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Volume 1625
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A PRINCESS OF JASOOM
by
Jeff Long
.

Chapter Sixteen: The Jeddak of Helium 

The golden harnesses of matrimony were placed about the necks of Shis-Inday and me by Thuvan Dihn.

Today, I cherish the pomp and circumstance of royal life. Courtly affairs come easily to me now -- the formal state dinners, diplomatic negotiation, receiving foreign dignitaries in the halls of Barsoom's most ancient and majestic palace. Perhaps those duties take the place of an empty longing in my heart.

But on the night of my wedding, it was still an alien sort of existence. My brother had been born to it, as my father had been before him. To me, it was a tedious chore.

It would always be such to Shis-Inday, whose savage sire practiced diplomacy at the point of a wooden spear.

We slipped away to the Royal Observatory during the Dance of Barsoom.

Shis-Inday sat in the front row of the darkened theater. I worked the controls at the back of the large room, casting images upon the ground glass before the girl.

Without telling her my intent, I maneuvered the dials so that a refection of Jasoom appeared. First, the view was from space. She was fascinated, but did not understand what she saw.

"A brother of Kleego-na-ay," she marveled. "But so large! And blue."

Without a word, I shifted the focus so that we descended through the atmosphere of Jasoom, a realistic experience for the viewer. Shis-Inday swayed, dizzied by the illusion of movement. I saw her clutch the armrests upon her chair. But she made no sound, and appeared captivated by the effect.

When the tumbling picture slowed, we had a perfectly clear birds-eye view of rolling ocean.

It was my turn to marvel. Such a sight had not been seen upon Barsoom for ages. Whenever I gaze upon your abundant planet, the sight of an ocean never fails to amaze me. I feel small before such titanic depths. How do you of Jasoom stand to be always reminded of your insignificance?

With the turn of a dial, our perspective shifted to land -- a green valley.

Another twist, and we saw a primitive city on the continent I believe is called Europe.

"El Caballo!" Shis-Inday cried. It was a four-legged thoat, diminutive and covered with hair, pulling a wooden cart through the dirt streets of the settlement. The man who held the beast's reigns also elicited comment: "A Pindah-Lickoyee," the girl murmured.

Again the view changed, to an open plain of rock and sparse grasses. Massive mountains ringed the horizon, more imposing than any Barsoomian landscape. Forests were also visible in the mist of distance.

Shis-Inday leaped to her feet, rushing to touch the screen. She'd have crawled inside, if she could.

"The World!" she breathed, reverently.

Wisps of smoke curled from another settlement -- which was very different from the first we had seen. Simple shelters, made from wooden poles and brush, housed people who looked like my princess.

"The Men of the Woods," she said quietly. "The Shis-Inday."

Night was falling upon The World. I rotated the view upward, toward the sky, which stirred as much emotion in the girl as had the sight of her people. The face of Night was a familiar companion to her.

I pointed out Barsoom.

"The Weeping Lover," she said softly.

Without another word, she left the room.

In all the years that Shis-Inday spent in the royal palace of Helium, she never returned to the observatory. If she could not pass through that tantalizing viewscreen, Shis-Inday wanted no part of it. The Jasoomian princess believed it better to dream of The World, and visit it with her Spirit Guide, than to be teased by ghostly reflections of it.

Selfishly, I hoped that The World was beginning to lose some of its hold upon her.

And yet, I knew how alone I'd feel had I been cut off forever from my beloved Barsoom.


Ceremony is prized among the people of Helium. On a dying planet, tradition is all. It helps us remember our past, and keeps us focused upon the future. My coronation was elaborate.

I rose to the throne of Helium with the grace and wisdom that I'd learned by watching my father. Would that he'd been there to witness the solemn spectacle. I felt his presence, and that of my brother.

Shis-Inday stood at my side, and I was content in the moment.


A year later, we stood upon the roof of the palace, embraced by Night. Neither Thuria nor Cluros had risen.
"Do you still miss it so terribly, my princess?" I asked.

Without the diluting influence of the light from Kleego-na-ay's crazy cousins, the stars stood out in brilliant glory. Among them, we picked out the blue-green orb of The World.

"At times," Shis-Inday said softly, "I wonder about The Men of the Woods. About my mother, and father. Do they weep for me? Do they still live, to weep?"

"Would you return to Jasoom, if you could?"

It was a difficult question for me to ask. I was surprised, and gratified, by the quick answer.

"Not without you, my nantan," she said.

I took her in my arms. The Barsoomian endearment always thrilled me, when spoken by my Jasoomian princess in her own language.

"The ways of Usen are mysterious," she purred. "But He is truly the Life-Giver. I know that now more surely than ever I have before. He has given me life, by sending me here. If I was transported to The World tonight, I'd spend the rest of my days attempting to return to you."


Construction of the Palace of Peace began in Ptarth shortly after the war with Helium ended. The task was completed two years later.
It was a grand gesture by my friend, Thuvan Dihn, Jeddak of that proud nation.

But we both knew it was little more than a gesture.

Peace upon Barsoom?

Unlikely.

Nevertheless, our two nations made quite a spectacle of its dedication. I and my Jeddara attended the opening with a retinue of thousands. And the millions who populated the Ptarthian capital seemed all to be there, crowding the streets and showing their visitors from Helium the finer things that Thuvan Dihn's empire had to offer in the way of culture and entertainment.

Sporting events, parades and exhibitions filled the days. Thuvan Dihn and I treated the crowds to a duel; the gamblers of Ptarth lost quite a sum that day.

Ballroom dancing, theater and sumptuous dining occupied our nights.

It was a week that I will long remember.

On the day of the symbolic structure's dedication, I stood upon a balcony on its top floor, watching from above as Thuvan Dihn spoke to the assembled crowds from a platform in the court yard far below. His daughter, who'd hatched shortly after hostilities ceased, stood between Shis-Inday and me, holding our hands.

Our son, Mors Kajak, nestled at my wife's breast. He had not been hatched. I do not fully understand the genetics of it, but Ras Thavas made it possible for Shis-Inday to bear my heir.

Barsoomians do not nurse their young. The sight of my son's mother providing him nourishment in this way is indescribable. It made me feel a bond with them both that no other of my race can know.

"Your father is a great man, Thuvia," I told the girl.

"Yes," she said.

"Do you think he can see you all the way up here?" asked Shis-Inday, playfully.

"I am sure of it," the girl said confidently, waving to the speck that was Thuvan Dihn. "If he ever lost sight of me, my father would travel to the ends of Barsoom to find me again."


Chapter Seventeen: The House of Spirits ~ words by Jeff, art by Duane 

Each thing in The World -- the animals, the plants, the sky and stars and lightning -- has a Power behind it that makes it do what it does. What you can see is only a little of the whole thing. The Power is in the spirit part. Some people can learn to reach the spirit part of something, and they become its izze-nantan, its shaman-chief. There is Power in everything!

-- The teachings of Yellow Bear.


 When Shis-Inday learned of the zoo at Amhor, she decided that we must visit it.

I did not protest, although I knew that she would not like what she saw. Shis-Inday had always felt an affinity for nature; her wild side never drifted far from the surface -- even during the most stately of functions. She could be elegant, when the situation demanded. But she could also be savage. In fact, the untamed side of her needed no prompting to rise to the surface.

The Human Beings could no more cage another living thing than they could cage themselves. Perhaps it was the oddness of the concept that made Shis-Inday want to see a Barsoomian zoo.

When we arrived, even I was aghast by the horrid conditions. The animals were gaunt, and seemed nearly dead of thirst. Shis- Inday fled to our apartments in disgust, after clawing our guide, Jal Had.

The jed of Amhor sputtered in rage, stemming the flow of blood from his face with a silk cloth.

I turned angrily upon him, ready to strangle him for the distress that conditions here had caused my princess.

"Tardos Mors!" he cried. "My beasts are watered more frequently than my people. Has the drought not yet reached distant Helium?"

For the first time in many years, I thought of Hora San.

Many more years would pass before I came to know the prophecy of that megalomaniac.


"But what is wrong with her?" I demanded of the scientist. "What terrible disease afflicts her?"

"She is old," Ras Thavas answered, without feeling, without sentiment. "She will die soon."

"Old!" I nearly shouted. "She left Jasoom as little more than a child. And that was only twenty years ago, by Barsoomian reckoning."

"Nearly fifty years, by the reckoning of her own planet," Ras Thavas retorted.

"Twenty years, or fifty! What of it? It is nothing. It is a fraction of a moment."

"On Barsoom, perhaps," the scientist said.


The drought worsened with every passing year. And with every passing month, more rapidly than seemed possible, my princess grew old and frail.

She also grew wiser, more tender, and sometimes mysterious.

She still danced by moonlight. And I danced with her, when she would allow. But often my princess made solitary journeys of communion with the Directions, and Usen, and the spirits that meant as much to her as life itself. Kliji-Litzogue, the Yellow Lizard, was her companion at such times. I never saw her Spirit Guide, though she spoke to me of him as she would a thing of flesh and blood. Perhaps he was, in a sense I will never fully understand.

My reign during those years was marked by a wisdom and compassion that was due in large part to my Jeddara. It was a time of great uncertainty, because of the drought. Men have tried, but it is impossible to conquer thirst with a sword. Under such conditions, an iron will is more important than the strongest steel at your hip.

Shis-Inday sometimes fretted about her inability to string a bow so tautly, or hunt so keenly, or leap so marvelously in her dance beneath the eyes of Kleego-na-ay's crazy cousins. And often she stared placidly into my eyes, wondering that they had not yet begun to grow dim, as had her own.

"My chieftain, I do not understand it," she said. "You look the same as the day we first met, while I have become my grandmother, Old Woman."

In my eyes, she had grown more beautiful. A part of me grieved that I had remained unchanged in hers.

The people of Helium were enchanted by the mere sight of Shis-Inday's white hair and crinkled skin. They loved my aging princess more dearly than I can explain.

And so did I.

The steady cadence of her deliberate walk brought calmness and reflection to the most anxious of young warriors. They, and Helium, were stronger for it.

Only now, since the coming of John Carter and the fall of Issus, has age begun to show in the population of our ancient planet. But in those days, it was virtually unheard of. If we did not die young, in war, we journeyed to Dor just before the change overtook our strong bodies.

It is perhaps the greatest of ironies that John Carter himself appears to possess eternal youth.

Will his princess age, while the Warlord remains unchanged? Only time will divulge.

It is not a fate I would wish upon anyone.


Thuvan Dihn's face told me ere he spoke how grave the situation was in Ptarth. He'd come to Helium to discuss possible solutions to the planet-wide drought, which had grown worse -- impossible as that seemed.

Dozens of full-scale wars raged over great portions of Barsoom. Helium itself fought battles on several fronts, against red men and green who would have raided what precious stores of water we'd been able to horde.

Scattered pockets of water throughout the empire and beyond had been located at the guidance of Shis-Inday, whose Power was more valuable upon Barsoom, now, than it had ever been in the relatively fruitful deserts of The World.

After prayers and consultations with Kliji-Litzogue, Shis-Inday would fly over some foresaken stretch of dead sea bottom. When a familiar scent or other vague sign became known to her by some means no one but she could fathom, the Be-don-ko-he princess would lean forward, wind whipping her hair straight back from her brow. Then she'd point from the deck of the flier to the area where water could be found.

At first, engineers assigned to these reconaissance missions doubted the accuracy of my Shis-Inday's uncanny sense. But in time, they came to trust her instincts more readily than the most precise mechanisms of science they could devise.

Shis-Inday, meanwhile, seemed increasingly worried by the growing dryness of the dying planet she'd adopted as her own. It became difficult for her to locate even the smallest of reservoirs.

She was upon one such errand when Thuvan Dihn appeared at my court. I would be glad of that, for Shis-Inday had come to love the princess of Ptarth as a daughter.

"Thousands have departed upon the Final Pilgrimage," said Thuvan Dihn, stroking the head of young Sovan, his son. "And thousands more would follow, did they not fear dying alone upon the parched wastelands before reaching Dor."

His voice trembled, and I could tell there was more.

"Thuvia has gone," Thuvan Dihn said. "She thought to inspire hope among those who feared the Pilgrimage. Hundreds followed her; and I believe many more will within the week."

"I'm thirsty," said the boy, weakly, in a voice that spoke for an entire world.

The Jeddak of Ptarth looked at me, blankly. Thuvan Dihn was among the greatest warriors I'd ever known on a planet of great warriors. But now he was forlorn.

Alone.

On the verge of dry tears.

"My daughter is gone, Tardos Mors," he said. "She seeks the knee of Issus. Her love for our people must be greater than her love, even, for me. She leads them to salvation."


"We are saved, father!"

The urgency in the voice of Mors Kajak made me turn from the balcony, where Thuvan Dihn and I stood in contemplation of a subdued, silent Helium.

"Saved?" I said quietly, turning to face my son.

"Mother has saved us!" he cried.


The reports came in by wireless. Rain was falling throughout Barsoom. Canals that had been dry for years were filling to capacity. New reservoirs had been located. Even the Iss, whose waters were sacred, had regained something of its former majesty. Battle fleets stopped fighting, as their crews marveled at the unimagined sight of water from the sky.

My world was saved.

To you, of Jasoom, the precipitation that fell upon Barsoom that day would be barely a drop in those depthless oceans of yours. But to us, it was life. Give a Barsoomian one grasping chance at that, and he'll cling to it with the tenacity of a white ape.

With Thuvan Dihn and Mors Kajak, I hastily outfitted an expedition to join Shis-Inday at the site of her greatest triumph.

When we arrived, my Be-don-ko-he princess was dancing at the edge of the Great Canal, leaping like the Girl of the Woods that she'd been when first I'd laid eyes upon her that long-ago night in the marsh. With a whoop unbecoming a jeddak, I joined her.

She fell into my arms, laughing as I held her close.

"The Spirits heard!" she cried. "Usen was pleased with my dance, and He granted my prayer!"

The deluge soaked us both. I could hear the shouts of those all about us, who'd taken up the wild dance begun by my princess.

Shis-Inday kissed me tenderly, and then walked peacefully to the edge of the canal. The rain slowed to a light mist, but the rushing water before us had not diminished.

On tired legs, she clambered to the top of the concrete wall, contentedly studying the miracle.

As I climbed to join her, a section of the wall gave way. The loose mortar had not yet settled where craftsmen had worked to shore it against the oncoming water.

Shis-Inday plunged downward, just as I reached the top of the crumbling block.

"No!" I screamed.

She struggled for a moment in that raging torrent and then went under. I raced along the wall, frantic, straining for a glimpse of my princess. I was on the brink of leaping into the swirling water, when strong arms pulled me back.

I have lived my life on a world where water is among the most prized of possessions; there is none to spare for more than drinking or bathing.

I never learned to swim.

And yet, I'd have plunged headlong into that furious maelstrom, had Thuvan Dihn and Mors Kajak not been there to stop me.

"Would you drown yourself in a suicidal effort to reach her side, Tardos Mors?" the Jeddak of Ptarth asked.

"Yes!" I cried, straining against his hold. "A thousand times, yes!"

An engineer on the other side of the canal shouted for our attention.

"There!" came the cry, barely audible above the roar of the flood.

My eyes followed his pointing finger, and I saw Shis-Inday's head bob to the surface of the churning water.

She looked at me, calm, almost smiling. Her head tilted, looking to something I could not see -- something none of us upon either side of the canal could see. I had the distinct impression that she was listening to someone at her side, who soothed fears that needed no soothing. She was at peace, even as chaos raged about her.

Roiling waves washed over her, bathing her in a spiritual kind of bliss. I saw her lips move. She spoke to that unseen presence in her native tongue.

No one but I could make out the words:

"Child of the Water."

Then Shis-Inday went under for the last time.

Her body has never been found.

And neither has my heart.


Afterward: Gora-ban-Hinsu ~ words by Jeff, art by Duane

In the middle of the Holy Mountain
In the middle of its body, stands a hut,
Brush-built, for the Black Mountain Spirit.
White lightning flashes in these moccasins;
White lightning streaks in angular path;
I am the lightning flashing and streaking!
This headdress lives; the noise of its pendants
Sounds and is heard!
My song shall encircle these dancers!

-- Song of Yellow Bear.
Tardos Mors had finished his story two nights before, and today we were upon the trail.

After stopping for supplies at my cabin at the headwaters of the Colorado, the three of us rode silently for long hours across the scorched Arizona desert, pausing often to water our horses and slack our own thirst beneath the relentless rays of the sun. I'd often considered making this journey, but John Carter's original manuscript hadn’t given the precise location of the cave we now sought.

The Jeddak, I could see, was wearying under the weight of Earth's oppressive gravity. But he uttered no word of discomfort.

Tardos Mors looked oddly at home in the the faded blue jeans, chaps and wide-brimmed hat of the trail. It unnerved me to think that this man, who looked younger than my eldest son, had been born in the time of my great-great grandfather's father.

I contemplated the set of his jaw as he maneuvered El Caballo, as he insisted upon calling his horse, closer to John Carter's mount. Neither used the reigns.

"You were the strange white soldier, the Pindah-Lickoyee, who saved Shis-Inday that day in these very hills," the Jeddak said quietly.

"I was," the Warlord replied, staring straight ahead. "It was long ago."

The Jeddak pondered that for several minutes.

"I've often thought it must be so," he said finally. "I've seen that grim smile play about your lips during battle in just the manner my princess always described it. Only John Carter would be so bold as to strike out at a score of armed beasts in the service of an unknown girl from a faraway land."

"You did no less for the girl," John Carter reminded the Jeddak, who nodded acknowledgement of the simple tribute.

"Thank you for saving my princess, my son, so that she could one day find her way to me," Tardos Mors said.

My uncle made no reply to that, but I guessed his thoughts. He knew, as did Tardos Mors, that had he not saved the Apache princess from the ravages of Coronado's soldiers, his own incomparable Dejah Thoris would never have been born.

Gad! Strange forces direct the fate of men.

Toward dusk, John Carter led us to a trail that curved upward around the face of a high cliff that rose for several hundred feet to our right. On the left was an equal and nearly perpendicular drop to the bottom of a ravine. We followed it for a hundred yards, and then the trail turned sharply right, into the mouth of a large cave.

A bleached skeleton lay near the entrance. "Powell," said John Carter. He looked at Tardos Mors. "A comrade of mine who was killed by Apaches."

"The Men of the Woods were great warriors," said the Jeddak. "They defended their homeland with honor. I have watched them over the years, in the Royal Observatory, and am proud that my princess came from such. It saddens me to think about what has befallen them."

John Carter scooped a shallow grave and, with the stern reverence of a fighting man, laid to rest all that remained of Captain James K. Powell of Richmond.

Stooping, we entered the cave. At the back was the scene described by my uncle at the end of his first manuscript: the mummified remains of a little old woman. At the feet of one of the skeletons on the back wall sat the metal helmet of a conquistador. The woman leaned over a small copper pot filled with greenish powder.

A yellow lizard darted from behind the pot and scampered into a crevice.

Slowly, Tardos Mors approached. Kneeling, he picked up a leather pouch that lay in the lap of the dead woman. It nearly crumbled at his touch.

"Strong medicine," the Jeddak said in a small voice, gently removing the contents of the pouch and laying them softly in the sand. An owl's feather. Green powder. A strip of coyote's fur. "But not strong enough."

The lizard poked its head from behind a rock, then darted to Tardos Mors’ side. It clambered to his knee, and up the Jeddak’s arm.

 Barsoom's most powerful ruler turned his back. He walked quietly from the cave, cradling the tiny creature in one cupped hand, and the tokens from Shis-Inday’s medicine pouch in the other.

On the ledge outside, Tardos Mors stared into darkness. I followed his gaze, and saw red Mars blazing there in all its glory.

"O, my princess, my life — my Shis-Inday,” the Jeddak whispered. “The medicine was not strong enough to bring you home to me."

I looked back to where Barsoom hung in the still Arizona sky. The Weeping Lover, as the Human Beings called the planet, seemed very far away.

When my gaze returned to the little ledge on that lonely cliff, John Carter and Tardos Mors were gone.
 

A PRINCESS OF JASOOM
by Jeff Long

ERBzine 1620
Intro & Contents
ERBzine 1621
Section 1
ERBzine 1622
Section 2
ERBzine 1623
Section 3
ERBzine 1624
Section 4
ERBzine 1625
Section 5


Jeff Long's Barsoomian Blade & Panthan Press Features in ERBzine
Blade 1 | Blade 2 | Blade 3 | Blade 4 | Blade 5 | Blade Fiction 1 | Fiction 2 | Fiction 3 | Fiction 4
Princess of Jasoom | Princess 1 | Princess 2 | Princess 3 | Princess 4 | Princess 5 |



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