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Volume 1722

Jahlanna of Pellucidar
A 115,000-word novel
by
Sean Edward Phillips

.
Part IV

     Back in the village of Nu-al, the boy Jarn had made secret plans to sneak off with the warriors and the girl on their expedition to Sari. Jarn had no idea where Sari was, only that it was a far off land, and that there was bound to be loads of adventure along the way.

     But something unexpected had occurred that altered Jarn’s plans.

    While lying asleep on the mat in his own chamber in the hut of Ju-Kar, the Elder who had raised him, Jarn overheard the old man talking with two warriors of the village. It was the beginning of the sleep period, and the two warriors were among the village guards. Jarn was told that the men would be discussing grown-up things, and sent him to his chamber early. It might have irked Jarn that he was very near the age where he could qualify as an adult warrior, but still they left him out, treating him like a child. When he had helped in the liberation of the Nu-al people from Zhuma, Jarn thought at first that the older warriors would accept him as one of their number. That they did not left the boy disappointed and miffed. They probably still did not entirely believe his tale of tricking a Mulag warrior, and stealing his thipdar. But he was determined to join them on the expedition to Sari. Such a journey, fraught with peril and adventure made the adventurous lad’s head swim. He had tried his best to show disinterest, while the warriors were preparing for the long trek. He had even worked with the other village youth on his chores. So much in fact, that some of the adult overseers began to eye him suspiciously. So he decided to throw out a question or two concerning the journey to Sari. He was sharply reprimand, told it was none of his business. Which satisfied him just fine.

    Now that the sleep period had arrived, it would soon be time to make his move. They were state to leave the village immediately after the waking. He would pretend first to sleep late, like the lazy boy they all took him for, but once everyone, Ju-Kar included, was caught up in the seeing the men off, he would make his move. He had planned his secret route through a gap in the wall and into the forest beyond. He would then trail the expedition, making sure not to show himself until they were well beyond Nu-al, and could not send him home—unless of course they needed him, in the event a beast attacked for instance. The boy’s heartbeat was loud already, and Jarn forced himself to be calm; he almost feared the others could hear his heartbeat.

    “A will be sure to see them off,” a warrior named Kobar was saying. “I shall still volunteer to accompany Torak and the others, if Zog wishes.” He, Boko, and Ju-Kar were seat in a circle on the mats in the room beyond. Jarn could easily hear their conversation through the wall.

     “I do not believe that is necessary, Mokar.” Ju-Kar said. “But I would personally feel better if you and at least four others trailed them at least until they got beyond the country of the O-lar. It seems Nuvia, Queen of O-lar does not trust us. I doubt that they would attack, but one can never trust other tribes.”

     “The O-lar have existed peacefully alongside us for generations. We have not entered their country; nor they ours.” Boko said grimly. “What could Nuvia have against us?”

     “I thought the O-lar were grateful to us for liberating them along with ourselves, when we escaped Zhuma.”

     Ju-Kar sighed heavily. “I am afraid it is the boy Jarn. It seems he took a liking to a girl named Jarla of O-lar. They got acquainted while they were both prisoners of the Mahars.”

    “Yes, I remember.” said Boko. “But the boy helped the girl escape. I thought that was why the O-lar were grateful.”

    “Indeed they were, at first.” said the elder. “but it seems this Jarla is Nuvia’s neice. And she does not take kindly to the idea of her associating with a Nu-al boy—especially one like Jarn.”

   Kobar and Boko exchanged grins. “So it seems she knows the boy’s reputation.”

     “It does. There was much gossip following the liberation of ourselves and other tribes. I fear that it was this that has kept the O-lar from allying themselves with us. And that could become dangerous for both our tribes should we become threatened by the Mahars again. After the red-haired outlander and his comrades helped to unite our tribes, we had little trouble overthrowing the reptiles. It saddens me that the O-lar have thus far refused to cooperate.”

     “Can we gain their trust again?”  Kobar asked.

    “I do not know. All I believe we can do now is leave the O-lar in peace and hope for the best. At least until the matter of Jarla is settled.”

    “What matter?”

    “Nuvia herself had chosen Jarla a mate. Apparently she has hand-picked him, for fear she will run off to find Jarn, or perhaps another Nu-al.”

    “Surely, that will settle things.”

    “Perhaps.” the old man said. “If I were Nuvia, I might well having similar feelings about this. But the man she has chosen as a mate for her niece….from what I’ve heard, I do not like the sound of him. He is a warrior named Lu-Gor, who is in high standing with Nuvia herself. He is supposed to be one of O-lar’s bravest and strongest, and I am told he killed zarith single-handedly…”

      “How could single warrior have achieved that?” asked Boko. Both young men were astonished at this, for the zarith is perhaps the most dreaded beast in all Pellucidar, and even an army of warriors would stand little chance.

    The elder gave them a wry smile. “I do not know. I am told he found a vulnerable portion on the beast’s underbelly, and that he killed it with his spear.”

    The warriors exchanged glances, partly in amusement. But they knew if this Lu-Gor had indeed accomplished this feet, he had to be a mighty warrior indeed, or at least a very brave and resourceful one.

      “But I do not believe the man’s story.” said Ju-Kar. “A zarith’s underbelly is mailed in armor plate.”

     That is right.” said Boko. “Tarok and I came upon a dead one once.”

    The elder nodded. “Even if this Lu-Gor is a mighty warrior, it seems he has accomplished little else besides this one feat. His fellow O-lar seem to regard him with a bit of amusement, for if things begin to go against them on a hunt, Lu-gor often runs away. And if a dangerous enemy threatens O-lar, Lu-gar seems to have a way of turning up absent. Of course, the man always has some excuse, like he was still asleep, and had no idea the village was under attack.”

    “His kind always does.” said Kobar.

    “If indeed the man is as I suspect. In any event, I feel pity for the girl who is to become his mate. Do not repeat this, but I would be less hesitant to marry the girl to a loyal man of another tribe, than to one such as this Lu-gor. I more than suspect the man’s capacity for loyalty. Jarn, shiftless and irresponsible as he all too often is, I nonetheless do not doubt the boy’s tribal loyalty for a second. I have raised Jarn, and know the boy well.”

     “But why must she marry this man? Surely there are worthier men among her tribe?” Boko asked.

    “As I said, somehow he is in high standing with Queen Nuvia. But back to the mater at hand….”

    Jarn, who had been secretly taking all of this in, was stupefied. Jarla! He had nearly forgotten about her since she had rejoined her own tribe after the sacking of Zhuma. He had tried to see her at first, but the warriors only told him that she as back among her own people and did not want to see him. They had told him the girl had chosen a mate, a strong brave warrior of own people.

     Jarn had been crushed. Then talk of the expedition to Sari had started, and the boy had been caught up in it. But all the time, he had been lied to! Jarla had not chosen a mate at all! They had chosen for her.

      His earlier plans abandoned, Jarn lay there feigning sleep, until long after the two warriors had gone, and Ju-Kar himself had retired. Then the boy sprang to his calloused feet, and crept quickly and silently out of hut and through the sleeping village. He reached the gap in the southeastern wall and crawled through. Then he set out immediately for O-lar, using his inborn sense of direction to guide him.

    He took to the shadowed depths of the great jungle, his small agile form gliding through the green and black shadows as he made his way through the forested leagues which separated Nu-al from O-lar. He avoided the great beasts of prey which haunted the forest aisles when ever and however he could. Often, the boy enjoyed taunting the great carnivore for his own amusement, but this time he was not out on a lark, but intended on reaching O-lar as soon as he could. He knew well to avoid the spoor of beasts such as the ryth and the tarag, and was able to avoid contact with them. He was charged only once, but one of the great reptiles, a giant bipedal lizard-beast called a Xarg, which is a smaller cousin to the zarith. Science knows the beast as the ceratosaurus of the Jurassic, and it resembles a dwarfish allosaurus with a blunt horn on the tip of its reptilian muzzle. It came upon the young Nu-al when the boy was lapping water thirstily from a jungle stream. The horned reptile gave vent to a cry like steam-whistle, searing Jarn’s ears, as it bore itself upon him. Without difficulty the boy located a sizable tree, and swarmed up primate fashion. Once out of reach, Jarn sat down on a sturdy limb, and pelted the enraged saurian with boyish taunts until the beast gave up in search of easier prey than the young manling.

    Other than the Xarg, Jarn made no direct encounters with dangerous animals, and he reached the land of the O-lar shortly. The boy climbed a high ridge overlooking O-lar. The village was located in a deep valley, with forested hillocks on all sides. The crystal blue of a lake shone in the distance. The huts were arranged in circular fashion. The boy thought for moment the course of action he should now take. Jarla’s people would instinctively mistrust a boy of another tribe, especially if they knew who he was—and there was a good chance they might suspect who he was and why he was here, even if he weren’t recognized. He did not care at all for an encounter with their queen, so there was no possibility of presenting himself directly to them, even were he to lie about his identity.  Jarn was good at lying—he’d had his share of practice—but he would merely be turned around and sent on his way-if he was lucky. And there was always the possibility that some of the O-lar whom he encountered after the sacking of Zhuma would recognize him.

    No, he would have to skirt the edge of the village, then find a way to spy on them until he could certain where Jarla was.

       But what if she really liked Lu-Gor?

   Jarn didn’t even want to think about that. He made his way down form the crag, and made his way carefully around the village. Once, he boy was alerted to the sounds of voices coming from nearby. Jarn hid behind a screen of bushes and peered stealthily out. A large party of warriors were returning to the village. Jarn saw immediately they were both male and female. As Jarla herself had once told him, both the men and women of O-lar were warriors-so unlike his own tribe. All of them wore the brightly-striped skins of tarags, or the tawny fur of ta-hos, for the O-lar were a savage people renowned for their ferocity. The warriors were all talking amongst themselves. They were bearing the carcass of a slain deer-like runiment, a synthioceras. They were conversing about their friends, and the thrills of the hunt. Jarn strained his ears, but heard the no one mention Jarla or her intended mate.

   Once the party’s cajoling had faded, the boy crept on, making sure to stay out of sight, and to take cover if needed.

   Before long, he came out into a clearing, and one end of which was a low ravine. And seated with her back tuned to him on a log overlooking the ravine was –Jarla!

   The boy blinked.  Was it really her? The girl looked to be his own age, or a bit older, as Jarla had been, and the same height, the same shapely shoulders. And of course, the same abundant mass of the thick long hair of deep auburn. But all of the O-lar had hair of this same curious shade.  Then she turned her head to the side slightly, and Jarn caught a glimpse of her pretty, freckled face.

      Jarn did not call her name. Instead he strode to where Jarla sat, vaulted over the log, and promptly sat down beside her.

      Jarla gasped. “Jarn!” she cried.

     “I thought you could use some company.” Jarn said.

     “Go away, Jarn. I do not wish to see you.”

     “Why not?’

      “My aunt, Queen Nuvia, has chosen a mate for me. He is a strong and brave warrior. Lu-gor is his name. Single-handedly, he killed a zarith.”

    “Of course I believe him. All of O-lar does.”

     Jarn laughed out loud.

    “Do not laugh at me, Jarn! I am honored to be Lu-gor’s mate.”

    “I am not laughing at you, I’m laughing at the O-lar, if they really believe that!”

    “The O-Lar are my people.”

     “I’m sorry.” Jarn said. “But I know you like me! I helped you escape, remember?”

     “I am grateful. But that was then. Lu-Gor loves Jarla.”

      “Do you love him?”

      Jarla blushed fiercely. “Of course…Jarn is foolish asking that! And Jarn is only a boy!” she added contemptuously. “Lu-Gor is a man—a proven warrior who will be able to care for Jarla, and hunt with her.”

      “We’re almost the same age! I’ll be a man soon. Then they’ll have to let us marry. If they won’t, we can run off, and start our own tribe. And Lu-gor? My elder called him a coward and a liar!”

       “Jarn! Don’t say such things! Lu-gor would kill you if he heard you talk like that. He would break your spine like a twig!”

      “Hah! Where is this big gordo?” Jarn replied, Gordo being a term of derision among the Pellucidarans, particularly used to insult one’s intelligence and/or masculinity, if the target of the intended derision were male. “I’d like to see him.”

      “I don’t want him to kill you, Jarn. You are still a boy, and Lu-gor is much older and stronger. There is no way you could conquer him. Even most of our adult male warriors could not.”

     From what he had overheard concerning Lu-Gor’s alleged cowardice, Jarn was skeptical. But he said, “Just don’t worry about the big creep. I really like you Jarla.” And when he mouthed those words Jarn suddenly realized how much he really meant them.

     They gazed into each others eyes for a long moment. “Oh, Jarn……” Jarla said.

     She inched closer to him on the log. Their lips drew toward each other, nearly touching.

     “Jarla!”

     The voice had seemed to have issued out of nowhere, harsh and sneering.

     The two young people drew away, gasping. The man had crept across the clearing behind them. Jarn knew without question that he was facing Lu-Gor.

     He was indeed a huge warrior, and much older than Jarn form the look of him, about early twenties in outer-earth measurement. He had broad hulking shoulders, and arms that were very long and heavily muscled. A long jagged scar ran down the man’s unlovely face. Whether this was a birthmark, or the man had somehow acquired it in battle, Jarn had no way to guess. The scar might have lent the man’s visage a frightening appearance except….

     Something about Lu-Gor’s face gave it a distinctively unmasculine quality.  Exactly what it was, Jarn found himself unable to discern, but perhaps it was a certain softness in the man’s features, the absence of the rough hardness that so often characterized the face of a veteran warrior. His long nose was eloquently shaped, and almost feminine. His eyes, narrow black and squinty, merely looked cruel and viperish and mocking, and this alone would have made Jarn take an instant dislike to the man. His lips that framed his gash of a mouth were also thin and cruel, and they curved up slightly as he regarded them mockingly. His hair was of the same deep auburn as the other O-lar, only Lu-Gor’s was thin, lank and greasy-looking, falling over his brow in almost unkempt strands that were nearly girlish in their length.

    The unmanly character of the hulking man made Jarn want suddenly to laugh out loud, but the boy was able to restrain his tongue.

    “So…” began Lu-Gor. “What is this impudent little slurg doing with my mate?” As Lu-Gor’s mouth had a sneering cast to it, so did the man’s voice. A slurg is a repulsive Pellucidaran scavenger, not unlike a rat crossed with a serpent, and the term is not one of compliment.

    “I am not your mate, Lu-Gor!” replied Jarla in fury. “Nor will you ever be.”

    Jarn realized then just how much Jarla truly detested this man.

     Lu-Gor’s unhandsome face nearly turned purple with restrained rage. “So who do you choose, as though you have any choice? This weak little stripling!”

     “I’m no stripling!” cried Jarn, outraged.

     Lu-Gor chuckled, a chortling, ugly sound. “You look like one to me. You should run home to your elders, brat, so I do not have to kill you.”

     Jarn glared at him.

     A fierce light suddenly shone in Lu-Gor’s piggy little eyes. “Wait! I know who this is! Jarla! Have nothing to do with this boy!”

     “Why shouldn’t I?” replied the girl hotly.

      “Don’t you know? He’s that Nu-al stripling—that Jarn.” Lu-gor had stopped sneering, and was now talking as though he were genuinely concerned about his future bride.

    “Of course I know who he is! We met in Zhuma, and he helped me escape!”

      “I forbid you to associate with this boy. I’ve heard all about him. Not only is he not of O-lar. He’s a no-good, lying slacker! Not even his own people claim him.”

    “At least he’s braver than you!” cried Jarla. “He proved that by coming here. You may have fooled the others, but I know that Lu-gor is nothing but a coward!”

     “Once you are my mate, you will regret those words!” Lu-gor raged. He turned to Jarn. “And you stripling, I will kill you where you stand!”

      Lu-Gor lunged at Jarn in blind rage. The boy and girl were now standing and had backed away from the log. In his rage at Jarn, Lu-Gor seemed to have forgotten the log was there, and crashed into it, his face slamming thickly into the mossy turf on the other side.

      “What’s the matter, Lu-gordo?” Jarn laughed. “If I were going to kill someone, I’d at least look out where I was going!”

    But he instantly pushed Jarla out of the way, and stepped back.  Lu-Gor had regained his feet, and came charging at Jarn again.

     But Jarn was smaller and quicker than his hulking adversary. He easily ducked under what Lu-Gor intended to be a shattering blow. In the following instant, Jarn sent a small, hard boy-fist smashing full-force into Lu-Gor’s shapely proboscis. The man reeled back, howling in curiously high-pitched agony, clutching at his nose as scarlet rivels coursed down his face.

    When he turned to the girl, Jarn noticed that Jarla was grinning at him in a manner that he liked. But he knew he had no time to enjoy it. “Jarla?” he asked.

      “What?”

      “Take my hand!”

      “No! Now is your chance! You must run –now!”

     “No, Jarla! Trust me—just this once!”

     Jarn felt the girls’ hand slip into his. He gazed down into the depths of the ravine. It was not far, but it looked deeper form where they were. There was a river running below them, about thirty feet down.”

     Jarn sucked in his breath. “Jump!” he cried.

     They jumped.

   For several moments he felt himself and Jarla sailing through the air. Then they plunged into the muddy depths of the river. Instinctively, they began swimming in furious strokes.

   When they were both out of breath they stopped, their heads breaking the surface.

    “Jarn! You were wonderful!” he heard Jarla gasp, and the words were music to his ears.

   From far away, they could hear the fury of Lu-Gor’s cursing.

    They turned toward the cliff from which they had leapt.

    “I’ll get you stripling! No one steals Lu-gor’s bride and lives No one!! I’ll come after you, Nu-al brat! And when I catch you, I’ll skin you alive and tack your worthless slacker hide to my hut!”

    After Jarn had yelled back a few retorts challenging Lu-Gor’s masculinity, the two youngsters paddled for shore.

   Before Lu-Gor could recover from his fury, the waiting forest had swallowed them up.

     They were free.
 

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