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Forgotten Secret

ZANDA: The Marriage

David Bruce Bozarth

My father was an officer in the Zodangan Navy. He was a lesser noble who was killed when John Carter's horde of Tharks ravaged the city. My mother chose the last long journey down the sacred River Iss to the Valley Dor and the Lost Sea of Korus rather than face life without my father.

Years later John Carter entered my life, though at the time I knew him as "Vandor," a minion of Fal Sivas. I was an unwilling slave of Fal Sivas when Vandor took me under his protection, though not to his bed. During our adventures together because of Fal Sivas' mad genius we traveled to the moon of Thuria where he rescued his wife of many years and I learned that my impulsive affection for this man was never to be returned. Seeing the two of them together I knew that there had never been a chance that I might win the love of Vandor — and when I discovered that Vandor and John Carter were one and the same I also realized he was not the ogre we of Zodanga believed.

But that adventure created another adventure for me. I had met the handsome companion of the Warlord who was named Jat Or, a man of Helium. He struck my fancy greatly since I could not have John Carter for myself.

Upon our return to Barsoom I was wooed by Jat Or. He was attentive and sensitive and I found myself attracted to this warrior high in the ranks of Helium's navy and, in part, because I had no family and Zodanga was not the great city it had once been. I eventually responded to Jat Or's persistent attentions.

Yet, it seemed that as soon as I said "my chieftain" and took him for my husband the joyous future I had long held in my heart failed to arrive.

Jat Or was married to his position and rank, but he was also married to games of chance and Dusarian honey wine. He was most jolly after three or four goblets and always was his most charming best. I never doubted his loyalty or honor and I gave myself fully whenever he was home.

His performance as a lover, however, was dictated by the amount of wine he consumed — and then only when he had fared well in gambling. He was an attentive lover for the most part, always gentle and complete, but his interest in me was too infrequent. We spoke often — rather he spoke of his work and the intrigues of the royal court and I listened, but we never spoke of ourselves.

Perhaps I made Jat Or's life too easy because I maintained the modest home we occupied in southwest Lesser Helium. The tampi Jat Or was paid he gave to me and I made sure that food was on the table and that our modest rents and services were paid, but ever was his hand out for tampi for evenings away from home — drinking and gambling.

The first year of our marriage three eggs quickened. One night as we gazed upon the incubators he said, in a gentle drunken stupor, "You're a damn fertile... how can we afford this?" he laughed. Jat Or did not remember saying anything the next morning and I was afraid to discuss the matter in the years that followed.

I did, thereafter, make sure our joinings were contrary to my conceptive periods, which was not too difficult to accomplish since Jat Or continued to have some notice among the thans of the Heliumetic navy envious of his adventure with the Warlord — all of them seeking to rise through the ranks on my husband's shoulders and making sure of same by entertainment and honey wine. When he came home those nights Jat Or sought his sleeping furs instead of me.

When I attempted to speak to Jat Or of how he was being used he laughingly brushed me aside. "It is what all young officers do. They don't realize it takes more than a claimed friendship to advance in the ranks."

When I attempted to speak of his gambling losses he laughing brushed me aside. "You win some, you lose some. Time is the equalizer."

When I attempted to speak of his drinking he laughingly brushed me aside. "A man needs to relax. What better way to ease the tensions of duty?"

When I attempted to speak to him about our two daughters and son he laughingly brushed me aside. "All children go through the same growing pains."

When, after eight years of marriage, I told Jat Or I was leaving him he laughingly brushed me aside: "Where will you go? Zanda, you have it better than you know."

I should have murdered him in his sleep that night. I did not because Jat Or is basically a good man, a man of honor and integrity, but he is a man more interested in his own life rather than as husband and father. I packed my children and a few belongings and took passage on a freighter bound to Zodanga. I ran from the house of Jat Or as swiftly as my feet might carry me.

In Zodanga I took voluntary service in the home of a minor noble who had need of a person to care for his child and household after the death of his wife. He accepted my three children into his family and, after a year, took me to his bed. He is a wonderful man, but I would not allow him to say "my princess" to me because being Jat Or's "my princess" had opened my eyes. I had learned that a chattel is more valued than a wife and I would not again make the same mistake.

"As your slave I know that you will treat me more graciously than if I were your wife. Marry another if that is your wish, but always know that my heart and bed are yours alone."

He has not chosen another in these many years. He stood at my side for the weddings of my daughters to good men of Zodanga. His son and mine entered the military together, stalwart and true, an honor to our families. And, some years later, our own two boys in their 20th year entered the halls of science.

I think of Jat Or seldom but when I do I wonder what he felt the morning he awoke to find his wife and children gone. I do not, however, wonder over long as my life now is far better as a slave than it was as the wife of Jat Or of Helium.