold!
"The black man lifted me up. He carried me to the side of his plane and placed me on the floor where. I was strapped down and warned to silence when I began weeping. He said words which I did not understand, other than 'Wait...silence...'
"He walked toward the yellow man, who was counting coins from one hand to the other. My old master grinned as the black man approached. The yellow man spoke a few words pleasantly then suddenly shrieked when the black man's short sword flashed in the air. The scream stopped instantly and the black man took the pouch and the gun before the yellow man slumped to the ground. It was then his head rolled off!"
I still remembered that horrible sight. I closed my eyes, but nothing can ever make it go away. I wept then, sobbing out of control. Dee gently pushed me down into the sleeping furs and covered me. She stroked my forehead until I went to sleep.
In the morning I was alone in the tent. I heard sounds like none I'd ever heard before, pleasant, restful sounds. I stuck my head outside the flap and saw Dee sitting on a fallen tree trunk carving what looked like a lizard. I heard the tiny snaps and pops of a fire and all around us hums and buzzes like insects, only larger and more harmonious. Toward the sunrise I saw something fly into the air. It looked like a bird, or what passed as birds here.
The red woman smiled at me. "Hungry?"
"Yes ma'am!" I said with a silly grin.
"See that tree over there? That's a sompas. That big round fruit is a somp and it's good eating. Want to pick a few?"
I tried my legs, which were still sore from riding, but much stronger with rest and food. I picked the somp, four of them, and returned to the fire. Dee continued skinning the lizard.
"About last night," I said. "I'm sorry I went to pieces like that."
"Dear girl, there is nothing to be apologetic about. I am afraid you have not seen our world at its best."
"That is true," I said, "because after Holkat killed that man...that was the black man's name, Holkat...he had his plane off the ground and we started to move in a south-easterly direction.
"I knew so few words then, but I managed to ask if he was going to kill me.
"'No.' he said.
"I asked if he was going to use me." For some reason it was not as terrifying to make that statement to Dee at dawn. "He only said, 'I am Holkat.'
"I had been bought so I assumed I was Holkat's slave. I believed he would use me like the yellow man had but nothing happened during the flight.
"Finally we landed in a ruined village. There Holkat led me into the only building with a complete roof where he removed my chains. 'Here," he said.
I helped him unload some cases from the machine before the sun went down. He produced an odd little lamp that burned a kind of oil and produced an intensely white light. He hung a blanket over the open doorway and banked a small fire near the open window. As night fell so did the temperature but the little fire helped and I stood as close as I dared without getting in Holkat's way. I had learned to avoid my yellow master and I felt it wise to watch carefully to anticipate what the black man would want so he wouldn't beat me for being stupid or slow.
"'Sit,' he told me. I did, and he fed me some travel rations which had little or no taste, but left me full and satisfied for the first time in months. Later he tossed me a blanket and soon I was as comfortable as if I were by my Granny's wood stove in Joplin.
In the days that followed Holkat attempted to teach me his language. I never had a head for language and had very little luck, but he treated me decently enough.
"Each morning I loaded the flier while Holkat practiced his weapons. He always practiced and I watched from the corner of my eye. He was grace and strength and beauty and I knew him to be deadly. He fascinated me. He was so unlike any man I had ever seen, black, white or yellow. He treated me well and fed me as much as he ate...or it seemed that way.
"Holkat was a merchant like the yellow man, but he was a merchant with a purpose and dealt honestly. He sold weapons. Swords, knives, guns of all kinds. He had a compartment on his flier that held his goods.
"For ten days Holkat and I traveled, stopping wherever he saw wagons or towns or small cities. He had me help set up his booth and after the first few times, I learned how to do it alone while he called in his customers with grand gestures and strong voice.
"Oh, Dee, he was handsome and strong and honest. He dealt fairly with his buyers who never went away dissatisfied. In the evenings, after he counted his income, or hunted if we had not found customers, he talked to me and I learned words from him, more words that helped me make some sense, though far from total understanding, of my new world.
"Then one night he came to my furs and lay beside me, his hand possessive. I wept, disappointed and frightened because I had been stupid and thought he might respect me. 'You belong to Holkat,' he said. 'Slave,' he said, stroking my little brand.
"He had his way with me, but he was gentle and kind and it was not unpleasant. In fact, it was a duty far from arduous and, Lord forgive me, I came to desire Holkat greatly.'
Dee interrupted by handing me a plate of broiled lizard. She showed me how to peel a somp and laughed as the juices squirted unexpectedly. It was sweet to the taste. After I had eaten a good portion the red woman asked, "What happened with Holkat?"
I shrugged. "Like most men I know back on Earth, he couldn't face the responsibility of a pregnant woman. I mean, after we'd been together a few months I was getting round with the baby."
I shook my head. "Earlier than that, I think. I must have been pregnant before Holkat took me from the Okarian." Dee had told me what yellow men were called. "There were so many men before Holkat."
"It sounded like Holkat had come to value you."
"He had," I sighed. "But he did not understand this." I placed both hands on either side of my swollen abdomen.
"I will be honest with you, child. You will find none on this planet who will understand. You see, you are unique on Barsoom. To my knowledge no Jasoomian female has ever made the voyage from your planet to ours."
Dee went on to explain reproduction on Mars and many things became clear. Martian women lay eggs like a chicken, only larger, about half the size of my fist, and they can lay as many as thirteen at a time! The eggs are kept in incubators and five years later a half sized physically mature almost adult person is hatched.
"I must look like a monster to you," I said to Dee.
"Hardly! Now that you have had some food and rest and clean air and frequent baths, you look wonderful."
"I wish I could believe you, Dee."
We packed camp and before long we were again mounted and on the move. This time, however, we stayed in the forest traveling westward according to the slanting beams of sunlight piercing the canopy. The nailless footpads of the thoats made no sound as we moved through the forest which was relatively free of underbrush the deeper we entered.
"Tell me how you came to be in Jhuma, Junie Watts."
I lowered my head, for it was not a pleasant memory. "Holkat asked me why Issus wanted to punish him. I finally understood Issus was a god of some kind and that he blamed my condition on something he had done. I told him it was natural for a woman from my planet to get pregnant, but for all his intelligence and strength and grace, he was incredibly stupid on this subject.
"'You are cursed!' he screamed at me our last night. He screamed and ranted and threatened to cut me open to let the poison out. I begged him to spare me . 'Unholy female! Abomination!' and other things I did not understand and cannot recall now, but I remember his voice, verging on terror and insanity. How stupid and so how like a man, I thought to myself.
"He paced and talked all night. I pleaded for his understanding but as the hour grew late, as his desperation increased, I tried to reach him but he shook me off. He threw a blanket at me and I thought he was going to smother me with it, but he turned his back and went to the flier.
"'You will sleep on the ground,' he told me.
"I thought Holkat would see things differently in the morning, but when dawn arrived, I found myself abandoned in the dry hills north of Jhuma—though I did not know where I was at the time.
"Holkat left me nothing but that blanket...the one you found me wearing. I wandered for days without food or water and entered Jhuma by accident. I begged for food or money in order to live. The Barsoomians are not very generous, especially to those they think deformed. I nearly starved. I finally reached a point where I felt that I must die.
"I sought poisons among the other beggars only to be laughed at. Nobody could afford poison; why not jump off a building or run a knife in yourself?
"I had no knife, but I did find a piece of large, sturdy wire which would do the same thing, but as I stood with that lethal bit of metal in hand, ready to plunge it into by heart, the child moved in my stomach. It moved, Dee! Oh, you cannot know how wonderful that is...to know that a life is growing inside you. The movement, my baby, did something Holkat's kindness and generosity and purchase from the Okarian had not done: it gave me a purpose, a reason to live.
"When my crying was over, I tightened my ragged blanket and headed for the corner where I had seen some of the passengers of the great ships drift. I expected nothing."
Dee looked at me with sad eyes. "Life on Barsoom is harsh, Junie Watts. Our world is dying and death is an integral part of our culture. Yes, you are correct to say I do not know what it is like to have a life grow inside me, but I do know what it is like to deposit my egg in an incubator, to watch over it, to nurture it for five years, and then to be there to instruct and love my offspring. Motherhood may have differences in mechanics between our two species, but on the whole I do not believe we are so different after all."
The baby kicked me again. I must have made some outward sign, because Dee asked if I were feeling well. I explained what had happened. "Would you like to feel it?"
I took her slim hand, the hand which had stabbed a man to death, and placed it on my distended belly. Junior obliged and was very vigorous.
"Oh!" Dee cried happily.
Two days later we emerged from the forest at the edge of a moss-covered depression so deep that afternoon shadows filled it like water. Instead of riding into it, down to where water might lay, the red woman turned our thoats northwest and we followed the rim of the vast basin.
"There should be a village along here," she told me.
At nightfall we came into a tiny settlement comprised of six buildings made of wood. The people were reluctant at first, until they realized we were only two unescorted women. I kept my white wrap draped around me while Dee openly carried her knife, the short sword and the pistol she had taken from the body of the man who had attempted to rape her. She wore the weapons with confidence, but the people of the settlement were not interested in doing us harm.
We were told a larger town, a town with a physician, lay ninety haads west. At dawn we rode hard into and across the depression, the thoats relishing the hard gallop. These creatures, I had learned, where champions of travel, accomplishing as much as a hundred miles a day! Fortunately we did not have that far to travel.
The sun was perhaps an hour from sunset when we came upon our first sign of humans all day. A farmer worked his fields with a huge mastodon-like animal Dee called a zithidar.
"Sir," Dee let the thoats stand easy, "we are told a town is near."
The farmer nodded, pointed over his shoulder. "Six haads beyond the hill. There is a stream from a spring. Cross it at the red rocks and then right for two haads."
"Thank you," Dee answered. "Can you tell me if there is a doctor or physician there?"
"That would be Milieos," the man replied. "He won't treat strangers."
Dee smiled. Negatives were common traits among the rural communities. They usually had so little there was nothing to spare for strangers.
"Thank you for the directions. May your fields prosper." Dee put the thoats into motion. After we were beyond earshot she said, "Well, Junie Watts, let us see if the doctor is more amenable."
Chapter 3 - Milieos:
The day had been long. I had gladly sent my most recent patient home at the noon hour, a brawny youth who had stepped on a discharged calot tree spine. A moment's work with knife, grips, and antiseptic put the fellow right, though he'd be running no errands for the local Dator for a few weeks.
Nightfall was near and I dreaded the darkness. I dreaded the hours between sundown and sunup, for I would toss inconsolably in my sleeping furs as Cluros and Thuria chased each other through the skies. Each night I relived the horror, calling fervently to Issus to undo the past, to take me. To take my miserable life instead of my family's. But Issus never hears.
At night the memories come. There is no stopping them. Even the anesthetic qualities of strong wine do little to dull the pain.
Thulium was, and still is, a peaceful town nestled in a deep fold of Barsoom's rocky soil. Here runs a rare stream running northward to the distant Rift Valley where Kamtol lies. Our stream has no name, but the waters sustain a riot of life. Food we have in abundance, there are dense forests extending east and west for two karads. Along the valley floor black soil, sediment eroded from the ancient mountains southwest of Thulium, supports a lush grass upon which large herds of thoats and zithidar graze.
My sire was the first of Kamtol's Dators to take land beyond the Rift. He founded Thulium with a handful of retainers in the wake of the uneasy peace imposed by John Carter. I have two brothers and a sister, each with interests different than mine.
I had gone abroad to become a physician because my brother Senca rightfully preceded me as next to rule upon father's death. My studies took me to Toonol, then later to Helium, and when I was satisfied I could learn no more, I returned to Thulium with my new skills. But I did not come alone. I had taken a wife, a woman of the red race who filled my heart with great happiness.
I met Alia at the training hospital at Hastor. I was completing my fourth year of study at the time and had been assigned trauma care for the last two months. I was on night duty when this tiny woman, fighting panic, rushed into the hospital carrying a new-hatched infant.
"The doctor," she demanded. "My child cannot breathe."
My metal proclaimed my occupation. "I can help, if you let me."
Torn by anguish which I did not understand, she glanced down at the boy. His color was pale, his breathing labored. "Save him!" she cried, placing her child in my arms.
A quick examination revealed a fragment of egg shell lodged in the boy's throat. Moments later he rested easy in his mother's arms. I remember Alia's words as if they were yesterday: "It is ironic to know that a man of the race that killed my husband would be the one to save my son's life."
I followed up on the boy's condition, though it was hardly necessary for such a routine care-giving. But follow up I did, and one thing led to another. Alia and I found comfort and love, and her son became my son, and I brought them home to Thulium. I had hoped my father would accept Alia as his daughter, and I am sure he would have, but he was not at Thulium. Senca, my eldest brother, ruled as Dator in father's absence.
Senca was loud and arrogant, but he was fair-minded toward those under his care. He continued father's practice of accepting all who would settle in Thulium would they but be an asset to the community, which meant we had red men living with black and even white Therns were welcome. Senca, however, privately spoke to me expressing concern over my mixed marriage, though he was ever the gentleman in Alia's presence.
Senca had done well managing Thulium. I was given a house at the edge of town to facilitate general access to my professional skills. Alia loved the place because it was hers and because it was near my sister's.
Kulua, my sister—and eldest of siblings—had followed her heart to become an artist. She had as yet taken no man, having humorously expressed little desire to have her life complicated by "love or men." I had no concerns for Kulua, for she was sensible and well-loved not only by her patrons, but by the people of Thulium.
Folkar, my youngest brother, worked as a machinist, in part because he was clever with his hands and brain, but also because he was born with a malformed leg. I had offered to correct his deformity after I became a physician. Folkar had laughingly refused. "How would a straight leg improve the work of my hands? No, Milieos, I am content." My brother was content, as was I with Alia, the boy, and our lives in Thulium.
I was content until the band of Warhoons attacked our valley.
There were twenty fierce green men in the raiding party. I remember the earthquake-like rumble of racing thoats as they plummeted down the narrow streets of our village. Alia and the boy were outside the house. I tried to get to them as sounds of fighting came near. Into the street I ran, calling Alia's name.
"Milieos!" she cried as a giant shadow fell upon us. I looked over my shoulder to see the steel-tipped head of a forty-foot Warhoon spear aimed at me.
By chance the weapon struck obliquely across my temple then the thoat's shoulder sent me flying into a wall. I lay stunned with broken ribs, unable to do more than watch, in horror, as the thoat's huge pads trampled my wife and child. The monster steed continued on, leaving ragged, bloody lumps in the street.
Painfully, I pulled myself side the house. Outside the battle grew more intense as the townsfolk organized themselves. I retrieved the radium pistol my father had given me as a youth. I had never fired it at a living thing, but when I stepped out of the house, I drew aim upon the first Warhoon I saw and pressed the firing stud. Whether the green man I shot was the one who killed my family, or not, I do not know, but I felt grim satisfaction when his upper torso exploded with the shell's detonation.
Up the street the soft sound of rifle fire sent a volley into the massed Warhoons. Two were wounded, one seriously. Senca's strong voice directed his guard to fire again, and another green man was hit. I fired into the mob and a thoat squealed with pain. At that point, the Warhoons gathered the plunder they had collected and raced south. I shot the arm off another before they rode out of sight.
I ran to Alia. I almost fainted for there was nothing recognizable—her skull was crushed, her body broken, her internal organs trampled into the dust. Not even fabled Ras Thavas could save my wife, or my son. My life was suddenly empty of all purpose.
It was then I learned to hate. I hated the barbarians who had murdered my family so hideously. For weeks afterwards the color green was sufficient to build a rage within my soul. It was then that I struggled against hating Senca, for he had not approved of Alia and I could not help thinking he had done nothing until "the problem" had been taken care of by the Warhoons. Oh, I did not wish to hate my brother!
Kulua stayed with me during my convalescence. I allowed that for three weeks then gently threw her out. I closed the door to my house and locked it for two days and when I was done weeping, I commenced my practice once again.
Our people were strong and healthy so I had free time on my hands. Alia and the boy had occupied that free time, but they were gone. Most of the time I slept, occasionally treating an injury or illness. I slept because I couldn't sleep. I was haunted at night by crimson nightmares filled with fanged Warhoons trampling those who were most dear to me. I slept because I drank to oblivion, seeking the solace of forgetfulness. I no longer cared what vintage was poured into my despair, I cared only for its effects, not its bouquet.
I stared at the bottle in hand. It shook.
"What would Alia think?" I asked the question I asked each night, the one question guaranteed to make me open the bottle. I did not wish to know what Alia would think!
I took a long pull from the bottle then crossed my arms on the table and let my head fall. "Coward," I muttered. "Weakling."
The sun was almost gone when I heard the scrape of a boot upon my walk. I took another drink, wishing they would go away. There was a knock.
I growled harshly. "It better be an emergency! Come in!"
The sun was behind the forest-clad hills, the after-glow silhouetting two figures in the open door.
"You are Milieos, the doctor of Thulium?" came a well-bred voice. The accent was equatorial.
"I am. Who are you?"
"A light, sir. May we have a light for conversation?"
I drank before answering. "Unhood the lamp beside you."
The shorter person entered and fumbled at the wall momentarily, then unhooded the radium bulb. As if she knew I'd bark otherwise, she left it half- covered. The woman was of the red race, medium height and black hair. She was beautiful, though her face was dirty and her clothes more so.
"My name is Dee," the red woman said. "We need the services of a doctor."
I ignored the frown she had for the bottle in my hand. "What city?" I asked the black girl with her.
The woman called Dee answered. "She does not speak well. She—"
"Let her speak for herself, woman!" Turning to the black girl I asked the question again and added, "What ails you?"
"Nothing that nine months won't cure," came the sullen answer.
I took a longer pull from the bottle, then set it down with a sharp bang. Both women jumped, but with different reactions. The red woman had her hand on a knife, the black girl seemed to shrink upon herself. "In," I scowled. "Close the door. You, Dee, you will have no cause to use that."
Her eyes narrowed for an instant, then she relaxed. Going to the black girl, Dee supported her. "Can she sit down? She's very fatigued."
As she did, the black girl's cloak-like garment opened and I saw something that penetrated the wine-fog. She appeared to be to be hideously deformed. Since such addled hatchlings were usually given to the bosom of the Iss, my gaze became more clinical. Her deformity was in her stomach area, and it was not just overeating that had caused it. Her body was normally frail, but this malady had caused her a lot of bloating. Her stomach was quite distended. I was at a loss to explain the condition without further study. Upon further reflection, and in the light of the radium bulb, I decided the woman's features were unlike the First Born, though her skin was similar in hue. Her nose had arched, flaring nostrils, and her lips were wider and softer. It was her eyes that held me. They seemed dull at times, then would flash like olive lightening.
The black woman said in a barbarous accent, "This looks more like the Free Clinic. What a dump."
Her direct manner intrigued me. Her plain clothes bespoke a low upbringing, in stark contrast to the ill-fitting middle-class clothes of her companion. Dee tried to hide her true station with a rough cloak, I could tell by her stance that she was every inch a princess. What an odd pair these two made.
"I am Milieos," I confirmed. "How may I be of service?" The last line I delivered with no small amount of sarcasm. The red woman picked it up immediately.
"First by having an open mind," Dee began, a warm smile clashing with her aristocratic manner. "This woman is in great need of professional medical attention. She has been through great travail and has journeyed not only over this world, but has been cast forth from Jasoom."
Already Intrigued by the black woman's malady, I was unsurprised by the disclosure of her interplanetary origin. "Jasoom? Only John Carter and Vad Varo have so traveled."
"To acknowledge such beyond this room would eclipse the plight of this young woman, who is with child in the Jasoomian manner."
"Shell of my first ancestor!" I swore, becoming truly interested at last. "A Jasoomian child!"
"Indeed. That is why she needs attention. In the manner of Jasoomians, she carries this child within her belly for nine of their months then delivers it alive. Already, much time has passed, and her life has been hard."
The black woman spoke again, showing a quiet defiance. "I be dragged around this dusty hell long enough. If you're a doctor then I need you to look and see if my baby's ok. Do you have an x-ray?"
"That is not one of the nine rays of Barsoom." I replied. "Perhaps you are mistaken and your condition is merely the consequence of a Jasoomian female on Barsoom."
"Dee," the black girl said, "he don't understand."
The red woman put her hand on the girl's shoulder, but she spoke to me. "Junie Watts has explained x-rays come from a device that uses the emissions of radium to produce a picture of her baby. I told her we do not have x-ray machines, but we do have sound-imaging."
I drank some wine, trying to keep from laughing. "Radium radiation? We know how harmful these emissions are. As for sound-images, I'm afraid my equipment is rather limited."
Intriguing or not, I was not happy with the visitation—I had not yet reached the desired level of numbness. I was also irritated by the red woman who appeared to understand modern techniques and state of the art equipment. "I have nothing like the major hospitals. Perhaps it would be best if you go find one and leave me alone."
The Jasoomian looked up at the red woman. "Let us go, Dee. I don't like him."
As if I weren't sitting there at my own table the red woman replied, "I do not like him either, but we have come far today and you are worn out. And you, sir, are drunk!"
"Not yet," I chuckled without mirth. "Sleep in the waiting room for all I care. Good night."
My head throbbed when I woke. It was a familiar pain, a pain that kept my mind diverted from the horrible memory which haunted my life. I stumbled from my sleeping chamber, legs unsteady, vision clouded, and entered into the main room. I abruptly stopped, confused.
"Who are you?" I asked the red woman standing at my stove.
"My name is Dee," she said. "We met last night. This is my friend, Junie Watts."
I staggered to the cistern and dipped a cloth into the cool water. I washed my face. "I remember. That is my food you are cooking."
"I will pay. You look as if you could use some. Sit."
Imperious wench! Though I was angered I sat at the table. Junie Watts, at Dee's direction, set a plate and drink before me. My tortured stomach, too long without real food, tightened with anticipation. I could do nothing until I had eaten.
Dee fed the black girl and herself. She made Junie Watts sit at the table. The red woman ate steadily with proper decorum, stopping occasionally to prod Junie Watts to eat breakfast. Halfway through her meal, Dee spoke pleasantly:
"Junie Watts has a sad past. After her arrival, she was enslaved and mistreated. It is by luck that her hatchling has survived thus far."
"You appear to know a great deal about Jasoomian reproduction."
For an instant the woman's composure was penetrated. By only so little as a slight start did I know she was discomforted; yet, she continued as if nothing had happened. "Junie Watts is knowledgeable about her own body. We have talked during our travels. She does not speak our language well so that is why I speak for her."
The woman was a mystery—obviously well-educated and used to having her own way, she had anticipated my questions and answered them in a fashion that prevented me from pursuing them without acting rudely.
"What is it you want of me. I know nothing of Jasoomian births."
"You are a physician. You have a duty and obligation to administer..."
"I do? Where is that written, my lady?"
The woman's hand stopped between mouth and plate. Dee lowered her eyes apologetically. "I beg pardon, Milieos. I have been most rude and inconsiderate of your hospitality and position."
Dee abruptly rose. She produced several gold tampi from a belt pouch and the oval coins rang slightly as she placed them on the table. Turning to Junie Watts Dee placed a hand under the girl's arm. "We must go."
"Yes, Dee," the black girl sighed.
Gathering the folds of her drape in one hand, Junie Watts came to her feet. Her thin legs seemed too frail to support the distended belly. Her limbs shook, though whether that was weakness from disease or exhaustion I could not say. Junie Watts looked at me strangely, as if filled with disappointment, then allowed the red woman to lead her away from the table.
Suddenly, the black woman shuddered and clutched her stomach. She cried out in some odd tongue as Dee put an arm around her.
Perhaps it was the food which cleared my thinking, perhaps it was an attack of belated conscience. "Take her in there," I pointed to the next room. When Dee asked a question with her eyes I hardened my voice. "I cannot examine her here."
Junie Watts required help to sit on the table. Her skin was dry and rough, her temperature warmer than normal. Then my brain asked: Warmer than normal—for which species?
I could not again help but notice the subtle differences between a black woman of Jasoom and the First Born—not only in features, but the skin tone was not pure black; it contained hints of brown.
"The pain—it is passed now?" I asked.
"A contraction. It means that my body's getting ready. Don't you all women have contractions?"
"Only if she is eggbound. If left uncorrected, the female may die. Is this 'contraction' normal, Junie Watts?"
"What kind of doctor are you? Where's all your fancy equipment? Even the jivest clinic in Selma has got some equipment."
"As I said, my resources are limited. Lie back."
"All I do is 'lie back'," Junie frowned.
Dee watched my examination closely. She held the girl's hand and I saw the protective gleam in the red woman's eyes. For some reason this woman—who was not what she seemed—had taken an interest in the black Jasoomian.
I placed my hands on Junie Watts' belly. Gentle pressure against tight skin revealed a series of unusual protrusions within the abdominal cavity. One protrusion moved spontaneously as I touched it. My eyes widened. "What was that? Are you subject to involuntary spasms?"
"That's the baby kicking," Junie said. "It don't like where it's at."
"I see. The embryo has changed position. Yes, that is consistent with shell growth behavior."
Palpitation of the breasts indicated some swelling and hardening. "Tender?" I asked when the girl made a slight face. "Lactation has begun. Again, similar to Barsoomian females."
The pelvic examination, however, revealed substantial differences between species. The Jasoomian's urinary tract shared locations with the reproductive organ rather than being a subsystem of the alimentary tract. A brief question to Junie Watts confirmed the male of the species was constructed similarly.
"I assume there are less obvious internal differences, but, Junie Watts, other than showing the obvious stresses of your travail, plus some malnutrition, you seem in good health. How close to laying are you?"
"I don't lay, man," she said, her smile a perfect semicircle of gleaming teeth. "This baby is going to come out of me after the bag of water its been growing in breaks. It will be attached to me by an umbilical cord."
"You must tell me all," I said, genuinely interested.
"That may take a great deal of time," said Dee.
"Do we have time?" I asked, helping Junie Watts up, gesturing she could dress.
"Perhaps a month. Until that time, I must arrange some place to live."
I shrugged. "We have no traveler's inn. Thulium is not a place many seek out. We are on the way to nowhere."
"Then you shall provide a place for us."
"You demand much," I countered quickly. "You are not the wife of a Dator to make such demands and I am not a court lackey."
"Why!" Dee exploded, her red coloring turning deep. "You cannot refuse me, for I am —" She hesitated and I knew I had her.
"I am willing to pay well," Dee snapped. "I do not ask for myself, Milieos of Thulium, but for this poor girl."
I hesitated because I had been alone for so long. I was not ready to have others interfere with my grief and self-destruction. I had answered to no one but myself and the responsibility having these women in my house was discomforting. I turned away from Dee so she could not see my shadow pain: I missed Alia and the boy.
The red woman assumed I was not satisfied with the promise of payment. "I will cook meals and maintain the residence, Milieos. Junie Watts needs rest and care. Her child will need care in the beginning."
"How do you know this?" I asked.
"I—junie Watts and I have talked. I have heard scholars speculate. I know my own instincts."
I did not call her a liar, but I sensed a different truth besides the ones she spoke. Oh, Issus, her accent was so like Alia's!
"There are two rooms on the second floor," I said. "You may take one. Junie Watts will sleep down here."
"We will stay together," Dee said.
"This girl cannot climb ladders."
"No ramp?" the woman asked.
I shook my head.
"Then you shall have to take one of the rooms and Junie Watts and I will share yours."
"What?" I almost laughed. I did not because Dee was serious. "Be careful, your highness, or your throne will be toppled."
Junie Watts stood behind Dee, cowering a trifle as she tried to follow our conversation. The black girl leaned down to talk rapidly into Dee's ear. The language was one I had never heard before. The girl seemed adamant in her speech with a touch of pleading. It required no great perception to see Junie Watts was frightened.
"What did she say?" I asked when the girl was silent.
"It is difficult to translate, Milieos, but I will try. She wondered why 'the brother' was so 'cold.' She said, 'He may be black, but he's no brother. He's a honky with a black skin, a damn Oreo.'"
"What does that mean?"
Dee arched an eyebrow. "I presume it is not flattering. She wants to leave. I am inclined to agree with her."
"Answer one question, Dee. Who are you?"
"Does our staying here or moving on depend on my answer?"
Dee scowled. "I am Junie Watts' friend. I want what is best for her."
"A fair answer. I will ask one more then promise to give mine. Are you married?"
The red woman's eyes snapped wide, the question unexpected. Without hesitation she replied, "I am."
"Good. I will move my things upstairs before nightfall. I know not what Junie Watts means by the term 'brother', though I suppose we are all brothers and sisters having sprung from the Tree of Life."
"How much is our rent?"
"No rent, for you are hired as house labor. You will buy your own food though you'll cook for three. You see," I admitted unhappily, "a country doctor is rarely paid for his labor, I am a poor man."
Dee spoke to the girl in that other language for a moment. The black girl looked at me gratefully. I felt uncomfortable and my head began to throb. Junie Watts appeared ready to speak, but I held up my hand.
"Say nothing." I went to the door and took down my sword. I fastened it to my harness. "I am going out. If anyone asks I am at Kulua until noon, then to Pabsto's until sunset."
My sister greeted me with a kiss. "I am pleasantly surprised," she teased. "You are sober!"
"Do not remind me, dear."
I did not speak of Dee or Junie Watts until lunchtime when Kulua pushed me to the table and peeled a sompus fruit for me. "I have hired a woman to work in the house. She has a Jasoomian slave who is carrying a child."
"Why does she not make it walk?" Kulua asked.
"No, inside her. It is not born yet."
"Oh. Is she ugly?"
I pondered the question before answering. "Exotic. She is different. She is black."
"Oh!" Kulua repeated with more interest. "How strange!"
"Where is the wine? How can one have lunch without wine?" I intended a joke, but my voice was distant and cool.
Kulua put a decanter before me without a glass. "You won't need it, Milieos. You will drink it all before you leave. One of these days you will trip over your drunken feet and kill yourself on that silly sword."
"I carried no sword until Alia was killed by Warhoons," I said, my anger rising as hers ebbed. "Now I keep arms close by for another such time."
I was horribly disagreeable, more so than the words necessitated. I had hurt Kulua and that distressed me. "Forgive me. How do you put up with me?"
"It is not easy," Kulua answered. "But I love you and would rather have you come in misery than not see you at all."
"I do not deserve a sister like you," I said, rising from the table, the wine untouched. I bent to kiss Kulua. "Goodbye."
"May I come see you next week?" she asked from the doorway.
"Me, or the black Jasoomian?"
Dee was a passable cook. Her meals were simple and uncomplicated. She made no use of Alia's stock of treasured spices and I was secretly relieved because of that. Plain food did not remind me of vanished gastronomical pleasures. Plain food sat better on my abused stomach. Plain food satisfied nutritional requirements without burdening the purse. But two days of plain food and the stress of two women in the house made wine a necessity.
The red woman glared at me each time I filled the cup—and I would fill it frequently during a meal. She never spoke nor did she attempt to interfere, but that look was clearly disapproval.
Junie Watts watched me from afar, wary as a small thoat in a room with a banth. She showed fear each time I sipped wine, though I had never given either reason to believe I was violent in my inebriation.
After Dee sent Junie Watts to bed, I leaned across the table. "She has no reason to fear me."
"She has every reason to fear you. She fears all drunks. She fears men interested only in satisfying themselves. She has known nothing but pain and hardship because of men who drink."
"Not from me!" I growled. "I am a doctor."
Dee raised an eyebrow. "Truly? As a doctor, what advice would you give a man who consumes too much wine?"
"You know nothing about me. Do not presume to lecture me on the evils of strong drink."
"I know nothing because you have revealed nothing."
I smiled, "And neither have you." My anger evaporated as the inherent irony in her challenge turned against her.
Junie Watts cooked lunch every third day when Dee shopped the market. She used too much fat at too high a temperature when preparing darseen lizard. She sometimes rolled the meat in flour and cooked it until well done. The pan leavings were thickened with water and mantilla milk into a sauce she called 'gravy', which was poured over bread and eaten.
The Jasoomian also did laundry, though never when Dee was around. The red woman deemed such labor too strenuous, though I had professional doubts in that regard. Junie Watts was a healthy girl, now that she ate regularly. She had been starved in the past and treated roughly, so her recovery was neither swift or complete.
I usually treated patients outside the clinic—farmers and ranchers are subject to all kinds of accident and misfortune and it is easier for me to go to them than for them to come to me. To facilitate my travel the town had provided several thoats which were kept in a barn behind the house. The thoats the women had ridden were turned in with mine. Junie Watts took it upon herself to feed the ugly beasts before the evening meal.
One night I sat on the bench beside the rear entrance and watched the black Jasoomian pitch dried moss into the pen. Her motion with the fork was smooth and practiced.
I crossed my arms over the wine bottle and leaned against the building. "You know thoats."
Junie Watts did not look toward me. "I know horses. Thoats are like horses."
"What is a horse?"
"The most wonderful creatures on Jasoom," she began. Junie Watts talked softly, mostly to the thoats crowded near the fence. The ugly beasts pushed each other aside to extend their snouts toward the black girl's gentle hands. She caressed each as she reminisced about an uncle's farm in Missouri and long rides on dusty summer roads and ice cream under a lantern surrounded by moths and June bugs.
"You have an insect named after you?"
"Me? Of course not!" Junie Watts laughed. "Them old bugs is named for the month of June."
She laughed. I had never heard her laugh. I liked it, and I suddenly felt guilty as Alia's smiling face filled my thoughts. The sound of thoats reminded me of blood and bones on a dirt road. I drained the bottle and threw it from me. Without a word I went into the house, grabbed another bottle and kept going straight out the front door. I heard Junie Watts call my name. Once. Then I heard no more as I sought a dark place in the woods to drown my sorrows.
The following morning Dee prepared breakfast. Junie Watts had not come from the back room. The red woman waited until I was seated, holding my aching head with both hands, before she spoke in a rigidly controlled voice.
"If you ever frighten that girl again, I will kill you."
I raised my eyes. I saw the woman's promise—and the strength of will to accomplish it.
Dee leaned over the table, her pretty face hard as stone. "You are free to indulge your misery as long as you cause that child no harm. Am I understood?"
"What right have you to order my life? It's my life—"
Dee's fist pounded the table once, startling me. "It's _my_ life now because you've thrown it away."
I would have argued with her. I would have thrown her out of the house. I would have, except—except that she was right.
I said, "You are hateful, Dee-whoever-you-are," and left without having breakfast. Food I could find on my rounds—as well as drink. And drink I needed to wash away the sting of the red woman's words.
Chapter 4 - Dejah Thoris:
"What is my purpose now?"
My husband thinks highly of the First Born. He has many friends among the former Black Pirates of Barsoom and they, in turn, have learned to accept his friendship, for without the benevolence of the Warlord of Mars the tremendous armies under John Carter's command might easily obliterate the First Born. Fifty years ago my husband defeated the First Born at the South Pole. Twenty years ago he discovered Kamtol, a hidden colony of First Born. Two-hundred-thousand people had led a brutally balanced existence in the Rift Valley during the millennium before John Carter came searching for our Gatholian granddaughter, but once the location of that First Born city/state was known, and the leaders of Kamtol understood the dangers they faced from the Warlord's might, an internal revolution divided the Rift Valley into dozens of groups which then dispersed to colonize new areas.
Dator Tamat, Senca and Milieos' father, had founded a colony near the equator. In twenty years time a respectable beginning had been made, particularly since Tamat realized peaceful co-existence with the red man was the imperative course of action.
Dator Tamat wrought well when planning his village. He selected and trained a squad of rugged men to protect the people from wild beasts and brigands more savage than the beasts. He supported artificers and growers, ranchers and masons, plumbers and artists. He also located Thulium away from the main roads, not to handicap the colony but to insure it would survive. Five years ago Dator Tamat had left his eldest son in charge and boarded a flier to Otz Valley. Tamat's intention was to seek recruits among the First Born of the south, but he had not returned, nor had there been word of his whereabouts after messengers were sent to seek him. Senca assumed the dator title as it was his by inheritance and ruled Thulium with the same consideration and foresight as his father.
I did not learn the above in one day. I did not learn it in a week. As outsiders Junie Watts and I were accepted in Thulium because it was assumed we had immigrated. I saw no reason to correct the misconception. We did not meet everyone at first; like most small agricultural and ranching communities the Thilumites worked sunup to sundown on their isolated holdings and rarely came into the township proper.
All my life I have been protected from manual labor. It was never by my choice that I was segregated from ordinary work. I could never prevail against the wishes of my father and grandfather who insisted that my station must be honored at all times. Slaves cooked for me. They bathed me, dressed me, died for me. After I married my dear Virginian, I had greater success demanding freedom of personal choice for there was little John Carter could, or would, deny me.
"I shall learn to cook," I had once told my husband. "If I am ever abducted by an evil-doer and then escape into an inhospitable climate waiting for chance to bring you to my rescue I shall have need of that knowledge." John Carter had laughed and said, "You make a valid point, dear." He had kissed me then left me to my own devices. The precedent, once set, had served to free me from further restraints. I learned basic cooking skills and then learned how to hunt, how to camp on the land, and how to fight. My trainers were men from my husband's commands, or their wives, depending upon the instruction desired.
Washing clothes, gutting darseen lizards, or braising a thoat rump at the house of Milieos hardly occupied my mind. I had ample time to reconsider what I had done so quickly and seemingly without forethought when I appointed myself Junie Watts' protector. I regretted the difficult position I forced upon Rexa Hultan. The dear girl faced a greater travail than anything Junie and I had encountered since leaving Jhuma: my husband. I hoped my Virginian understood my decision and that no undue anguish tormented him. My father, a temperate man in most things, was excitable where I was concerned. If John Carter honored my wishes then he would have his hands full dealing with Mors Kajak. Grandfather would understand my mission. Tardos Mors had always seemed to understand me better than my dear father.
Milieos was a mass of contradictions. The man seemed competent as a physician, yet there was the matter of his drinking. He was morose and sullen at best, denigrating and belligerent at worst. His education was obvious and the reference works above his untidy desk embraced a wide range of study. At one time the man had been quite handsome, but the extended abuse of wine and strong spirits and neglect of proper nutrition had softened the black man's physique.
Milieos did not talk about himself and he talked to others even less. Patients who entered the clinic were greeted with a bleery-eyed nod, examined in silence and dismissed the same way, unless some terse instruction was required. The man held his own council in most things, preferring the company of a bottle to a person.
Junie Watts disliked the First Born physician. "He's a damn oreo," she said on several occasions, usually before we retired in the evening. "Snooty bastard. What's got his goat?"
The Jasoomian girl used English in a fashion so unlike that used by my Virginian. Quite often I had to infer the intended meaning by her expression or tone of voice. It was imperative that Junie Watts become proficient in the single oral language of Barsoom—that I might better understand the woman and her needs. I was rarely confused by her intent or meaning except when she became excited or overwrought. At those times, such as the night Milieos came through the door stumbling down drunk to crash into the table sending the work of an afternoon flying onto the floor, the poor girl lapsed into a speech pattern nearly incomprehensible to me. The sooner she spoke Barsoomian, the better it would be for us all. Therefore each night we had language lessons and during the day we would learn new words for objects and actions. Junie Watts was a willing student, bright and energetic. She learned quickly and I gradually used English less as her vocabulary increased.
Milieos ignored us for the most part, other than to cast grim looks whenever he deigned to notice our presence. He talked little, and never about himself. I learned something of the doctor's past when I went to market. The butcher was one of those irritating people who cannot resist spreading gossip. He chattered incessantly as he filled my order.
"So, has the good doctor finally come to his senses? Must be if he's hired help. That man has grieved longer than prudent. It's the wine, I tell you. He has a weakness for it. Since his wife was run down by a Warhoon's thoat he's not been the same. Nearly killed him, too. Did kill his son. Not his son, but the boy his wife had before he met her. Pretty red woman. Looked like you, dark-haired and small. Caused a big stir with Dator Senca. You wouldn't believe they were egg brothers the way Senca carried on. Folkar, his other brother, was quite different. Liked Alia right off. Was teaching the boy a thing or two about mechanicals. I know Folkar misses him. Still, for all the drink, that Milieos is a good doctor. Saved my wife's finger when a rail fell from the slaughtering pen out back and pulped it. Oh, it's not a pretty fix like one might get in one of those fancy big city hospitals, but she can use it and is grateful. She sends him fresh baked breads every week. So, where are you from? Never knew a red woman with a First Born slave before. She's an ugly girl, if you don't mind me saying. There was a time anyone of the red race enslaving a black or the other way around would be an act of war. What was her debt to you? Maybe you got her from someone who owed you? Well, I've watched her work those thoats of yours and Milieos'. She's good with animals. Will that be all?"
The village's garment maker provided additional insights into the character of our new landlord. "He is away from home most days. He makes daily rounds to visit patients outside Thulium." I thanked her for the two commodious dresses I had ordered for Junie Watts and returned to the doctor's house.
As usual Milieos had departed before I went to market. He had not returned when I arrived to find Junie Watts seated at the table which served as work area or dining as needed. She had found soiled bandages in one of Milieos' travel kits and boiled them. The girl had hung them to dry and was rolling them for storage. She started to rise when I entered.
"Sit, Junie Watts." I placed the package of meats in the cooking area's compact cool storage. "This is for you." I handed over the parcel containing the dresses.
The Jasoomian exclaimed her delight with a wide smile. Shaking the dress out, she held it against her misshapen body. "May I try it on?"
I chuckled. "Of course!"
Before she put on the new dress Junie Watts bathed herself using the small tub and cloth she had turned to that purpose. She is very clean in her habits, naturally so, and I believe that the presence of water and cloth for bathing did more towards her well-being than food and drink. Jasoomians "sweat" as John Carter says. There is no comparable word in the Barsoomian tongue as there is no comparable physiological function: our skins do not utilize fluidic exchange with the atmosphere to maintain temperature to our internal organs. Junie Watts sweated during the hottest part of the day, which was most of the day at the equator, and she bathed at least once each day, sometimes twice.
The dress fit with fabric to spare. The cloth was light green in color and thin enough to stay cool, yet was opaque to the eye. I stepped back and examined the girl with a critical eye. With a laugh I said, "You look like an ambulatory grass-covered foothill from the mountains south of Lesser Helium."
Junie Watts twirled, the skirt lifting, and smiled. "Golly, I am big!"
When I had taken charge of Junie Watts, she had been broken in spirit, degraded, humiliated, and scorned. She had not trusted me at first, but she had come to think of me as a friend. I knew this because of the warmth of her embrace as she thanked me. It was an awkward embrace as the hard extrusion from her abdomen bumped into me.
"I can barely put my arms around you," I laughed. She no longer appeared misshapen or deformed to my eyes. Junie Watts moved naturally and carried her burden without undue discomfort, except for wistful complaints about sore feet and back aches.
Junie Watts released me with a disturbed expression on her face. "I know I'm never going home again. This world will be mine until I die. What's going to happen to me? Am I your slave? I wouldn't mind being your slave."
I gently pushed the girl into a chair and sat across from her, so that our eyes were direct and upon an even level. "You are not my slave."
"What about that mark?" the girl asked. "I've been branded."
Her hands trembled. I took one in mine and spoke reassuringly. "You told me yourself the Okarian was killed and Holkat abandoned you. You are free."
Junie Watts took a deep, shuddering breath, and released it slowly. "I am not sure I wish to be free. I know nothing of this world. I do not know my place or my future. I had something to look forward to on my world, not much, but something. What is my purpose now?"
I have studied the great Barsoomian philosophers and understand them as little as I understand the physics regarding radium bulbs and wireless finders, but I pride myself as having consideration, compassion and conscience in abundance. "Unless you submit to another's chain, you are free, Junie Watts. No man of Barsoom will hesitate to come to your aid should you demand it."
"It was a man who enslaved me, Dee."
I nodded. The girl was sharp. "I do not imagine our world is so different than yours. We have bullies and bastards and barbarians as well as the righteous, devout and defenders. I, too, have suffered at the hands of others and been denied freedom of choice, though it has been many years since those events. I have not forgotten them, but they do not terrify me as much as they once did."
"You were a slave?" Junie Watts exclaimed. "I cannot believe it!"
"It was long ago," I smiled wistfully. "A man saved me."
Junie Watts squeezed my hand, sensing my happy memories. "What happened after he saved you?"
"I married him and made him my slave—a slave of the heart."
She shook her head then. "I don't understand why you're here instead of with him. You obviously love him very much."
I sighed. "Love without interruption or variation becomes very like a prison. Pleasant, wonderful, exciting, but a prison nonetheless. He is great man among my people. There are many demands upon his time and energies. I take what I can, when I can, and endure the absences. But you, dear girl, have had no happiness on my world. I think that is a great tragedy and it is something I can correct."
"So," Junie Watts smiled, "you're a social worker. I did not think there were any on Barsoom!"
We talked then of Earth and America and politics and racism in America and World Wars and epidemics and hatred and love and family and abuse and abandonment and divorce and relatives and kindness and hope. Junie Watts opened up to me that afternoon, laying bare her brave heart. We talked until darkness lay upon the land. We had laughed and cried, and clung to each other from time to time. I marveled at her inner resilience and strength. I learned details from her months of captivity, first with the crude Okarian and later with Holkat the First Born. She had survived a harsh existence which would have been the death of many others—either through hardship or by their own hand.
"You are a very brave girl," I said to her.
Junie Watts rose to unhood the radium bulb by the door. She seemed embarrassed as the soft glow filled the room. "I just want to live. I think that's all any living thing wants—while there's life, there's hope."
So many times I have heard that expression from my beloved's lips! I felt an overwhelming homesickness at that moment, a homesickness that was tempered with fond memories of my valiant Virginian. I was about to comment on these thoughts when the door to the house was flung open.
A man stumbled into the room, carrying a boy in his arms. The boy's left arm was covered with blood seeping beneath a rude bandage. Both were covered with dust, the red man breathing heavily. "My son has been injured. Where's the doctor?"
I said, "He's not back from his rounds. Put him in there on the table." I tugged on the man's harness to steer him in the proper direction. Between us we stretched the unconscious youth upon the examination table. "What happened?"
"Banth," the man sobbed. "Where's the doctor?"
"I'll do what I can until he arrives." I noticed the man had sustained injuries to his own person. A series of gashes across his scalp and a long cut on his thigh. "Sit down over there before you fall down."
I made sure the man did as ordered then turned to help the boy. I have some experience with wounds, as do most members of our war-like societies, but it has been years since I was called upon to use my meager skills.
Junie Watts was already at the boy's side, her long black fingers moving confidently as she opened the crude dressing and frowned. "Nasty. Missed the artery but there's a lot of damage. Must clean and close."
Without hesitation Junie Watts turned to Milieos' medical supplies and retrieved a general antiseptic, gauze and skin clips. She knew these things because Milieos had treated small injuries earlier and grudgingly answered the black girl's questions after it was over. That information was remembered and put to use. I saw that she was no stranger to caring for wounds. I let her work undisturbed, turning to the farmer to tend his injuries.
My work was less complex than the repairs Junie Watts attempted on the boy whose tendons and muscles were severed by the banth's savage teeth. She had clamped off a dozen heavy bleeders, but left the wound open as she removed clotted blood, sand, dirt and moss.
"I must close this, Dee, but unless the muscle is stitched and the tendons repaired, the arm will be useless. Is there needle and dissolving thread?"
I did not know—nor was I completely sure what she asked. I have no real medical knowledge and felt helpless. I told her as much.
"We must look, then, and quickly."
Junie Watts and I rummaged through the doctor's supplies. We were going into the second drawer when Milieos entered. He bellowed "Dinner for a hungry man!"
Before I could respond Junie Watts hurried into the next room and had a sharp, low-voiced conversation with Milieos. I could not hear what she said, but it must have made an impression, for the doctor entered the examination room in a sober manner. He was not sober—he reeked of home-made wine, but his hands were steady and his eyes focused.
"My bag," he said to Junie Watts. "On the thoat."
She immediately fetched it while Milieos examined the farmer. The farmer was relieved to see the doctor. "Look to my boy," the man pleaded. "That—that THING did things to him. She..."
"She probably saved his life," Milieos said, pushing the farmer back into the chair. "Sit quiet, or leave. Noise I do not need."
Junie Watts came in with the bag. I do not know if she had heard Milieos' words to the man. She must have, but made no sign that he had recognized her efforts. The girl placed the bag on the sideboard near the examination table and opened it. Two trays were lifted out and placed close at hand and she waited, hands poised to do the doctor's bidding.
Milieos held out a hand and named an instrument. Junie Watts, dear girl, furrowed her brow at the unfamiliar term. The First Born almost smiled and said, "The bent thing with the red handle. Then I'll need the yellow packet."
For the next three xats Milieos gave simple instructions and Junie Watts followed them without question or flaw. I would have liked to have watched the entire procedure, but the farmer, torn between concern for his son and his anxiety at having the deformed black girl assist, was close to becoming a bother. I ushered him out and pulled the curtain over the alcove. I made the man sit at the table and placed a cup of hot stimulant before him.
There being nothing further I could do for the farmer or the others, I began preparing the evening meal. I am not an imaginative cook. It did not take long to place the thoat rump into a pot of water with some roughly diced vegetables. I placed the pot into the oven then went to the door and paused, hand on the latch. To the farmer I said, "Do not worry. Milieos is a good doctor and that girl has knowledge of her own. I must feed the thoats. Do I have your word you'll not become a nuisance?"
The man shook his head. "I cannot give you my word on that account because I love my son, therefore let me care for your beasts to keep my mind occupied. I cannot stand the suspense."
I opened the door and stood to one side to allow the farmer's exit.
I mopped the floor where blood had dripped, stopping just short of entering the examination room. I could hear Milieos' voice, steady and unemotional, giving instructions to Junie Watts. I could imagine her standing at the doctor's side, as I had last seen her, efficiently responding to his direction. She had surprised me yet again, as she had countless times in recent past. There was more to Junie Watts than first meets the eye.
The farmer returned, looking disappointed to see the curtain still drawn. I, too, felt some concern as a half zode had passed and that is a long time for surgery. I handed the farmer another cup of steaming brew and we waited, sipping in silence.
Suddenly the curtain was flung back. Milieos led the Jasoomian to the table with an arm supporting her. "She's all right, Dee," he said at my swift concern. "Too long on her feet." To the farmer he added, "Your son is fine. We'll keep him here a few days to make sure the healing is well begun then you can take him home. It will be a while before he'll have full strength in that arm but he should recover fully. You can thank Junie Watts for that because she stopped the bleeding."
The farmer came to stand before the seated woman. He lowered his head, obviously ashamed for his previous thoughts. "I thank you for the life of my son. If there is ever anything that Antak Mobal can do for your house, you have but to ask."
At this point Antak Mobal removed the hatchet from his harness and laid it at the feet of Junie Watts. I have never seen homage paid more nobly than that simple gesture by a common farmer.
Milieos, who still stood by Junie Watts' chair, leaned down to whisper the meaning of the man's act—that he pledged himself and his house to her service without question for eternity if she would but accept it. She nodded then leaned down to lift the well-used implement and carefully handed it to Antak Mobal handle first. Graciously she smiled, and had the good sense to not spoil a special honor with speech.
A moment later the farmer, self-conscious yet relieved, bid us good night to hurry home with happy news for his wife.
Milieos washed his hands and dried them. He walked to the cabinet where he kept bottles of wine and spirits. He opened it and reached inside, but paused as his eyes met Junie Watts'. Milieos' expression darkened briefly then the man abruptly shut the cabinet door and turned away empty-handed. He poured a cup of brew and tasted it. The First Born grimaced horribly and said, "Dee, you are no cook."
"I have poisoned no one—yet." I added with a wink.
The next morning Milieos woke with a complaint. "My head does not hurt," he growled coming down the ladder. He nodded toward the curtain drawn across the examination room. "Have you looked in?"
"Junie Watts has been with him. She apparently checked on him several times last night."
"Did you know she had begun training to be a nurse before coming to Barsoom?"
"I did not. That explains what happened."
"It does, and it raises other questions. Where is she?"
"Feeding the thoats."
Milieos approached the cooking stove where I stirred a pot. He towered over me, big, black, and curious. "How is it that an obviously educated woman could allow herself to be made a slave? Why did she not take her own life rather than submit?"
"On her world, in her country, blacks have long been slaves or people of lesser rank. It was thus for centuries and personal freedom is something recently acquired. Perhaps for Junie Watts life was more important than freedom through death."
"I do not understand," Milieos began.
I interrupted abruptly. "How can you? You are a man."
"What is that supposed to mean?" the doctor scowled. He tasted my morning brew and the scowl deepened.
I narrowed my eyes with warning against comments on the cooking then answered his question. "It is a man's world on Jasoom just as it is here. Women are objects to be owned by men. We do not like it but that is the way of the world."
"I cannot imagine you owned by any man," Milieos sardonically remarked.
I smiled. Then I laughed. "He is not just any man, Milieos. He owns my heart and respect, and I have demanded the same from him and he has given it."
"I hear a 'but—'"
With a shrug I continued. "There are many kinds of slavery. Most are abhorrent to civilized beings but some are pleasant and desirable. We saw that last night when Antak Mobal pledged allegiance to our Junie Watts. He is her slave now, by choice, though she will never abuse that. But what happened to her when she first came to Barsoom, naked and alone, was not HER choice. It was so quickly done I do not imagine she had time to consider options to her predicament. Women rarely have that luxury as men make plans and execute them without consideration of others—meaning women—regardless of their color."
Milieos leaned against the counter and stared at me. It was apparent that he believed the woman standing before him now was not the same woman that had been in his mind moments before.
"Neither Junie Watts or you are what you seem. Who are you, Dee?"
The question was delivered by a sober mind this time. "I once told you I was Junie Watts' friend. I would like to be yours, Milieos. What difference does full knowledge of my identity make? I am still the same person regardless of origin or rank."
"Are you? Is she? Am I?" Milieos gulped down the hot beverage and put the cup down.
He did not wait for answers. Milieos quietly slipped past the curtain to look at Antak Mobal's son. I continued preparing breakfast. Junie Watts came from the back of the house, sweating just a trifle from pitching moss to the thoats. She blotted her face with a towel and sat down. "It be hot this morning."
"No English today," I said.
"The morning is warm," Junie Watts dutifully replied.
Milieos exited the examination room. "Good morning, Junie Watts," he said. "Your patient is doing well."
"I'm so glad! Is he awake?"
Milieos nodded. "And hungry. Pulped fruit, a grain mash and as much fluid as he can take."
"Yes sir!" Junie Watts replied, rising from the table.
The First Born chuckled—a pleasant sound which startled both Junie Watts and myself. "Sit. You may have the care of the boy, but let Dee do the cooking. As Dee told me, she has never poisoned anyone."
I put a bowl, pestle and three somp fruit on the table before Junie Watts. "Pulp the fruit, I'll make the mash."
Milieos did not leave the house as usual. He and Junie Watts watched over Antak Mobal's son and, when the farmer, his wife, and three sons and daughter came to visit at lunch, I left the house. Too noisy for me.
Chapter 5 - Junie Watts:
Life in Thilum
Who would have thought I'd come to have affection for the thoats at Thilum? Even though they were big and ugly and ferocious, I had learned to love these weird, unruly Barsoomian beasts of burden.
Dee started me feeding thoats when we were on the road. Long before we arrived at Thilum I had timidly collected moss and other plants Dee pointed out because the best moss was often impossible for the animals to obtain, growing deep in cracks or the twisted roots of massive old trees.
"They have teeth!" I had stated, ashamed to admit my fear to the woman who was helping me. "I'm afraid."
"I won't let them hurt you," Dee promised.
She had faced the three thoats at our camp beside the road and stared at them with an intent expression. I knew she was talking to them, but I didn't hear anything. I knew she gave them a command, but the message was lost to me.
"I've implanted a telephatic command that the thoats should obey you," Dee smiled. "They will respond to voice commands if properly given. Lead them to the moss, pick it if they have trouble. They do not need much water as they derive nearly all their requirements from the moss."
I shook my head, my mind still dealing with something she first said. "Telepathy? Is that how it's done?"
The beautiful red woman had shrugged her shoulders. "It is something like telepathy," she explained, "but not as clear or direct as when two people exchange thoughts."
I remember how I shivered as I blurted: "Can you read my mind? Can you?"
Dee shook her head. "I can't read you at all. You are inert to any Barsoomian, that is, no intelligence can be gathered, only a feeling of void or raw emotion."
I decided to test her. I deliberately thought of Dee swinging from an oak tree with a KKK rope choking the life out of her. I made her eyes pop in my vision and I had a shotgun blast nearly cut her in half. The blood pooled on the dew-damp grass as torches flickered in the night and men in white
sheets whirled about. It wasn't too hard to imagine. I had seen one of my cousins beaten and hung and murdered. I had been left alive to "tell every nigger you see." Ugly, horrible visions and I put Dee's face in the middle just to see what she would do.
She startled me with a sudden twist of her head. "What ails you, Junie Watts? What has caused your abupt pain?"
"You can't tell?" I asked, already knowing it was a dumb question because I could see the woman was genuinely concerned. "I just remembered something bad from my life on Jasoom."
"Was it in relation to thoats—or some animal like them? If so, I shall tend the creatures."
"Nothing like that," I assured her. "These big old things scare the fool out of me, but if you say they'll mind, I'll give it a try."
"And I did and they got used to me, no matter that I was a dead, empty mind. I used my voice and hands to herd the thoats and after a few days I became accustomed to them. By the time we arrived at Thilum and Milieos let us keep our mounts in the corral behind his house, the great beasts pushed against each other to be the first to greet me at the fence whenever I placed food into the corral.
The large male I called Big Gun because none of the others could stand against him. I eventually named the others Contessa, Duke, Leadbottom, Rebel, Nonesuch, Topper, Star and Juliet. Of course I couldn't tell which were males or females, I just chose names that seemed approriate.
My favorite was a smallish thoat of a strange slate and rose color that Dee had never seen before. Thoats were generally slate on top shading to a vivid yellow below, with tails more broad at the tip than the base. They had footpads rather than hooves or nails. The rose-colored thoat I named
Sophie after a horse I had known and because she was the most loving of huge creatures.
I talked to the great brutes, eventually becoming confident in my relationship to them. They were tough, hardy specimens, breed down from the mighty desert thoats by the red race over untold years. I had seen wild thoats when I was on the Okarian's chain, and they were monsters compared to my charges.
Big Gun was always first at the feed trough, as one might expect of the largest creature, but for all his size, he was a quick, light eater and quickly moved aside. Contessa and Leadbottom liked to play. They nosed me hard, almost knocking me over. They would not leave me alone until I slapped their fang-filled snouts with a hearty hand. They loved rough affection. The others were not in need of direct contact, but they responded to my voice and gestures willingly enough. If I shooed them back, they'd go, or they'd come when I called. Sophie, though really liked me. She would stand beside me, her head dipped low, and nuzzle against my arm until I put it around her neck, then she'd lean into me with a sigh. She accepted a heavy pounding as cheerfully as the rest, but I discovered her secret spot, above her eyes, where a fingernail scratching at her hide would make her eyes roll up and her shoulders quiver. I believe Sophie would stand still forever if only someone scratched that spot for her.
The first time Dee saw me and Sophie in our favorite embrace she said, "That beast's mind is filled with pure pleasure. You have made a friend for life, Junie Watts."
"Do you think I can ever learn to talk to thoats, Dee?"
She had shrugged, as she often did at my questions since there were no established answers. "I know this Jasoomian who'd been here over a hundred of your years. He can do it. It is a matter of directed will—and a desire to match. Practice on your charges, Junie Watts. Who knows what may happen?"
I had stopped scratching when Dee mentioned the Jasoomian. Sophie mewled unhappily and nudged me with her snout. To keep her quiet, I resumed scratching the sensitive area. To the red woman I spoke softly, "You have met another Jasoomian?"
Dee came to the fence. Her eyes narrowed for a moment as if she were sizing me up, then she said: "For reasons I won't go into, it is best no one but you and me know what I am about to tell you. I am married to a Jasoomian. That is how I know your language. That is how I know something of America, but the Amercia you have described to me is nothing like the America told to me."
"Did you run away from him?"
Dee laughed suddenly, almost girlishly. "Heavens, no! I love him more than life itself."
"Then why are you here? Why did you help me?" This had troubled me for some time.
Dee lowered her eyes for a moment, watching where her fingers toyed with a splinter of skeel wood forming the rails of the corral. "Most of all I wanted to help you. That's foremost." She looked at me hard, to make sure I did not misunderstand. I smiled back, grateful to her for I had truly been only hours from death when my red angel appeared.
"But there are other reasons why I decided upon this course of action rather than others available. You see, back home my life is fully ordered. I have little to say about my own destiny. Oh, it's not as bad as that sounds, I am my own mistress and few can deny me what I most desire, but it is not the same as being wholly dependent upon one's own abilities. It was that part of my life I wished to explore."
"And I was a happy circumstance?"
Dee took my hand with a gentle smile. "Girl, you were not happy and I believe in fate. I was meant to find you—and you to find me. We both have something the other needs."
"I know what I need from you, Dee...I need everything. But what do you need from me? It sounds like you have need of nothing."
Sophie came between us. I had neglected the old thing. "Behave!" I admonished with a hug. "Off with you!" I shooed the thoat away with an arm gesture. With a snort and head shake, almost like a pony in a pasture, Sophie turned inside her body-length and dashed to the other side of the corral.
Dee helped me through the rails and I kept hold of her arm as we walked around the house to the street. "You didn't answer me, Dee."
The woman arched a beautiful brow and winked. "Getting bold, are we?"
My eyes grew round. I had forgotten. Oh, dear Lord, I had forgotten! I stopped abruptly and began to kneel. "Forgive me, mistress. I—"
"Junie Watts, you stand this instant!"
Her voice was sharp as a knife and cut twice as deep. Dee's eyes glared at me, cold as a Chicago winter. "You are not my slave. You have never been my slave. You are not Holkat's slave—if you ever were—and as for that nasty little Okarian, he's dead. Do you understand?"
I nodded quickly, as I knew she would take me by the arms and shake me until I said 'yes'. Dee scared me at that moment. She was hard as nails and filled with such instant fury that I was afraid.
"Oh, Junie Watts," Dee sighed, the anger suddenly vanished, "I have frightened you when that was the last thing I desired. Listen to me, child: You are not a slave. You are Junie Watts."
"Yes ma'am. I always have been. But sometimes I wasn't sure. Are you angry with me?"
"For what?" Dee asked, putting an arm around me. The woman hugged me briefly then surprised me with a kiss on the cheek. "You are innocent of wrong, Junie Watts. My world has treated you harshly."
"I suppose," I said, "but so did mine."
"How do you mean?"
I looked away, though I leaned against her for comfort. I opened my mouth several times, but no words came forth. Dee patted my arm and said, "Some other time, dear. When you're ready we'll talk."
Milieos was out the day a tall black warrior walked into the house without a by-your-leave or knock on the door. He glared at me, being the first person he saw, and he looked down at my belly, big, black and shiny as I stood in the tub at my morning bath.
"You are the Jasoomian creature."
Dee's voice, from the kitchen area, caused the Dator to turn toward her. "You are the boorish Barsoomian creature. Get out of this house."
"You have no invitation, nor were instructions left to expect a guest. Out." Dee revealed the depth of her seriousness by stepping forward, a carving knife in hand.
"I am Dator Senca," the black man stammered, taken aback by Dee's aggressive behavior.
"You could be Kantos Kan, Jedwar of the Heliumatic Navy, but that would not excuse your utter rudeness. Out!"
Dee stood less than two feet away from the man who towered over her. Her body was defiant, the knife held in an unwavering hand—and it was directed toward his naked breast. The way she held the knife he knew she was familiar with its use. I could have told him about the man Dee killed on the road, but somehow, I didn't think it was necessary. He backed away.
"Pardon me. Before I correct my error, who may you be?"
"I am the keeper of the house of Milieos. The Jasoomian is his patient. Before I close the door on you, what may you be?"
"I am Dator Senca, the brother of your master."
"No man is my master," Dee replied. "Until your brother gives permission, your place is beyond that threshold." She nodded toward the door without taking her eyes off the man.
Dator Senca was an imposing figure. He was older than his brother Milieos by at least a decade. Milieos was supposed to be over a hundred years old, but I didn't believe it—he looked thirty-five physically, but his drinking and poor habits had left him looking tattered and fifty-ish.
I could see Dator Senca was tempted to try his luck against the red woman. I also knew Dee would respond to force with force. I did not wish to see my friend and savior endangered and killing was sinful. I distracted them both by stepping from the tub and wrapping myself in a cloth. I walked behind Dator Senca, which caused him to divide his attention. At the door, I held the panel invitingly.
"Please return when your brother is in residence," I said, using the formal sounding Barsoomian phrases Dee taught me. "We have no instructions regarding visitors who are not patients. Therefore we must err on the side of caution. Please, sir, leave with our deepest apology and respect."
For an instant it appeared the man was beyond intelligent reason. Then, with a short laugh, he relaxed. Senca stepped back from Dee three paces before showing his back. Facing me he bowed slightly. "My apologies to the house of Milieos and his patient—and," he added as a deliberately off-handed insult, "the hired labor. I shall return when Milieos is home."
The man strode past me as smart as any military man I'd ever seen. I quickly closed the door because Dee looked fit-to-be-tied.
"I do not like that man," she said. "Thank you for having the sense I did not. That was very well done, Junie Watts."
I was shaking like a leaf. Death had been so close just a moment before. Dealing with all that tension I felt a general exasperation. To Dee I growled, "'Junie'! My friends call me 'Junie', not 'Junie Watts'. Please call me 'Junie'!"
As I went to my room to dress, Dee lowered her head. "Thank you—Junie."
That afternoon there was a knock at the door. Looking toward me, Dee opened it, her hand on the hilt of a knife belted at her back. A very tall and imposing black woman stood on the veranda. Her hair was done up like those beehives the white girls were wearing back home, only there were jewels and chains of precious metal inset in that fancy do. She wore a cloak wrapped like a sarong and metal bracelets adorned her arms. Rings with glittering gems were on her fingers and even her sandals where encrusted with jewels.
"I am Kulua," she said with voice like a music box. "I am Milieos' sister. I have a message from my brother."
Dee opened the door fully, but she did not quite step aside. "What is it?" she asked with reasonable politeness.
"Milieos has been delayed. He will not return home this evening. He sent word to me, being nearest to his present location, to advise you."
"Advise us of what?" Dee demanded—-again politely, but not giving an inch.
"I do not know why, but Dee's wariness with this woman annoyed me. I stepped in front of my red friend and smiled at Kulua. "Please come in. I'm sure it will be all right," I added, looking at Dee.
"Forgive our caution," I pleaded of Kulua, "we had an unfortunate missunderstanding this morning."
Kulua giggled, patting my hand as we sat around the table. "So I have heard. Senca came to my house most distressed."
Dee relaxed, the reservations gone in an instant. "I imagine 'distressed' is too kind a word."
The black woman smiled at Dee. "You made quite an impression on my brother. He is not accustomed to such conviction and devotion to duty in men."
"Much less a woman?" Dee added.
"Exactly! Oh, the days when men ruled without question are long vanished. Since Milieos was born there have been many women who have risen to places of power."
"Oh?" I asked. "Forgive me, I am not familar with Barsoomian history."
"Of course you aren't," Kulua said. "Why, let us see," she tapped the table top with a long finger with a well-trimmed nail. "There's Phaidor—she's dead—Thuvia, Tara, Dejah Thoris, why, even among our people there was the dread Issus who ruled over us for thousands of years."
Dee had looked startled for a moment, but I was intrigued by something Kulua said, and later forgot to ask Dee why she had jumped. "Thousands of years? Surely you made a misstatement," I suggested.
Formal Barsoomian language, which sometimes confused me, was far more intelligible than the gibberish the Okarian had forced upon me. "I am new to this language, perhaps I misheard you?"
"We live a thousand years or more. Do your people live so long?"
"No," I said with amazement. "Not hardly at all!"
Kulua and I began talking—she was so easy to talk to and, more important, she wanted to talk to me. It was not like talking to Dee, who wanted to talk to me, but always seemed to be monitoring what she said. Dee was pleasant and the best friend I had ever had on two worlds, but she held something back from me for reasons of her own. Kulua, on the other hand, was like that open book. She begged to be read and offered suggestions on what to read if your attention wandered for an instant!
I did not realize the day had passed to nightfall until Dee put a plate of food before Kulua and me. "Oh my!" I exclaimed, "I've just run my mouth non-stop! I am so sorry, Kulua!"
"I think I've done most of the talking, dear," the black woman cheerfully replied. "Tell me about yourself."
"There is not much to tell," I said. "My life was not as glamorous as yours, nor was I as brave as dear Dee."
Kulua narrowed her eyes reprovingly. "Every life has value and substance, Junie Watts. The trouble is few people take the time to recognize this important fact. My life as an artist gives pleasure to others, but I am the artist because I can be nothing else, it is my nature. Dee is the strong woman, the person of great conviction and purpose—oh, do not protest, my lady, you cannot help being who you are any more than Milieos can ignore the calling of his profession. True, he drinks to excess, but in that, Junie, you have been a positive influence."
"Me?" I asked, startled by the woman's observations of both the red woman and me. "I have done or said nothing to affect any change in your brother's behavior."
"Your child and the mystery of live birth was sufficient to arouse his scientific curiosity, but it was your helplessness and, paradoxically, your strength, which affected him the greater. Our father, may our first ancestor protect him whereever he may be, always told us that one person could change another."
I shook my head. "But I am not like Doctor King. I have no message. I have no following, or long suffering purpose to bind others to me. I do not even have command of this language I use so inadequately to express myself. He could bring change, and that is why he was killed. And that is why Bobby Kennedy, like his brother the president, was slain most foul."
I was overcome. I choked on these words which evoked bitter memories of terrible events. I looked away from Kulua, nor could I face Dee. "I am not special in any way. I have no strength and there is nothing admirable about me in any fashion. I arrived on Barsoom because I was weak, because I had no courage. You see, in utter despair I took my own life because I felt so lost in a world where all that was good and decent had been murdered. I had no future. I had no desire to live. I—"
Kulua stopped me by simply clicking her flatware against the plate. The slight, sharp tone of metal against pottery stilled my voice.
"Senca, Milieos and me—we are a trio with our own suffering. Our mother perished when I was new-hatched and father was too invovled with court intrigues at Kamtol to do more than acknowledge our existence by providing guardians and tutors. I suppose we should be grateful that he devoted himself to establishing Thilum when Kamtol separated. Thilum has become his legacy to us, his second family."
"Second?" Dee cleared the table.
"Yes," Kulua answered. "Our father originally lived at the South Pole with the First Born of Dor. He was a panthan with the Omean submarine service until John Carter and his armies invaded. Father's first wife was killed at the Temple of Issus during the heaviest fighting—a wall collapsed on her quarters. Our mother was one of Issus' captives. She was the daughter of a Odwar held to insure her sire's obedience. Father rescued her and a dozen others while the Warlord's armies razed the city. He eventually brought them beyond the Otz Mountains and slew three Warhoons stupid enough to attack his group. Taking their masterless thoats, Father guided the fugitives north across terrible deserts and empty sea bottoms until they reached Kamtol. During that journey he found solace with the woman who became our mother, but when she died, he was many years before he would allow himself to feel affection for anyone at all."
"There was a hint of desolation in Kulua's words, a desolation I understood, having been sent to live with my grandmother in Joplin. When a child is deprived of their parents' company, regardless of how well they are cared for by others, there is an emotional void which cannot be easily filled. It was my turn to give comfort to the elegant black woman.
"Kulua raised her eyes and held mine with steady gaze. "Your life did not end poorly, nor have you traded bad for worse. You have made a difference on Barsoom. You have saved my brother."
"He does not notice me, except as a medical curiosity," I frowned.
"He notices more than you know. I am here, am I not?"
I suddenly recalled that Kulua had come at her brother's request to let us know—to let me know!—that he would not return this evening. I felt a hot flush course through my veins. No, I reminded myself, it is simply a courtesy because of my condition, not because of any affection. Affection I did not need, or desire.
"Junie Watts! I chided myself. You silly girl! What makes you think Milieos has any interest in you? And do you want any more interest from men? Look what they have done to you!
Dee's practical voice interrupted my thought. "It is too late for you to be on the road home. You will stay with us tonight."
Kulua nodded. "It is later than I thought." She leaned forward to pat my shoulder. "You are just too interesting to talk to!"
Dee crossed the room, quietly competent as always, and Kulua gasped. "Oh, I mean to include you, Dee. You are the most self-possessed woman I have ever met. You simply reek with authority."
"I am descended from a long bloodline of authority figures. I shall now exercise that authority: Kulua, you shall sleep upstairs in your brother's quarters. Junie, you shall check your thoats then off to bed."
"What of you, Dee?" I asked. "Will you vanish on another of your nocturnal jaunts?"
"Dee arched a brow. "So, you pretend sleep? Well, yes, I shall be off on one of my nocturnal jaunts—and you shall be in bed resting!"
There was a no nonsense tone to her voice that resulted in an involuntary "Yes, ma'am" from me.
Kulua stroked her chin as she gazed at Dee. "Though I know your type, I feel should know you. Who are you, mysterious red woman?"
For a moment Dee looked unhappy. "I am Junie Watt's friend. I would like to be yours as well. You do not know me, but you may know of me. I promise that when Junie has delivered her child and all is well I shall reveal myself to you. I only hope the truth does not offend."
Dee walked out the front door and quietly closed it behind, leaving Kulua and I to silently wonder at the red woman's enigmatic statement.
Dee was not in bed, nor was she in the house when I awoke. Kulua was a grumpy morning person, but her fascination with my round belly soon had her smiling. She listened to the baby's heartbeat through my rotund stomach, and the kid kicked her for her trouble.
As I fixed breakfast, Kulua gathered linens for the laundry. She talked as she worked, telling me more about Thilum, its people, and her brothers.
"Senca is so pompous at times," Kulua said in response to my comment regarding his visit. "Pay him no mind, except when there's a battle or he's acting as judge. He can be fair minded when there's a need, but the rest of the time he is too full of himself."
"Is he married?"
"Him? Hardly!" Kulua laughed. "He views women as a necessary nusiance to perpetuate the race. 'Let the other fellow do it,' he once observed , 'make all the hatchlings they like—suffer their rearing and drain on resources. When they are old enough to join my guard, I will make a man out of them.' He's really too much!"
I laughed with Kulua. "My girlfriend's younger brother is exactly the same, but I suppose he has some right to feel that way. He's sixteen and raising three little brothers and a baby sister on his own."
"No one knows who the father is. The mother is an alcoholic. She's probably drunk herself to death by now."
"You have had a hard life," Kulua sympathized.
"No worse than most," I honestly replied. "Of course, the white folks do better, most of them anyway."
I had to explain "white folks" and "racisim" and "slave mentality"— which turns out to be quite different when you're actually a slave! I went on to tell her about my granny and how she worked in a garment factory sweat-shop to make enough to keep body and soul together.
"She was a grand old lady," I sighed. "At least she lived to see me get a scholarship to Tuskagee University. I took courses with an eye towards a career in nursing but after granny died things got hard. I tried to keep up my tutition and living expenses by working as a cleaning lady in a hospital. What I saw at the hospital helped me with what I learned at school."
Kulua paused at her self-appointed task. "But—?"
"There was one, wasn't there? It is difficult for a single girl to handle school, job, or her life when the whole world is preparing to go up in flames. Martin Luther King was dead. Bobby Kennedy was dead. There were riots and drugs and brutality. There was war overseas. There were few jobs and too many trying to get them.
"I am ashamed to say I lost faith, I gave up hope—I took a bottle of pills and killed myself."
Kulua took my shoulders in both hands and scowled at me more fiercely than Dee or my Granny ever had. "You passed from your world to ours—and Barsoom will benefit most gratefully."
I wouldn't accept that from Kulua, for there was a tone of reverence in her voice that frightened me. "I'm a God-fearin' woman, Kulua. I know the difference between diety and human—and I am human! I was weak and stupid and hopeless—and for that I was sent to hell in the northern deserts where a filthy little Okarian degraded me every way imaginable—then pimped me out for cash whenever he found buyers! No, there's nothing holy about what happened to me, unless it was holy retribution for wanting to kill myself."
Kulua shushed me. "I have listened to priests and holy men in my time and what I hear gives me indigestion. Why, I believe your religious leaders may use the same emotional sleight-of-hand because of what I hear you say. No, Junie, I do not belittle your beliefs—at least not intentionally—but I do not believe in a causitive higher power than ourselves."
"If that is true, then how is it I am here?"
"You are here because it is where your heart desired to be. There is nothing mystical about the metaphysical: it is simply the manifestation of the inner core expressing itself."
I smiled then, remembering my granny rocking on her paint-peeled porch with a bowl of snap peas in her lap. Her gnarled and arthritic hands worked without conscious supervision as she had talked to me, eyes bright behind thick eyeglasses, "Junie, if you want something, wish for it. Wish with all your might and it will come true."
If my wish was to come to Barsoom, to find Holkat, Dee, Kulua and Milieos, then I obviously must have some might funny wishes!
Kulua went home well before the noon hour. Milieos had not returned and there was little left for me to do. I went out back to see the thoats. They crowded the fence as usual, extending their ugly snouts for a caress or thump.
The thoat Dee favored was not there. I did not know where she went on her rides. I had also never asked her, being too uncertain about my status and naturally shy about prying. Dee would have questioned me fully were the position reversed, but in a tactful and supportive way. No, I had never asked where she went in the past, but I sure wished I had since this was the longest she had ever been away from Milieos' house.
Dee was never late preparing meals. I believe it was a matter of pride that a bargain made was a bargain honored. Whatever she did in her other life, the life before she appointed herself my guardian angel, it was clear she was not a cook. The meals were nutritional and of suitable taste, yet they lacked imagination or visual excitement.
But my concern for Dee's whereabouts was not centered around the woman's cooking skills or the fact that she had ridden out on Sophie last night, rather I fought a growing unease that something might have happened to her.
The thoats grew restless as I struggled with my distress. Lately it seemed I might have gained some smidgen of telepathic skills, for the great beasts often did as I thought before I made gesture with hand or voice. Maybe my distress, like that mental moan Dee told me about which came from all those sick people in the pariah section of Jhuma, was upsetting the thoats. Maybe it was my imagination, but whatever it was, it was up to me to calm the creatures for they could easily destroy the corral and run into the desert if they were unhappy or felt threatened.
Big Gun and Leadbottom shook their massive heads and walked off, shouldering through the smaller thoats. Rebel and Topper ignored me, they usually did. Duke, Star and Juliet finally quieted and I backed away, thinking soothing thoughts, until I was in the house.
Two zodes passed. Dee had showed me how to read a Barsoomian chronometer. A zode felt like two hours to me, but I wasn't sure. I only knew it was a long time. Dee should have been back hours ago. I kept looking for her coming down the narrow street, perched astride Sophie's thick neck, but each time I looked out I was disappointed.
On the fourth or fifth time I had stepped out the front door, I heard the back door bang as a hot blast of late afternoon wind scorched the valley where Thilum lay.
"Dee!" I called, running into the house. "Dee, where have you—"
It was Milieos. He was drawn and haggard. His travel cloak was a different color because of the thick coating of dust. His step was weary as he dropped bag and harness on the table.
"Not Dee, Junie Watts. Mileos. That means no dinner has been prepared." He smiled, though he was fatigued more than I had ever seen, he attempted to be light in spirit.
"It means worse than that," I said as calmly as I could. "Dee left last night and she has not returned."
Milieos straightened instead of sitting at the table. "She is not in town?"
I shook my head. "I have not left the house, but I do not think so."
The doctor picked up his harness and began putting it back on. "I'll take a look. I know the places she haunts. You stay here in case she returns."
I nodded, though it was the thing I least wished to do. "Please find her." Milieos accepted the rough sandwich of hard bread and flaked fish I thrust into his large hand.
"I will find her," he promised.
"God speed," I whispered as the black Barsoomian headed for the thoat corral."
Chapter 6: - Milieos:
Mundane to Murderous
A farmer had to have his leg splinted because his assistant had commanded a zitidar to sit without knowing his master's whereabouts. The fellow had been cursing with I arrived and was cursing when I departed, though it was good-natured and directed equally at himself as well as the helper. Our people are as fair as they are war-like, which means we find moments of amusement even when the object of derision is ourselves. Earlier in the day I had expended a modicum of my medical skills and some suture to stitch up a small child's pet sorak bitten by an ulsio in a thoat barn. I used the travel between incidents to ponder other events that had so greatly altered the bleak existence to which I had become accustomed. I now recognized having begun a path downward toward self-destruction. I was not quite prepared to admit two uninvited bits of chaos had caused that path veer in another direction.
The words of my brother came back to me, and I found them to be relics of a past when the First Born were Lords of the Sea of Omean. The world had changed dramatically, thanks to the Jasoomian John Carter, and now another Jasoomian had come to change my world. Because my house was again filled with life, a flirtation with death no longer seemed reasonable. Life had bloomed anew—all because of that damnable woman Junie Watts and her companion, the mysterious Dee!
With no urging on my part the thoat moved steadily along the familiar trail home. I sensed the creature's desire to reunite with its stablemates and that sent my mind toward further self-reflection. What was it about Junie Watts that so intrigued me? Was it her skill as a nurse, her rapport with the thoats, her unique condition, or perhaps her exotic beauty, bloated as it was by her imminent conception? I laughed at the latter. Poor, Junie, with her stomach distended beyond belief, and fluid retention ballooning her feet was quite the object of desire. No doubt the girl would believe the man who thought thus was mentally deficient because she was so frustrated with her own condition; yet, there was something attractive about her. More importantly, her marred charms masked an iron will and a personal determination that seemed to gather in strength each day she lived in my house.
Dee, of course, was responsible for the Jasoomian's education and increasing self-reliance. Junie Watts had been quite subdued when the two arrived at Thilum. The girl had revealed to me only a part of her experiences since she came to Barsoom—and what little I knew had been drear and deleterious. The red woman, when she was not chiding me for drink or slovenly behavior, took special effort to bolster the black girl's confidence and self-image.
"You are as good as anyone, Junie," Dee would say. "Hold your head up, girl!"
I agreed, though I had learned early to keep my opinions to myself when the red woman was about. Observatons which were not of a medical nature were not desired by Dee. The woman irritated me with her haughtiness. Most irritatingly she was usually right—damn her!
My thoat stepped more lively as we neared Thilum. The animal sensed a trough of moss and the companionship of its fellows in the corral behind the house. I, too, sensed a cooling wash to remove the road dust, and anticipated a hot meal from the stove. We entered the town when most were at their meals, the streets deserted and the noise of daily activity done for the day. Still, my villa was too quiet as I turned the thoat into the corral.
Junie met me at the door. "Dee is not here."
I carried my bag into the house. "The red woman traverses the valley as if she were its overlord. She has just found someone else to bedevil."
The Jasoomian woman narrowed her eyes. "But she is always back in time to prepare a meal. It is not like her to so late, Milieos."
Had Dee tired of the rustic life of Thilum? I doubted it. The honor of the red woman was excruciatingly high. She would rather die than abandon a friend, and she was most assuredly a friend of Junie Watts. I, who continually dishonored myself and my departed family through my dissipations, found this untarnished attribute of the red woman's to be an excoriating circumstance. I did not find her unpleasant, but the lesson she taught by example shamed me considerably. So much so, in fact, that I had all but abandoned the bottle these last few days.
Night had gathered and that, with Junie's importunities, caused me to take down my radium rifle from above the mantle. I handed it to the woman and bade her to follow. At the corral I saddled a fresh thoat, the one she had given the atrocious Jasoomian name "Leadbelly." When I turned to take the rifle from her, I saw that she had harnessed a second thoat and was clumsily attempting to mount it. Her massive abdomen made that task impossible and, under different circumstances, I might have been tempted to laugh.
"What are you doing?" I demanded, shoving the rifle barrel into the saddle boot.
"I come with," she rattled off in bad Barsoomian. "Do we get tall in saddle like John Wayne?"
"Who?" I had no time for her Jasoomian colloquialisms. "You cannot ccompany me. Your condition is too delicate."
Junie Watts faced me, then, her eyes narrowed, her lips compressed. Suddenly her forefinger painfully jabbed my breast. "Your head's gonna be delicate time I get through," she promised. "Dee's in trouble. She help me. I help her."
I opened my mouth to protest, then suddenly realized I was unable to think of a compelling reason she should stay. In that instant the Jasoomian knew she had won. In a softer voice she asked, "Will you help a lady on her thoat?"
I boosted the black girl into the saddle. She had chosen a thoat was a comparitively gentle creature that readily obeyed her vocal commands. Leadbelly, however, gazed balefully at me as I mounted. I spent a fraction of time telepathically asserting my will over the creature. "Where to, Junie Watts?"
"The market, first, I suppose," Junie replied.
I attempted conversation during the short ride, always interested in Junie Watts' unique point of view. Her intriguing murders of the language and the stimulus of her presence was far superior to the alcoholic haze I usually found myself in by this time of day.
"How were the thoats today?" I asked.
"Fair to middling," she replied. "Leadbottom moves like a snail except when dinner's coming. Sophie, here, she's my sweetie. The way Contessa's twitching her tail-paddle, I expect you'll be handing out cigars soon."
"What are cigars?" I asked, knowing it was some Jasoomian trinket.
"Cigars are made from tobacco leaves. They dry them out and roll them up real tight. Then, people smoke them."
"You mean, they smoke them and eat them?"
"No, no, they light one end and keep it burning by inhaling on the other end."
"What is the purpose of this? Does the burning end appear fearsome in battle?" She laughed a deep and warm laugh at that. It reminded me so much of my wife's laugh, though Junie's was less refined—which made it seem more genuine.
"Not in battle, but I do remember Sergeant Fury in the comics chewing one. People think inhaling the smoke is relaxing. I always thought that cigars smelled like burning manure. The old men back home used to fog up the porch. I always thought they looked like they were puffing on big turds."
That image caused me to laugh. "I would think that inhaling this smoke would be harmful."
"Oh, there's been some studies that say it is, but the people that make cigars have put a lot of money in the pockets of a lot of officials, and so just about anybody can got light up without any problem."
I chose not to remark upon that form of social bribery which appears no different on Jasoon as it does on Barsoom. Some businesses are best conducted by judiciously greasing the way with donations or gifts—though they are rarely either—to politicans or officials. Fortunately Thilum was not large enough to have attracted that breed of entrepenuer, though I did not doubt that their like would find us if the town continued to prosper.
We rode into the market. Most merchants were closing their shops, so instead of going from building to building and perhaps missing vital news, I called out, "Hail, merchants of Thilum," I began. "Has any of you seen the red woman known as Dee this day?"
One well-fed individual came out his door, a smirk upon his face. "Aye, Milieos, physician of Thilum," said Kultis Than, a seller of jewelry. Since fine jewelry was scarce, he was able to command high prices. "I have seen the woman."
"How long ago?" I demanded.
"Mid-afternoon, I suppose," the jeweler replied languidly. "I can't recall the exact xat and xode. She wanted a special item made for your guest, that woman with the parasite in her stomach."
Junie Watts said nothing, though her back stiffened. The man's deliberate rudeness pricked me. "You pompous fool!" I seethed. "She does not have a parasite. The Jasoomian is having an offspring after the manner of her race. Where did the red woman go?"
"You would not be so haughty if your brother was not dator," sniffed Kultis Than. "The woman wanted me to construct something called a 'pacifier' from silver. She said that she had heard that silver has a cooling effect on infant's who are growing their teeth. Everybody knows children come out of the shell with teeth."
"Not Jasoomian children," I said, "but this is not a subject interest at the present time. Where did the woman go?"
"But it is of great interest to all of Thilum, Milieos," the jeweler grinned sardonically. "You have strange friends, doctor. Aa mysterious red woman with the mein of a jeddara and a deformed Jasoomian—oh, the stories which..."
The object of those stories, the young American girl, suddenly spoke. "Stop talking as if I weren't here. I know you all think I have got something wrong with me because my belly's blowed out so big, but that's the way it is. You all have these little eggs and they grow until the kids come out ready for first grade, but not us. We can't walk, talk, or eat solid food for months."
"Ah, that explains the silver," Kultis Than began.
Junie silenced him with a glare. "I don't know where she got that story about silver from."
The jeweler replied: "She said the famous John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom, once saw his nephew teething on a piece of silver money with a ribbon tied to it."
Like the girl beside me, I was growing impatient. The hour was late, and it really was not like Dee to be gone this long. "Enough!" I cut in. "Did the woman say where she was going?"
Scowling, Kultis Than replied, "She said that she was going for a ride, perhaps to find you and ask you something about a 'rubber nipple' I think she said. Shall I continue to work on the 'pacifier'?"
"Yes, if she bade you construct one," I said. "Which way did she head?"
Kultis Than grinned maliciously and shrugged. His manner was so disagreeable I had to force my hand to stay from the hilt of my short sword.
Another merchant, who sold handmade glassware from a modest stall, stepped forward. "That way, noble physician," said, pointing eastward. "I saw her ride past, and she was whistling a song from Helium, unless I miss my guess."
"How would you know?" I demanded. This tidbit could not be denied.
"I once travelled there as an itinerant merchant," the fellow answered. "I had a cart and traded glassware between the Lesser and Greater, and Hastor and the nearby city-states following the peace of the Warlord. But the constant journey became wearying, so I came here to be with my people."
"Thank you for your help," I said, ignoring Kultis Than, who had already re-entered his shop in the meantime. Turning to the girl I nodded, "Let us depart, Junie Watts."
We took the eastern road out of Thilum, the direction indicated by the seller of glassware.
"That was some good cross-examination, Milieos," Junie Watts allowed. "Perry Mason couldn't have done better."
"What sort of Jasoomian is he?" I wondered, wishing fervently for a drink to steady me, but knowing that I would be useless if I indulged.
"He's a lawyer I used to watch on television."
"And what, pray tell, is a 'lawyer?'" I braced myself for another absurd look at Jasoom. I was beginning to wonder how so strange a race could produce a warrior as mighty a warrior as John Carter.
"A lawyer is your representative in legal matters," she explained. "He defends you at trials, and writes wills and deeds to property. He also sues people for you."
"So, he is part scribe, and part defender. What is 'sue people?'"
"That's when you want to squeeze money out of somebody for doing you wrong. Let's say somebody went around saying that you were a quack."
"A quack, a sham doctor. You could get a lawyer and sue the pants off him. You get money and he has to apologize, too."
"What a ridiculous way to settle a matter." It was my turn to laugh. Junie Watts had again succeeded in removing the gloom from my shoulders. "If someone so defamed me, I would challenge them to a duel and that would settle the matter,"
"That sort of thing would tend to reduce the backlog in the courts," she admitted.
We proceeded to visit some of the farms in the indicated direction, but had no luck. It was if Dee had vanished.
I mused over the information on her I had gathered from the merchants. So, she was familiar with the music of Helium, and was on intimate enough terms with John Carter to discuss Jasoomian child-rearing. This confirmed my suspicions that she was some courtesan from a noble family. The temperature dropped as night began to lengthen; Cluros began his mad dash after Thuria across the gloom. Having no success, we stopped at my brother's villa to procure furs that would be proof against the chill of evening. He was not yet in bed, and his face was twisted into a sardonic smile as I was announced to him.
"Ho, brother, what brings you out upon this night?" He greeted.
"Senca, I need your help," I returned, and outlined the events of the last hours tersely.
"If the red woman is so foolish as to venture out where she does not belong, what business is it of ours?" Senca snorted after I had finished. "She is too high-born for my tastes."
"Is this the Dator of Thilum who speaks thus, or a boorish cad from the depths of Omean?" I shot back. "Where is your family honor, brother? The woman is under my protection, and thus yours as well."
His face lost its humor and I knew my barb had struck home.
"Do not reach too far, presuming upon your brotherhood and service to this valley," he grated. "Impugn my honor again, and we shall cross swords."
"Perhaps I spoke hastily," I admitted. "The fact that she is dear to Junie Watts is enough to send me out, though I might face a dozen banths."
Senca clapped his hands for his servants to obey and ordered them to find furs, as well as pack a case of rations. His smile returned at my last remark. "Beware, brother. You almost sound like one who is in love."
"Now it is you who presume too much," I snapped quickly. "The memory of my wife is still strong."
"Only because you do not replace it with another. Your furs are ready."
"That's good," came Junie's voice from the doorway. "I got tired of shivering out there. You all don't know nothing about proper clothes for the weather. Icicles were beginning to form on my belly."
The banter between my brother and myself was broken.
He touched my arm lightly. "Without help, you will thrash blindly in the darkness," he said. "I will lend you one of my calots."
So saying, he called to a retainer to bring forth Pyugha, one of his favorite calots. The squat creature came forward with a congenial waddle, and immediately sat at its master's command.
"Pyugha," ordered Senca. "You will go with my brother, and search out whom he seeks. Obey him as you would me." He turned to me. "He is all yours, Milieos. I suggest you get an article that the red woman has touched."
"At once, Dator!" I saluted briskly, smiling. He smiled back and with a wave, bid us farewell. I helped Junie remount, perhaps lingering too long as my hands touched her soft, dark flesh. I felt that I needed to protect her. We swiftly trotted back and retrieved one of Dee's sleeping furs. I put it under Pyugha's flaring nostrils, and he immediately turned upon his many heels and galloped away. It was all we could do to follow him on our thoats.
He led us through Thilum, and out of the valley toward the foothills beyond. Normally, they are beautiful this time of year, and make for a relaxing ride. Just when I thought we had lost him in the blackness, he came bounding back, tugging at my stirrup with his great teeth. From his agitation, I got the impression that something was amiss ahead. I stopped, and Junie stopped beside me.
"The beast senses danger." I slid from my mount and removed my radium rifle from its boot. I checked my sword, but removed my pistol and handed it to Junie. "Can you use one of these?" I whispered.
"You point it and pull the trigger," she said, nervous. "What's up?"
"I will go forward with the calot and see. You stay and guard the thoats. How are you feeling?"
"Like I been kicked by a zitidar. My stomach's feeling hard."
"Relax and I will be back soon."
I had no idea what to make of her symptoms, assuming them to be normal for a Jasoomian. With the faithful Pyugha at my side, I crept forward, and saw an outcropping of boulders ahead. Beyond them, I saw the faint glow of a campfire. As stealthily as possible, I made my way to the boulders. Sneaking a peak, I was horrified to see two Warhoons, leisurely cooking a meal over a campfire. Worse, tied securely to one side, eyes spewing hatred, was the the red woman, Dee. Beyond, I saw three thoats tied up. I was relieved that their massive spears and radium rifles were still booted upon their saddles. Apparently, though the Warhoons were ready to move at an instant's notice, they had let down their guard in this remote hollow in the hills.
I inched forward, looking for a flat area to steady my rifle. Hatred for the Warhoons boiled up in me. Again, I saw the dead faces of my family, smashed by the plundering green devils. There would be no hesitation. I was prepared to cut them down as they sat before the fire. One went to one side to relieve himself. I worried that the thoats would pick up the scent of the calot. I raised my rifle and prepared to fire when a scrape of leather against rock caused me to turn.
"Aha, what have we here?" came a booming voice.
I found myself facing a Warhoon, towering above me at twice my height. His sword gleamed in the moonlight, and there was murder in the blood-red iris of his ovoid eyes. So, the third thoat was his, and not Dee's, as I had assumed. I cursed myself for not paying closer attention to detail. I lifted the barrel of my rifle to deflect his blow, knowing that I was probably lost. Whatever I had nebulously felt about a future with Junie was about to end.
Soundlessly, Pyugha launched himself at my antagonist from one side, his needle-like teeth embedding themselves in the Warhoon's neck while his claws raked the green man's sword arm so that his blade clattered to the ground. He attempted to draw his pistol, but the calot's weight bore him to the ground. I turned and saw the other Warhoons were coming to investigate. I took aim with my rifle and dispatched both of them as they clawed for their swords. This was no duel. I was fighting for my life, and exacting payment for my loss. A thousand Warhoons could not have brought me solace enough for what one had accomplished.
Returning to the first Warhoon, I found him reduced to a bloody corpse. Pyugha had torn out his throat. Quickly, I ordered him back to Junie. Then, I leaped into the campsite and released the red woman from her bonds with my shortsword.
"How did you find me?" She demanded.
"You may thank the resources of my brother, Senca," I told her as she chafed her wrists to return feeling to them. "How did this happen?"
"I was riding in the hills, when I ran into this party much farther out. They surrounded me and I was unable to fight back. My thoat got away, but I'm not sure where she went. I think I commanded her to go to the wrong place. She is probably bounding down the Kaolian road by now. The Warhoons were making a reconaissance of your village. They bragged about their horde arriving in a week to wipe Thilum off the map. They are quite mad for plunder."
"Well, at least we have some warning. Can you ride?"
"Good. Take one of these thoats, and I will lead the other two. Instead of them plundering us, we have plundered them. What is that awful smell?"
She indicated the fire. "They were short on rations and loath to eat their own mounts. Two of them went out and returned with part of a white ape."
"They are indeed desparate. Well, I can add three more to the score against my family." I untied the thoats and waited while she mounted, then led the other two by their harnesses past the rocks and back to Junie, who held her pistol out in both hands when we approached.
"Dee!" She hollered. "You OK?"
"I am fine," Dee assured her. "I met with some Warhoons, but it was to their sorrow."
"That's good, because we got to get back."
"Well, you see, while I was waiting, I got these pains, and then I thought I had wet myself, but its just too much water, y'see. I guess it was all this riding."
"You mean — ?" I began.
"I mean the baby's coming. My water sac broke and the labor pains have started. I figure we got a few hours, and I have to ride slow."
Dee, for once, appeared disconcerted, though just moments before she had showed nothing but grim resolution as a captive of the Warhoons. Junie Watts chuckled. "Are you gonna stand there looking silly or are you gonna get on that thoat?
Chapter 7: - Dejah Thoris:
The Secret in The Hills
Breathless from the near encounter with death, I was more concerned for Junie Watts' well-being than my own. "Are you having the child now?" I asked. Milieos and the calot approached. The physician-warrior was equally interested in the Jasoomian's response.
"I think so," the girl hesitated. "Maybe. Oh, I do not know!"
Milieos boosted me onto a Warhoon thoat then mounted the other. His thoat, I could not recall what name Junie Watts had given it, brushed close to the black woman, almost as if it were protecting her. Milieos glanced at us from his vantage point on the huge thoat. With a softly-voiced reassurance to Junie Watts, the man voiced a combination of mental and voice command to the calot. "Thilum," he ended and the powerful calot, as unlovely a specimen of the breed as I've ever seen, bounded ahead.
The doctor and I closely watched the young woman. We knew what to expect from conversations with Junie Watts but remained skeptical whether we would recognize the symptoms of Jasoomian child birth. The woman did not appear unduly discomforted as the thoats moved swiftly through the darkness. Her pains seemed to subside and, though I expressed some concern over that, Milieos was confident there was no danger.
I trusted the First Born in things medical—his competency as a physician had been displayed several times since our arrival. His skills were even more impressive when he was sober, a condition more usual than drunkenness. The man was also more pleasant to be around when sobriety ruled. He had a natural friendliness and civility that was quite endearing. Now, my grudging admiration was again stirred, for his skill as a warrior, perhaps merely competent compared to the consummate artistry of John Carter's sword, had nonetheless been the instrument of my deliverance.
The calot raced across the narrow band of level ground between the foot hills and the upper forest. Moments later the human riders bent forward to pass beneath the occasional low branch as our group moved under the thick forest canopy. The stars were occulted by foliage overhead, not even the shifting light of Thuria and Cluros could penetrate the dense darkness, but fortunately for my nerves, so recently stressed, the band of forest was not extensive. Less than a xat later we were again in the open, still proceeding down slope toward the river basin.
My thoat navigated the tumbled rock north of Thilum with little or no guidance from me. That left me with time to contemplate my near brush with death or worse, and to realize I may have been too harsh judging Thilum's physician. It was true Milieos had been less than cordial with me, but this was most likely in response to my curt behavior toward him. My husband once confided privately, in that wondrous tongue of his: "You can be such a bitch if you do not get your way."
In my most honest self-appraisals I should freely admit to the Warlord's sentiment. My desire to help Junie Watts came as a damn-you-all decision, quite selfish and, again honestly, normal for me. The greater truth, however, is that I seldom accorded myself such latitude because I truly love my husband and do have the interests of my subjects near and dear to my heart.
Back home I would drive a secretary crazy with rapid fire demands, or send off-duty guards on errands of great import to no one but me. The thoat stumbled, most unusual, but recovered with hardly a break in stride. My thoughts, only temporarily distracted, returned to that self-examination.
Having a conscience can be such a burdensome pain!
Helium is at peace, or more at peace than ever in my memory. So well was I now protected by husband and family that no threat to my person had been possible. Living a comparatively quiet life in a nation pursuing the benefits of peaceful trade, I had become a figurehead to my people; a symbol of the royal family's continuity. Yet, I was privately unhappy. My son was rarely in Helium these days. I might see him for a few hours between sessions with the government or manufacturers implementing the marvelous inventions and mechanical designs he created. Thuvia almost never came to the city—her interests were centered on wildlife studies, particularly the decline of several species of prey animals favored by banths. "If the top predator of Barsoom has no prey," she declared in a letter, "the predator will seek new prey—and will run afoul of man's interest should that happen. I will not see a noble animal perish."
My daughter had responsibilities as Gathol's jeddara, and she, more than me, took an active hand in governing her husband's people. Gahan was better served by Tara than John Carter had ever been served by me. I am, perhaps, a trifle jealous of my children. They have accomplished more in their lives than I have in mine. I was born to the royal—as were they—but Carthoris and Tara have their father's Jasoomian blood, his drive and ambition, and they have done so much more with their start in life!
I had determined to help Junie Watts because she needed help—but I had also rebelled against the restraints, real or imaginary, which bind my spirit. I have been angry with John Carter for some time, angry that the burning passion which caused him to set a whole planet afire just to obtain me, had diminished or been diverted by real life. I have no doubts that John Carter loves me as deeply as at any time in his life, no doubts at all, but I also know that the fever of our first years has subsided and it is I, not my Virginian or the world, who must learn to live with that.
I shifted position on the thoat's back. My body ached from the rough handling of my captors. I had not expected an ambush and I had paid for that lack of preparedness. The animal I rode was far from noble; his green master had neglected it harshly, treated it with deliberate violence, and threatened to eat it on more than one occasion. The low band telepathic emanations from the creature's dim brain were distressing—annoyingly so.
To mentally castigate the creature would be the green man's method of silencing the beast, but I had long before learned from my husband that kindness always yields greater results. His faithful calot Woola and the stable of handsome, eager thoats at the country estate were proof of his teachings. I sent a calming thought to quiet the animal, and abruptly realized I had not given Milieos, a man, the same consideration. When he wasn't drinking, Milieos was quite the host—-even in the face of my acerbic tongue.
As if my thought of the First Born had been telepathically overheard, though I was never so lax in controlling my mind shield, the doctor asked, "How fare you,. Dee? No harm?"
I sighed unhappily. "Only to my dignity. And sir," I spoke sincerely, "thank you."
His well-shaped dark head turned toward me, atop an erect body that seemed hardly more substantial than a dense shadow in the night. I could not see his eyes or his face, but something in the way he sat his mount revealed that any animosity between us was now past. Nodding his head slightly to acknowledge me, Milieos quietly spoke to Junie Watts. "How are you doing?"
"I am alright," the woman replied.
There was a sadness in her voice which both the black man and I could hear. The physician of Thilum spoke before I could. "What is it, Junie Watts? Do you need to stop?"
"No. I am all right. Really."
"You do not sound well," the man said.
With a suppressed quiver in her voice Junie asked, "Is it very far?"
Milieos peered forward, attempting to pierce the black shadows between the trees. "We are almost at the main road. We can make better time—"
"No!" I swiftly interjected. "I mean, there must be a shorter way."
I knew there was, as did Milieos. I also knew he was aware it was a rougher ride than the traveler's road to Thilum. He said as much: "Really, Dee—-"
I surprised both of us when I said, "Please?" There was more than politeness in the word, there was a repressed urgency which I hoped he would understand; but Milieos said nothing as the thoats wove between the trees. I was not positive of the man's intent until he deliberately crossed the traveler's road to Thilum to take the high trail along the valley rim. That track gradually curved to the left, coming in west of the settlement. We had to cross several ravines with steep, sharply-cut walls, and splashed across one narrow stream that twisted through steep banks of long grasses, but the thoats never faltered, being sure-footed and accustomed to rough terrain.
A quarter zode later the noiseless pads of our mounts raised little dust as we entered Thilum near Milieos' house. We came in quietly and dismounted at the corral, where Junie Watts' animals gathered close, but were uncommonly silent—perhaps they sensed their keeper's physical discomfort, perhaps they knew I wished nothing more than to get inside without causing notice or comment by the town's inhabitants.
Junie swayed unsteadily on her thoat. Milieos was at her side as soon as he set foot to ground. He reached up and lifted the young woman down as lightly as I might have lifted a favorite pet sorak into my arms. Her thin arms went about his neck and her face was pressed against his neck.
"The door, please, Dee," Milieos breathed softly, still holding the Jasoomian in gentle embrace.
I opened the rear door and the ugly calot eagerly pushed past me before Milieos carried Junie Watts inside. "I will put the thoats away," I said, pulling the door closed. The wild thoats of the green men were bare of saddle or harness. Large, unruly beasts, they were confronted by Junie Watts' creatures which, though smaller and built of less bulk, were swift, nervous animals with fierce fighting fangs. The lesser creatures, by sheer numbers, neutralized the temper of the hideous Warhoon thoats. By the time I had stripped harness from the animals ridden by Junie and Milieos, there was an uneasy truce of sorts between the great beasts.
I noticed Junie Watts on the examining table when I entered the house. Her eyes were red and her cheeks puffy. A momentary flash of anger coursed through me, believing Milieos was the cause, but when the black girl looked at me, I knew her anguish was centered on me. "Oh, Dee, please don't you go off alone no more. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you."
I felt remorse for causing such pain. "Nothing did, thanks to the good doctor." I nodded toward our host, again humbled in my opinion of the man.
"But something could have," Junie scowled. "I was so scared out there. I pissed myself when I heard the fighting and got all tied up in knots an thought I was having the baby but I guess I'm not." She looked to Milieos again, who pursed his lips and gave a small shake of the head.
"Oh, Lord," the girl moaned. "When is it going to be over?"
I went to her, doubly regretful to have provoked such anguish in the Jasoomian. "Come, dear, you are completely worn out. To bed with you."
Junie Watts allowed me to coax her, but only after extracting a dire promise I would stay near until after the child was born. I gave my word readily, and completely, but not wholly for the reason the girl expressed. I had seen something in the hills above Thilum which gave me pause—things which would mean a great deal to the man whose house we shared. When the Jasoomian was asleep, I returned to the main room to express my real reason for staying close to the man it most concerned.
"I found something out there you should know about."
Milieos watched from the table, nursing a small glass of wine I would not have begrudged him. He arched an eyebrow when I took down his radium rifle and checked the load. I was methodical and efficient in that task, completely unfaltering as my husband had long ago trained me in the use of firearms.
Milieos stroked the calot's grotesque head, which the animal had pressed against the man's side. For a moment, skin color aside, I thought I looked upon my chieftain, at home after a hunt with old Woola. That pleasant memory was politely disturbed when the physician asked: "What did you find, lady, besides the trouble that near did you in?"
The windows were shuttered and the lone radium bulb was half-hooded, which suited me well as I had no desire to let anyone know we had returned. Before I answered I lay the rifle on the table then retrieved the pair of long-barrelled pistols I had taken from the bandit who tried to rape me when Junie Watts and I first rode together. I inserted five projectiles in one, the other being fully-loaded.
"Senca—" I compressed my lips, loathe to be the bearer of bad tidings.
Milieos leaned forward, eyes fixed on mine. "My brother—yes?"
"I have information that is sure to cause you great distress. I want your solemn oath to sit quiet until I am done."
"I will do no such thing," the obdurate black replied.
This man had just saved my life and shown great tenderness toward Junie Watts. I softened my voice, ill- equipped by experience to deal with contrary people on matters of great personal importance. In Helium my word is law—law which the mighty John Carter, my father, my grandfather, and the millions of warriors in our nation's army and navy enforce. My word is without question in Helium, but I was not in my country and I could depend on no one but myself.
"From the first I have distrusted Senca. There is that about him which invites no confidence from me. Yes, I recognize I am difficult and provoke others, but this goes beyond that. It may simply be that we are destined to be contrary to each other." This was not what I wished to say. I took a deep breath and focused only on the news I must relate.
"My son taught me that reconnaissance wins where reliance on brute strength fails. A well-informed general cannot lose. Since I know nothing of this valley, or the people, who are generally of good nature and as fine as any I have ever met, I have explored the area around Thilum these last few weeks. I have seen and learned many things which will bring me joyous memories in years to come, but it seems my desire to have full intelligence of the country has turned up something I am sure others wish to keep secret."
My mysterious words, quickly given, had the First Born's complete attention. Taking a seat at the table, the loaded weapons between us, I lowered my eyes momentarily then looked straight at Milieos. "I know no way to break this gently: your father is dead. Murdered, I would say."
A brief smile, prompted no doubt by a thought a poor joke was attempted, turned into a compressed line as anger narrowed the First Born's eyes. "And how have you, a stranger, determined this?" Milieos demanded. "You do not know my father and he was gone from Thilum long before you and the Jasoomian arrived."
I sat with hands on knees scrapped and scabbed from the harsh treatment and rocky ground. I rose, favoring my left leg which had been hyper-extended when one of the Warhoons had tripped me. "True words you speak, Milieos," I said, going to the counter where I prepared meals. "But you tell me the lie in this, if you can." I bent low to retrieve something concealed behind a heavy bag of flour. The medallion I laid on the table gleamed dull-red in the half-light, a handsome piece set with two large emeralds on either side of a spectacular ruby.
The man was stunned. "Where did you get this?" Milieos swept the medallion from the table to examine it. A moment later he shook it in my face, perhaps thinking I might speak more swiftly because of the implied threat.
"You recognize it, then?" I asked, knowing he did, but knowing the question would penetrate the shock and anger; I needed his reason, not his emotion.
The black man's harness embodied a similar design. It was the metal of his house, the metal that Senca wore and that Folkar made into adornment. It was the pattern in Kulua's finest silks. The design was the stock in trade for jeweler Kultis Than. The longer Milieos held that jewel-encrusted symbol, the colder and calmer—and the more deadly intense—he became. "You found this—when?"
"Three days ago." I replied,
"North of your brother's holding, in the hills east of the river."
"An inhospitable area. What were you doing there?" He withdrew the question before I could decline to answer it. "Who knows about it?"
"The jeweler, Kultis Than. He seemed very interested in it."
Milieos scowled. "Why did you show it to him? Better still, tell me how you came by it and why you think my father has been murdered."
"During my travels I entered the rough hills north of Thilum. I came across the scattered remains of a skeleton. Scavengers had been at it months ago and I might have passed it by because the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom are littered with the bones of victims and victors alike, but there was a gleam of gold, then the red glint of ruby. I found the medallion not far from the skull, which had been cleft in twain by a sword or ax. In addition to the medallion I found a long sword of ancient design—unadorned and utilitarian with a black steel blade. A leather purse of some weight was there and gold pieces lay scattered about. It was a considerable sum, but I left it behind."
Milieos muttered, "Six-hundred tampi," then, louder: "My father's sword." He gripped the medallion firmly, proudly, the fist rising between us as the man spoke with pride. "His metal—from our house at Kamtol," Milieos added with a sad, hollow, and empty sound.
I felt sorrow for the man. I knew nothing I could say or do to ease his sudden grief, so I poured a glass of wine for myself. "There's more."
Milieos sensed there was an urgency in my words, thus his, "Tell it, and quickly," was hardly necessary.
"Your father did not die easily. The bones of two others were mingled with his. A human, whose left forearm had been broken and healed long before his death, and green man, whose skeletal middle ribs cradled the broken part of that black-steel weapon."
Milieos' frowned deepened. "Arz Nat had a broken arm. I set it myself years ago. He has been missing since father left. It was not uncommon for him to disappear for months at a time, so no one thought anything of it. But I do not understand why Arz Nat and a green man would kill my father! Arz Nat, was a Thern slave who owed his very existence to my sire. Father caused Arz Nat to be set free when Kamtol disintegrated after Carter brought down the Heliumetic Navy. I do not disbelieve you, Dee, but perhaps a forensic examination will reveal more. Tomorrow you must take me to this place."
I shook my head. Milieos misunderstood the gesture and prepared to force me with voice and word. I explained before he could do more than draw breath: "You were there at the very spot this evening, sir. The place you seek was where you found me. There was nothing left of the scene I had observed just the day before. Someone had carefully removed all evidence. I know because I had gone back to find more. Unfortunately, the green men captured me and—well, you know the rest."
"Bad luck, that," Milieos said, mollified.
I shook my head yet again. "Luck had nothing to do with it. Those Warhoon warriors were waiting for me. It seemed as if they knew I was coming." I let the black man consider the implications of that statement.
Milieos stared at the medallion gleaming in the palm of his hand. "Arz Nat and a green man die murdering my father. Robbery was not the motive since his belongings and wealth were left. Others had to be involved in the plot since the site was cleared before the green men took you captive. If you told no one else, then we know the jeweler at least is involved. I know that man has associations with others outside of Thilum."
I saw no need to state the obvious. I, too, had come to the same conclusion as regards Kultis Than. "But I do not believe he is the master mind. Kultis Than has no cunning in his soul, and it was a cunning and evil betrayal which took your father." I saw no reason to belabor the obvious.
Milieos exhaled abruptly, looking as if he had taken a blow to the stomach. "Kultis Than aside, only my brothers or sister could profit from our father's death. From what you say it appears Senca must be the one, since he holds the seat vacated by father's murder." The black man's voice lowered to a chill more icy than the night time temperature outside the house, "I shall kill him," he said.
I touched the doctor's brawny forearm. When he seemed to ignore me, lost in his thoughts, I placed my hand on his, to urge tight-curled fingers from around the glass before it broke. "Are you so sure it is Senca?" I asked.
"You just said you despise Senca. Are you of different opinion?"
"In that regard, no, he is a calot—though applying that term is demeaning to this fine fellow." I patted the fearsome calot curled on the floor between us. "Senca remains a pompous boor, but for some reason he does not strike me as one given to fratricide. Your brother rules because it was placed upon him by your father, and though he is competent to rule it is apparent that he would rather lead the military life; it is something he understands and which embraces his personal training."
"Who then?" Milieos growled. "My father will not go unavenged. Damn you, woman, a straight answer— one that does not evade or confuse."
I had no answers, other than the ones that Milieos himself could provide. With unyielding gaze I listed the names: "You, Senca, Kulua, Folkar, Kultis Than..."
"My siblings Kulua and Folkar? Do you mean one or the other? Is it both?" Milieos leaned elbows on the table and pressed his forehead into trembling palms. With weary voice he said, "Now do I most regret those months of drink and wretched guilt, for it appears I have been oblivious to far too much." The man's distress was painful to view.
Milieos suddenly swept his forearm across the table to send the glasses of wine flying. "That part of my life is over and done with," he said with a certainty that could not be denied.
The First Born took hold of himself, his back straightening, his chin rising defiantly. His eyes, filled with cool purpose, gazed upon me unrelentingly. "Now, woman of mystery," softer, "Junie's friend," a bare, whispering plea, "my friend... Do you have thoughts we may think together?"
At that moment I finally allowed myself to truly like First Born Milieos, physician, warrior, and man of good heart. "We shall," I said, "but we must do it quickly. I fear there is no time left, now that I uncovered their plot and you have spoiled it by saving me!"
Chapter 8: - Holkat:
The Unknown People of Barsoom
A pilot named Fu-King drank a cup of wine and killed 17 warriors. Now, Fu-King was not intentional in the pursuit of the deaths of the warriors. It was an accident of greed. Fu-King overly enjoyed his wine and, unfortunately, would sometimes go out of his way for some.
For weeks I had chided myself for abandoning the grotesque creature purchased from the stupid Okarian. Why I had left her, why I had fled had tortured me. Was I not First Born? Was I not of the chosen race?
No matter where I traveled, or the success of my dealings, my mind warred with itself over the momentary weakness which had overtaken me. There was no way to ease the shame other than to reclaim that which had frightened me into a cowardly act.
Once determined to set the matter straight, I turned my airship back along the path I had taken away from Junie Watts.
She could be anywhere. She might even be dead. But I was driven by a need to restore my self-respect therefore I did not admit such possibilities. Nearing the place where my shame occurred I slowed my vessel to carefully examine the terrain. Two days of searching revealed nothing.
Disheartened, I set my auto compass on Jhuma, a shipping town where I might replenish provisions. During the night, as the flier maintained course, I tried to sleep but could not shake the depression that my search would be in vain. I cursed myself for letting concern for what others might think of my odd and deformed slave and for my own superstitious panic regarding the woman.
At first light Jhuma lay before me. Other small craft sat on the landing fields outside the city while the great freighters and liners moored near the center. I settled my ship amongst a dozen others and located a shop where I could order supplies. As I waited for the items to be gathered and delivered by hand cart, I overheard a conversation between two customers.
"A most disagreeable female," one said. "A half-breed, no doubt, though it is difficult to conceive that any First Born would..." Seeing me, the two red men grew silent and walked outside.
I paid the bill and directed the delivery person to my ship. "Stow it aft," I said, producing a gold coin. "This is yours if done well. I have other business, so wait until my return."
The two red men had not gone far. "Hold," I called. "A word, sirs."
Wary, hands never far from steel, these men were warriors and deserving of respect. As I had need of information they would have my respect long enough to obtain it.
"I am looking for a woman, a slave of mine who is odd-colored and deformed." I made a motion over my belly to indicate a swelling. "Anything you can tell me will be rewarded."
Though they appeared the same age a red man, like the First Born, does not show age until just before death. The taller of the two appeared the more experienced so I addressed my questions to him. The answers came easily when my pouch of coins was jingled to get his attention.
"For a month or more the creature you describe was among the banished ones. Hideous, she was, bloated obscenely."
"What became of her?" I asked.
"A red woman off a liner found her. She seemed taken by the creature. I had business in Jhuma that day and saw the high born pick her up and fed her."
"What next?" I said, feeling excitement growing within. Could it be my Junie Watts?
The smaller man spoke. "I have a freight company. The red woman purchased thoats and provisions. She and the creature left Jhuma. They took the overland." He pointed the compass direction with an upraised hand.
I produced two coins of decent weight, gladly paid, and hurried to my ship. The delivery man had done as instructed and was paid. Moments later I flew over the road which led into the equatorial jungles. The woman Junie Watts had been alive just weeks before in the company of a red woman. It was likely my property still lived!
A day later, as I passed over a low range of hills, I slowed my machine to a crawl. The road was difficult to see from the air as heavy forest concealed it for long stretches. I should have been watching the path before me because my intense interest in the hills was rudely shattered by an explosion on the rear port side of my flier. A band of Warhoons had fired upon me with their deadly radium guns. The airship heaved and slewed with the impact as it careened dizzily, dropping slowly.
I was hit but it was not immediately disastrous. The buoyancy tank leaked, though it would be some time before I grounded. While I had altitude it was imperative I get beyond range of the Warhoons. I shoved the throttle full forward and rocketed through the air. Looking back I saw the Warhoons racing after me on monstrous thoats. Passing over a series of hills I lost sight of them but knew well the tenacious nature of the green man.
All that day the brave ship performed, but near evening the propellers developed an erratic flutter. I could not get to the gearing below the deck and had little with which to make repairs, even if the trouble were repairable. The best I could do was to continue at reduced speed throughout the night. My altitude dropped gradually, the terrain detector sounding alarms several times. By morning, I shut off the warning system as the keel of my craft was scant ads above the ground. The speed was slightly more than twice that of a fast walk, which would give the Warhoons ample opportunity to close with me. I hoped my initial head start had put sufficient distance between us that I might find a settlement before the ship failed completely.
By what providence I could not say, but somehow throughout the night my ship had followed the road out of Jhuma. I saw it to my left and I saw something more: a caravan of red men, butchered, their wagons overturned. The massive zitidars lay slaughtered in their traces. Amongst the carnage was the carcass of a wild desert thoat, the kind preferred by the green man. Nothing moved, except scavengers.
How the pursing Warhoons had preceded me during the night—for surely this was the work of marauders from the dead sea bottoms—was most puzzling. Had my forward speed been so reduced, and the night so black, I was misled? Where were they now? I clutched my pistol firmly, sword at hand and a long rifle on the deck. I tensed, expecting death at any moment, yet nothing occurred as my crippled vessel ghosted over the tragic site.
At noon I saw reflections again, certainly sunlight on the long barrels of Warhoon rifles or the tips of their heavy forty foot spears. Again I was confused for these signs came not from behind but to the right and forward of my bow!
The flier, burdened as it was with fresh supplies, sank lower until I actually passed above the road between the trees. My forward speed had not diminished and a good deal of ground had been covered, yet my speed was below that of hardy desert thoats. I watched back-trail and fore-trail and peered into the dense growths lining the road. I heard movement deep in the forest, what sounded like a party of mounted men. My propellers turned so slowly that scarce a sound emanated from them. Unless I made a noise I doubted that the mysterious riders knew I was present.
What I had feared throughout the day came to pass: the road turned upward, following the side of a hill and there was no more buoyancy left in my ship. I must either gain altitude to cross the crest or abandon my ship. The latter was no choice I could accept.
Carefully, silently, I lowered sleeping furs, metal, harnesses, and a few swords. The vessel responded by gaining an ad in altitude though it was insufficient to make the rapidly approaching crest. If I did nothing the prow of the flier would plow into the roadbed and I would be afoot.
My stock of trade goods and a significant portion of my arms for sale went over the side. The ship rose, the crest neared, still, it was not enough. I threw food and water overboard leaving a littered trail behind on the dusty road. I wrestled the hatches off and slid them over, the noise of their falling constricting my throat. There was nothing left but myself, my personal weapons and the coins at my waist. The heavy pouch of tampi went over the side; my earnings for an entire year. I would not part with my weapons. Grimly gripping the rail I leaned over the side, watching the lump of earth approaching. I had achieved altitude, but was it sufficient?
The prow passed over, the keel scrapped loudly, then, shuddering through the transom, the ship passed over!
The road grade descended steeply. The illusion was that my ship soared upwards, though in reality a level course took me over a basin between hills. No sooner had I congratulated myself than I heard shouts and the tramping of nail-less thoat pads. Crashing out of the forest came a party of Warhoons, perhaps twenty in size. I fired first, felling the leader. The explosive shell dismembered his great body and broke his mount's back. The rider and animal tumbled wildly causing riders too close behind to become entangled. Several green man were thrown from their mounts—one was trampled to death.
I fired again, missing, but the explosion set the thoats to confused milling. The Warhoon marksmen could not make steady aim, whereas I could fire calmly and deliberately from the slow moving deck of my airship. The late afternoon sun made it difficult to sight by either party. As the Warhoons withdrew, I marveled at my luck to have taken no hits at all.
Though I watched intently I saw no pursuit. It was less than a zode to sundown. Darkness would be my ally, providing I could pass over the range of hills before my flier's bow! I had not reached the hills when the sun went down. The almost instantaneous darkness was due to the rarified Barsoom atmosphere and, while it hid me from eyes below, it also blinded me to what lay ahead.
We are taught early that the First Born have the luck and I, Holkat of the First Born, have had more than my share. The hills were lower than those crossed during the day. I must have passed at a fair altitude. The whisper of my propellers was not audible to the ground but I could easily hear several mounted troops moving in the same direction. The riders were in no hurry, it seemed, as my ship eventually out-distanced them.
A zode later I saw lights along a winding stream as revealed by the light of Thuria and Cluros. A town! The defining shapes of habitations grew before my eyes. As I drew near the village I saw workers returning from the fields. To my intense relief it was peopled primarily by First Born.
Landing my craft in the hills west of the town I warily approached. The largest edifice would be the seat of government so there I headed. I expected to be well received, being First Born, but in the recesses of my mind was the thought that all the trouble I had presently encountered may be the result of my shame in having abandoned the strange slave.
I passed through the sparsely populated avenues without notice. Perhaps travelers were common enough to illicit no comment. A Thern, carrying a heavy sack on his shoulder, nodded as I passed.
"Your Dator?" I asked, pointing toward the walled estate. "Senca is his name," he replied and continued down the street.
At the Dator's gate was a strapping, battle-scarred, First Born. "I have pressing business with Dator Senca."
"What business?" sneered the guard.
"Several parties of Warhoons are converging on this town."
His eyes widened slightly. A quick shudder ran through his great frame. Was this a cowardly First Born? Then, recalling my own shame, I lapsed into embarrassed silence.
The guard, however, swiftly recovered. "Come with me."
Inside the compound he called to other guards lolling near the doorway. "To the gate while I take this messenger to Dator Senca! Send runners to warn of Warhoons."
I was ushered inside by Torok, as one of the men had named him. We hurried through a maze of inky corridors then up a spiral ramp. At the uppermost level Torok shouldered his way into the reception room of Dator Senca.
Senca was a tall black man of the First Born. He was strapping, muscular, a man slightly past first youth. His harness was extensively jeweled and resplendent. Sitting on the throne's dais he looked every bit a ruler. He turned his head toward us. My presence cause an eyebrow to arch slightly.
"Well, Torok, have we a guest here to Thilum?"
"Nay, kind Dator, he be a traveler beset by a party of Warhoons almost to our Thilum. He believes there are more than one troop," Torok replied.
The effect was electric. Dator Senca leaped from the dais to the floor. "Quick, tell all concerning the Warhoons. They have vexed us sorely these last few months. How many? From what direction do they come? There is not a xat to be lost!"
I tersely told all that I experienced in staccato fashion—and my premonition that the forces outside Thilum were large and approaching from several directions. At the end of my summation Senca issued orders to three First Born officers. The instructions were detailed. When dismissed the warriors immediately left. Two red men, also officers in this town of mixed race, were instructed to organize the citizens and to bring as many inside the fortified walls as possible.
When they left, only Senca, Torok and I remained. "I thank you for the warning, Holkat. These beasts have bled us dry and brought much misery. Come, while I make ready, tell me how you came to be a most welcome messenger."
I followed Senca down to the next floor, Torok at my side. In the Dator's apartment two slaves swiftly removed his jeweled harness and replaced it with a warrior's garb. Two long swords were attached to the harness and he moved as a warrior would move. I told my tale, omitting my ignominious shame, and that I sought to recover an unusual female slave, brown-skinned and deformed.
Senca turned penetrating eyes upon me. "Then the creature's lure does not affect my brother only. Torok, take Holkat to Milieos. I also charge you to bring him, his guests, Folkar and Kulua here where they may be protected. I entrust you with my family."
Torok and I exited the building by a different entrance. The building bustled as men rushed to posts, or entered into the town to bring in the citizens. My guide took me to the corral where we mounted restless thoats of the breed preferred by humans. I was keen with anticipation to learn if the object of my search was here in Thilum.
My mind was so preoccupied with Junie Watts that I noticed but did not remark upon a shadowy form entering the side gate as we rode out at a rapid pace. I dismissed it in the excitement of the moment. As I was to realize later I should have mentioned it to Torok.
We had rapidly covered but a short distance when we came to a simple two-storied home. At the rear was a corral filled with nervous thoats. Torok nodded, indicating this was the terminus of our travel. "Senca's brother lives here."
The door opened to Torok's pounding. Milieos framed the doorway with a hint of antagonism. "What evil fares to bring you hither?"
Milieos ushered us into his residence with a sweep of his arm. We entered into a poorly lit room. Taking a swift survey I noticed it was also a medical facility. His operating table was occupied and I saw my property sitting on the edge, that oddly-colored and even more hideously misshapen Junie Watts. She looked up and recognized me. I saw loathing and disgust, something I had not expected from the strange creature. She said nothing, however, because Torok's terse report transcended all.
Milieos asked few questions of Torok, and indeed he seemed previously prepared as loaded weapons were on the table. Near Junie Watts was a red woman, dirty and disheveled, but of rare beauty. She was wearing arms and looked capable in their use.
The doctor of Thilum spoke to me as he prepared for battle. "Our thanks, Holkat of Erbum-Dor. These vile barbarians will not find us easy prey this time."
"I do not believe this is a simple raiding party," I said.
"Torok," Milieos observed, "it appears the situation that faces us is of a more dangerous nature. Get Folkar and Kulua. Bring them here. We will travel together to Senca's fortress."
The red woman, called Dee by Milieos, assisted Junie Watts at his request. The man gathered more than weapons as the time passed, bags of medical equipment and medicines were assembled. Junie Watts picked up one, Dee took two, the doctor two larger bags, which left one on the floor. Though First Borns do not labor by choice, I picked it up.
Torok rode up. On the thoat I had ridden was a woman and a man with a crippled body. He resembled Milieos as the physician had resembled Senca—the female was of the same mold.
Moving to the door I was startled to hear Junie Watts speak: "My thoats? What becomes of my thoats?"
The creature astonished me! When I owned her language was something pitiful to Junie Watts. Her voice, when graced with intelligible words, was not the rough grunting of an animal.
Milieos paused, his attention divided between the defense of Thilum and this malformed female's request. That indecision was only momentary. "We'll ride. Are you up to it, Junie Watts?"
At her nod Torok was told to start for the fortress. We went through the house and out to the corral. The smaller thoats were mounted and some unruly desert thoats were turned out. Our pace was rapid but restrained, as if Milieos did not wish to inconvenience Junie Watts. What reason for that concern was not apparent but that he deemed her well-being important gave me much to think about as the gates of the Dator's hold closed behind us.
For nearly a zode the fortress was frantic with activity. Late arrivals were let into the compound and patrols mounted on swift thoats circled the town. I knew there were Warhoons nearby and that they had been headed in this direction, but as the time passed I began to wonder if my warning had been necessary. Perhaps the desert nomads had been headed elsewhere. That speculation ended when shouts, screams, and explosions echoed from the northern extremity of Thilum.
The battle joined, Senca directed from the rooftop of the fortress. Runners dispatched his commands to the warriors below. Reinforcements were sent where needed. Every able-bodied man awaited their call and among them was the red woman Dee.
Fighting of the most intense nature erupted into a full scale attack. The Warhoons fared poorly at first since the inhabitants of Thilum were prepared by timely warning, yet, as the night drew on green barbarian reinforcements flowed like a mighty river towards the skirmish line. Radium rifles were no longer used in ground combat by either side but Senca's roof-top snipers wreaked havoc on the advancing raiders. Swords, pikes, and spears flashed and stabbed at the front lines. Men and Warhoon screamed and died. All was confusion and madness.
Milieos fought with wild abandon, forgetting all else. The grim smile displayed as he slashed and thrust seemed out of place for one of the medical persuasion. He was fierce and accounted for many green men. I had dispatched several Warhoon thugs during the fighting and none had passed me into the town. These were courageous defenders! To my left Dee extracted a blood-stained sword from the carcass of a green man. There was no emotion on the woman's face as she caught her breath. The pile of bodies at her feet indicated the slim red woman was apparently a force to be reckoned with.
We drove the Warhoons back at our location, though we sustained heavy losses. I counted 38 Warhoon casualties and 45 First Born, Therns and red men. It was obvious we could not continue such ratios and survive as victors. While the enraged Warhoons regrouped a runner from Senca ordered we fall back.
We assembled quickly in a little knot behind a corral wall of hard stone. Behind us non-combatants cleared the area. We met the barbarians' next charge more successfully. Though we dealt grievous injury to them there seemed no end to the aggressor horde. Attrition reduced our force to the point that a determined charge would overrun us. Again a messenger from Senca brought the order to retreat.
Throughout the long night we repeated our tactics. At times blood-spattered reinforcements joined us as Dator Senca masterfully defended his town with the forces at his disposal. The streets were littered with corpses of every hue. I saw Therns and red men fighting side by side and First Born defending their backs. Former enemies bound together in extremity and desire—for Thilum was a thriving integrated community by all appearances. Perhaps interracial cooperation ispossible.
I had no time to explore that thought as the Warhoons again sorely pressed us. When it was done we were six standing. Milieos, as weary as any, gave the order: "To the fortress. We cannot hold this position any longer."
Inside the compound we received food and water. A padwar of the red race tapped the physician's shoulder. "Senca wants you, the woman," he pointed at Dee then at me, "and the stranger."
I finished eating as we mounted the ramps. We did not go to the roof, however. Senca lay upon his bed, a wound to his leg crudely bandaged. The fire in the Dator's eyes was firm and unfaltering.
"It is time, Milieos. We are not lost—not yet—but the danger is too great to risk you, Folkar and Kulua. I would fail my pledge to father should I keep you here. Take our brother and sister, and your friends Dee and Junie Watts and brave Holkat who has saved us from slaughter and fought beside us. Take them and leave Thilum. Go to Kamtol and raise the alarm. Our brethren will heed the call. Between us we shall teach these desert barbarians the last lesson they will ever learn."
Milieos stiffened. I half-expected the warrior-physician to refuse, but he did not. Bowing to his brother Milieos said, "Farewell until day after tomorrow. I will bring the Black Pirates of old, the great horde of Kamtol, to relieve Thilum."
"Quickly, seek out Fu-King, my pilot, to get ready my great airship," he ordered.
Milieos departed in a micro-xat with Dee and Junie Watts following. Kulua lingered long enough to kiss Senca goodbye then, weeping, she ran after. Folkar moved well enough for a cripple, but he gladly accepted my arm to speed his ascent to the rooftop.
Fu-King's crew of 17 warriors hauled landing lines to guide a 50 man flier out of a protective hanger. They clambered aboard then assisted the women, Folkar and myself. We strapped in as the gun crews unlimbered the ship's two cannons. A moment later, as the fighting near the center of Thilum resumed, Fu-King gave the order to depart.
The gunners poured shell after shell into the massed Warhoons at the town's verge. Dozens of warriors and thoats were slaughtered as the large bore weapons spat destruction. All of us wondered if the airship could turn the battle, but as that thought occurred the Warhoons dispersed into smaller groups, leaving no targets upon which the great guns would be most effective. Rifle fire was returned and a few projectiles hit the ship, but with no serious damage. Fu-King ordered full speed, and we escaped further hits.
Milieos and I looked back. Parts of Thilum burned and the milling throng of green warriors was a number greater than believed—it looked to be fully several thousand!
"I will return, Senca," Milieos promised softly as the wind scream rose.
I believed him.
Our original course from Thilum took us out of the way for the run to Kamtol. Fu-King waited until dawn to given the order to turn north. Barsoom is an extraordinary world, being all land and very little water, and vast stretches of it is virtually unexplored. The land beneath our keel was no place a First Born or a red man had been — at least not in recorded history.
At noon Fu-King consulted with Milieos. The hits taken during our escape had marginally impacted the ship's operation. Did he have permission to ground the ship to make repairs?
"One zode, Fu-King, that is all I can spare," was the reply.
We were a few hundred haads from Thilum when Milieos granted permission. Fu-King set lookouts to locate a suitable landing site. Any level ground would have sufficed but as coincidence worked for me to bring the warning of the Warhoon attack, it worked again to reveal the bones of a dead city off the starboard bow. As we neared the pile of rubble we passed over the wreckage of a large flier. There was no movement nor bodies around the ship or in the nearby city.
Fu-King and Milieos conferred, trying to guess the name of the city. For them no answer came. But for me, after seeing the half-ruined central spire of white stone surrounded by six black ones equidistant, a name was suggested from myth and legend.
"Thaandor," I said. "It is Thaandor."
Thaandor, the first city to be abandoned as the oceans of Barsoom receded. It was rumored that more than the natural catastrophe which ultimately claimed all of the planet had been a factor. Tales of terrible demons and corphals are told in conjunction with Thaandor.
The city below was magnificent even in ruin and desolation. If this was indeed lost Thaandor, it lay at 20 degrees North, and 90 degrees West. Legend had it that Warhoons once camped here, but even these fierce denizens were ill at ease with the mysteries of Thaandor. The Warhoons had avoided the place thereafter and over the years even they forgot where it was located.
Yet there was a commodious wrecked flier here of relatively recent design.
Fu-King brought our flier to ground some distance from the wreck. Scouts were sent out and they warily approached the downed ship. One entered it and emerged a short time later. He waved, shouting: "There be plunder! Furs, jewels and wine aboard!"
Milieos was not interested. "Go, if you wish, Fu-King, but do not tarry. Senca awaits. You have one zode to accomplish all—and it best be this ship which is repaired as that one will never fly again." The physician turned away, his mind already at work on other problems.
Fu-King promised to keep the exploration short. "I may find that which will make our repairs easier."
I did not believe him, nor did Milieos if I guessed rightly. There was a look of greed in Fu-King's eyes. The captain of the vessel went over the side, as well as all his ship's company. Dee and Junie Watts went below to the galley as Milieos and I watched casks being unloaded from the cracked hull of the downed flier. Fu-King filled a cup and inhaled the bouquet. He then drank it, wiping his mouth with his forearm. The pilot's comrades joined Fu-King's indiscretion. With in a xat all had filled their cups at least once.
I went below, desirous to talk to Junie Watts but she was not alone. She took no notice of me, deliberately so. I was angered by her attitude. The misshapen female did not realize the grief she would endure for snubbing me, her owner, her master. Yet, there was something in me that kept me silent on that matter for I sensed in Dee that any such claim over Junie Watts might have deadly results. Having seen her sword work, I was not so confident to say who would be the victor.
Damn the slave! Through her all my recent misfortunes sprang. I wanted to blame her wholly and completely, yet I could not forget my weakness in running away from something I did not understand.
Dee and Junie Watts energetically engaged in food preparation using a large vessel over a portable stove. My hunger pained me as the pleasant aroma assailed my quivering nostrils. My feelings towards the red woman and the hideously deformed Jasoomian, which I still considered my property, were revised in view of their culinary efforts.
I returned to contemplating the prospect of returning home with Junie Watts. I chafed at enduring this guise of tradesman. I craved action, and hand to hand combat of the most fully satisfying nature. Out of my peripheral vision I observed crippled Folkar and his sister Kulua reclining against the bulkhead conversing in whispers. All seemed well and peaceful. Then Junie screamed!
I leaped to my feet. The Jasoomian gazed through a porthole in the outer hull, her brown face reflected intense shock and horror. Lunging to a nearby porthole I saw the wreck beside Thaandor. Eighteen men lay inert, occupying assorted poses. They had not had enough time to drink themselves into a stupor. I decided to investigate. Everyone on board had the same idea. We cautiously exited the ship and slowly made our way to the wreck and lifeless appearing men.
As I passed among the bodies there were no marks of violence, nor of anyone passing to or from the wreck. I leaned over Fu-King and felt his neck and breast. He was dead. Milieos and I went from man to man. They were all dead! How? Milieos bade us to remove ourselves from the area while he conducted an examination. Folkar and I conversed our perplexity for a quarter zode before Milieos returned, his face grave and concerned.
We crowded around Milieos, pummeling him with simultaneous quarries. He shot his right hand up admonishing silence. He paused, reluctant to voice his findings.
"Evil dwells here," he whispered. "I believe the wine was the death-dealing agent. I will have to perform an analysis on the wine to be sure."
Dee and the Jasoomian stood to one side. Milieos' siblings to the other. I faced him direct to confirm this diagnosis. "Are you quite certain of these facts, Milieos? They were poisoned?"
"Perhaps," he said, "though it is a poison I have never encountered. There is something assuredly not right here!"
As Milieos retrieved instruments to conduct his test, we began searching the area for anything unusual. Folkar and Kulua discovered nothing. Junie Watts followed Dee, but even that resourceful woman turned up nothing. Milieos joined up, his tests inconclusive. Our perplexity grew and we turned to the only place not yet explored. The approach to the dead city lay under an eerie silence as we cautiously entered the ruins.
Suddenly a bright white light, the kind that irritates the eyes, spread over all of us from one of the ruined towers. Everything was liberally bathed in this pristine and disabling glow. The women fell to the ground in an unconscious heap. Folkar followed immediately. Milieos and I struggled for several moments against the blinding white light then all was black, cold, and unknowing.
The mental mists swirled and cascaded a riot of color. I believed I saw fuzzy shapes like myself, yet somehow different. I experienced a sense of nausea and general ill feeling. At some point the nightmarish mist cleared and consciousness again returned.
I was in total and complete blackness. I could neither see nor hear anything! Was this death? My head swelled and ached. I tried to move but found my hands, feet, and neck were securely manacled with heavy chains embedded into a cold, dank wall.
"Who be there making the noise of clanking chains?" came a sepulchral voice from the darkness.
Hope leaped within my breast! I was NOT alone! Someone to speak with! "Harken ye, I am Holkat, a First Born of Erbum-Dor."
"Ah, friend traveler, it is I, Milieos." The relief in his voice was evident.
"Do you know where we are?" I asked.
"No, I but regained my senses a few xats before you," he said.
I noticed a gradual difference in the darkness! Some moving light, faint and distant, dispelled the blackness. As the light strengthened I was unable to see what carried it but I was better able to see my surroundings. Footfalls echoed hollowly through the corridor-like room. Milieos was an arms reach across from me, chained as was I in a standing position. At the edge of the light were Dee, Junie, Folkar, and Kulua likewise manacled.
"Fear not, fellow Barsoomians, death is not approaching you," declared a voice behind the light. It was an ordinary radium lamp, such as had been used for millennia by all nations of Barsoom.
I strained to see who or what spoke to us. The lamp was turned briefly on each of my fellow prisoners and when it was turned upon me, it was almost as blinding as the light which had rendered us unconscious. The lamp was placed on the floor and directed to the ceiling, where the light was diffused in a manner that gave general illumination of the stonewalled corridor and our captor. To my surprise he was a small, balding man neither Black, Red, White, Yellow, or Green. The hunched figure of apparent great age was as brown as Junie Watts!
The old man's voice wheezed when he spoke. "I bid you welcome to Thaandor. I am Elder Huc-En."
We said nothing. Milieos seemed curious. Dee, tight-lipped, had murder in her eyes, which emotion I am sure echoed in mine. Folkar revealed nothing though his sister wept silently. Junie Watts stared at the man, perhaps hopeful to meet one of her kind.
"I have seen every race on Barsoom," I said. "The likes of you is something quite beyond my realm of knowledge. What race are you? Are you Barsoomian?"
"Everyone we entertain asks the same questions," Huc-En sighed. "Ages ago when the oceans began to recede a ship bearing Holy Therns and First Born was wrecked near here. They sought refuge in the city, which had already been abandoned for centuries. Our ancestors killed the great white apes which had occupied Thaandor. Life was difficult, and the wild creatures and the hostile environment took heavy toll upon the stranded groups. As the balance of male to female changed due to beast attacks or death, our ancestors buried their racial pride and intermarried. The decision to co-mingle the pure strains of Thern and First Born was not lightly made, but survival was paramount. The children which ensued were a blended brown race, unlike any upon Barsoom. After a million years contact was again made with the outside world but the red man, white man and black uniformly despised us. Each meeting resulted in battle, for we were considered sub-human. It took two hundred thousand years for our ancestors to successfully disengage that contact, to retreat to Thaandor and safety. The prejudice heaped upon our people left a lasting impression. We came to avoid the more populous races for we are few compared to their teeming millions, but we have always believed we have an equal right to life. We have zealously guarded our hidden nation for ten thousand years against all intruders."
My eyes grew wide with disbelief! An unknown race existing on Barsoom all these ages! My mind swam.
Huc-En paused as we digested his history. He smiled as he looked upon our stunned faces. The wrinkles of his face deepened as he cackled. "We have sentries in the high tower at all times. When intruders appear we greet them as we have always been greeted: with death. Some we take slaves," he continued. "Work well and you will live. Resign yourselves to slavery for you will never leave Thaandor except by death."
I tried to lash out at the wizened man. He shrank back. A shadow moved from the darkness beyond the light. A length of steel came toward me as Junie Watts doubled over screaming. Though death was near, I looked at the misshapen creature as a cold swish passed close to my head. And then—
Chapter 9: Junie Watts:
Sensation slowly returned. I was chained in a corridor room somewhere underground. Near me were Dee, Kulua and Folkar. Further away were Milieos and Holkat; all of them chained like me. The only difference being that my neck was not chained but everyone else's were.
A little bald headed man brown man stood in directly in front of Holkat, but it was obvious that he was speaking to all of us when he said "Work well and you will live. Resign yourselves to slavery for you will never leave Thaandor."
Holkat tried to reach the old man, but the old man pulled back. At the same time, I saw something moving toward Holkat that was so terrible that I screamed and doubled over to hide my eyes. It had been an ulsio at least twice the size that Dee had told me to expect. She had told me about the fierce rats of Mars that could completely tear apart prey two or three times larger than itself. This one was large enough to tear a Warhoon apart and hardly start and it was going for Holkat!!
I heard the sound of swords crashing and had to open my eyes to see what was happening. The first thing I saw was Holkat standing, still bound, but alive. By his side lay the ulsio with a long metal spear sticking out from between its eyes. The old man was fighting for his life against a much younger man I couldn't help but notice how powerful the newcomer looked. He was almost the same tone of brown as I myself and moved like a tiger.
Soon, the old man lay dead upon the floor and the newcomer began to move among us releasing our chains. When he arrived at me, his eyes grew wide as he saw my distended stomach. He stepped back and looked at me with questions in his eyes.
Turning, he called into the shadows, "Jokar, come and take these visitors to our camp. I am taking the female to Maj Lankor." From the shadows came another man, fully the largest human I had seen since coming to Barsoom. Jokar was nearly as tall as a Warhoon and looked just as powerful. He too was that beautiful brown as his companion.
As Jokar led my companions away, the other man turned to me. "What should I call you, my lady? I am known as Torvaan Rok and I mean you no harm." Now I could see his face clearly for the first time. He was the handsomest man on two planets. Tall, muscular and handsome. What a combination.
Now I was really beginning to feel strange. Just as I was beginning to think something might develop between Milieos and me, Holkat had shown up and even though I hadn't spoken to him, the old feelings had arisen. Now, here was a man who made them both seem plain. I told myself to control my hormones. It had to be just emotionalism.
I hesitated for a moment before answering, "I am Junie Watts."
Torvaan Rok finished freeing me and led me in the opposite direction from that which Jokar and the rest of my group had gone. He must have seen the fear in my eyes, for he spoke again, but almost in a whisper.
"Don't worry, Junie Watts," he said. "Your friends are safe with Jokar. He is taking them to safety."
"But where are we going?" I asked.
"We are going to see Maj Lankor, the greatest scientist in Thaandor," he replied.
When we had arrived at our destination, it was discovered that the great scientist was not present, but Torvaan Rok seemed to know where everything was. He led me through a hidden door into a room that seemed to be equipped with enough scientific equipment to do just about anything.
As we waited, Torvaan Rok told me about his city and how the black race and the yellow race had combined and created the new race half black and half yellow which had produced the beautiful brown that looked so sun-baked. I thought that he, himself must be the best example of that mixture.
When he had finished the history, he stopped and bowing his head became very quiet. I wondered if he was praying, but no, he looked up and spoke again:
"It is not a pretty picture that I have to give you now, Junie Watts. For the last five hundred years, we have been ruled by a tyrant who kills most who come here. The others he makes slaves. Few Barsoomians survive the type of slavery he demands working in the mines day and night until they drop.
"Ten years ago, my father and I began building a following who would back us if we could conquer the Jeddak. It has been a long time, but now I believe we are about ready for me to challenge Nal Makor. If I win, I become Jeddak and no more visitors will die needlessly. Our people will be free to live their own lives instead of the lives dictated by a Jeddak. If I lose, I and all my followers will be dead."
I was shocked at how calmly Torvaan Rok viewed his own death. I still had a lot to learn about Barsoom's customs and attitudes.
Just as I was about to ask Torvaan Rok why we had come here, the hidden door swung open and in walked another of Torvaan Rok's people. He was almost as handsome as Torvaan Rok though maybe not as muscular. The two men clasped each others arms as old comrades might.
"I see you got there in time," the newcomer said. "Was there any trouble?"
"Just a little, Maj Lankor." replied Torvaan Rok. "Jokar had to spear a giant ulsio to protect one of the prisoners and I dispatched Huc-En. But, I brought you one of the prisoners whom I thought you would like to meet."
Maj Lankor turned to me then. "Hello, what's this? Where are you from? Can it be...."
Torvaan Rok spoke up. "Her name is Junie Watts and I do not know where she is from."
"Let her talk for herself, said Maj Lankor. "I am Maj Lankor, greatest scientist of Thaandor, and the father of Torvaan Rok. Please tell me about yourself."
I didn't answer.
"All right," he continued, "then I will tell you what I can. You are from Jasoom which you probably call earth. Your race is Negro and your people are slaves to the whites. You are with child and very near the time when your child will be born. How you got to Barsoom, I have no idea."
I was in shock. How could a Barsoomian know so much about Earth? It didn't seem possible. I just sat there.
Maj Lankor smiled, "Come, child. Don't be so shocked. Remember, I am a scientist and know much more than the average Martian so am I not right?"
I hesitated, then spoke. "Except for one thing you are right," I said. "Slavery was abolished almost 125 years ago in my country. But my people aren't much better off. People hate us for our color and hang our men in secret. We are practically slaves anyway. We work for the lowest wages, live in the poorest houses, and sometimes are still not allowed to stay in some towns after dark. But, how did you know?"
"Ah!" Maj Lankor sighed, " That's easily told. About 100 years ago - about 160 or so of your years - I built an enclosed flier, powered by the eighth ray of Barsoom and traveled into space. I believe that I am the only Barsoomian to ever do so. I set my direction toward the sun and flew until I intercepted Jasoom. It had taken a full year, but I had plotted the direction that each planet would move and where they would be at the given time. I also knew that I would have to wait until Barsoom began to catch up with Jasoom before I could return.
"I landed in what was called Alabama. It took me twenty days to build a hiding place for my flyer using radium pellets and to make it safe, then I set off to meet the inhabitants of this new world.
"After walking for a day and a half, I came to a small village. Cautiously, I slipped around until I had found a hiding place where I could watch and listen. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I couldn't understand a word being said. These people did not speak the universal language. Then I saw children much smaller than those on Barsoom playing strange games of war with wooden pistols of some strange design.
"I watched and listened for several days, gradually becoming aware that I was learning their language quite rapidly. I decided that this had to do with the telepathy which we of Barsoom use. People would talk and I would pick up the meaning as I listened.
"Fourteen days had passed when I made a mistake. On the night of the fourteenth day, I realized that my food was all gone. I had been taking food from a farm nearby, so I decided to fill my small needs.
"When I arrived at the outskirts of the farm, I looked to see if anyone was about. Seeing no one I began to creep to the building where the food was stored. I entered the building expecting to find everything stacked as usual only to find myself looking into the barrel of a metal pistol I was captured.
"I was taken outside where several more men came out of hiding. All of them were pale like a Holy Thern, but they had many different hair colors."
"'Hang the filthy nigger!' I heard one call. 'He ain't even got the brains to ware clothes.'
"'Don't let him get th't sword!,' another yelled. My sword was quickly taken from me and given to one of the men.
"I was then bound with heavy ropes and led to a large tree where another rope was put around my neck and the other end thrown over a limb of the tree. I was sure I would never see Barsoom again but I would die as a man without begging for my life.
"Just then, one of the men spoke. 'Hey, he looks too strong not to get sumthin' out o 'im. Why don't we sell 'im to sum'un over in 'Sippi?'
"After talking it over between themselves, they finally agree and I was move to another building and locked inside. There was no light and the smell was strong and vile. I had no doubt that I was in a place where animals were kept and that what I smelled was their excrement."
Maj Lankor paused. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said. "You're tired and the rest of the story can wait until we have eaten and slept."
I tried to control my curiosity about this man's life in the South prior to the Civil War. How could a black man survive who had no idea what was going on? That he had survived and returned to Barsoom was already evident, but how?
We ate a simple meal such as bachelor's would have; a sandwich of some bread, cheese and meat. I was surprised at how good it tasted until I realized that I hadn't eaten since we had left Milieos' house. When was that? I didn't know — I'd been unconscious part of the time.
I awoke early and quickly sought out my hosts, my curiosity burning my insides. I had to hear the rest of the story. I somehow had begun to feel a kinship for Maj Lankor and his son.
I found them in the same room where we had eaten the night before. Maj Lankor was cooking what looked like eggs in a frying pan on a small burner. On another burner sat a coffee pot, boiling happily with a smell of deliciousness coming from it.
Torvaan Rok saw me enter and came to take my arm and lead me to my seat of the night before. He treated me as much like a lady as I ve ever been treated by anyone but my Granny.
"Good morning, Junie Watts," he said. "I'm glad you could join us for breakfast. My father has tried to fix a meal that will remind you of your home."
"Good morning, Junie," said Maj Lankor over his shoulder, "I hope you like sausage and eggs. The sausage is not quite the same as on earth, but the eggs are from real chickens. The coffee is as near as I could make it from Barsoomian plants; it really is quite close."
It almost felt like I was back on earth. The smells of a country kitchen on Sunday morning and good people to talk to. How did I know they were good people? I had only known them for less than a day, but something told me I could trust them.
"Junie Watts," Torvaan Rok spoke, "I have sent for your friends. I thought that it would be better if both you and they knew that the others were all right."
"That's wonderful!" I cried. I knew that with Dee there, everything would be just fine. These two men were kind and courteous, but a pregnant woman needs another woman just to be comfortable.
Maj Lankor laughed, "I'm glad it pleases you, Junie. Torvaan Rok thought of it. They may be a while getting here though. They have to come be stealth."
He carried the plates of eggs and sausage to the table, then brought cups of fresh, hot coffee. I could have sworn it was chicory coffee. I guess that he hadn't had real coffee, but chicory is close so I savored the smell and the taste. The sausage was the best I could remember eating, but, since I didn't remember too well when I had last eaten sausage, anything remotely like it would have been delicious.
"Where did you find chickens on Barsoom?" I asked between mouthfuls.
"Oh, that is part of father's story, Junie Watts," Torvaan Rok said.
"Then as soon as we finish eating, we must hear the rest," I replied as I took another bite, still anxious to hear the rest of the story. "And Torvaan Rok," I added, "on earth, we do not call each other by two names. My name is Junie. Watts is my family name. Please, just call me Junie."
Maj Lankor laughed at that, "I wondered when you would do that. It is the custom on Barsoom to use full names because the name does not reflect the family. If we were on earth, my son's full name would be Torvaan Rok, Son of Maj Lankor. But that is too much to use in normal conversation so we just use the single or double name that his parents gave him. When only one name is used when a person has two names, it is a familiar name reserved for family and close friends."
Torvaan Rok blushed, then turning to me he said, "Is it because we are close friends that I may call you Junie?"
"It is the custom of my world," I answered, but added, "I do hope we can be close friends for a long time."
He smiled and returned to his eating.
When we had finished eating, Maj Lankor continued his story.
"When morning came, I was taken from the animal shed and was made to wear some old overalls they had brought with them. Then I was chained both hand and foot and led to a man who seemed to be waiting for me.
"I was beaten with whips, and made to go with the man. He sold me at an auction to another white man. My new master made me walk behind a wagon for several days as he returned home. Later, I was to find out that I was in the state of Virginia on the east coast of the continent I had landed on. I was a long way from my flyer, but I wouldn't need it for several years.
"The story of my slavery would chill your bones, so I will only say that I served my new master for two years before I found relief.
"This occurred when my master was beating me for helping another slave. He lashed me until I lost consciousness. I woke up in a lamp-lit room with two people looking down on me, A beautiful brown girl and a handsome white man. I tried to move, but the white man pushed me back.
"'Easy, fellow,' the man said. 'It's alright now. You've had a rough time and if it wasn't for this girl you would be dead.'
"'Where am I?'
"' You're on my cousin's plantation. And you're safe,' the man smiled. 'I bought you to keep that fool from killing you and Cloe has taken care of you for four days. I'm sorry, but the doctors won't work on a black man, so Cloe and I had to do it all alone.'
"I stayed with this man on his cousin's plantation for several years. During this time Cloe and I were married and lived on the plantation.
"Knowing that the time was approaching when I must return to Barsoom, I sought out my master to beg his help.
"'Master Jack,' I began. 'Is there some way that I can win my freedom and that of Cloe by this time next year?'
"The master looked at me and smiled. 'The time you have been here you have more than repaid the dollar I paid for you. You could have had your freedom any time you wished.' He paused. 'But Cloe belongs to my cousin. I'll see what I can do, but I cannot promise anything.'
"Two weeks later Cloe and I had just begun our evening meal when there came a soft knock at the door of the little cabin where we lived.
"When I answered the door, I was surprised to see Master Jack and his cousin waiting outside. Normally a master would just walk in rather than knocking. I stepped aside and both men entered.
"'Good evening, Maj, Cloe,' said Master Jack. Master Bob, his cousin, just walked in and took my chair, motioning Cloe to leave her own.
"As Cloe started to get up, Master Jack motioned her back down and said, 'The lady of the house should always keep her seat in the presence of a gentleman. I prefer to be thought of as a gentleman by so lovely a lady.' Cloe blushed and glanced at Master Bob, who frowned as though someone had slapped his face.
"'We are here on a matter of importance to you,' said Master Jack. 'My cousin and I have come to an agreement. You are both free. Your letters of emancipation are here.' He handed me two sheets of paper which I have kept ever since. 'If you chose to stay, you will be paid wages, but if you chose to leave, I will give you one hundred dollars to get you started in a new life.'
"A hundred dollars was a lot of money on earth; an astute man and woman could live simply for many years on that much. I didn't know what to say. Such generosity was not known among the gentlemen of the south toward people of color. I looked at Master Jack.
"'It's true, Maj,' he said. 'I purchased Cloe's freedom and have granted yours. Whatever your decision, I am glad we came to know one another.'
"Master Bob got up and looked at me, then spoke, 'I think Jack is crazy for setting free a big strong buck when there's 20 more years work left in you, but that's not as stupid as paying seventy-five dollars for a woman who ain't worth twenty.' He turned and went out into the night.
"Cloe's gentle hand on my arm kept me from answering that insult with violence. Master Jack smiled at her, bowing most elegantly. His gallantry honored my lady and reprieved Master Bob from an untimely end.
"We stayed for six months then took our leave of Master Jack and began our trip to Alabama. The trip took eight weeks but we arrived in good condition. For two months we lived in the hills near my flyer. Each day we went to the place and worked long hours to make sure the ship was ready to return to Barsoom. At first Cloe was frightened of the machine, but during those weeks she began to see it as a great adventure.
"Finally, the day arrived when I had to return to Barsoom. I had long since decided to bring Cloe with me, but it had taken much persuasion to get her to agree, and that was after a long discussion about who I was and where I came from!
"We loaded food and water, this cast iron skillet, some chickens and feed and seed, into the forward hold and, after one last look around, boarded the ship. Two people made it a little tight but I had no fears. There was plenty of compressed air and the effects of the propulsion unit would be even more efficient outbound than on my journey to Jasoom. The flight home was uneventful, though Cloe and I became more close than we had ever been."
I saw his eyes gently unfocus, pleasant memories smoothed some of the sternness from his face. Catching himself with a wry smile, he continued:
"My calculated trajectory to Barsoom was slightly affected by the burden the ship carried. We arrived near the south polar region and had to fly north to Thaandor.
"The only thing left to tell is that less than ten weeks after our return I delivered of Cloe our son, Torvaan Rok, the first live human birth on Barsoom. I am the only man of my planet to have had that honor."
I sat fascinated at this story of a Barsoomian on Earth. There were things that made no sense in the story such as how could this have happened over a hundred years ago? Neither Torvaan Rok nor his father Maj Lankor looked over thirty or forty. How many years was Maj Lankor on earth? How old was Cloe when she nursed him back to health and how old was she when Torvaan Rok was born? Why were there no children before the return to Barsoom? I couldn't ask Maj Lankor to tell more, it would be impolite. Dee would have to explain much to me.
But the big news was that now I had someone who could help Milieos when it came time to deliver my child!!
While I was thinking about these things there was a light knock at the door, followed by a pause and then two more knocks.
Torvaan Rok quickly opened the door and Jokar entered with the people captured with me. I rushed into Dee's arms with tears of joy.
After the reunion, we settled down to relax. The others had rested in a cavern deep within the caves below the city and started here sometime earlier. They were quite tired.
While we rested, I told Dee the story of Maj Lankor and his trip to Earth. She had a hard time believing it, so when I mentioned the Letter of Emancipation and explained it to her, she said, "Junie, are you making this up? I'd like to see the letter you speak of to see if it is true. I read English as well as speak it. I'll know the truth."
Maj Lankor overheard Dee talking. He walked over to a cabinet and removed a neatly folded yellowed piece of paper which he offered to Dee.
As Dee read the Letter of Emancipation, I saw her eyes go wide and her interest peaked. The letter fell from her hand .
I picked the letter up and began to read it. It was just as Maj Lankor had said. The paper said he was free and it was issued in Virginia and signed by his master, Captain John Carter.
Chapter 10: Milieos:
The Science of War
My mind would not stop racing. I sometimes wished for the bottle, but knew that its influence could endanger, or in the case of the foolish pilot Fu-King, destroy any chance I had of succoring my brother from his peril. Not that I was in a position to do so. My own peril was bad enough. I chafed at every moment I spent cowering in the pits of Thaandor, hiding from the mad tyrant who ruled this city of the blended races. This was not the way of a First Born. Action was eminently preferable to such an ulsio-like existence. Of course, the ulsios here were quite ferocious, but that was just one of the wonders of this marvelous place in which I found myself.
My fears for my brother's fate, curiosity over who was a traitor Thilum, and persistently, my concerns for the Jasoomian Junie Watts all boiled in my brain until I could take it no longer. The time for contemplation passed swiftly, and I soon found myself enroute to the lair of the scientist Maj Lankor. The woman Dee had been impressed with his tale, and shaken by the strange paper that he possessed. After she had dropped it, I examined it. The hieroglyphics on it were unreadable, so I asked Junie Watts to translate it. She did so readily.
"John Carter!" I hissed, after she finished. "The same Jasoomian who has so overturned Barsoomian life?"
"Gotta be," she said in her charming accent. "It sure shook the snot out of Dee. She dropped that thing like it was ready to bite her. She being from Helium, she must know that man."
"That's obvious," I pointed out. "But why would she react so, unless he has wronged her in some way. Perhaps she was once a slave of his. No telling what Jasoomian depredations he forced upon her."
"Just you hold on, Milieos," she returned. "Dee weren't never nobody's slave. You could tell that the way she did things. Look how much effort it took her to even fix a decent meal. Uh-uh. She is close to this John Carter."
"Of course," I said, snapping my fingers. "She is the widow of a Zodangan, no doubt murdered by John Carter during his invasion. She was probably taken as booty during that massacre and forced to marry a Heliumite. She probably is hiding out from them even now."
"I dunno," Junie Watts muttered. "Something else is going on."
Whatever that might be, I threw from my mind as I strode the dark corridors to Maj Lankor's laboratory. Inside, I found only the tall inventor, laboring over a worktable. I envied the many pieces of equipment that he possessed. His bronze face was bent over a microscope and he did not at first hear me, but the scrape of my foot upon the stones soon alerted him. He whirled, hand ready to draw his long sword.
"Kaor, Maj Lankor," I greeted. "I have marveled over your tale of travel to Jasoom."
"So, Junie Watts has spread my fame," he chuckled. "I told her the most part of my story. I did not want to distress her with the many barbarities I was forced to endure whilst a slave, especially in the state of Mississippi. Have a look." He indicated the microscope.
I bent my eye to the finely wrought brass instrument as found myself peering at a pool of infusoria that swarmed happily beneath the lense.
"They appear to be amoebae and protozoans," I observed.
"So they do," Maj Lankor murmured, and charged a needle from a jar of liquid nearby. He squirted a drop of the straw-colored fluid, which immediately caused a maelstrom in my viewing range. The various protozoans under my gaze suddenly became more agitated, and to my surprise began to increase in size until they were thrice their original diameters. I drew back from the instrument, amazed. Creatures once invisible to the naked eye could now be seen without the aid of the microscope!
"What is this?" I demanded. "What magic have you wrought that could make these tiny creatures grow so large nearly instantly—and without apparent harm to them?"
Maj Lankor smiled with amusement. "It is not magic."
"By the laws of medical science with which I am familiar it is an impossibility; yet, I cannot deny the evidence of my own eyes. Though I doubt the use of such in practical application, it is certainly a more marvelous work than even Ras Thavas' hormad artificial life forms."
"It was not for personal gain or glory that this serum was created—nor was a growth exciter the desired goal of my research," Maj Lankor revealed. "The giant Jokar is but one result—and that was unintended! The ulsio which Jokar dispatched in your prison was another."
Intrigued, I listened intently as the man destroyed the transformed creatures with a splash of acid. He then sealed the growth exciter and cleaned the instruments used. The material was then locked away in a sturdy cabinet before he turned to me once again.
"I suffered an accident in my laboratory when a sorak, of all creatures, came into contact with the exciter and blossomed to nearly the size of a banth. The creature, perhaps driven mad in the process, nearly wrecked the laboratory, shattering several cages of treated ulsios. Jokar, my assistant, was splashed by a small amount of exciter before I was able to finish the immense sorak with a shot from my radium pistol. Unfortunately the ulsios escaped and now they breed beneath the city, a danger to all."
"And they breed true to their new size?"
Maj Lankor solemnly nodded. "Not only do we fight the minions Nal Makor, we make war upon these giant ulsios, for I fear the future of Barsoom should they ever escape Thaandor and become a plague upon the planet."
Having seen one giant ulsio and its incredible ferocity, I well understood the scientist's concern. "Which begs the question: why have you developed this serum?" I asked.
"A growth exciter was not my original goal," Maj Lankor said wearily, and waved me to a chair. Before sitting in one opposite me, he pulled a dusty bottle of wine and two battered cups from a side board. I nearly refused, but decided that one drink would not hurt, though mindful of Fu-King's demise, I allowed my host to drink first. Maj Lankor, once refreshed, began his tale.
"Our species and those of Jasoom are nearly compatible. It must be so or we would not be able to cross breed as evidenced by the child Cloe bore and those rumored to have been born to John Carter and the princess of Helium. Some dim common ancestor must exist, some seed from the stars that fell on both our planets, yet, there are significant differences. For example, development of the womb on Barsoom was arrested, for all Barsoomians are oviparous. On Jasoom a twist of evolution made the womb of humans highly specialized so that they bear their young alive. It is a marvelous thing, as you will see.
"I told Junie Watts of my return from Jasoom with my beautiful Jasoomian bride Cloe," the scientist of Thaandor said. "What I did not tell her was that I knew the hand of time was against us, for even as we raised our only son, the clock was running down for Cloe and I. I knew she would age after the fashion of Jasoomians and I, because of my love for her, bent every effort to counter those effects.
"My intention was to locate the cellular encoding of Jasoomian physiology which led to decay and dissolution, which only occurs in our peoples at the extreme end of our 1,000 year lifetimes. One area of study involved the elasticity and porosity of cell membranes in relation to contained nucleonic structures and methods of delivering anti-oxidizing agents to retard the effects of aging. The delivery agent I developed was intended to act as a carrier to flood the entire body with anti-oxidants—and it worked thus for Cloe. But," Maj Lankor sighed, "the serum's effect upon Barsoomian cell structures was quite unexpected, something that was not immediately known, as you will learn.
"The carrier agent was all that I hoped. Each treatment devised to retard Cloe's aging was easily administered, and with nearly instantaneous transmission to the several billions of cells which make up the human body. Though I was unable to perfect a serum to stop her aging, I wrought wonders to prolong her life and give it quality. She eventually passed, though it was not more than twenty years ago."
For a moment Maj Lankor fell silent, lost in memories which brought expressions of both joy and great sadness to his brown face. With great effort he set aside the remembrances and continued.
"I would have continued my experiments should the same Jasoomian aging process affected Torvaan Rok, but, he does not appear to have inherited the genetic coding which ended his mother's life so prematurely."
"He is your only child?" I asked.
At this, the great scientist colored, and bowed his head. "I dare not speak of that matter, out of shame."
"I intrude," I apologized. "Forgive me."
"No," Maj Lankor, said, straightening up. "Perhaps I should speak of it. Such a revelation may cleanse my soul. I spoke of my deprivations in that part of Jasoom where I was taken prisoner. I was forced to do many things. One problem I labored with was the heavier gravity of Jasoom. It taxed me at first, but the thicker air gave me strength, and I grew accustomed to it. Our species has always been robust and quick to heal wounds, and sickness is rare among us. Though I suffered on Jasoom early, as the years passed my body adapted, or so it must have, for I put on weight and muscle, gained stamina, was able to perform hard labor and not be distressed."
The Thaandorian offered a wry laugh. "I consumed more food in a day than I might eat in a week on Barsoom. I drank more water in an hour than one might drink in two days. My body temperature was higher, constantly, and I can only suppose that at some level my cells and tissues were operating at levels much higher than the demands of our native environment. Did my time on Jasoom have long term effects? Possibly. I may have lost a century or two of longevity though some short term gains remain. I am slightly stronger than most and my reflexes are faster, though as the years pass these slight advantages are disappearing. However, I digress from the admission I was about to make—and answer the question you asked.
"My physique being what it was, it caused my Jasoomian masters no small amount of pride when they would show me to neighboring plantation owners. To my horror, one neighbor asked for my use to breed with one of his female slaves.
"I was shocked. To be forced to mate with a woman not of my choosing, or me of hers, went against all that I was bred to believe. Worse, my master was paid for my use. I was reluctant, and suffered a severe whipping then was chained naked to my bed. The other farmer's slave was brought to me. She was comely in the fashion of Jasoomians, though scared to death because her master waited outside the shed, a cruel whip in hand.
"I had never known the attention of a woman before, and I am sorry to say that in my misery her terrified yet tender ministrations aroused my passions. Though I despised myself I also feared for the woman. She would have been punished had she failed—and failure was only possible by lack of cooperation on my part. Though in truth there was nothing either of us could do about the situation, I would not see her suffer in that regard. She clung to me that night, and for several nights following, until the woman's owner was satisfied he'd received sufficient service for the price paid.
"I never knew her name, for she had been threatened with the whip if she told me. She said it was because her master was worried 'that black buck' would fall in love with her then try to escape to find her. I did become infatuated, but I was sold to Master Bob before I could put any such plans into action. Things work for the best, Milieos, since I would never have met my beloved Cloe. I never knew whether my pairing with that woman was fruitful."
Maj Lankor drained his glass. Setting it down, he narrowed his eyes meaningfully. "Cloe did not know, for I loved her too much to admit my shame. Even Torvaan Rok does not know."
"I will keep your secret," I offered.
We sat in silence while I finished my wine. When I was done, I deliberately changed subjects, as much to honor the man's confidence as to address personal concerns. "I have come here to offer my assistance. I wish to help you overthrow the jeddak, Nal Makor. An early end to your civil war is the only way I see that I will escape here. However, there must be word on your part that, should we be successful, you will help me rescue my brother."
"I do not know if we are ready to face Nal Makor," Maj Lankor frowned. "His troops are powerful."
"We have other weapons," I noted.
"You have a fleet of warships hidden in your accoutrements?" he asked with a smile.
"You have just shown me a way, sir. By using your growth exciter we can field allies of sufficient size and ferocity to vex Nal Makor. At any rate, if you remain on the defensive, he will eventually seize the initiative and wipe you out. A bold move, a strike at his palace, may win the day."
"You are right," Maj Lankor agreed. "With the addition of your help, we can succeed."
"It is better than waiting to die," I returned. "Besides, I have another idea." I spent the next two xats explaining my plan, then left Maj Lankor to carry out my portion of it as he bent his not inconsiderable intellect and energies to his part.
As I went in search of my people, I had the nagging feeling that something in the conversation with Maj Lankor had almost answered a question which had not, as yet, been fully formed in my mind. But the answer, nor the question, came to me as I walked through the tunnels of Thaandor.
This city held many wonders, but one of the most interesting was the raising of women warriors. Due to the necessities of the rebellion, the bronzed ranks of Maj Lankor's warriors had been swelled by females of his peculiar blended race. These women strode boldly down the intricate tunnels of Thaandor armed as men. The same cavalier glint of the Barsoomian warrior shone in their eyes. It was among a company of these brown beauties that I found Holkat, the arms merchant. I had no love for him over his treatment of Junie Watts, but I could not deny his facility with weapons, his bravery, nor his quick wit.
"Kaor, Holkat of Erbum-Dor," I greeted. "I hope I do not intrude."
"By no means, Milieos of Thilum," he returned with the same studied formality. "I am merely examining the weapons of these warriors."
"No doubt. I am certain that they are better able to protect themselves than Junie Watts."
Holkat handed back the dagger he had been admiring, and took me by the arm. Turning, he led me away from the women until we were well out of earshot. "Hold your tongue! I little like the innuendo in your comment, Milieos. She is my property, to do with as I wish."
"And it was your wish to abandon her? What claim you may have had has vanished, Holkat."
"Try not my patience." There was a chill tone in the proud man's voice.
"It is not my intention to duel with you, either by argument or steel—at least not at this time," I added. Holkat's brow rose, but I continued before he could respond. "The only hope of our exit from this domain is to help Maj Lankor unseat jeddak Nal Makor. It means a bloody battle, one in which we must triumph. Failure means a life of servitude or death. Whatever we may have to settle between us can wait. Are you with me in this?"
The ebon merchant's eyes blazed in his dark face. "Aye, Milieos, I am. The recent events have been a tonic for me. Certainly, I believe my treatment of Junie Watts has come from my subordination of my station as one of the First Born. It is a wrong I shall right, after we are done with Thaandor and I am done with you."
His last statement contained confusions. Did the wily merchant again have designs on Junie Watts? I had no time to ponder this. "First things, first. We must find out what happened to the equipment aboard our ship. Our weapons would be useful in this battle. I think a bold thrust at the palace would take Nal Makor off guard."
"I like that. His palace will be heavily fortified. Though I have seen no radium weapons among the warriors of Thaandor, and the effects of their light weapon are limited in range and direction, there is the matter of the palace itself. It is well-constructed and able to withstand explosive charges from our weapons. We have no siege equipment to batter our way in."
"That is true."
The arms merchant's dark face was a study of concentration. Suddenly it smoothed and a wide grin appeared. "I have an idea, Milieos. If Maj Lankor will give me his son and some of these bronze beauties, I might yet win the day for him."
The man's overbearing arrogance irritated me, but I held my tongue. "Go and ask," I advised. "I must see to my family and retainers, including your cast-off Jasoomian."
"Your words sting me and will be remembered. Today we are allies because of mutual interest. Perhaps tomorrow will be different. Attend to your family and whatever else you intend. I shall accomplish my task and will meet you on the field of battle for Thaandor's liberty."
Holkat returned to the group of female warriors, several of which had, during our conversation, thrown me bold looks of interest. As a brother to a Dator, I showed no hint that I noticed their attentions. Besides, now that the grief over my dead wife no longer paralyzed me, I discovered I had recently awakened feelings regarding Junie Watts. Events had given me little time for introspection. I returned to the living quarters assigned by Maj Lankor for my party. Dee sat next to the Jasoomian, a sharpening stone in one hand and a blade in the other. The weapon already had a keen edge, but the red woman did not seem satisfied. Junie had been resting on a soft mass of sleeping furs, though even in repose she was not idle. Her clever hands were busy mending a torn sandal strap. Folkar and Kulua, however, lounged about. Their idleness was no less than what I expected.
"There is a development," I told them. "Maj Lankor will soon attack Nal Makor with help from myself and Holkat."
Junie Watts turned her face toward me. Her voice was cool. "Now, there's a team. The stiff necked rummy and the love 'em and leave 'em arms dealer. Look out, Nal Makor."
The disparaging tone startled me, though I showed nothing by expression or word. I presumed it was the unexpected strain which we all had endured. "If we are to save Senca and Thilum, then I must throw in with them," I explained. "You will be safe here while the battle rages. I must go to Maj Lankor and help him with his final preparations.
"Junie," I said, looking directly at the woman, "I hope you will help tend the wounded as you did at Thilum." The brown woman lowered her eyes, I suppose because she was reminded that our position was far from secure. She nodded.
The red woman rose. The steel in her hand gleamed her the light of the radium lamp. "I will help—and fight if necessary."
"You are eager to leave this place, even if it means fighting a war."
"I have been too long here and Thilum. It is time for me to move on."
"To Helium, perhaps?" Why I chose that specific destination I know not, but the woman's eyes widened slightly.
"Perhaps," Dee replied.
"We will discuss it once Senca has been rescued. I must go."
With that, I turned and exited the apartment. I had not gone far when I heard Junie Watts call after me. I stopped and wheeled to face her. She was alone.
"Go back," I said. "You should rest. Consider your child."
She place a brown hand on her distended stomach. "It is my child I'm thinking about. What will become of it?"
"I don't understand. You will have your child, especially now we have the advice of Maj Lankor."
"That's not what I'm worried about. What's my child gonna be like? Will it be long-lived like Torvaan Rok, or will it grow old and die like me and Cloe?"
"Maj Lankor was able to prolong Cloe's life," I told her. "He is working on a serum to make Jasoomians as long lived as Barsoomians. You are young yet, Junie Watts. Do not give up hope now."
"What is there for me and my child? I am little more than a slave. My life on Earth was better than this. War against those big green four-armed nightmares, no television, just one crisis after another. What's in this life for me?"
I took her other hand as tenderly as possible. "There is I."
Her eyes became wide in surprise. Her softly expanded features shown forth all the beauty that I knew she possessed, but she could say nothing. I released her hand and began to reach for the hilt of my sword to lay it at her feet. The clink of metal sounded behind me and I turned to find Maj Lankor standing there.
"I have prepared several cages for our use," he told me. "We are ready to attack."
"Very well," I snapped, annoyed at the interruption. I turned to Junie Watts. "We will finish this later. Go back to Dee."
Shaking with emotion, as much from the excitement of the pending battle as astonishment for the expression of devotion I had unconsciously begun to offer to the Jasoomian woman, I fell step in with the tall scientist. Maj Lankor led us to a staging area where fully twelve utans of warriors, both male and female were assembled. One utan stood ready with a dozen carts that bore cages full of ulsios and soraks. I saw lizards of unknown type, as well as other reptiles, including a darseen of unusual coloration. I did not see Holkat or Torvaan Rok among the men. I said as much to Maj Lankor.
"Torvaan Rok advised me that they would join us at the palace with another utan after completing Holkat's preparations," Maj Lankor said. "Whether they are ready or not, we must proceed."
The warrior-scientist turned to address his army. He struck an imposing figure as his stentorian voice rang out. "My comrades of Thaandor, I welcome you at my side to end the oppression of Nal Makor. Long has the jeddak of Thaandor held us in his thrall, but no longer! We are going to meet him on the field of battle, taking the war to his very doorstep. Many will sleep in the bosom of Issus tonight, but before the day is done Thaandor will be a free city!"
"Hail Maj Lankor, rightful jeddak of Thaandor!" This thunderous acclaim issued from a hundred throats as swords flashed in the uncertain light of the lower reaches of Thaandor.
Without further exhortation, the warriors filed into passageways that all threaded toward the palace. I stayed at the side of Maj Lankor, who directed the utan handling the cages. He handed me a curious leathery mask as we marched. Dimly, we could hear the clash of arms and the eruption of radium shells.
"You will need to don this when I prepare the cages," he advised me. "There will be no time to inject all these animals. I have produced the growth serum in the form of an aerosol that I will spray over them. The usual action of the exciter has been inhibited so that it is now effective only if breathed."
We traveled on, silent save for the creak of the carts' wheels. We were soon opposed by a number of Nal Makor's men. I joined a woman padwar and her unit to take the fight to Nal Makor's minions. It was too dark to use the volatile radium shells, so we fought with sword and dagger. The ferocity of the padwar's magnificent warriors was astonishing. These women demonstrated their bravery and strength repeatedly, beating back Nal Makor's soldiers. As our foemen scattered we emerged into daylight, a bare hundred yards from the palace. Our other elements were pouring forth from other entrances. Nal Makor's remaining troops were drawn in a tight circle before the palace. Their radium weapons erupted in a storm of explosions, tearing great holes in our ranks.
"Masks on!" Maj Lankor commanded. All donned the leathery masks. The great scientist put a large tank on his back and sprayed the cages with its contents. As each cage was sprayed, attendants released their contents. The affected animals squealed in terror, and before our eyes began to expand.
"Back!" Maj Lankor ordered.
Our unit retreated away from the growing mass of writhing, pain-stricken and confused creatures. I have seen many wondrous things in my life—the science of Barsoom is heady with excitement—but never have I seen a more powerful demonstration of the result of disciplined intellect and science as I did this day. Maj Lankor's aerosol transformed minor beasts into gigantic engines of destruction in less time than it takes to tell it.
Once safely at a distance, he ordered the forward rank to fire a volley of radium shells between us and the animals. The effect was to create a barrier of flame and smoke that caused the titanic ulsios and soraks to charge toward the massed ranks of Nal Makor's men. The carnage was tremendous as Nal Makor's warriors, fearless as any Barsoomian fighting man, battled with the monsters. The terrible power of the radium shells had their effect in the end, and all the creatures perished in mounds of steaming flesh, but not before they had opened a hole in Nal Makor's ranks. Throwing off his tank, Maj Lankor drew his long sword.
"Charge!" He commanded.
Twelve utans of bronze warriors crashed into the ragged line protecting the palace. Though weakened, Nal Makor's men fought like banths. Maj Lankor and myself many times fought back to back in the fray. The remnants of the jeddak's guard fell back into the palace, and shut the great double doors before us. Suddenly, every window became an embrasure, with radium shells pouring into us.
"We'll be slaughtered!" I said.
Behind us came a great shout. I turned to see an amazing site floating over the walls of Thaandor. It was not a ship, not exactly, but one of the engines from our own flier, buoyed by a tank of the eighth Barsoomian ray, having some bars of steel bolted to its nose. Riding on this contraption was Holkat, Torvaan Rok, and the giant Jokar. Holkat steered the jury-rigged flying platform toward the palace and set its nose toward the doors. He fiddled with the controls, and then was swept up by the giant Jokar, along with Torvaan Rok. The giant leaped from the platform as Holkat's ministrations caused the device to shoot forward, plunging into the massive double doors.
There was a terrible din and the doors splintered under the impact of this thing, no more than an engine and an improvised battering ram. The device smashed through the doors and crashed into the palace causing an eruption of flame and smoke that belched forth.
The female padwar who fought with such cool efficiency, never far from myself or Maj Lankor, clapped an enthusiastic hand on my shoulder. "By the First Ancestor, today Thaandor is free, thanks to you and your companions! Should we survive the battle remaining, I wish to toast you, Milieos of Thilum!"
Before I could respond similarly, Maj Lankor ordered his troops forward. The assault was supported by the utan that had been with Holkat. Gaining entrance through the shattered gates, we faced hell as Nal Makor's men made each room a bunker, forcing us to blow in every door with a radium shell before rushing in.
We finally cleared the outer section and proceeded down several narrow corridors leading into the heart of the palace. The female padwar, covered in the blood of those unfortunate to cross swords with her, was ever in the lead. I pressed forward, the excitement of battle strong in my blood. Behind us came Maj Lankor and the main body of troops.
Resistance ebbed, the warriors of Nal Makor withdrawing to prepare a final defense. The padwar and I rushed forward, eager to join battle, but in my eagerness I committed a grave error. I passed an open doorway without looking within and from it, toward my back, sprang a swordsman to deliver a killing thrust. I did not know this until I heard the man scream when the padwar's terrific cut crashed through shoulder and bone and half way into his chest.
The woman jerked her sword free of the body and grinned. "T'would be nice if you lived long enough to share a toast."
Her brown skin glistened. Her long hair was tightly pulled back and secured by a thong to prevent obscuring of vision. Her harness was severe and utilitarian and her weapons were those of a fighting man but, though she was nearly as tall as me, there was nothing masculine about her.
"Should my carelessness get me killed if you are not there to save me, what name may I remember through eternity?"
"Galkina," she said as the rest of her unit caught up with us. "And it is unlikely you will die today, Milieos of Thilum." Facing her magnificent warriors Galkina cried, "For Freedom!" The answering shout and determined charge put fear into the hearts of our foes.
Time means nothing in battle: each second is an eternity to those who participate. But battles are never eternities. They are over quickly or they become sieges. I have never been able to fathom the incongruities of this apparent time displacement, nor do I think that anyone who has been in battle has experienced anything different. Each foe is a battle, and that day the padwar and I fought at least a hundred battles before we finally burst into the throne room.
To my surprise, and Maj Lankor's great satisfaction, the bestial Nal Makor personally led his bodyguard. These men were well formed and disciplined, and at the moment had the advantage of having to defend only a single entrance through which we must force our way in the face of withering fire.
Galkina and I had entered the room first, and by the luck of our speed and surprise, had found shelter near the edge of the wall behind massive columns supporting the roof overhead before the jeddak's troops began firing. We were pinned down, nor was Maj Lankor's men able to enter. We were at an impasse, one that would eventually resolve in favor of the rebel faction over time, but time was something that Senca did not have. Poor Thilum was under attack and I had been too long at this current occupation.
As I gathered myself to charge into Nal Makor's men simply because I could no longer restrain my anger and impatience, Galkina's hand grabbed my harness from behind. "Wait," she said.
I turned toward her, feeling less than charitable despite her saving my life earlier. "My brother and my city are in dire need, and here I be in the midst of another's squabbles."
"Freedom for Thaandor means succor for Thilum," she replied. "Maj Lankor has passed the word and there will be many volunteers—if there is one to lead us. Wait."
Like Dee, Galkina was used to commanding rather than asking. And, to my embarrassment, Galkina was correct. Wasting my life in a futile charge would not aid my brother. We waited.
We did not have to wait long, though once again each second seemed an eternity. For perhaps two xats the jeddak's riflemen had successfully pinned down Maj Lankor's troops when an unexpected event turned the tide of battle.
A mighty explosion cracked the rear wall behind Nal Makor's position. Almost simultaneously thirty warriors raced through the opening to fall upon the jeddak's guard from the rear. Cries of alarm and warning from the rearmost defenders created distraction among Nal Makor's men, some turning to face the new attack. At the forefront of the second force was the red woman so recently in my thoughts. She did not fight with the nicety or style of Galkina, but Dee was most effective nonetheless.
Galkina did not restrain me when I surged forward with a yell. Her voice joined mine as we charged from yet a third tangent upon the jeddak's guard. More confusion among the defenders as to where to place their fire ensued, and in that moment of indecision the bulk of Maj Lankor's warriors entered the huge room.
Nal Makor, surrounded by an elite squad of swordsmen, now made directly toward Maj Lankor. Beast and tyrant though he was, there was something to be admired about his determination to meet his foe.
I tried to intercept the huge jeddak, but I was engaged by a member of the bodyguard, and had to dispatch him before I could assist the scientist. A swirl of fighting passed before me and for a moment Galkina and I were back to back, simply trying to stay alive. The battle was terrific, but for the padwar and myself, it had become a very limited and personal thing.
By the time we had dispatched our nearest foes, Galkina and I leaned against each other, trying to catch our breath. At that moment our sword arms were so leaden I doubt that either of us could lift our weapons. However, there seemed little need for that as the battle was all but done. The rebels had completely surrounded the jeddak's guard and, faced with superior numbers, they threw down their weapons.
Across the room, standing amidst a pile of bloodied corpses, Dee leaned upon her sword. The red woman's breasts heaved from the horrendous exercise, but there was a fire in her eyes that amazed me. Galkina, too, noticed and let me know it by nudging me in the ribs.
"Had I a dozen like her, this battle would have been over long ago!"
Though it stung my male pride, I said, "Had it not been for her, perhaps this battle might have gone on longer."
The battle was, in fact, over, though one personal combat continued. Victors and defeated alike watched as Maj Lankor and Nal Makor crossed swords in the center of the battle-scarred hall.
Both men were tall and muscular, and their swords rang like anvils. Maj Lankor was lean and banth-like in his swiftness. Nal Makor was quick for a fat man, and there was no give in his attack. As the conflict continued it seemed that neither had the advantage. Yet, Nal Makor refused to surrender, knowing in advance what judgment would be passed upon him. He had nothing to lose attempting to take his foe down before he was executed.
A cunning light gleamed in the bestial jeddak's eyes. I sensed, as I believe all did, that the man planned some trickery since martial prowess had failed to find a weakness in his opponent. Some shouted warnings to Maj Lankor, others shushed them to silence—distractions were the last thing Maj Lankor needed.
Suddenly, Nal Makor stepped back a pace and raised his sword high. In a flash he changed grips and then hurled it like a spear at Maj Lankor. Even as he threw, the evil jeddak drew his dagger and rushed forward. Maj Lankor barely deflected the speeding sword with his, then by the most minute of margins, turned his body to escape Nal Makor's knife. The jeddak's rush carried him past and in wake of that passing, Maj Lankor used both hands to deliver a terrific blow at Nal Makor's spine. The blade bit deep and the result was immediate. Paralyzed from the waist down, the jeddak fell to the floor. Oddly, he did not scream.
Maj Lankor stood over his fallen opponent, chest heaving. The man on the floor pushed himself over, until he lay face up, blood spreading in a hot pool around his body. Something was said between the two men, but even in the sudden silence, we onlookers heard it not. After a short time Nal Makor raised his dagger and plunged it into his breast.
The victor stood briefly with lowered head, acknowledging Nal Makor's last act with quiet respect. Then, sheathing his sword, Maj Lankor raised his head and cried: "Thus be it ever to evil. "Nal Makor is dead. Thaandor is free!"
Torvaan Rok suddenly cried: "Hail Maj Lankor, jeddak of Thaandor!" For an instant there was stunned silence, it had been said that Torvaan Rok was to be Jeddak, yet that very man proclaimed his father leader of Thaandor. That instant passed, however, and every person in the room took up the cry. Torvaan Rok came forward to clasp his father's arm.
Holkat, close behind behind Torvaan Rok, grinned and approached me. The wily arms merchant wiped blood from his sword and sheathed it. "It took an utan working at full speed, but I was successful," he reported.
"You do have your uses," I admitted.
Dee approached. "Your people are free, Maj Lankor," she said. "Are my companions and I free to go?"
"Have no fear, in that regard, brave warrior," Maj Lankor assured her. "That promise was given to Milieos long before. Your action only guarantees that it will be swiftly accomplished. How did you—" the new jeddak gestured to the broken wall and the trail of dead bodies that led to it.
"There are more uses for radium shells than expending them through a weapon. I placed a box of 50 at the base of the wall and fired upon it. The result was quite satisfactory."
Galkina asked, "Where did you find warriors?"
Dee looked at the padwar with level gaze, almost as if it irritated her to respond. "There are stragglers and lost men in any battle. I just gathered them as I came from the ship."
Maj Lankor and I were amused watching the two women. We had both seen it many times before, the challenge and competition of equals. The fighting spirit of all Barsoomians rests upon that principle, for it is by competition for resources upon a world so desolate that the planet itself will kill you that one's survival in ensured.
The new jeddak tactfully intervened by speaking to me. "The warriors are yours, Milieos. Torvaan Rok will command them. I will retain three utans to deal with the remnants of the former jeddak's forces."
"We will need the necessary transportation," I fretted. "Our ship has been wrecked."
"Fear not," Holkat advised. "We can use the great ship which lies on Thaandor's plain. With parts from our own, plus others which have crashed over the ages, I am sure we can repair it, but it will take the better part of a day, even with the help of all ten utans, and zitidars."
"We have no choice," I agreed. "Proceed."
I chafed over every xat. Holkat and his men worked like demons, though, and the great ship, which was more in decay than damaged, became airworthy. The buoyancy tanks were filled, and a shout of triumph came from the ranks of warriors as it lifted from the plain. Torvaan Rok and Holkat supervised the loading of men and materials, a process that went swiftly, but not speedily enough to suit my desire to return to Thilum.
While those preparations were underway, I sought Dee. When I found her, she and Galkina were talking together, and they were laughing. Though we believe in competition, we also believe in alliance and friendship, and it seemed such had occurred in the interim.
"Dee, I would ask a favor of you."
"What is it, Milieos?"
I noticed that the irritating trace of scorn which had been her attitude toward me for so long was completely vanished. I know that my rescue of her in the hills above Thilum had eased her opinion of me, yet that alone did not explain the hint of respect in her eyes. For a moment I was humbled by the red woman's esteem. Why that should matter to me, I knew not, but it was appreciated.
I spoke. "I do not think it wise to take Junie Watts on this expedition. Here in Thaandor she has Maj Lankor's experience and science at her command. But I do not wish to leave her alone. Will you stay? I know this is a difficult thing to ask of you. It has been obvious for some time that you are anxious to move on."
Dee lowered her eyes momentarily, then looked straight at me. "I must go, though I will regret leaving behind good friends. I do not yet refuse you, Milieos, for I believe you have asked prematurely. Let us see what Junie Watts wishes. I will give you an answer once that is known."
Galkina laughed. "A diplomatic response and graciously delivered! Let us go see. I would like to meet this Jasoomian."
Dee shook her head. "Go ahead. I will meet you there shortly."
The red woman walked away, offering no further explanation. I was of half a mind to follow, but Galkina, again showing more wisdom than I, suggested we go to Junie Watts' quarters. On the way the padwar said, "I like her."
"Dee? I, too, though she is the most exasperating woman I have ever met."
"And you speak from vast experience in that regard?" the woman of Thaandor teased. "Were you to meet every woman on Barsoom, I daresay you would be no wiser."
"Though you mock me, I see it is well-intentioned. Or rather, I see that I have a lot to learn."
Maj Lankor was visiting Junie Watts. I was not surprised by this because of his interest in her case, but I felt a momentary twinge of something when I noticed how closely they sat on the divan. That twinge increased to a sense of irritation when I also noticed how she looked upon the Thaandorian. Was this jealousy?
"Milieos!" Maj Lankor greeted me cheerfully. "I have tried to urge your friend to remain here until the child is born, but have failed in that endeavor. She says that she will stay with her doctor."
I approached and knelt by Junie's knee. "A warship going into battle is no place for a woman."
Junie Watts glanced over my head and smiled. "And I suppose you're gonna leave her behind, too?" She meant Galkina the padwar.
"That's different," I began, then shut, realizing the futility of that argument before I even voiced it. Rising, I faced Maj Lankor. "With you permission, I wish to bring Junie Watts back to Thaandor and your expertise you as soon as this expedition is done."
"Gladly given. Come, let us walk together. I have much to do and little time to do it."
Without my asking, Galkina remained with Junie. In the corridor Maj Lankor walked at an easy pace, seeming to belie his statement of impending pressures. He said, "It is my intention to continue working on a longevity serum for Jasoomians."
"You read my thoughts clearly, sir. Do you believe it is possible?"
"I am close," he said. "Cleo enjoyed 70 more years of life than other Jasoomians—and with good health and vigor nearly up to the end. At least I can promise Junie Watts that much. If I am successful with my experiments, we may save her yet. I see she is special to you."
"Very much so. She gave me back my life. I was prepared to lay my sword at her feet."
"Out of love, or gratitude? Know your mind, Milieos, as well as your heart. I wish you success at Thilum, sir."
With that, Maj Lankor left me. I pondered his words on the way back to Junie Watts' apartment. What, exactly, were my intentions toward the black Jasoomian? I was no closer to an answer when I entered the chamber. Dee was packing what few items we were to take. Junie Watts rose from the divan and waited. I smiled, easing the expression of determination on the woman's face. I reached to take the bag from the red woman, but she refused to relinquish it.
Unoffended, I joked, "Too proud to accept help from a man?"
Enigmatically she replied, "All my life I have been helped by men whether I wished it or not. I could not refuse them but I can," she softened, smiling, "refuse you. We are ready, Milieos."
"Good. Holkat and Torvaan Rok are ready."
We boarded the great ship, Dee, Junie Watts, Folkar and Kulua. Holkat's black form was at the command rail aft. Torvaan Rok walked among his people, getting them situated for departure. A fellow came up to me saying he had been sent to direct my family, and Junie Watts and the red woman, to a cabin aft. I remained on deck as the mooring lines were cast off. I looked for Galkina among the faces crowding the decks and rails, but did not see her. I tried to remember if the padwar said she had volunteered for the expedition to succor Thilum or only if she meant that others would. I found the thought of proceeding without her strong sword arm and good leadership discomforting, but as we were the beggars in this expedition, I felt I could not make more demands than had already been granted. Regardless of my state of mind, the great ship was soon underway. Our destiny lay not in Thaandor but in Thilum.
Holkat had undertaken the repair and revitalization of the ship and he had wrought well.He seemed a man in his natural element, having organized a crew and giving ship instruction to men who had never been aloft before. Compared to the unlamented Fu-King, Holkat of Erb-dom compared favorably with the greatest admirals of the Heliumetic navy, arguably the best fleet in the world. I did not like Holkat as a man, nor did I find much acceptable as regards his ethics, but I could admire his ability, though this I would never admit to his face. There are some things a man cannot do.
For the first zode the ship proceeded at quarter speed, the steering lashed on course as the ship was of such antiquity that it had no directional compass. Holkat was everywhere, training the men who manned the engines and picking gun crews, for he had transferred the cannon from our ship to this. He instructed group leaders in the finer points of disembarking the ship using nets and rope ladders, and at the same time gave instruction to three men who were to be helmsmen before we reached Thilum. Holkat even put me to work directing matters below decks, and there was much to do there. Ancient sediment and debris choked the holds and I had it shoveled out and dumped over the side. With each hundredweight discarded, the ship's handling improved. Well before nightfall Holkat seemed satisfied and increased speed until a self-created gale whipped across the decks. We could not house all below so those who remained topside were forced to lash themselves to a hundred or more harness rings embedded in the thick sorapus wood.
I found Galkina sharing one of those deck rings with two others. She sat with her back to the wind and smiled at me. I approached, making good use of the personnel lines which had been strung from stanchion to stanchion. I knelt down to speak to her, though I retained a strained grip on the cable. Galkina reached out and grasped my harness in one strong hand to steady me.
"We will rotate your people below in one zode," I shouted. "Food and drink then sleep."
"Do not worry about us, Milieos. We are quite comfortable." The padwar nodded toward one of her warriors, who was stretched out and fast asleep.
How adaptive, how resilient were these warriors of Thaandor! I gripped Galkina's shoulder then made my way aft to the controlling cabin. On my way to direct Holkat's course, I passed one of several cabins. Inside the one Dee and Junie Watts shared with Folkar and Kulua I noted that Torvaan Rok was engaged in conversation with Junie Watts. I paused, again feeling that inexplicable twinge and feeling disagreeable for having it toward a man who was risking his life and those of his people to aid Thilum. I passed on, unwilling to face my inner confusion or to chance making an enemy of a friend simply because I had a twinge.
Holkat was not in the control cabin but would return soon, so said the helmsman. I waited, sitting in such a location that I could watch the corridor to see when Torvaan Rok might emerge. It was not long after, but it appeared I was not the only one watching. Hardly had the Thaandorian entered the corridor when he was waylaid by a comely warrior woman of his own race. I was not visible to them, nor could I avoid overhearing them.
"You find this Jasoomian woman interesting, Torvaan Rok?" asked the woman.
"She is from the planet of my mother," the jeddak of Thaandor's son replied. "Of course she is interesting."
"She is ugly. She looks like she swallowed an ulsio."
"Valvia, one would suspect you are jealous."
"Why should I be? You have spoken no words of love to me, and even if you had, this bloated Jasoomian wench is no competition."
I smiled to myself as the great flier cut through the thin air of Barsoom. I was content that Torvaan Rok would have plenty of troubles if he indeed found Junie Watts to his liking. I again mulled over Maj Lankor's words to me as the haads rolled beneath the keel of our great transport. I was thus occupied when Holkat returned. After that, personal considerations were set aside as we made our plans.
When the sun rose, it was the morning of our fourth day out from Thilum. The return had been as quick as one might hope, even if one discounted participating in a revolution and deposing one jeddak to elevate another. The force was not as large as I might have gathered at Kamtol, but within the hull of the ancient ship was a body of magnificent warriors such as I had never seen before. Could we but land them and attack the Warhoons by surprise there was a good chance we could cause sufficient inconvenience that the desert nomads might withdraw.
Soon, the valley of Thilum came into view, but with it came a disconcerting sight. A great column of smoke boiled upward into the atmosphere. The Warhoons had torched Thilum!
Chapter 11: - Holkat:
The Perpetual State
Milieos stood at the rail gazing at the column of smoke rising from Thilum just over thirty haads from our position. His expression was grim as death. Torvaan Rok, Galkina the padwar, and the red woman Dee were with us.
I had stopped forward motion on the ship as soon as the black smoke had been seen, lowering altitude to place the great vessel between two hills just below the range between us and the city. Every square sofad of the deck was filled with silent warriors, all looking either toward the burning city or toward the command deck.
The physician of Thilum wrenched his pained gaze away from the horizon. In the harsh light of the Barsoomian dawn his eyes glowed beneath his black brow. I knew something of what he felt for I, too, had lost family and friends in a torched city many years ago. Like Milieos, I was away when it happened. I had returned to long dead ashes and blackened bones, not a blazing inferno, but that slight difference was no difference within one's breast. Though there was little love between me and the physician, I could be, and was, sympathetic.
Galkina was the first to speak. "No city is not lost as long as there are defenders."
Torvaan Rok agreed. "We came to liberate Thilum. We will do this."
Milieos shook his head. "Even if there is nothing to liberate? I am not sure I could ask that of your people, Torvaan Rok. In fact, I know that I cannot not. I hereby release you of the bargain made with your sire. Take this ship and return to Thaandor and live well and in peace. Holkat-I ask that you take my family, Junie Watts and Dee with you to Thaandor."
Dee frowned. "What about you, Milieos?"
"Me?" The physician's smile was mixed with rage. "I must find my brother. He will not become a collection of bones unhonored."
Galkina took a step forward, her brown fist tight-wrapped about the hilt of her long sword. "I owe my life to you. I go where you go." She would have said more but Torvaan Rok placed a restraining hand on her bare shoulder.
"You saved my life," Milieos said. "There is no debt between us." The physician faced me, looking weary. "Find a spot to land me, Holkat. When I am ashore, take these people home."
I considered my response before answering. "No."
Ah! There was the fire in the First Born's eyes that I had come to expect when we dealt with each other. His arrogance almost equaled my own. I raised a hand to stem the physician's angry retort. "We have two courses, sir. The first is to slink away to Thaandor and let this mass atrocity stand unpunished, or we can visit a vengeance upon the Warhoons that will break forever their dominance of this sector of Barsoom. Thaandor is not so far away to be immune to the predations of the fearsome green man. If this assault is unanswered, that city may next fall victim. Am I correct, Torvaan Rok?"
"Indeed," the son of Thaandor's new jeddak replied. "Our history relates many encounters with isolated Warhoon parties, though none in recent years. However, from what I have heard and seen, these barbarians have grown in strength and belligerence. Sooner or later my people would have to deal with them. I prefer sooner, and on my own terms."
Dee surprised me when she spoke. Though I knew she could fight, it was disconcerting to hear a woman speak tactics. "There is no better time to attack than now, Milieos. At this moment the Warhoons believe they are the conquerors and that isolated Thilum is theirs. The whole city is not burning, thus the green men will be occupied with pillage, torture and rape. Having won their victory, they will not expect an attack."
This woman interested me. "How would you plan it, female?"
Her eyes bored into me in a fashion I cannot describe. This red woman showed no fear of me or the others. She had the heart of a banth.
"Land half our complement over there," she said, pointing southwest to an area of broken hills about ten haads from the city. "In those hills are the thoat herds of Thilum. Each warrior is to obtain a mount and to make lances from the skeel saplings in the forest near the stream. The rest will go there," Dee indicated the east, a line of ochre-tinted canyons and cuts descending into a vast sea basin.
"What lies there," I asked.
"A way that this ship can enter Thilum unseen by the Warhoons."
I almost laughed. I did not because I saw the interest on the faces of the others. "This vessel is quite large," I said. "I'd like to know how that might be done."
Milieos nodded. "I, too, am eager for your answer, Dee."
The woman leaned against the rail, staring into the morning sun. "In one of those canyons is a tar seep. How visible would a ship be at midnight if it were coated with black tar?"
Torvaan Rok became animated. "Under cover of darkness the land force could approach the town. Once they located the Warhoons' thoats, they wait until our blackened ship glides over the city. When the aerial unit attacks, the second runs off the Warhoon mounts, preferably over the barbarians. The ship force off-loads in the confusion, supported by cannon from the decks. We might kill more than half before resistance is organized."
"We might do better than that if we have good information on the opposing force," Dee said. "I know this area quite well, as Milieos can tell you. Get me a thoat and I will go to Thilum and bring back positions and strengths."
Galkina's brown face split with a smile. "You will not go alone," she announced. "And when the report is to be made, I shall take it to one force and you to the other."
For several minutes the three talked, making plans, while Milieos and I stood to one side. I arched a brow to the physician. "This is your expedition, sir. Do you let others lead it for you?"
Milieos then said, "I am a healer by nature, Holkat. I am no warrior. This is something foreign to me. War is outside my experience, though I will swing sword with full heart when the time comes. Friends!" Milieos interjected, begging the others to listen. "I am as a hatchling in the ways of war, but here, on this deck, are collected the best minds for this venture. If I may suggest, as my last gesture before stepping down as leader of this company, Torvaan Rok and Holkat should lead the two groups...that is if Holkat agrees."
I shrugged, faintly amused. "Why not? Who else can pilot this ship?"
War is a perpetual state on Barsoom. It is the method by which access to the planet's dwindling resources is managed. Those who have them fight bitterly to protect them from others. Those without will fight more determinedly to take what they need to survive. Perhaps 500 million humans live on Barsoom in scattered communities separated by immense deserts and inhospitable lands. Black, red, white and yellow, we war amongst ourselves as well as contest the world with nearly 5 million nomadic green men who own the dead sea bottoms. But we are not the only creatures at war for resources: the fierce white apes, terrible and huge, are man-eaters, as are the great carnivores such as the banth and apt. In Dor, where I spent some time in my youth, the plant men prey upon all, and fearsome aquatic monsters inhabit the vast underground ocean. Life and death, a constant violent refrain, is with all of us from birth. We learn to accept that early, or we die. If accepted, we learn to deal death. And if we learn that, we learn to be efficient in that exercise.
Dee and Galkina, and 500 stalwart warriors of Thaandor under Torvaan Rok's command, were let over the side in a small valley six haads from Thilum. The smoke column over the city had subsided greatly by that time which, strangely, gave a measure of hope to Milieos. His observation "ashes cannot be looted" made great sense.
Because we had brought the ship in so close to Thilum to debark the first unit, I was forced to run in reverse for several haads and to then detour widely behind the hills to run well out into the basin before coming round to enter the canyon lands. Dee had drawn an amazingly accurate map for my use, which brought us to the tar seep without incident by early afternoon.
I ordered all off the ship, except those I had designated as crew. The mixed fighting force of men and women were to either sleep, hunt, or bathe in the stream a quarter haad away. Soon fresh meat was brought in and smokeless fires were built to cook it while half of the Thaandorians busied themselves smearing a thick coat of tar over the ship's lower hull, effectively disguising ancient metal which had retained an untarnished gleam for untold years.
Meanwhile, I drilled gun crews, for they would be instrumental if our plan were to succeed. We had no wireless range finders on these weapons. Visual sights would be of little use in complete darkness.
"Speed," I told gun crew number two, "is all we have. The more shell you can send into the Warhoons the better off we will be. Practice until you can do it automatically, then practice to do it instinctively. The gun crews of Helium can expend their cannon in an eye-blink."
One man scoffed. I grinned. "Three eye-blinks, then. Do the best you can. We cannot practice with live ammunition because we are too near Thilum and the report of our weapons would give us away, nor do we have that much shell to spare for training."
"We understand, Holkat. We will not fail."
I watched the warriors of Thaandor work their guns for the better part of a zode and was well-pleased with the result. I sent them to take their meals at the canyon camp and then went below.
It had been three days since I slept and I needed rest more than even food. The ship was quiet, the exterior preparations complete. I lay myself upon a bunk in an aft cabin to close my eyes for a few zodes.
The cabin was in darkness when I awoke with a start. Something, or someone, had disturbed my heavy sleep. A keen dagger was in my hand as I came off the couch. I saw a dark figure near the cabin door.
"Holkat!" a woman's voice exclaimed with sudden fear.
"You!" I breathed. My brain quickly cleared. I put the blade away and walked toward the small form of Junie Watts.
She drew away. "We need to talk."
"There is little to talk about. You are mine. I will take you away when this thing is done."
Did my ears deceive me? "Do not try my patience, Jasoomian."
"I beg you to free me from your heart as I am free from your control."
"I do not give up what is mine. There is only the two of us here, Junie Watts. There is no one to confuse you or lead you astray. Look you to your own heart. Tell me that you are not my slave."
She did not immediately answer, and when she did, it was with great anguish. "Lord help me, I do feel something for you, Holkat. You are the only man who ever owned my heart as well as my body, but because of that, I can never truly be yours. No human being is meant to own another."
"You love me, Junie Watts. I know this."
"But do you love me?" she cried. "To you I am a possession, something new and unusual. You find me intriguing, but you have no affection for me. None. Tell me this is not so," she said, unhooding a dusty wall-mounted radium lamp which cast a dim radiance into the cabin. "Look into my eyes and tell me you love me. If I believe you, you may own me, wholly and with all my heart."
Her eyes were large and white, her black skin glistened with tears. She was so preposterous and deformed. She was stupid. She was-her pleading eyes swallowed me with her torment. In that dizzy spinning as I felt her distress I had a sudden revelation.
"Love is a powerful thing, Junie Watts. Even I, a profiteering arms merchant know this, but to see actual evidence of that emotion is something I have never experienced. Yes, woman, I see that you do know what love is, and that love consumes you."
I turned away to gaze out the porthole to the camp. With softer tone edged with anger I demanded, "Who is it that you love so deeply that you come to me alone? Do you fear I will kill the one you love simply to repossess you?"
There was silence for a long time. Then a panic-stricken, "Yes."
"Is it Milieos or Maj Lankor? Wait-I do not wish to know. Get out, Junie Watts. You are a disgusting, malformed creature, more burden than asset. Leave me."
I turned and glared at her, unspeaking. The Jasoomian suddenly wilted. Wailing, she ran into the corridor.
The anger that coursed through me seared my breast like molten steel. That woman! My life had been cursed since finding her on the Okarian's chain. She had confused me, frightened me, and eventually ruined me. Nothing was left because of my obsession for her; an obsession which I recognized now for what it truly was, a fascination with the unknown.
I stood at the porthole, savoring the cool breeze for some time. Later, my emotions again under control, I went topside. Milieos was on the ground, directing the Thaandorians back onto the ship. I watched him, feeling a coldness form inside. Of course, it had to be Milieos that she loved. She had been with him more than any and had worked at his side. She had lived in his house at Thilum. This man was the one. This man had so inspired Junie Watts that she dared to deny her love for me. Bitter is the realization that the master is not the center of a slave's universe.
The Thaandorian helmsman distracted me by requesting instruction for getting underway. I addressed those ship duties with driven, single-minded devotion rather than continue down the dark path my thoughts had taken. Yet, every action I took, every command I gave, was shadowed by a venomous silent echo "Kill Milieos and she will love me."
"Are we ready, Holkat? Dee has arrived and brings good report."
I jumped, so preoccupied had I been with my thoughts and work. Turning from the helm I saw that Milieos stood before me. The physician was tall, handsome, and the owner of Junie Watts' heart. I said, "We are ready," when I would rather have drawn the sword at my side and skewered the physician.
Milieos crossed the control cabin and placed a hand on my shoulder. "I hope it is not too late to begin again, Holkat. I believe we have more in common than we do not. I am grateful for all you have done and are about to do. Few men would give so freely of themselves for strangers."
"We have Junie Watts in common, as well as a hatred for Warhoons. That is enough. Go tell your men we cast off within the xat."
He left the cabin and I watched him go, feeling a strange mixture of loathing and admiration. We could never be friends-he and I were too different, but for the moment we were allies. If I did not kill him, I would make claim for some of what I had lost, or I might take what I wanted and damn them all.
Ashore, near the dying fires of the camp, a detachment of twenty stood guard around Junie Watts, Dee, and Milieos' family. Where this ship went this night was no place for a deformed Jasoomian, her red friend, a First Born woman or a cripple. Dee had brought with her several thoats which had gathered closely about Junie Watts. If we did not return from Thilum, the Thaandorians were to take their charges by thoat back to their city as best they could. Their chance of surviving that trek was much better than the odds we might survive this night. Still, I looked forward to battle with an eagerness, or was it merely a symptom of my inner turmoil?
I watched over the aft rail as the great ship ghosted upwards on silent propellers. The canyon was so deep that even starlight could not penetrate. I lost sight of Junie Watts before the ship reached the rim and turned west toward Thilum.
Milieos gave Dee's report in calm tones to the padwars and the lieutenants I had selected to be ship officers. How the woman had gathered so much in such a short time, and ridden through the night to deliver it, was little short of amazing. By her observation it appeared the Warhoons had only just taken Thilum, perhaps as recently as the morning we arrived.
The Warhoons had gathered their monstrous thoats at the river where the moss was richest and water was plentiful. Though these vicious beasts might go a month or more without water, taking their moisture from the tough desert mosses, the thoats would take advantage of surface water, drinking repeatedly to replenish depleted body fluids. There were few guards with the animals, there being no need to manage them when the water would hold them in place.
The lower part of Thilum, where Milieos and I had fought together, was the section destroyed by fire. Many of the buildings had been constructed of wood, hide and cloth. The wind off the desert had kept the fire away from the heart of the city where stood the Dator's fortress. North, the direction from which our land force approached, was relatively unguarded. The hills and thick forest might seem impassable to huge nomads and their even more titanic mounts. Dee, however, had shown Galkina two different approaches from the valley of thoats. When they separated to bring in the reconnaissance, Galkina was to suggest to Torvaan Rok that he send one-third of his force by the hill route and the remainder through the forest above the slow-moving river. The smaller group would have but a short distance to cross into Thilum from the forest while the river party would have only agricultural fields over which to charge their fleet thoats. Dee had said that the river side of Thilum was relatively open, though many of the streets were clogged with over-run barricades built by the defenders as they fell back to the fortress. The fortress, according to the red woman, was in Warhoon hands.
"Dee said they were torturing the captives," Milieos lowered his head. "There was prodigious laughter from the city commons where poles had been erected and victims bound."
I had seen the results of Warhoon entertainment in my travels. The vile beasts took exceptional delight observing the agonies of their captives. Burning, flaying, skinning with knives-chopping off limbs and wagering how long before the victim died, howling with laughter as the poor creatures expired. Hate Milieos I might, but I truly hated Warhoons more. Because of this deep-seated enmity I said, "The ivory of Warhoon tusks is highly prized in Phundahl. I am in mind of becoming a rich man tonight."
The forward lookout pushed her way into the cabin. "We near the city," she said.
I nodded. "To your stations, warriors, and may the spirits of our ancestors be with us. Gun captains-man your weapons. Your target is the south side of the common where the majority of the barbarians are encamped. Make your first volley count. After firing on my command, you may fire at will. Landing party leaders: form your troops at the rails. We will land as many of you as we can before the battle begins. Milieos, do you have anything to add?"
There was an instant of silence before the physician replied. "Neither moon will rise for a zode. Be silent. Surprise is our ally. The Warhoons have fought a long and costly battle to win Thilum. They are unprepared for a strike. But these are devilish creatures who will react swiftly if we give them a chance. Remember, take out their leaders first. Every chief and jed destroyed will weaken their ability and resolve. Give them no chance to organize. That is all."
At a quarter haad I ordered the engines off. We drifted with the wind in utter silence. Our altitude was a handful of ads above the surface. At the city walls fifty warriors swiftly descended the ropes, dropping inside the compound. Another twenty-five landed on the roof of a building. Before the ship passed over, they had disappeared into the interior. Before we reached the commons, more than half our complement was on the ground.
Below us a thousand Warhoons were gathered, fighting amongst themselves for spoils or watching the torturers at work. Some gambled, some slept, some were only concerned with gorging themselves. All were unaware that death floated above.
My hand hovered over the lift levers. I intended to set the ship down on as many Warhoons as I could. My palm itched, my body tensed, the blood raced through my veins. Leaning over the side, I chose my time and chopped the controls. "Guns, fire!"
These Thaandorians, who had never handled such weapons before, had three volleys into the massed green men before the hull settled on perhaps 100, crushing them to death. Before the ship settled completely, the entire complement was over the side. Half rushed pell mell into the commons with swords flashing while the rest assaulted the unguarded entrance to the fortress.
I did not see Milieos go over the side. I was too busy directing gun fire until the last round was expended. Sheer calamity was visited upon the Warhoons with hundreds injured or killed. The Thaandorians raced through the massed Warhoons in pairs. Each two-man team was instructed to maim or kill as many as possible. This they did by one warrior charging and braving the deadly response of the green man while the other attacked from side or rear. Few attempted killing thrusts, which would place them too close to the swords of their enemies, rather they hamstrung or severed spines and moved on.
Radium rifles were taken from the dead and dying and turned against the Warhoons. The solid projectiles screamed through the night, smashing into retreating green men trying to regroup against the Thaandorians.
As per Milieos' instruction, the jeds, known by their finery and aggressiveness, were the first to fall. All sense of regimen vanished among the Warhoons. Yet, they were far from defeated. We were still outnumbered despite the grievous losses inflicted. Additionally, there was danger behind as we raced through the Warhoons, for each crippled green warrior was still formidable. Some raised themselves erect upon their intermediary limbs, dragging paralyzed legs behind. They took up lost weapons and began to close in from the rear. The forward line of the Warhoons began to solidify and our momentum slacked.
Combat intensified and our losses began to mount. I wondered where our other forces were. Why had we not been reinforced? We had killed or wounded more than six hundred Warhoons, but there remained perhaps twice that many!
I felt it before I heard it. A trembling in the ground through my sandals. "Fall back! Fall back!" I shouted. "To the ship!"
This had been in our plan: a swift retreat to the safety of the grounded vessel. Thaandorians disengaged startled opponents. As we ran to the ship, any Warhoons opposing us were ruthlessly cut down. The commons was littered with dead barbarians. There were Thaandorians on the ground, too, but fewer than I had first believed. Of the two hundred who grounded with me, all but perhaps thirty returned just as the tremendous thoat herd crashed into the massed Warhoons surrounding our ship.
The screams of Warhoon and thoat were a nightmare of agony and terror. For all the mayhem we had done with sword and gun, it was nothing compared to the multitudinous deaths beneath the nailless pads of stampeding desert thoats. The thoats continued to race through the city long after the last Warhoon cried out. When the huge animals had passed, crushed Warhoon bodies and blood had been churned into a sickly mud.
Torvaan Rok's mounted warriors immediately followed. He directed his mounted warriors into hunting groups of ten to twenty men and they fanned out into the city seeking barbarians.
From the direction of the vessel's course came a steady stream of Thaandorians and citizenry. The people of Thilum took up fallen sword and lance and moved through the commons killing any green man who had survived the attack and stampede. Men and women brained and butchered Warhoons without mercy.
I had been too preoccupied with personal survival and my immediate battlefield to give much thought to the warriors who had followed Milieos into the fortress. As Torvaan Rok had the city under control, I ran into the fortress to exterminate a few more barbarians.
Inside the entrance I found that the battle had not gone as well. Dozens of Thaandorians lay dead, as well as a good many Warhoons. The fight had gone into the interior, where the floors were slick with blood. Behind me came a dozen warriors. I dispatched them in threes down corridors at each floor as we ascended the main ramp. One man remained with me as we came to the floor where the Dator's apartment was located.
The carnage was incredible. The warriors of Thaandor had fought well, but so had the Warhoons. It was a case of mutual destruction. As my companion and I rushed around the corner, two Warhoons coming down from the roof attacked.
These barbarians were bloodied and their steel was dark with blood. These fellows were not taken unawares, nor was there a herd of thoats to run over them. Both were well over double a man's height and they were fighting for their lives.
My opponent was no mean swordsman. Unlike his fellow, who wielded his sword in a series of overhead, slashing, figure eights, mine fought with tip and thrust. Fortunately, his great height was a disadvantage in the narrow hallway. The Warhoon could not easily maneuver or use his reach and strength whereas I was unimpeded in that regard.
The din of battle in the fortress drowned the clash of our steel in the corridor. My companion. Already wounded from the fight on the common, was hard-pressed by his adversary. I saw the Thaandorian weaken rapidly before his foeman's relentless assault. In a few heartbeats he would die unless something was done
Redoubling my efforts, I ducked a terrific slash by my foe and darted in, disemboweling the Warhoon. Though grievously injured, the green man fought on, using his lower limbs to contain his vitals to live long enough to kill me. I drew my short sword, a heavy, double-edged weapon, and used it to slash and break the barbarian's knee. The great monster hissed explosively as he toppled to the flagging. With nearly the same motion I thrust over half the length of my long sword beneath the second green man's lower armpit. Convulsing as the point of my weapon pierced his heart, that barbarian fell, too, and in falling wrenched the sword from my grasp. My sword bent double and snapped when the green man crashed against the wall.
The Thaandorian warrior sagged against the opposite wall. His wounds were serious, but not immediately fatal if help could be found. He motioned me on as he stood guard over the corpses of our late foes.
The Dator's apartment was at the end of the corridor. How different the present than when I first entered there!
Senca lay upon the couch as I had last seen him, but what the Warhoons had done was beyond description. His body was mutilated. Horrible tortures had been practiced and his body brutally opened. Milieos knelt on the blood-spattered floor next to his dead brother, head bowed and weeping. I refrained from disturbing the man, for there are moments which can only be endured, not shared.
I turned my head to listen to the battle, which was much subdued and carried far from this tragic chamber. Though it seemed impossible, I had no doubt that our company of fierce Thaandorians and given the Warhoons a defeat from which a hundred years or more might pass before they might recover.
Truly in the veins of the warriors of Thaandor must course the blood of the First Born. Their bravery and skill and strength proclaimed that heritage. They also had resolve and determination and an impassioned belief in themselves; perhaps that was a legacy of their Thern ancestors. Whatever had combined to produce this race had resulted in the best of both. My warrior's heart was stirred by the fighting men and women of Thaandor.
This revelry was interrupted by a surreptitious movement in the doorway to a chamber beyond Senca's quarters. Puzzled, I looked into the shadows within that other room and saw the huge form of a green man on all fours, his upper body held erect. In his hands were a long sword and a dagger. As the Warhoon rushed upon the unsuspecting Milieos, I shouted a warning and ran to intercept.
Whether intention of the Warhoon, luck, or simply stupidity on my part, the barbarian turned to face me and his great sword entered my abdomen. The impetus of his charge and mine forced the point of the weapon through my body, barely missing my spine. The green man's sword protruded from my back and continued to exit as I pushed myself close, short sword raised to take this demon down the cold River of Mystery with me. My sword split the Warhoon's skull, spattering brain and blood, separating the mighty tusks and then lodged immovably in the bones of the desert nomad's neck.
The Warhoon dropped instantly and I, almost as swiftly, sat down to face the being who had killed me.
"Holkat!" Milieos lay down his weapon and came to support my body with a strong arm. "That was a foolish thing to do!"
I laughed, tasting blood in my mouth. "I must agree, sir. Strange, I do not feel anything at the moment."
The hilt of the sword through my belly was fascinating to view. "Gatholian steel, if I know my swords...and I do. I wonder who he got it from." The Warhoon, of course, could not answer me.
Suddenly, life was too short to say what I must. I gripped the physician's harness with a curiously weak hand. "I should have let the beast kill you, then I might have had Junie Watts. But at the last instant I realized she would never be mine, in chains or free. She confused me, Milieos. She made me insane. Now I thank her for... for...
A shade passed over my eyes. I could not see the face of Milieos any longer. I could not draw breath as blood filled my lungs. I could not speak, I could not think, I could not remember why I wanted to thank Junie Watts. I was cold, colder than any winter colder than
Chapter 12: Junie Watts
A Traitor in Thilum
Dee stood next to me as I watched the great ship rise into the night. On board were Milieos, Holkat, and five-hundred Thaandorians. I did not expect to see any of them again. The red woman's report, as it was given to Milieos, said the Warhoons occupied Thilum and their force was quite large.
"What if they don't come back?" I asked Dee. "We are miles from anywhere and there are no friends we can call upon."
"We have friends enough to see us through," Dee smiled. She meant the Thaandorian soldiers left of guard us. "And we are not as isolated as that. The equatorial trade road is to the north and to the northeast are forest lands where we can find food and water, if necessary."
Folkar and Kulua kept to themselves. I think they did not like me. I know they did not like their current position, but I had other things on my mind. I was not feeling well. All afternoon I had been contracting, but had said nothing to Milieos. His mission was far more important than my pregnancy. I had had too many false labors over the last two weeks-it was probably nothing more than another occurrence.
Oh, but I was pleased to see my thoats! Dee said that when she and Galkina landed in the thoat valley area, Star had come to her from out of a small herd. She later found Duke, Rebel and Contessa; Galkina was mounted on Topper and, if all went according to plan, was on the way to meet Torvaan Rok's unit east of Thilum. Of Big Gun and Sophie there was no sign.
The warriors of Thilum who formed our guard were amused by the antics of the thoats, huge unlovely creatures pressing close that I might pat their snouts. I was roughing the area between Contessa's eyes when I had a sharp contraction and felt a flood between my legs. The great beasts seemed to sense my pain and, through them, Dee became concerned.
"It is time," I told the red woman. "No false labor this."
"Milieos is not here and we cannot summon Maj Lankor..."
Dee looked a little startled when I took her hand and spoke reassuringly. "Now that it is happening I'm no longer afraid. My grandmother told me a dozen tales of Negro slave girls giving birth in the fields and wrapping that baby up and going back to work. Millions of babies are born every year without doctors. It is a natural thing. God made us that way."
"I hope your deity is more benevolent than those of Barsoom," Dee remarked. With a nod of her head, the woman suddenly smiled. "If it is to be now, so be it. Can you get to that hollow under the wall or should I get someone to carry you?"
I looked to the place where the cooking fire had been during the day. The indentation under the wind-eroded wall was about twice the size of the main room at Milieos' house. At one end a rude table had been assembled from slab rock. All day hunters had brought in darseen lizards, which could change their color, and a variety of odd-looking fruits and tubers and plants with names like usa and somp and mantalia. The fire was small, but burned hot because of some hardwood called skeel. At the other end of the hollow big armfuls of springy ochre moss had been gathered and cloaks thrown over it to make beds where shifts of Thaandorians had slept throughout the day.
"I can make it, Dee, if I may hold your shoulder."
We walked up the slope. The red woman put her arm around my waist and held me tight. The thoats followed us in single file and Dee started to send them away, but I begged her to let them come.
The two Thaandorians tending the fire and butchering an animal I did not know the name of stopped their work as we entered the hollow. "Is Junie Watts ill?" one asked.
"She is going to have a child," Dee said. "We need hot water. Is that right, Junie Watts?"
I smiled. "If it helps give them something to do, yes. I will want to wash my baby after it is born."
Folkar and his sister were sitting on one of the moss pallets. Both scowled at me as Dee and I approached. "Are you hatching?" Folkar asked.
"Yes," I said, without correcting him. "Would you like to watch?"
Folkar chose not to answer. He rose on his crippled legs and pushed his way through the thoats. Kulua sat for a moment, lips pursed as if she had something to say, then changed her mind and followed her brother.
The moss bed was more comfortable than I would have imagined. Leaning back against the cool rock, I looked to my thoats. The animals had lined up, facing out, forming a living wall between us and the tar valley. Curiously, I felt more secure here in the darkest canyon on the darkest night I could ever remember, than I might in Milieos' clinic or Maj Lankor's modern laboratory.
The Thaandorian who'd been cooking, a woman soldier with a face horribly scarred by some violence, brought me a cup of warm tea. I did not know what it was made of, but it tasted wonderful. "Thank you," I said.
"I was at Torvaan Rok's birth," the woman said. "May your time be easy."
Dee spoke softly. "Then you have more knowledge of what is to come than Junie Watts or myself. Any assistance you may offer will be greatly appreciated."
"I will be nearby," the woman promised. "For now we wait."
We did wait, the contractions coming faster. In between Dee told me of strange and magical sounding places on Barsoom. She told me of far Gathol, where her daughter lived, a high-rising mountain city built over the richest diamond and platinum mines known. I heard of Hastor and its great agriculture and ship building industries and Duhor where the best thoats were raised. I learned of ancient Horz and Lothar and Manatos, and best of all, Helium. All these places were made to come alive as Dee patiently held my hand when I wished. Her voice was transformed as she spoke of her world, the greater world than what we had traveled together. I saw now that she had always been my teacher and best friend, the one who taught me to speak and gave me back my will.
"You have been so many places," I said, nibbling at a morsel of darseen I did not really want. "I wanted to see my world but never had the opportunity. I envy you."
Dee lowered her head to stare at slim hands clasped on her lap. "I envy you more, Junie Watts."
"Me?" I was shocked. "I know nothing. I have done so little in my life and was not strong enough to take care of myself here. I am..."
She stopped me with a gentle shake of the head. Patting my arm, Dee said. "I envy your youth. I envy your child. I envy that you might have other children and I cannot."
There was a silent pain her voice that touched me. It never occurred to me that this strong and marvelous woman could ever be thwarted in anything she desired. "Some times people go a long time between children," I said. "You've had a child with your man. Give it time, you will again."
"I've had two," Dee replied. "A strong son and a beautiful daughter. Each of them have children of their own. I am much older than you think, Junie Watts."
"Really? How much older? Shall I guess?"
"If you wish, but you will be wrong."
I looked at Dee in the flickering light of the fire. Her skin was smooth and perfect, as was her form. Even the dirt smudged on her cheek or the dust on her sandals and harness could not dim her beauty. Her eyes were young and alive, her mouth unlined. "I know Barsoomians live a thousand years, Milieos told me. And it sounds like you have done a great deal already, so I'd say you are forty years old."
Dee smiled. "I am a little over seventy-three. I have been married more than a half century. In that time, I have had two children, both early in our relationship. We have tried since and..."
I have never seen Dee cry— and I did not see it then— but her eyes grew misty with regret. "Dee..." I took her hand to comfort her, then abruptly gripped it as a stronger contraction nearly bent me double. "Oh!" I gasped softly, breathing hard. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"
Each ejaculation seemed to help and I continued it, breathing fast and hard. Whether I should or not did not enter my mind as I concentrated on the pressure and changes occurring to my body.
Dee started to push me back onto the moss, but I resisted. It did not feel like the thing to do. I held onto her shoulder and pulled myself forward until I could get my feet underneath. I squatted over the bed, shaking and contracting, squeezing to make it stop, pushing to make the baby come. It seemed to be an eternity of pain and confusion, then it subsided.
"Next time," I panted, relaxing.
The Thaandorian with the ugly face was at my other side. I had not seen her approach. "Soon," she said. "Only a handful of tals between contractions now."
I felt a cooling cloth pressed to my brow and closed my eyes. I gripped Dee's small hand and she held tight as the next contraction began.
The pain was more intense, the contractions stronger than before. I grit my teeth tightly and hissed air through nose and mouth. I'd heard that some women scream during childbirth. I didn't feel the need, though I felt determined to have this over as soon as possible! I pushed. I pushed hard as I squatted over the cloak-covered moss.
There was a sudden movement in my belly and I felt the baby's head pop out. I couldn't let go of Dee to catch it. "My baby!" I gasped.
The Thaandorian had already done it before I got the words out. All wiggly and squirming and brown and wet and squalling he came into the world. I looked down through dazed eyes at the little boy. I laughed.
I felt another contraction coming. It was the afterbirth. I had to deal with that before I could take my baby in my arms. Push! Push! Push!
I concentrated on the bright fire. I wanted it over and I prayed as I pushed. Suddenly Dee's voice penetrated my brain. "It's another child!" She leaned down and I held onto her shoulders.
"Lay back, Junie," Dee ordered frantically. "There's something around its neck! Lay back!"
"What? It's the cord! Do something, Dee! Don't let my baby die!"
I was so tired. I couldn't hold my head up to see what she did. I felt her hands pulling and tugging. The Thaandorian produced a knife.
"Save my baby!" I cried.
It was too much. I passed out.
When I awoke it was to the scent of thoats and hot tea. I was wrapped in cloaks. Dee and the Thaandorian with the ugly face-no, the face with the mark of her strength and character-sat at the foot of my bed.
"You're awake," Dee grinned. "One each. A boy and a girl."
"Are they alright? Right number of fingers and toes?"
The Thaandorian chuckled. "In perfect order, Junie Watts."
"I want to hold them!"
My babies were brought to me. The boy yowled like a tomcat. His tiny fists were raised and punching like a prize fighter. The girl was silent, sleep, though she stirred when Dee put her in my arms. Both had round faces and black hair and caramel skin. Who their father might be, the Okarian or Holkat, I could not say, nor was it important. One man was dead and the other was dead in my heart. I wanted nothing from either of them except what I held in my arms.
"And that's the way it should be," Dee said-which let me know I'd spoken thoughts aloud without realizing it.
"Thank you, Dee. And thank you...you..."
The Thaandorian acknowledged me with a salute. "My name is Yona."
"Yona...that sounds like my grandfather's name, Jonah. I will name my son Jonah. Each time I say it I will think of you."
"I am honored. Drink your tea." The woman smiled and moved away.
"To look at her," I whispered to Dee, "one would never know such a kind heart beat in her breast."
"There are others who have the same kindness in them when this harsh world allows it. How are you feeling?"
"A little weak, but good. Help me sit up."
"Are you sure?"
"No, but I want to try."
I felt a little light headed, but it passed quickly. Dee held the cup to my lips as both hands were occupied with my children. The tea tasted good and it seemed to restore me.
"Thank you, dear friend. I am not sure I could have done this without you."
Dee laughed. "I do not think that either us had much to say in the matter. Those babies were coming."
"They sure did!" I leaned forward and kissed Dee's cheek. "I will name my daughter after you."
The red woman frowned momentarily. "Surely there is someone else you'd rather honor than me."
"No, only you. You saved my life. You gave me life. I owe you more than I can ever repay."
"I want nothing from you, Junie Watts, except your promise that you will make your own choices in life." For a heartbeat she paused, then added. "You have already given me more than you can understand. In a way, you have given me back my life."
"Then my daughter will stand for what we have given each other. Dee is her name."
My friend sighed. "But it is not my name." She glanced toward the Thaandorians by the fire. Lowering her voice to a bare whisper, she said, "My name is Dejah Thoris and if that becomes known..."
There was a long silence between us. Milieos and Holkat had long suspected that Dee was not who she claimed. I had never paid much attention to those speculations as I had all the proof I needed by Dee - Dejah's — friendship.
"I don't care if you're wanted for robbery or murder, you are my..."
Dee laughed merrily. She silenced me with a gentle finger to the lips. "Oh, it is nothing like that! Give me one of those babies and I'll lean close and tell you everything."
"That's a good idea," I said. "I think Jonah is hungry. Hold little Dee." I nursed my son, then my daughter, as the red woman told her story.
It was dawn before Dejah Thoris finished. If I had not known her as true and honorable, I might have thought her a liar, yet I had heard of Dejah Thoris and John Carter as recently as Thaandor. I found it difficult to believe that a princess of Mars, loved by millions, would take it upon herself to help me, but it seemed that's exactly what she did. Whether she was princess or mercenary, she had done so much for me. There was no way that I could ever repay her.
Yona and a few others began to prepare breakfast for the group. Dee looked down at the baby she held and sighed. "I won't ask you to say nothing, Junie Watts. Friends do not ask such of friends."
I leaned against the rock. Jonah lay on his back between my legs. "I'll say nothing because friends would not. Still, I will name my daughter Dee in honor of the best friend I ever had."
"You'll have me bawling! What would that do to my recently earned blood-thirsty reputation? Here, take Dee. I'll get us something to eat."
We waited for the warriors to return until mid morning. The padwar in charge, a handsome fellow just under six feet in height, suggested we mount up and move further from Thilum. "It does not appear they will be coming for us."
Dee looked sour. I knew several reasons why she was upset but that meant nothing to Folkar.
"The thoats can take all us," he said. "We should ride to Thilum to see what happened. We can always ride away if it isn't good."
Kulua was beside me. She agreed with her brother. "Dee knows the land. She scouted the city once before. We should get a report before making any decisions."
It was so decided. Dee, Yona, and I, with my babies, rode on Rebel, the smallest thoat. The rest of the group managed to find places on the other animals. The thoats moved smartly through the canyon lands. We were in shadows and deep cuts until noon when Dee called the column to a halt. She and the padwar hurried ahead on foot though a break between two red hills to the east. I lost sight of them through a turning in the land.
Yona, her swords wrapped in cloth to prevent reflections, stood at Rebel's head while I sat on the thoat's back. The sun felt good as the canyons had been cool with shade. I was a little thirsty, but there was little enough water in the canteens. If I had asked, I would have been given drink by any of the Thaandorians, who still seemed awed by my babies. Martians did not need water as often as I did, but I could hold out, at least until Dee and the padwar returned.
Whenever I fed one of the babies two or three Thaandorians watched with interest. They were pleasant people and we talked about children and procreation. I learned about egg-laying and incubators and eggs hatching in five years, and the resulting half adult-size off-spring. We discussed child-rearing and the woes thereof. Children on Barsoom are not so different than Jasoomian children. They come into the world blank and full of senses that excite the brain into learning.
"Ho!" Yona called. "They come!"
I could see the answer in Dee's smile before a word was said. Thilum had been saved!
"How long before we get there?" Kulua petulantly asked after we were again on the move.
"Two xats," Dee announced. "Are you in a hurry?"
I was with the red woman in being annoyed with Milieos' siblings. They were too impatient to get to Thilum, yet neither one had asked Dee what she had seen in the town.
I figured two xats must be close to a half-hour as it wasn't much longer than that before we saw the western side of Thilum. We came down from the highland above the city, therefore we saw the aftermath of what had to be a most ferocious battle.
On the commons lay heaps of green Martians. Men where loading the bodies into huge wagons drawn by zitidars, animals bigger than elephants. We saw several wagons rumbling out of the city to the east across the small river. Where they took the bodies I never learned, but was later told that wherever they were left, the scavengers of Barsoom would make short work of them.
Torvaan Rok himself met us outside the town. He was splendid on his thoat, tall and as regal as his father. He had been wounded in the thigh, for it was bandaged, but he did not seem inconvenienced by it.
"I am glad you came on your own," he said. "We have had our hands full rooting out the remaining Warhoons until the last zode. Junie Watts! I see you have been busy!"
"Yes. Milieos? Holkat?"
"Milieos is at the Dator's fortress. Holkat was grievously wounded."
I felt my heart skip a beat. I had no love for the man, but for some reason I did care. I could not explain the feeling.
Dee gripped my knee. "We'll go there now."
Along the way Folkar and Kulua left us by way of one of the side streets. Folkar pushed the thoat hard, as if he were in a great hurry. I gave the two no further thought as our group entered upon the commons and trotted around the perimeter to the Dator's residence.
Within the fortress walls the dead of Thaandor and Thilum lay in ordered rows. There were many, but their numbers were but a fraction of a fraction of the terrible toll exacted upon the Warhoons. Dee seemed unmoved by the sight but I was disturbed by the cold, still bodies. We dismounted at the entrance and I chose not to look upon the dead, concentrating upon the back of Dee's proud head as we left that sad ground.
Inside the huge residence were the wounded and dying. I heard moans and the occasional scream. I saw blood on the floors. Men and women were giving rough first aid with the marvelous lotions and salves of Barsoom. But many would not survive, and those who did might be minus limbs or paralyzed. I held my babies close, hurrying along, head down.
We climbed the ramp to the third floor. There we found Milieos working on the most severely injured. He looked up and nodded, then returned to his work. Seeing Milieos reminded me of my small medical knowledge and skills. Though I did not wish to part from my babies, I begged Dee and Yona to care for them. I went to Milieos and he put me to work.
As soon as one warrior left the table, another was placed there. Only the most hideously wounded were brought to Milieos, who worked at a feverish pace. Body wounds were treated first, then amputations. Deep gashes and cuts were treated elsewhere.
Only once did I see Milieos show emotion as he operated. That was when Galkina came across the table. Her shoulder was smashed and deeply cut by a sword. She was unconscious, which allowed us to work swiftly. I spread the cut while he retrieved bone and repaired arteries. He wired the bone fragments together with some flexible gold-colored metal and swiftly rebuilt her collar bone. He squirted a foamy substance into the open wound then skillfully closed it with sutures and clamps. Before he let the stretcher bearers take her away, Milieos touched Galkina's forehead with a trembling hand. He muttered something which might have been a prayer then tore himself away.
I was so weary. Yet I could not stop. The cases seemed endless, however, as the radium bulbs were unhooded with the coming of night, I began to realize that the severity of the patient injuries was less catastrophic. Some of the casualties were conscious and boasting their achievements in battle as the doctor repaired their bodies.
My elbow was tugged. I turned my head to see Dee standing there. "Enough," Dee said. "You have been working for hours and your babies need to eat. Yona gave them some mantila milk but I'm sure they will do better with yours."
My breasts were heavy, and I was so utterly fatigued. Milieos agreed with the red woman. "Go," he said. "I can handle it from here."
I leaned on my friend just a little. It was painfully obvious I wasn't one of the black girls in grandmother's stories because giving birth really does take it out of you.
We went up to the roof and entered the hanger - empty of a flying machine but filled with pallets and cots set in neat rows. Each held a patient. Some I recognized as ones I had worked on with Milieos. Some I knew from Thaandor or the ship. The patients at the back of the hanger were from earlier in the day. Most seemed to be sleeping.
There were some vacant pallets along the rear wall. I didn't want to think they were empty because someone had died. That dark thought was set aside by the knowledge no new patients had taken their place which meant every casualty had been addressed.
"What a frightful sight!" I said to Dee. "So much pain and suffering."
"Freedom is seldom cheap in life or resources," the red woman replied. "There's Yona. You sit and rest. I'll bring you a plate."
Yona sat cross legged beside Jonah and Dee, who were both asleep and looking like angels, I settled down on the hard pallet and apologized. "I should have come sooner. What kind of mother you must think of me!"
"A very remarkable one," Yona replied without hesitation. "Cleo was bedridden three days after her birth, yet you ride a thoat twenty haads and then work the afternoon mending warriors. Very remarkable indeed."
Her compliment embarrassed me. I did not feel I had done anything special, only what needed to be done. The Thaandorian's admiration made me blush and I was so very grateful my dark skin could not reveal it.
"Dee said you fed them. I didn't know Barsoomian babies were nursed."
"They are not, but Maj Lankor had to find a substitute when Cleo's breasts dried up after three months. The smaller stalks of the mantila can be cut like a straw and the fluid sucked out."
Yona demonstrated that by trimming a small branch from the pile of mantila at her side. I sucked on one end and greedily drank the almost tasteless viscous sap.
Dee returned with a plate of thoat meat and usa, which I ate with fingers without pause or conversation. I had almost finished when little Dee woke up hungry. As she suckled, I nearly rocked myself asleep.
After the baby was burped and put down I stretched out and closed my eyes. Some time later Jonah woke, demanding my breast. I fed him in short order then I curled up next to my babies and went to sleep.
I had heard that Milieos saved Holkat's life after Holkat had saved his. Where I had heard that I do not remember for it was very confusing time. Patients need tending and babies needed to be fed.
I had no shortage of baby sitters. Yona had appointed herself the babies guardian but there were others who were eager to assist. For some reason the Thaandorians were completely enchanted by Jonah and Dee. I suppose that was because they had had experience with a human baby. That baby, the now adult Torvaan Rok, visited at least once a day and demanded his turn to hold one or both of my children.
The evening of the second day after the Battle of Thilum the last of the most critically wounded passed away. Funeral fires outside the Dator's fortress consumed the bodies of the fallen Thaandorians, a practice they had adopted centuries earlier to prevent the scavengers of Barsoom from disturbing the remains.
Dee had been busy, mostly riding scout south of Thilum. There was some concern that a party of Warhoons might come to investigate why the other force had not returned. With her rode citizens of Thilum, now armed with a wealth of weapons taken from the slaughtered Warhoons.
I had been with Milieos only rarely since our arrival at Thilum. He remained inside the fortress caring for the most critical patients while I made rounds of the rooftop hospital. When I had the chance, I asked about Holkat.
"He's in a coma, but there's a good chance he will live. I hope so, for it would annoy me greatly that I could not remind him I saved his life."
"But he saved yours!" I laughed.
"Precisely," Milieos grinned. "It would not do that my arrogant friend should do better than me."
"When can I see him?"
"After he wakes." Milieos gripped my shoulder and spoke softly. "Why upset yourself, Junie Watts?"
"I suppose you think me a coward because I shall gladly let you talk me out of going to him."
Milieos rubbed his eyes. How long since he had slept? The physician of Thilum shook his head. "No one can think that of you. You have saved many lives through unselfish dedication."
"I have done nothing that another might do."
"But you did it, not someone else, and it is appreciated. You have a home in Thilum, Junie Watts. You and your children are part of our community."
So much had happened since Dee found me in Jhuma! I had come to Barsoom a naked little black girl with no future only to be taken slave by two men, again naked and with no future. Dee-Dejah Thoris-had changed all that. She had cared for my body, and then my mind. It was amazing how much had changed!
To Milieos, who watched me with fond approval, I said, "Thilum was the first place I was made welcome. After Dee, you are my best friend."
"This pleases me," Milieos smiled.
He took my hand and led me to the edge of the rooftop. Together we looked out upon Thilum. Most of the city lay intact because the Warhoons had not been in control long enough to destroy it. The fields to the east of the river were undamaged. The people were hard at work restoring order.
"This is a good place," Milieos said. "My father planned well. I am sorry he was unable to see just how well. I hope you stay with us."
A short time ago I might have misunderstood the man's invitation. I had been naive and uneducated in the way of the world-any world. "It is something to consider," I said. "Thank you."
"Think on it," the doctor replied. Glancing toward the sun, he apologized, "Time to make my rounds."
"Galkina," I asked. "How is she?"
Almost instantly the confident doctor was transformed into a nervous schoolboy. "She does well. I have no doubt that she will recover fully-and I have you to thank for that as well."
"I do not want your thanks, Milieos. I hope that you will give her honor and respect, not as doctor to warrior, but as man to woman."
The one-time drunkard straightened to his fullest height, then bowed over my hand and kissed it. "You have my pledge, dear lady."
And then he abruptly strode away, leaving me speechless.
Milieos came for me at lunchtime. "Holkat's awake."
The doctor of Thilum took my arm and led me into the fortress and then to the room where constant care patients were housed. Galkina was in the bed nearest the door. She was sitting up and looking well, though her shoulder was heavily bandaged.
"Kaor, Junie Watts!" the Thaandorian saluted a trifle awkwardly. "I have heard of your happiness, may your children grow strong and wise."
The formal speech of Barsoom was less foreign to my ear. "Thank you, Galkina. I hope you mend well."
"Milieos will see to that," the woman smiled.
I laughed with her, at Milieos' good-natured expense, then turned my eyes to the patient in the bed next to Galkina.
Holkat's body was surrounded by sand bags to keep him immobilized. Only his eyes moved within his strong, black face. His face was etched with quiet pain, though he would never consciously acknowledge it.
"You look different," Holkat spoke at last.
"I had my babies."
"Two? Thank Issus I will not have to pay their food and care. How are you, Junie Watts?"
Those few words made my prepared speech unnecessary. He had relinquished his claim upon my person. I knelt at the head of the bed. "I hear you were a hero several times over during the battle."
"Of course. Nothing less from Holkat."
Milieos stood at the foot of the bed. "As arrogant as ever. Heal quickly so I can throw you out. I assure you once Thilum is restored, no one shall ever enter this fortress again by force."
Holkat grimly smiled. "It is indeed formidable. One wonders how Senca failed to hold out."
"Treachery," Milieos replied. "Someone opened the side gate and let the beasts in."
"The side gate? Oh yes, Torok and I took that gate to come get you that first night. I remember someone going through it as we left."
Milieos was suddenly attentive. "Who did you see?"
"A fat man. Tall. That's about all I remember. It was dark and we were in a hurry."
"There are four men residing at Thilum which match that description," Milieos growled. "Three were inside the fortress. The fourth could not be found when the gathering of citizens occurred, nor was his body ever found."
Galkina swung her legs over the edge and started to rise. Milieos put a hand to her shoulder and held the Thaandorian in place. "Where do you think you are going?"
"To find your fat man."
"Tomorrow—maybe. I'll not have you undo my heal-craft. It is unlikely we shall find him since more than three days have passed since the treachery. He would be a fool to have remained in the vicinity after the liberation."
Milieos had his way with Galkina, who remained seated. Holkat and I said goodbyes, and I returned to the rooftop. As I entered the hanger, I saw a group of men exchanging animated words. I paused to see if their discussion involved those under my care.
"...new Dator. Folkar is unacceptable, no matter how strongly he has petitioned, nor would we be served by a woman such as Kulua. The First Born do not accept rule by females."
"The world has changed since John Carter carved his way from pole to pole. The First Born no longer have that luxury."
Another man agreed. "Were there a woman other than Kulua, I might follow her, but Kulua is too self-centered to rule with wisdom. Folkar's ambition comes at great price-his father was murdered and Senca was butchered by Warhoons. It is a sad day for Thilum if we must accept Folkar as our leader."
I could not help myself. Stepping closer, I asked, "Why not Milieos?"
The men suddenly turned and stared at me. I wanted to run, for there were such strange expressions on their faces.
"Milieos is our doctor."
"What would he know about ruling Thilum?"
I could answer that question. "Senca was a soldier. What did he know about ruling Thilum? Soldier, doctor-what difference the man's profession if his heart is for his people? Can there be any doubt of that with Milieos?"
"She has a point," a tall red man offered. "It was his leadership which freed Thilum."
"Aye," a merchant exclaimed. "If he can manage Thilum as well as he treats injury and illness-"
As quickly as that I was again ignored.
I remembered the old men on the street corners when I was growing up. They all had opinions about politics and government. I never understood it on Earth, I had even less chance of understanding it on Barsoom, but if any man could lead Thilum, I knew Milieos' heart was in the right place.
Yona was not in the hanger. I asked one of the Thaandorians who'd been working as a nurse where the big woman might be.
"She took the babies for a walk. It was too noisy for them to sleep." Together we walked to the hanger entrance. She looked about, then pointed to Yona sitting on the roof edge, looking into the valley. Wrapped in a soft fur near the wall, in the shadow of her body, my children were sleeping.
Yona heard me coming and greeted me with a smile. "Your friend-how was he?"
"He looked like death warmed over, but I think he will be all right. What a nice breeze!" I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes, enjoying the sun and wind.
"We've company coming," Yona declared. "There, southwest. See the cloud of dust?"
I looked where she pointed and thought I saw something, but wasn't sure. "Who do you think?"
"Small party. Perhaps a half dozen thoats. No more than that."
"Should we tell someone?"
Yona winked. "The sentry in the tower has just seen it and reported. We'll know soon enough. They are coming in pretty fast."
Within the hour the mounted troop crossed the bridge at the river. There was no mistaking the small, trim figure of Dee at the head of the column, or that of the padwar from the tar valley bringing up the rear. There were four other thoats, three loaded down with bundles and packages, the fourth bearing a fat man I recognized as the jeweler, Kultis Than. He did not come willingly, for his hands were tied.
The riders entered the fortress walls and a dozen guards, a mixed group of warriors of Thilum and Thaandor surrounded the group. I could not hear the words Dee said but as soon as she was done the jeweler was pulled down and held under close guard. Almost immediately Milieos strode into the courtyard. His back was rigid and his step angry. Even at this distance I sensed something murderous about to happen.
"Stay here, Yona. Watch my babies."
I ran down the ramps and through the corridors as quickly as I could. When I reached the courtyard the number of people there had grown considerably. I pushed my way through the crowd until I could see Milieos, Dee, Kultis Than and the thoats. Milieos was speaking.
"You were some distance from Thilum, sir. Where were you going?"
"Trade. I have a business."
"There's no human cities southwest of Thilum. We are the frontier."
"I wished to avoid the Warhoon war parties before turning north." Kultis Than stammered his replies. Even I did not believe him.
"What is in your packs?" Milieos demanded.
"Trade goods. I hoped to do well and to bring that wealth back to Thilum, my adopted city, so that we might both prosper."
"Ah, this is a good thing. Let us see the trade goods that would bring such prosperity."
"It is all packed," the jeweler replied. "I must be going or my buyers will change their minds."
Milieos narrowed his eyes. Motioning to a pair of soldiers, a white man and a black, he said, "See what he's carrying."
With sharp knives the men severed the ropes securing the bundles, letting them fall to the ground. One especially heavy case cracked open and twenty rifles rolled out. Boxes of ammunition were found, as well as dozens of long swords. Some metal points, perhaps a hundred, were located. It took a moment's thought to recognize them as spear heads. In addition to these weapons there were several cases containing jewels, gold, and platinum.
"Sir!" the white guard ran to Milieos with something clutched in his hand. It was a necklace of some kind made with bones and teeth and feathers. "Warhoon," he announced.
Milieos took the bauble and looked at it, taking extra time over a gold medallion with two emeralds on either side of a large ruby. "Kultis Than, this is your death warrant. You are the traitor in Thilum. You have dealt with the Warhoons and have been a party to my father's murder.
"I will give you more chance than you or your minions gave our Dator. Give him your sword," Milieos ordered the guard. "You may have your life and your miserable jewels-but not the weapons-if you can kill me. Else, I will carve your heart from your foul carcass!"
Milieos' sword sang as it came from his sheathe. Kultis Than barely had time to bring the guard's sword to bear as the doctor's weapon slashed at him. Almost as fast as a cat on a mouse, the jeweler showed he was not unfamiliar with the sword, he quickly began an attack which drove Milieos back.
"Someone stop them!" I screamed. "Stop this before-"
"Hush, Junie Watts, or you'll kill Milieos by distraction."
Galkina's good hand gripped my shoulder painfully. The Thaandorian looked pale and trembled, but her eyes never left the battle in the courtyard. I tried to break free but Galkina's hold was too strong. Fearing that a sound from me would distract Milieos, I covered my mouth with both hands.
I prayed. I prayed for Milieos, who as a good man. But for all his goodness, it did not seem he was good enough with the sword. Kultis Than kept up his attack, beating the First Born ever back. The crowd parted to give the fighters room and for an instant I could see nothing.
Then Kultis Than inched backwards. Step by step Milieos drove the jeweler before him. As they passed Galkina and me, I saw another push his way to the front of the crowd. It was Folkar. I yearned to beg him to stop the fight, yet the sunlight on the flashing steel and Galkina's firm grip kept my tongue still.
I did not see how it happened, but it was over. Milieos' sword pierced the breast of Kultis Than and that man screamed. The jeweler's knees gave way and he knelt to the ground, his sword forgotten.
"You have killed me, Milieos but I am not your traitor, though I worked for him. There's your traitor," he said, lifting the sword to point into the crowd. "He's the one who-"
A flood of bloody froth blossomed on the jeweler's lips. He gagged once then rolled his eyes and fell face down. Who was the traitor? I could not see who Kultis Than had named.
Though I had not seen Milieos had and that revelation left the doctor speechless. Stunned, Milieos turned to slowly walk away, head down.
Someone yelled a warning as a figure rushed forward with upraised sword. The blade was descending upon Milieos! All I could see was the flashing arc of sun-brightened steel-steel which abruptly faltered then fell to the ground.
Dee stood over the decapitated body of Folkar, her sword gripped two-handed and dark with blood. She looked down at the corpse with no emotion on her pretty features which were spattered with Folkar's hot blood. No one moved or spoke.
The white guard retrieved his sword and walked toward Milieos. Dee looked up, her sword ready, but there was no need for her to use it again to defend Milieos. That guard put his sword at Milieos' feet and knelt. "My Dator," he said. Others moved forward to place their swords on the ground.
Galkina finally released me. "It is done." She, too, drew her sword, and went to place it upon the pile before Milieos.
I looked at Dee, confused. She blinked three times then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The tense grip on her weapon relaxed and she bent down for a handful of sand blown in from the dead sea bottom to wipe her blade.
Chapter 13: Dejah Thoris:
Caged by Kindness
Junie Watts did not speak to me after the incident in the courtyard. She avoided my gaze and declined my offer to help when Milieos moved us to a spacious room on the second floor.
Yona continued in her role as guardian of the Jasoomian's infants, incongruous in appearance and training to be so gentle and affectionate. Junie Watts accepted the Thaandorian's assistance gratefully. For a short time I felt jealous. As Junie's protector and mentor for nearly two months, to be so suddenly and completely replaced generated a twinge of pique, a twinge that eventually brought a faint smile to my lips. It had always been my intention that she become self-reliant, though I had not expected it so quickly done!
When the evening meal was announced the Jasoomian took Johan and Dee and Yona downstairs. She did not look in my direction as they left the room. I sighed quietly. Her independence, and the conclusion of the Thilum campaign, forced a decision which had been long in coming.
It was time to go home.
Gathering my cloak and a journey bag accumulated from a dead Warhoon, I packed the spare pistol, two sleeping furs, two knives of good quality and spare ammunition. From my harness depended a sword, hatchet, knife, pistol and belt pouch. Everything else had been lost or left behind, yet there was nothing I needed or that was irreplaceable.
The bundle was not heavy, though it would weigh more when I packed the food and water I was sure the people of Thilum would not begrudge me. I carried my things up to the fourth floor and left the bag and cloak outside the room where Holkat, Galkina, and a handful of others lay mending.
Galkina saw my intent as soon as I entered. "You're leaving," she said.
"I have been away from home too long," I replied. "A promise was made and I must keep it."
Galkina put her feet o the floor and rose without any sign of discomfort or weakness. "Milieos is a good doctor," she smiled.
"He's also a good man. I did not start out believing that of him, but he has my admiration and respect now."
"I share the same sentiments," Galkina laughed. "He will also have something else from me before long."
"What is that?"
Her smile broadened and was accompanied by a wink. "Me."
I had seen Galkina in battle. When she selected an objective it was achieved with minimum effort. "I wish you both well. Milieos is a good man, but a good woman will make him great. If I were not already married to the most wonderful man on two-in the world, Milieos would be first on my list."
Galkina touched my shoulder and leaned close. "He does not know it yet."
"I'm sure he will very shortly. When did you first know?"
"That he was the one? Almost from the first, but I was not certain until I saw him shed tears the morning we arrived at Thilum and the city was burning. Women want strong men because Barsoom is so harsh, but a man who is without compassion or empathy makes a poor companion through life. I am my own woman and have yet to meet a man I cannot master by sword of intellect, other than Maj Lankor and Milieos. I have to desire to challenge either to a duel as one is my jeddak and the other is the man I love. My sword at Milieos' feet was not a pledge of allegiance alone. It was a pledge of fidelity and honor."
"I am no warrior-" I began.
"Ha!" Galkina interjected. "Few of my utan can compare with you!"
The acknowledgment was accepted with a grateful nod, but I would not let it deter my thought. "Thank you, however, I was not raised as a warrior and what skills I have were learned late and over protest. My husband is a warrior by training and avocation and to him I look for security and protection. What I meant to say was that when one joins with another, it is a serious matter. Men are not always prepared for what comes from such a relationship. We women must be patient with them until such time as these feelings arise in their breast. Milieos can love. He has known a love that nearly destroyed him when it was lost. I am certain he can love again, given time."
I told Galkina of Milieos' wife and what happened. She listened quietly and said nothing for a few moments when I finished. Then she said:
"I sensed a reluctance, though I did not know the cause. Thank you for telling me."
"Milieos is an honest man. He will tell you this himself if you ask. He feels something for you. I saw it as he watched over you during and after the surgery. Nonetheless, it may be difficult for him to show his feelings."
Galkina frowned slightly, her lips pinched with thought. Then she said goodbye and turned to leave.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"To put the lie to your worries. Milieos will have me tonight or not at all. The woman's eyes were merry as she exited the room.
I felt happy for Galkina. There was no doubt in my mind that she would accomplish her mission, she faced no impediments as there had been when John Carter and I first met. For some love comes immediately with no warning or preamble, with others a long period of familiarity must pass before mutual affection is discovered. Politically arranged marriages are not uncommon on Barsoom, especially among the royal houses. My son lost his heart to a woman who was to marry a jeddak to seal an alliance between one nation and another. He was lucky to obtain her hand when her intended learned the dear girl's affections were reciprocated. Honor and love are the apex of the red man's virtues and few would force a marriage when neither was present.
"I shall miss you," Holkat's strained voice startled my thoughts. "I shall miss your strength and determination, and that sharp tongue."
"Yes, that-you have inspired my best efforts in all regards." I smiled warmly. "You did a fine thing, Holkat. I wanted to say that to you before I left."
His right brow arched with interest. "And what thing have I done to provoke this unexpected admiration?"
"You have released Junie Watts. It was very wise and fortunate to have done so."
His lip turned upward. "Fortunate? As ever, you speak in riddles, Dee. How so?"
"Had you not I would have killed you."
Holkat studied me for some time before replying. "I believe you would."
"It is good that you do, for that is my promise. Do not interfere with Junie Watt's life. If it comes to my attention that you have changed your mind, I will see you out. My anger is something you do not wish to experience."
"By Issus, I like you, Dee!" Holkat's hearty laugh ended with a stifled moan as he moved incautiously. "You may kill me yet!" With a quiet, sincere tone, Holkat continued. "I gave up my claim to Junie Watts for other reason; those have not changed. You may make your promise, however unnecessary, because I expect nothing less from the first woman I have admired as much as any man."
The remainder of my conversation with Holkat was of inconsequential things. We both knew our paths would never again cross; yet, the time we had known each other would remain long in our memories. I bid him goodbye when a pleasant-faced woman brought his evening meal.
With journey bag on my shoulder, I went through the corridors and down the ramps to the first floor. The padwar from the tar valley saw me approach the dining hall.
"Where do you go, Dee?"
"It is time to return home," and before he could express the thought I saw shining in his eyes I added, "to my husband and family."
The light dimmed but slightly, but now there was understanding. "May your journey be swift and without incident."
I left the bag at the door and together we entered the dining hall. Approximately fifty people were seated at the long tables and a subdued murmur of conversation filled the air. Junie Watts and Yona were at the far side of the hall. The Jasoomian silently watched me part from the padwar and go to Milieos at the front of the hall. The new Dator looked exceedingly happy, and I assumed it had something to do with the brown-skinned warrior woman who held his arm.
"Kaor, Galkina. It is done?"
"It is," she replied. Looking up to Milieos she said the time-honored words, "My chieftain."
Milieos laughed with great spirit. "Come, sit and celebrate with us, Dee."
When I had done so, the Dator continued. "You and Junie Watts have been the most welcome of unwelcome guests. How you patiently endured my drunken rudeness I'll never know, but I am grateful you did, for I have the zest of life restored and again know love."
"I accept one, but not the other. You did the latter on your own, with Galkina's help, of course!"
"As usual, you are correct," Milieos grinned. "Join us, Dee. Celebrate our happiness."
I gladly accepted the invitation and ate hearty of the meal served. Milieos forced a small goblet of wine upon me, which I used to toast the Dator and his wife-to-be. A short time later I made a request of Milieos.
"A thoat, sir, that I may begin my journey home."
The smile on Milieos' face faded. Galkina sat silently. The physician cleared his throat. "I had hoped you would stay. Your counsel and wisdom are sorely needed in Thilum-but I can see that no argument I might put forth will change your mind. You may have anything that Thilum can offer,. Yes, two thoats, or three, and whatever you may wish to pack."
"That offer is too generous," I said. "One thoat will see me through to Jhuma. I will leave it there when I board the White Diamond."
"Not only that, but an escort. You and Junie Watts shall not pass from Thilum without protection for your journey."
"That won't be necessary, Milieos. I go alone."
The Dator's eyes widened slightly. "It was my impression that the Jasoomian intends to go where you go."
"I cannot take her with me," I replied without explaining. Rising, I gripped Milieos' shoulder in fond farewell. "Tell Junie Watts I wish her and the children well. It is better this way as she thinks poorly of me at the moment."
"This I do not believe," the Dator frowned. "That girl worships you."
I sighed. "Something neither desired or wanted. Please tell her I said goodbye."
Milieos nodded, then directed a fellow to accompany me to the thoat pens. I had difficulty selecting a mount because Junie's tame thoats crowded around me. I would not take one of her pets, yet as long as they pressed close I was stymied. Just as I marshaled my mental energy to send a harsh command to the animal minds, I heard Junie's frantic voice calling my name.
The Jasoomian saw the congregation of thoats and correctly surmised I was the cause. "Oh, Dee! Milieos said you were leaving! Please wait. I won't be long. I'll get Jonah and Dee and we can go. I'm such a stupid girl. I wasn't angry with you. I was frightened. I don't know why. You killed that bad man on the road and I know you fought at Thaandor, but I had not seen you use a sword. It was so horrible and messy."
Junie Watts had thrown her arms about me, weeping openly. I gently disengaged and held her at arm's length. "Barsoom is a violent world, Junie Watts, but for all our readiness to thwart death by any means, few of us take pride in it."
"I know," the Jasoomian sobbed. "I know you only did what had to be done. I am so foolish to let it bother me so. Am I forgiven for acting like a silly child?"
"Of course," I smiled, kissing her warm cheek.
"I'm so relieved!" she cried joyously. "I won't be a xat!"
I stopped the black girl before she could turn toward the fortress. "Junie."
There was a puzzled look on her face, then a growing despair. "You're not going to take me with you."
I pressed my lips tightly, not wanting to say the words. "I can't."
She could not have been more startled and heart-broken if I had slapped her. Junie leaned against Topper because her knees were weak. "Why?"
"My world-my country-is not place for you and the babies. You and Jonah and Little Dee would be objects of curiosity and examination."
"But you could protect me," Junie suggested. "You are the princess of Helium."
"I could, but what kind of life would that be? I love my husband. I love my family and my country, but I tell you this as sincerely as I know how, my life is never my own. Every minute of the day there is someone monitoring my activities. I cannot go to relieve myself without a slave or servant to assist. Whenever I travel there is a retinue of eager and devoted escorts and, by Issus, that is no way to live your life. Jonah and Dee deserve more than a life caged by kindness."
"What will happen to me?" she asked.
"Only what you wish. Stay in Thilum if you like. With Milieos as Dator this will be a fine and safe place to live; or go to Thaandor with Torvaan Rok when he returns home, that city understands Jasoomians and Jasoomian babies. Maj Lankor knows your world better than any Barsoomian ever could. He has been to Earth and can provide your children with a stable environment that embraces their heritage.
"Do not look so sad, Junie Watts," I continued. "Your life is just beginning. You have an opportunity to chose your destiny while I was born into mine and cannot escape it. I would not be your friend if I took you to Helium. I know what that life is like. I must go back because of duty and love-and if the latter were no reason, then I might not return at all.
"This life," I sighed wistfully, gazing beyond the thoats to the commons and Thilum and then into the distant fields and the valley wall topped by the equatorial forest.
"Yes?" Junie Watts prompted when I remained thoughtful. "This life-what?"
I linked an arm through the Jasoomian's. "Walk with me."
Into the commons, where the greatest carnage was done, the scars of the stampede and trampled vendor stands mute evidence of the violence, we crossed into the area south, amid two and three story buildings. People walked the street, carrying materials to repair the shops and dwellings, or food from the market and fields to feed their families. The occasional child was seen, running after escaped soraks or poking through piled rubbish with intent curiosity. A woman tended a garden trampled by Warhoons and her husband replaced rocks knocked from a decorative stone wall.
"Where are we going, Dee?" Junie asked.
"Nowhere. I'm just taking a pleasant stroll through an interesting place with a dear friend. I will not be able to do this when I return to Helium. The threat of assassination or kidnap is too great. Stopping to pick a glorestra blossom, or smelling the sweet odor of a pimillia cannot be done with less than a company of warriors and servants. Tasting the food vendor's wares is done second hand-someone else must try it before I am allowed.
"Do not misunderstand these words, my friend, I am utterly devoted to my husband and my people. My life is rich in many ways, but the fact remains that personal choice and freedom to go or come as I please is not one of them.
"My time with you is something I shall always treasure. Your awakening, your determination to learn, the very special moment of giving birth to such amazing infants, reminds me that adversity is what we make and success is our reward for embracing it. It would please me greatly to know that you were here or in Thaandor and triumphing adversities of your choice. Yet, I think I may have learned more from you than you from me. I must go back to my home and I must, within the limit of my position, overcome my own adversities."
"Oh, you make it sound so wonderful and horrible at the same time. But I cannot say 'you poor girl' for I know that you are neither poor or a girl. I have never met anyone quite like you. To be beautiful and smart and so strong, there is nothing you cannot do!"
I smiled then, and winked sagely. "I shall take your advice, and you should take it yourself."
Wide-eyed, Junie Watts suddenly laughed. "You have tricked me into understanding."
By the time we finished our walk, less than a zode remained of the day. I had been hard-riding for three days with the patrols around Thilum, thus it was easy to let the Jasoomian prevail in her request that I postpone my departure until morning.
I paused on my way out of Junie Watt's quarters long enough to look upon the twin miracles of Jasoomian and Barsoomian reproduction. How different these tiny beings compared to my children. Carthoris and Tara were five years in the shell, sealed in ornate and nearly airtight incubators. When my son broke his shell was the greatest moment of my life, and Tara's nearly as much, both miracles as fine as the little brown babies beneath my gaze.
Junie Watts lay quietly sleeping a few ads away. Yona was stretched out on the floor near the doorway, though the light was so dim I could not tell if she was awake or sleeping.
I knelt beside the fur-lined basket which held Jonah and my namesake. With a whisper so quite even I could not hear it, I wished the babies long life and health. Kissing the tip of my finger, I touched each on their smooth dark foreheads, then quickly rose and departed before the emotion choking me became tears.
An alert guard at the end of the corridor, where the ramp connected with the floors above and below, offered a respectful salute. I acknowledged the honor as I passed down to the main floor. Others were about were about, beginning ordinary tasks before the sun rose. Some where warriors changing shifts, others were household servants or merchants delivering supplies. These I expected to see, as the business of life goes on, but the three figures waiting at the thoat pen were a surprise.
Milieos and Galkina greeted me affectionately. It was Torvaan Rok that surprised me most, especially when he bowed and said, "Your highness."
The Dator of Thilum chuckled when I started to deny the Thaandorian. "Junie Watts told me last night, Dejah Thoris. How you must have laughed at our backward ways and insignificant problems. Oh, I do not mean that to sound petty, I mean our lives must be so different from yours. You will forgive my rude behavior, I hope. Had I known you were the consort of the Warlord, I would have made arrangements for a housekeeper."
"I am pleased that you did not, and sincerely hope my service in that capacity was not too onerous." We both laughed.
Unmasked I felt no different. I remained the same Dee who cooked and cleaned and cleaved warriors in battle. "That girl! I just wanted to quietly ride away."
The First Born took my bag. "And you shall. You. Me. And Torvaan Rok, will see you to Jhuma. No one else knows, but we cannot allow you to travel alone, now that we three know. That had also been decided before we knew your identity. You could not have changed our minds before that knowledge; it is doubly impossible to change them now. We have four fast thoats and two pack animals prepared."
The animals were brought to us even as he spoke. "In truth," I said, "the company is appreciated. You are all good friends."
Within moments we were mounted and racing northeast across the river bridge on the road to the equatorial trade route. By dawn we were beyond sight of Thilum, deep within the lush forest fed by the watershed from the geo-thermal springs farther north in the rugged mountains. Not long after we entered the first of the thoat valleys, we halted at an abandoned ranch house. The occupants had not yet returned from Thilum's protective walls.
Dismounting to breathe the animals, Milieos removed a sack from one of the pack thoats. Reaching inside the cloth sack the Dator grinned. With a bow he presented me with a cooking pot. "Princess or not," he said, "you're the best cook in our company!"
Galkina and Torvaan Rok picked somp and usa from trees near the dwelling which I turned into a breakfast stew. Our meal had an almost holiday feel as we enjoyed the breeze under the rough overhang fronting the mud and stone building.
We talked, mostly of Thilum's future, and Thaandor's. Torvaan Rock was very curious of the wide world beyond his ancient city. His desire was to see more of Barsoom before returning home-as well as carrying out a self-imposed commitment to assist "the heroine who brought freedom to Thaandor."
As we made ready to ride, I asked Milieos, "What about your patients?"
"They are under Junie Watt's care. She has a natural skill caring for the sick and injured. When I get back, I will teach her what I know about medicine, and expect to learn a thing or two from her in the bargain."
Our stay at the house was less than a half-zode.
We rode hard until well past the lunch hour to reach the trade road. Instead of stopping we ate fruits and nuts as we traveled. Just before nightfall we came upon a lovely valley with a small point, a wide expanse of flower-tipped grasses and several stands of mantalia groves.
Torvaan Rock helped unload the pack thoats. Drawing one of the small knives from his harness belt, he said, "I'll bet there's a darseen sunning himself over there. Wait deciding dinner until I return."
The Thaandorian's leg, now unbandaged, seemed to give him little trouble as he approached a copse of mantalia. The thick stalks of the milk plants were only a few ads taller than the hunter, but were so densely grown he disappeared from view almost immediately. Hardly had Milieos brought water from the pond when Torvaan Rock came towards camp, grinning hugely. He displayed a wriggling darseen lizard impaled on the blade of his knife. While I built a fire, Maj Lankor's son expertly gutted and prepared the meat.
Galkina helped with the cooking, primarily because her arm-though greatly improved-was not quite up to the heavy strain of erecting the large cloth canopy we would share. I accepted some good natured teasing for undercooking the darseen-not one morsel of which was left unconsumed.
Milieos attempted to spare the princess of Helium a night watch, but I protested. Though we were relatively safe from Warhoon threat, there are any number of dangerous beasts inhabiting the surface of Barsoom; someone must be awake at all times. Galkina, too, demanded her stint and it was agreed she first, me second, and the two men last.
The night passed without incident. We broke camp early, before sunrise, and set the thoats at their best speed along the trade route. We saw no other travelers until noon, a three family caravan headed west. A half dozen men with pikes and short swords trotted alongside the slow moving three-wheeled wagons drawn by mammoth zitidars. As common among the people of Barsoom, we were not greeted with open arms as every person is a potential enemy, or at least it is best to assume that. When it was learned Milieos was a physician, however, we were invited to share a noon day meal while he looked at a woman, the oldest I have ever seen. She was was not feeling well.
Later, when Milieos joined us under the shade of a sompas tree near the wagons at the side of the road, he gave a report of his visit. "There is nothing to be done for her, it is simply her time."
Galkina's curiosity impelled the question, "How old is she?"
"Perhaps eleven-hundred years," Milieos replied. "She is not sure. Some of the things she remembers—for her mind is not sharp—match with events that happened around that time."
"So long a life," the Thaandorian said. "My people rarely live longer than five-hundred years, barring accident or violence."
"Few Barsoomians live that long because of war and starvation. A three hundred year life span is quite average."
"Really?" Torvaan Rok arched a brow. "I suppose that Thaandor's isolation and our desire to remain hidden from the rest of the world gives the illusion of longer lives. Was she in much pain?" He nodded toward the wagons.
"Arthritis in every joint, poor thing. I gave her a pain medication to reduce the inflammation."
Galkina's tone became very serious. "If we live that long, Milieos, you must promise to let me make the pilgrimage to Dor. I do not wish to live a life of pain and incapacity."
Milieos lowered his eyes for a heartbeat, then looked directly into Galkina's. "Let us discuss that when the time comes, my dear. There's only fifty years between us-we are both young yet."
"Here, here!" I cried, breaking the tension with a salute of tepid water. "To youth, may it last not quite forever."
Torvaan Rok laughed. "What an unusual toast! Why not youth forever?"
I smiled then, speaking with some experience, "There are advantages to growing old-with the one you love."
I was then pressed to list those advantages as we consumed the luncheon, and the questions lasted for sometime after we resumed the trail. I spoke of familiarity, of comfort, of happy security, and the unspoken affection that comes after the heat of lust and burning desire. They listened with varying degrees of acceptance, as I certainly am no wise woman, and the responses I received in return helped pass the haads in swift manner.
Galkina rode without discomfort, the skill of Milieos' handiwork, the marvelous medicines at his disposal, and the remarkable regenerative powers of our Barsoomian bodies had wrought well. It has been said that if treatment is given immediately, only the most grievous wounds are fatal. One wonders if the great desolation of dying Barsoom has genetically strengthened our bodies as an apologetic afterthought for being the source of our eventual extinction.
That night we camped near a traveler's inn where we partook of roast thoat and braised tubers, highly spiced as was the wont of the people of the equator. There were no rooms available, but the weather was quite pleasant. Galkina and I washed in a clear pool surrounded by masses of glorestra in full bloom. The men bathed after, and we took our turns at watch until dawn.
Two more days passed, much as the previous, and the afternoon of the latter I began to recognize landmarks noted when Junie Watts and I had passed from Jhuma. My trip back was accomplished in half the time as we were not concerned with internally-carried babies or dealing with a thoroughly confused other world mentality. Junie Watts was no longer a frightened, lost soul. She had blossomed to maturity and grace and I was pleased to have been a part of her transformation.
Perhaps a zode before sundown I saw a glittering speck high in the eastern sky. The forward part of the Tjanath liner reflected the sun with a brilliance comparable to the fire of a well-cut diamond. I could not tell from this distance, but the ship might well be the White Diamond, upon which I had journeyed to Jhuma just two months before.
"The gods of coincidence are with us," I said. "I shall be on that ship this evening."
There lay but one low rise of hills between us and the city. During that ride our pace slowed, not only to rest the thoats, which had been pushed hard all day, but to give us time to make our goodbyes. At the summit of the road I stopped my thoat and dismounted. Looking to the city, sprawled haphazardly around the ancient masonry core of the old section, I took down my journey bag.
"I will leave you here," I said. "It is a short walk."
"We will see you off," Milieos declared, his voice firm.
I smiled. "You need to practice that voice of authority, Dator. It is still too new to have much effect on me. Nay, ride back to Thilum. Begin your lives now. Do not wait."
Torvaan Rok had dismounted as soon as I had, and he ignored my request with laughing eyes. "Me," he said, "you do not command."
"I have no intention of commanding you, sir. I shall only ask that you consider what your presence in Jhuma might mean to your city and people. Are they ready to greet the outer world, or would not be better to avoid that day until alliances are formed and solidified with Thilum? Walk with me, if you will, I shall not deny you."
For a long moment the Thaandorian scowled angrily. "Damn you. Damn you for being right." Then suddenly Torvaan Rok slapped his knee with a hearty laugh. "Is your will never subverted by others? Have you never been denied your heart's desire?"
"Never," I replied with gentle seriousness.
Of course, I did not reveal to the smiling man that my true heart's desire, another child, was an impossibility.
"If we shall not accompany you, then you must take this."
Torvaan Rok came to me. From his belt pouch he produced a small leather bag. It was heavy and clinked when he placed it in my hand. "This is no payment for services, rather it is a loan. We expect to be repaid at some future time. Milieos gathered it before we left Thilum to defray your trip home. We have no currency in Thaandor but we do have a fondness for baubles. There are three stones in there that should have some worth among the merchants of Jhuma. Now, if I am permitted, I would embrace you."
"Best you do, or suffer my wrath."
Galkina was next, coming to me with firm step and admiration in her eyes. "You are a good friend, even to those you do not know. How the world may view the princess of Helium I cannot say, but in Thaandor and Thilum, she is priceless. My sword is at your feet, your highness, should you ever have need of it."
I kissed Galkina, beginning to feel a lump in my throat. But the goodbyes were not yet done. Milieos spoke to me with a rare display of emotion. "There were days that I cursed you for intruding upon my life. I bemoaned your meddlesome ways and sharp tongue. Your incursion into my home began as an unwelcome distraction and ended with restoring my life and dignity and honor. You and Junie Watts have enriched my life immeasurably. If not for you I might still be lost in the bottle and Thilum might now be in the hands of Warhoons. I shall miss you, Dejah Thoris."
I made a disparaging sound, maintaining a stiff upper lip and grimly holding onto my self-control. "You give me too much credit, sir. You did it yourself." I stepped forward and grabbed the First Born's harness to pull his face down that I might kiss his cheek.
"Galkina," I said, moving away to pick up my bag, "I could tell you things about this man you have chosen, but I shall not. It is the discovery and exploration of the unknown that brings joy and satisfaction to our lives. Be well. Goodbye all."
The bag jerked with each step at the end of my left arm as I quickly descended the hill. I felt moisture forming in my eyes and was not too proud to think it was dust from the road that caused it. I had made good friends in Thilum and seen the wonders of legendary Thaandor. A part of me truly regretted having to leave. At the bottom of the hill I turned to look back. I would not have been surprised to see them gone, nor was I surprised to see them still there, waving. I raised my hand in return, smiled, then took the turn in the road that blocked all view of the riders at the summit.
Night was only xats away when I entered the airfield with its twin mooring towers rising above the old city. The clerk at the airship office hardly looked up when I asked for passage.
"Destination?" he asked.
"Helium-no, make that Hastor." My change of mind made no impression on the collector, other than the number of coins I must give him before boarding.
The operator of the electromagnetic elevator was politely indifferent to the barbarian woman passenger he took to the upper tower boarding ramp. Women who carried swords are known in the frontier towns and wilder parts of Barsoom, though rarely seen in the cities. I was neither a surprise or outlandish passenger on the liner, which was not the White Diamond, but a sister ship of similar design.
A cabin steward took my bag and led the way aft, showing as much deference to this travel-stained woman as he might to a princess. The crew of all Tjanath liners were uniformly polite-which is why their ships rated so highly among travelers from all countries and walks of life.
My cabin was starboard, third level. Smaller than the one I had outbound from Helium, it was still quite comfortable with all necessary amenities. I took a standup bath at the lavatory, then washed my long, black hair. It seemed an eternity since I had had my hair done in the elaborate coifs common at the royal courts of my father, grandfather or husband. A heavy braid had been my most common style since leaving the White Diamond and I had become accustomed to the freedom resulting from such minimal care.
I sat on the bed and cleaned my harness until it was time for the evening meal. Wearing harness, sword, pistol and knife, I secured the room and joined the rest of the passengers in the dining area. The ship was to depart a few zodes after sunset and passengers were still arriving. A group of red men, from Phundahl if I read their metal correctly, entered the dining room. They were loud and boisterous, appearing to have imbibed unwise quantities of wine at one of the dock side taverns.
Two of the men noticed me sitting alone at a table. They collected their plates and approached me. "May we join you?" one asked.
"No," I replied. "There's ample seating. Select a table and enjoy your dinner."
The man flushed hotly and sputtered with indignation. Mumbling something he should be glad I did not hear, the Phundahlian turned and stiffly walked away. His friend, however, was not as intelligent. He sat down opposite me with a leering grin.
"A pretty woman like you shouldn't eat alone."
I smiled at him, moving a hand under the table. "Do you feel that?" I asked as his eyes widened lecherously.
"My, you're a brazen wench!"
"You might take a look before you excite yourself unnecessarily."
He did and gasped at the sight of a radium pistol pressed against his crotch. "If you didn't want company, why didn't you say so?"
"I believe I did. I'm very weary and this gun is heavy. There's no telling what might happen..."
The Phundahlian carefully pushed his chair back and picked up his plate. He shot a venomous glance before retreating to join his fellows. Holstering the weapon, I leisurely finished my meal then left the dining room.
I took a turn on the aft deck, looking at the lights of Jhuma a hundred ads below. The breeze had picked up, promising a chill during the night. I did not allow myself to be preoccupied with any one thing, having gained significant experience in Thilum and Thaandor. It had been unwise, perhaps, to have embarrassed the Phundahlian, and it was possible he might wish to do something to salve his injured pride. I had no intention of giving him opportunity of accomplishing it.
When the ship's klaxon signaled cast off, I left the deck and returned to my cabin. The door was locked behind me and I undressed and went to bed.
The droning hum of the motors, not far from my cabin, lulled me to sleep nearly instantly. The motors were still operating at cruising speed when I felt a harsh hand across my mouth and a heavy body covering mine in the darkened cabin. An instant later the hand fell away as the attacker cried out, rolling to clasp hands over the puncture wound where my slim blade had entered between his ribs.
I unhooded the radium bulb above the bed and looked down at the writhing figure on the floor. The man was a Phundahlian, but not the one I expected. Naked, but still holding the bloody knife, I rose from the bed and rang for the cabin steward. The crewman appeared promptly, perhaps expecting a mission to the kitchen for a hungry passenger.
"This man assaulted me as I slept. The door was locked. How he got in I cannot say, but I am disappointed in the security measures on board this ship."
"My deepest apologies," the steward said, dragging the moaning Phundahlian out of the cabin by the harness straps. "A moment, please."
Scarce had he disappeared with his burden before another steward appeared. "Please accept our regrets for this unfortunate event. I am here to clean the room or move you to another, as you wish. There will be a ship's panthan at your door for the rest of the night."
I let him remove the blood-stained bedding and mop the floor as that seemed the simplest solution. The panthan arrived before the steward was done. He was a tall, grim specimen who looked extremely competent. The steward again offered apologies as he departed. The panthan nodded to me, then closed the door. I returned to the bed and hooded the bulb. Sleep was not long in coming.
The next morning the Phundahlians were set ashore at the ship's next stop, a point approximately half-way to Helium. The man I stabbed was carried off by his friends, lucky to be alive. The layover was short as no passengers boarded, but cargo was off-loaded and other containers were brought aboard.
I had slept through breakfast, more exhausted than I cared to admit, so I entered the dining room at lunch with a sharp appetite. As before, I ate alone, but this time even the tables near mine were unoccupied. Apparently word had gone around, which suited me perfectly. I needed time alone to gather my thoughts, to prepare for myself for the eventual meeting with my husband. I hoped it would be non-confrontational, but I held no misconceptions regarding John Carter's temper. He could be extreme at times-not that I feared for my physical being; there was no man who loved me more.
Because of these worries I had decided on Hastor instead of Helium. I wanted to test the situation before returning home.
The ship arrived at Hastor near sundown. One of the larger cities of Barsoom, it was still only half the size of Lesser Helium. The airship docked at the majestic inner city hanger which rose some fifty stories above the plaza. I disembarked with journey bag in hand and took a public pneumatic tube south. Leaving the terminal on foot, I passed along paved avenues dividing estates with well-manicured lawns and landscaping.
The sun was still yet above the horizon when I reached my destination. The guard at the gate gave me a hard glare. "I would like to speak to your mistress," I said.
"We do not receive strangers," he replied officiously.
"I understand. Please give her a message. I will wait across the way in the park. Say to her 'You once delivered a letter for me. I wish to know if it was received.'"
I did not have much opportunity to enjoy the quiet park because Rexa Hultan herself came to greet me. The poor woman's face struggled between conflicting emotions of relief and anger, both of which were set aside as she embraced me.
"Your highness! I as so glad to see you! I do not think John Carter would have waited another day before sending out the fleet."
"He has not?"
"He honored your message, though he was terribly cross with me for letting you go. Where have you been? I sent two of my men to Jhuma a month ago to find you. They just returned yesterday, unsuccessful. I was so worried!"
"I am home, none the worse for wear. I wanted to talk to you before going home to John Carter. He is a dear to have given me the time on so flimsy a request. Oh, I know he will be angry with me."
"You shall soon find out," Rexa Hultan said, "he's here."
"Here?" I arched a brow. Suddenly my insides turned.
"Inside. Here on business and as our guest. I said nothing to him when the guard brought your message. What are we to do?"
I patted the dear girl's hand with a warm smile. "Not 'we', 'me'. Thank you for being a friend. Where is he?"
"I'll take you."
Shaking my head, I said, "I best go alone."
"He's in the garden."
I parted from Rexa Hultan at the back door of her estate. Leaving the journey bag on the portico, I walked down the gravel path to the hanging garden suspended from the high walls surrounding the property. My Virginian was seated on the edge of a decorative fountain, watching the sunset. He turned his head at my step on the loose rock.
"Hello, John. I'm home."
He looked at my harness—a warrior's harness—and the long sword hanging from my hip. The radium pistol drew his attention, as well as the narrowness of my waist, for I had lost some weight over the last two months. He also noticed the faint scars on my shoulder and thigh where Warhoon swords had nicked me. Rising, my Jasoomian came to me.
Taking my hand, he bent over it, kissing the back of it with a warm and tender affection. Straightening, he gazed into my eyes and said, "I shall do you the courtesy you accord me when I return from a campaign. No questions. I missed you."
I threw myself into his arms, weeping with happiness and love.
Rexa Hultan and her husband set a splendid table that night and we dined and drank wine with happy company. Later, John Carter took me upstairs to the guest room and we renewed our love during a fiery joining that shattered my senses. The heated desire I had longed for, that I had missed for so long, had always been there, needing only an impetus to spark it to full flame once more.
Content, I lay on my side, looking out the window upon the black night and countless stars, loving the feel of my man pressed against my back. I hugged his arm to my breast and sighed. I had more to be happy for than having saved Junie Watts or being a part of the saving of Thilum and Thaandor, for I had saved my marriage as well.
And, if what my heart and soul told me were true, there might yet be one more reward, a miracle as fine and wonderful as those twin black babies in Thilum.