Lu-Gor sat down dazed on the log that the boy
and girl had been sitting on a moment before. His poor, damaged nose still
throbbed with scarlet agony. The whelp had quite possibly broken it. What
he would do to Jarn when he caught him! He would make the boy beg for his
life before he killed him. And he would make the girl watch. That would
teach her that he was fit to become her mate, and not a man to be trifled
with. He imagined her throwing her arms about him, her lips ravishing his,
after he had pounded Jarn to a pulp.
How she had ever fallen for a slacker-brat like Jarn
in the first place was beyond him. But soon she would realize her mistake.
He thought of pursuing them now, trying to pick up their trail on the other
side of the river. But by the time he did, they were bound to be far from
here already, and they doubtless intended to put O-lar as far behind them
as they could. And there were dangerous beasts in the forest, like the
tarags the ryths, not to mention the great carnivorous reptiles. No, Lu-Gor
reasoned, he dared not pursue them alone, for he was only a lone warrior.
This required a large party.
There would be no problem in assembling one, he realized.
He already had Queen Nuvia’s ear. And he had easily persuaded her to marry
him to Jarla, once the girl had struck his fancy. The girl despised him,
recognized him for the coward that even Lu-Gor himself realized that he
was. But the queen was very much on Lu-Gor’s side, as Lu-gor was the son
of two of the greatest warriors in the village. To-lar and Zhara, both
veteran warriors had mated and produce many strong children, most of them
brave as well. But somehow Lu-Gor, even though he was their first born
and favorite, was very unlike the rest. He had been oversized even as a
child, and used his size to intimidate and bully other village children.
He was stronger than most other village boys, but those who were able to
test his courage found it utterly lacking. Lu-Gor avoided bullying boys
his own size naturally. But he was no dullard, and always found ways to
scheme or cheat others to get his own way whenever he could. He was unfailingly
loyal to the Queen—at least he pretended to be. And when he came of age,
he made certain that he observed all tribal rites and rituals, flawlessly.
When the time came for Lu-Gor’s test of manhood, he had formulated excuses
up until this time, when he was the rough equivalent of eighteen, for he
terribly feared taking on one of dreaded beasts of prey single-handedly.
He avoided accompanying even parties of armed warriors whenever he could.
Nuvia at first granted him privilege over the other youths, but at last
Lu-Gor was forced to go.
Still, most had high hopes for Lu-Gor,
as he was the first born of such honored parentage. All of his younger
siblings had already succeeded admirably. And Lu-Gor was now an imposing
and broad-shouldered man. But those who knew Lu-Gor whispered secretly
behind his back that the man was likely to panic and run on his test—and
subsequently be killed. Some warriors even put up bits of shells and bits
of carved bone as to whether Lu-Gor would return to the village alive.
Lu-Gor himself dreaded encountering a tarag or ryth,
and began formulating a plan with which he might be able to fake his death,
and then flee form O-lar to some other land. Yes… that would not be a bad
idea. If he could pull that off, make it look like the beast had killed
him, he would be mourned as a hero in the village. Then he could find the
carcass of one of the great beasts, and take it some other village, where
none knew him, and claim he had killed it. He was huge and hulking, and
it would be without difficulty he could get others to respect him and treat
him well. They would think it wise to accept him, as such powerful warriors
as himself were always in demand, even if he were a stranger.
They had gone for about a league through the forest
without encountering any dangerous wildlife. Then, seeking better luck,
they changed course and entered the vast plains region to the south. They
had not ventured far out onto the plain when an enormous stampede ensued.
It started slowly at first, with small animals like plains-hares and rodents.
Then the antelope, red deer, and then even the largest species-- the mighty
tua, great primordial stags whose magnificent racks spanned twelve feet.
The mighty thags, or aurochs, and even the mighty plains thag, a giant
species of wooly bison with mighty sweeping horns began to charge across
the plains their hooves shaking the earth with their thunder. Finally,
even the mighty tandor and the maj were fleeing, apparently for their lives.
They bellowed mightily as they thundered over the plain, joined even by
the few species of great herbivorous saurians.
The warriors of O-lar had seen such stampedes before.
They were usually the result of a large hunting pack of tarags, the great
saber-toothed tigers, which in unison could overwhelm even the largest
grass-eaters. But what made this particular stampede exceptional-and unnerving-was
that even the predators were fleeing along with their prey, including the
mighty tarag themselves. There are few things within the inner earth that
are cause of a tarag to flee, and the O-lar did not welcome the sight.
Occasionally, such stampedes were the result of brush fires, but they could
see no plumes of smoke rising in the distance, nor could they make out
the slightest tinge or arcid smoke on the sweetly blowing breeze.
Immediately, the warriors knew what they were facing.
“It is the zarith.” said O-lag, a bushy bearded man
who was their leader ominously. “The largest flesh-eater.”
O-lag was a veteran warrior, and had seen this phenomenon
once before. The zarith were rare within the inner earth. Their numbers
were few for the necessity that they would destroy all other life within
Pellucidar had they existed in large numbers.
“What shall we do?” asked Tor-lar, Lu-Gor’s
“The same as the animals. We run. We must run
now, or all may be lost.”
The O-lar ran, still skirting the edge of the
herds, away from the bulk of the thundering horde of primordial behemoths.
But then it happened. One of the bull tandors
trumpeted in agony. The great predatory saurian was already among them,
and had selected its target for the kill. The target was an aged bull,
not quite as fleet as the rest. The tyrannosaurus lunged down upon it,
felling it with one mighty bird-clawed foot. Then the tyrant lizard commenced
to devour its still-living victim, gouging out a great slab of juicy mammoth-meat
with its great jaws. The tandor screamed again in terror and agony, curling
its mighty trunk into the air. The strength of eleven men resided within
that trunk, but even this could avail it not. It attempted to gore
its reptilian foe with sweeping tusks, but the dinosaur was already ripping
loose another scarlet-dripping chunk from the animal’s flank, feasting
while its hapless prey was still alive. The tandor collapsed in a welter
of its own life-fluid, drenching the dense plains-grass crimson. The zarith
bolted down the slab of mammoth meat, then through back its hideous head
and bellowed in ghastly triumph at the misty sky.
The drama had occurred less than one
hundred feet from the massed warriors. The zarith’s unearthly scream yet
rang in their ears. They stared in horrified wonder as the monster began
once more to feast.
The other inhabitants of the plains had calmed
and gone back to their incessant grazing.
“Move back slowly.” said O-lag, in a soft though
commanding voice. “We must do nothing to disturb the beast. Let him feast,
and we will leave him alone.”
The party of warriors began to back up, though all
of them faced the zarith, spears at the ready, in case the beast attacked.
Then a terrible scream sounded out. It was
The young man had been in a state of shock
at the sight of this beast, unable even to cry out. Then his terror overwhelmed
him, and he could no longer contain it.
Lu-Gor broke form the party and ran, screaming very
loudly, in the direction of the distant trees.
At first, the tyrannosaurus took no notice, still
preoccupied with his feast of tandor-flesh.
But then its blunt, reptilian muzzle rose from its kill,
as it caught the scream, and then the sight, of the lone man-thing fleeing
across the plains. The zarith began to lumber in pursuit, its great strides
making the ground shudder. The beast was drawn more out of curiosity than
hunger, though the O-lar were naturally fearing the beast would snatch
up the unfortunate Lu-Gor as an extra appetizer.
The great zarith strode through the thick grass in
the wake of the fleeing caveman. The reptile was not particularly fast,
but its stride was gigantic, clearly capable of overtaking Lu-Gor in short
Fortunately for Lu-Gor, he was able to reach
the distant trees before the monster. Perhaps if the he had managed to
get a head start on the beast, it might have numbered back to enjoy its
feast. But the reptilian brain is scarcely capable of containing one thought
at a time. And with the zarith already gaining, its Volkswagen-sized head
already lowered and mighty-fanged already starting to gap in hideous and
frightful anticipation, it crashed on into the trees after him. Lu-Gor
ran on, his brawny arms flung out in front of him, as the tyrannosaur crashed
forward in pursuit of its hapless mammalian prey, its mighty bulk snapping
the trees in it path to flinders.
At last Lu-Gor, realizing he would soon be gobbled
up, through himself into the mold of the forest floor, and curled up, knees
against his chest, whimpering.
The massive scram of the zarith filled his mind.
The screaming and bellowing continued on and on. Finally, through the haze
of his own terror, Lu-gor realized that the monster was screaming out its
death agonies, and he ventured to look.
The zarith had somehow managed to skewer itself through
the belly-plates on the massive end of a fallen tree. The great mossy log
was propped upon another at an angle, its end had worn to a point that
was nearly dagger-sharp. Like a massive Ttian’s spear it had slain the
primordial dragon. Only the beast had not the capacity to yet realize it.
It writhed and flailed, crashing more trees and saplings around it, screaming
like a steam-engine gone mad. At long last the beast’s throes ceased, and
Lu-Gor, still quaking, got to his feet.
The O-lar had already found him. They had gathered
at the side of the body of giant reptile. All were gaping at Lu-Gor in
a mixture of amazement and awe.
“Never have the O-lar witnessed such a mighty feat.”
said one man.
“Yes,” answered another. “At first we took your flight
from the zarith for cowardice but we now see you intended to lure him into
“You made the beast impale himself on
Some of the other warriors were looking skeptical
though, and O-Lag was scowling openly.
But Lu-Gor then realized his opportunity and seized
on it. “The beast did not fall on the tree. I ran to lure him into the
woods, yes. But only so that I could find a heavy log with which to kill
him. I lifted the log which pierced the beast’s heart! But he almost had
me, in another moment--”
A great cheer went up from the warriors. The female warriors
were now gazing at Lu-Gor in admiration. And the male warriors were clapping
him on the back in open comradery. Most of them anyway. Some were still
not entirely convinced his flight from the zarith had all been a ruse.
And O-lag still looked skeptical. But they returned to the
O-lar village with Lu-Gor’s story, along with great steaks of zarith flesh
which were supposedly Lu-Gor’s kill. It grew even wilder in the re-telling,
and soon practically everyone in O-lar was believing Lu-Gor’s tale.
He had been an even greater favorite of the queen
after that. Except that Lu-Gor sometimes suspected that the queen had some
misgivings about the story underneath.
Lu-Gor returned to the O-lar village.
The other men and boys moved out of his way as he made his way toward the
hut of Queen Nuvia. Some of them whispered to each other when they saw
that Lu-Gor’s nose had been damaged. But they all knew better to laugh
at him or insult him openly.
At last Lu-Gor reached the hut, and demanded the
two guards admit him. He stalked into the large hut.
Queen Nuvia of O-Lar reclined majestically upon her
throne of saurian bones. A stuffed pterodactyl crowned the throne, its
stiff lether pinions outspread. The queen was in the equivalent of her
late twenties, still lithe, and athletic as were all warrior women. The
queen tossed her abundant auburn tresses, then fixed her imperial gaze
on Lu-Gor. The fiery green eyes in her lovely though savage face spit fire
at him as she regarded him with an air of cold haughtiness.
Observing this, Lu-Gor felt his heart sink. “My queen…”
“I see someone has damaged your face, Lu-gor.”
Queen Nuvia observed. “I hope this is not because Lu-gor is not such a
mighty warrior as believed.”
Lu-gor gulped, blushing fiercely. Never
before had Nuvia spoken to him in this manner. He cleared his throat with
some difficulty, then began. “It is a matter of much importance, my queen.
It is your niece, the girl Jarla.”
“Yes. I already promised you the girl.”
"Of course. You see, that Nu-al boy was here.
He is in O-lar now—"
The queens eyes sparked with rage. “What! Jarn?
Jarn of Nu-al? That little slacker boy my niece took a likening to?”
Lu-gor was relieved. If Nuvia knew Jarn had
fled with her niece, she would be putty in his hands.
“Yes! Jarn! That is the lad’s name. He was
with Jarla! I found them sitting together outside the village. I tried
to stop them, but the boy escaped me, and he took your niece with you!”
His tone was now one of feigned urgency, for he cared nothing for Nuvia
herself, or Jarla either, other than that she would be his mate.
He expected the queen to side with him immediately,
but instead the queen only gave him a cold and half-mocking smile.
“And I don’t suppose he’s the one who did that
“He..uh…well, he did, but I was trying to restrain
him from taking the girl, you see, and—"
“How could such a brave strong warrior such as Lu-Gor
be overwhelmed by a mere stripling?”
Lu-Gor blushed scathingly crimson. He realized he
should never have admitted it was the boy you had broken his nose. But
it was too late now.
“He is small, and quicker than I!” the man stammered.
“I tried to grab him, but—"
Nuvia waved long-fingered hand to silence him. “No matter
about your precious nose. I am certain that even the bravest of warriors
has difficult situations. But my concern is that you did not stop him!
She is to be your mate, Lu-Gor! If they escape, it will be your fault if
my niece ends up with that Nu-al whelp!” Her tone was now one of deadly
fury. “Were you not a trusted warrior, and the son of the bravest of O-lar,
I would have you killed, and your head decorating a pike outside my hut!”
Lu-Gor had fallen to his knees. “Please, my
queen! The boy outwitted me, or I would have killed him!”
“Then do not try my patience again! I will
give you a chance, Lu-Gor. Since you need badly to gain my good graces
once more, you can make this up by leading our warriors to return my Jarla
Vast relief flooded through Lu-Gor. He scrambled
to his feet, thanking his queen and pouring out blessings.
“Guards!” cried Nuvia imperiously. “Rouse our
other warriors! Now!!”
By this time, Jarn and Jarla had traversed deep within
the jungles to the north of O-lar. Jarn was certain what would happen if
he were to return to Nu-al. Ju-Kar, though he did not relish the idea of
the girl’s marriage to Lu-Gor, would doubtless send her home. And doubtless
the Nu-al would be alerted anyway. For the moment, he knew they must concentrate
on outdistancing their pursuers, even if it took them both into regions
unknown. It would not take Nuvia’s warriors to pick up their trail.
Traveling in a northeasterly fashion, they found themselves
heading into the deepest, most secluded portions of the great jungle. They
kept to most remote jungle trails as they could, scurrying through the
emerald depths of the mighty forest, under the bulks of fallen forest giants,
and through winding, narrow ravines.
Finally, exhausted and out of breath, they sat down on
a rock in a deep creek basin. They had already ventured far, having not
to rest until now, and were by this time deep within the vast wilderness.
Both boy and girl realized that they needed more than rest; they would
have to find food of some kind, and they would need to sleep soon. And
this meant they would need to make weapons to kill their own meat, and
would have to find a place of shelter for resting where their pursuers
could not find them.
“Maybe they’re not following us.” said
Jarn, “I haven’t heard any sign of them.”
“They are following.” said Jarla. “Nuvia
will not give up once she learns I am with you. And her beast trackers
have undoubtedly picked up our trail.”
Jarn looked around them. They were deep within territory
that unfamiliar to him. Strange hoots and shrieks sounded throughout
the gloomy aisles. He strained his ears into the distance, but could pick
up no sounds indicating pursuit.
“Do you think we’re safe here?”
“For a while perhaps. But we need to lose them.”
“We’ll cross this stream” Jarn said. “Then find another,
and cross it. Then we’ll rub out our tracks. That will fool them.”
“I doubt it. Nuvia’s trackers are not that
easily fooled. We might lose them for a time, but not forever.”
“Then what do you suggest?” the boy asked,
slightly irritated. “That we give up?”
Jarla appear to consider this for a moment, then
shook her head. “No. There is no pointed in returning to O-lar. I will
not be Lu-Gor’s mate. You already know how much I despise him, so there
is no point pretending.”
“I think we should cover our tracks,
and then hide. Let them go off in the wrong direction.”
Jarn nodded, thinking of nothing better at
the moment than to follow the girl’s advice.
They searched about the narrow creek bottom, eventually
locating a tunnel into another, more shallow ravine. They followed this
new ravine to a place where the great forest giants grew close around the
lip. Some of their massive roots extended over and into the chasm. They
were so large that the youngsters had no trouble walking upon them.
Jarn suddenly cried, “Jarla! Look here!”
He pointed to a narrow gap in the massive twist of roots. They both peered
in, but the blackness was utter.
Jarn descended into the opening first, sliding his
feet through, then his legs, then his waist, followed by the rest of him.
He still clung there, not feeling any ground below, and he had the brief,
frightening impression of hanging over a bottomless pit. But he let loose,
and was gratified when his feet hit a solid, if moldy, floor. “Come on,
The girl followed Jarn’s example, sliding her legs
into the gap. Her hips presented a problem as the gap was narrow, and she
was becoming wide in this region as is the case with all girls reaching
puberty. She turned herself to the side, and managed to wriggle herself
They found themselves in small, smug enclosure,
with a slightly moist floor packed damp leaves. Its walls were formed of
the dense layers of twisted root.
They tested the hole, seeing that they could
exit it easily. They then made certain to cover their spoor leading to
and from their hiding place. They slipped back through the opening and
prepared to sleep.
Then they each snugged up against the wall
and promptly fell asleep.
It was not very much later, that Jarn felt the girl’s
hand shake him on the knee. “Jarn!”
The girl’s voice was a hoarse whisper. Jarn blinked
And heard the voices.
They were coming from somewhere outside their enclosure,
not more than several feet away! He heard the voices of two young women
talking, but it was not the often careless banter of girls. He knew immediately
that these were young warrior-maids, possibly for Jarla’s tribe.
“Are you certain they came this way,
Ula?” one asked.
“Yes!” exclaimed the one called Ula, in a fierce
tone. They undoubtedly crossed this creek to cover their scent.”
“Then where are their tracks?”
“I have not found them yet.”
“I thought you were a tracker Ula.” This voice
belonged to a man. “It seems you’ve let two mere youngsters get away from
Jarn recognized the man’s voice at once. Lu-Gor!
“Be quiet! They are around here somewhere.”
Jarn and Jarla squeezed themselves up tightly
against the wall covering themselves with the damp leaves in an attempt
at camouflage. Each feared dreadfully one of the warriors would take notice
of the gap in the roots, and venture to look inside.
“I do not think they even came this way.” Lu-Gor’s
voice said. “The last of their spoor is on the back of the other creek.”
“They could have vanished.” Ula said. “This ravine
is the one other place they could have gone.”
“Then they are not here now.” said Lu-Gor
“They probably escaped out the back of the other
ravine, and into the forest again.” said the other woman. “And rubbed out
There was a silence. Jarn felt himself biting
“I suppose you are right, Varna.” Ula said.
“They are not in this ravine, and there is no sign they left it by the
There followed the footsteps as the party of
warriors left. But for several moments longer, Jarn dared not even to breath.
At last, he whispered. “They’ve gone.”
It was a long time before they were able to
sleep again, but they made sure to cover themselves up with the moldy leaf-litter.
After their sleep time had passed, they again set out,
this time traveling in the opposite direction as Nuvia’s trackers.
Deeper and deeper into the forest the youngsters
fled. Jarn hoped fervently that they had at last given their pursuers the
slip, or that Nuvia’s had given up.
This latter possibility he doubted, but they encounter
no more of Nuvia’s warriors, so perhaps they were free.
The next time they stopped to rest, Jarn and Jarla
fashioned themselves spears. They had had nothing to eat so far besides
edible roots and fruits they were about to find. Jarn showed the girl how
to break open wild melons, which they both found to be delicious. But they
badly craved meat.
Jarn was able to spear a small orthopi, which
is diminutive species of horse considered to be the eohippus by science.
The orthopi were very numerous throughout the forest, forever scurrying
for cover in the underbrush at the youngsters’ approach, but they were
also very swift, after the manner of most small animals, and it was a while
before the boy was able to catch one.
After some debate, they decided to build a
small fire to cook their meat. They would make certain to keep the flames
low, and they had camped within a craggy orifice under a shelf of rock,
so as to provide concealment on the chance that any of their pursuers had
managed to track them here. They skinned the orthopi carcass, and Jarla
fashioned a sling for herself from its hide.
They skewered and roasted the dawn-horse. The meat of the
orthopis is delectable, so much that some tribes take to farming them,
but there was not much meat on the single animal.
“I’m going to try out this sling.” Jarla announced,
while the boy was still munching on a leg, the juices dripping form the
corners of his mouth. “I’m pretty good with these. I think I can kill us
Zintroks are the native term for the archaeopteryx,
the scaled and clawed predecessor of modern fowls.
“You stay here and mind the camp.”
Jarla went off. Jarn polished off the rest
of the horse, then made sure to bury its remains in case they were still
being followed. He did not break camp though, in case Jarla returned with
a successful catch—and since he was still famished after their long trek,
he rather hoped that she would.
They had made camp within another small canyon
overgrown with huge trees. Jarn sat down on a convenient root, and gazed
down at the winding stream below. Where should they go next? This was a
new stream they had not traversed before, and both of them wondered where
it might lead them.
Something down in the ravine, amongst the layers of fronds
and creepers, caught the boy’s eye.
Jarn blinked twice, to make certain his mind was
not playing him tricks.
The thing was there, he was sure of it.
Still, the boy scarcely credited what his eyes kept
telling him. Had the orthopi meat, or perhaps the water from one of the
streams they had drank from been bad, and was now affecting his vision?
Jarn doubted it. He could always detect bad water from a mere taste on
The creature below crouched half-hidden
in the jungle. Possibly its’ mottled, reptilian hide possessed some kind
of chameleon-like properties which allowed it to nearly blend with its
surroundings. But Jarn saw that it was solid, and frighteningly real. It
stood well over nine feet tall. The back and neck were ridges with a series
of dragonish serrations. The head, at the end of a serpentine neck was
a toothy and elongated beak, not unlike that of a Mahar. But the huge grey-green
body was more akin to the great dinosaurs than any of the flying reptiles,
most notably, thought Jarn, the great Jalgor, a mighty predatory reptile
which science identifies with the allosaurus. Jalgor were terrible beasts,
larger than the horned xarg, but smaller and more numerous than the great
zarith. Only a party of several armed warriors could possibly kill one.
The jalgor had an armored hide decorated in gorgeous crimson rosettes,
and it bore upon its prey in massive bounds, thanks it its enormous hindlimbs.
This is what it was about this strange saurian that reminded Jarn of the
jalgor; its hindlimbs were massively exaggerated and had the appearance
of being incredibly powerful. Its forefeet were comparatively small, but
equipped with huge grasping talons, after the manner of the flesh-eating
dinosaurs. A thick, massive reptilian tail supported the creature’s weight.
And folded across the things sloping back were what appeared to be a pair
of tremendous bat-ribbed wings.
The most astonishing thing was that Jarn believed
that he could identify this beast. It was a trodon, one of the most dread
monsters within the world’s hollow center. Only until now, he had not fully
believed in their existence. The elders had warned him of them, of course.
So had other adults. They were supposed to have four limbs and a pair of
wings, just as the creature he was now observing appeared to have. Male
trodons, it was said, only captured prey to kill and eat, as did any other
The female trodons however, were for worse.
They were said to paralyze their victims with
a wicked, barbed tongue, that put the unfortunate man or beast in some
sort of semi-consciousness. They had a flap of skin that served as a belly-pouch,
and in this they transported their victims to their brood. The victims
were kept alive but paralyzed, in the same manner that spiders will paralyze
prey for later feasting, in order to feed their brood of hideous young.
Victims of the fabled beast were said to lie in the lair of the trodon
until the baby reptiles hatched—at which time they were devoured by the
hatchlings alive and screaming.
But no one that Jarn knew had ever actually
seen a trodon, so he began to think they were only one of the lies grownups
used to frighten children into safety and obedience. Even so, the beast
he now saw crouching in the ravine, he was certain, was all too real. He
had to warn Jarla as soon as the girl returned to camp. The monster had
not seen or scented him, that much Jarn was sure. But if it caught their
attention, and it really was a trodon, there might be very little they
could do to escape it.
But the beast’s attention was not upon him, but upon something
further down the canyon in the river. Yes, he could it splashing. Some
kind of wild beast was wading in the stream, an antelope or deer maybe,
and the reptile had selected it for its prey. Jarn saw the beast’s hunched
muscles tense, in an almost feline fashion, as though the beast were steeling
itself for a spring. The reptile seemed possessed of intelligence more
wily than that of its kin.
Jarn rose to his feet and moved down a little further
on the ledge. Still, he could not make out the trodon’s target. He realized
that he should retreat back to the campsite, but something compelled him
to venture cautiously down from the rock shelf and sneak through the tangle
of vines in the direction of the stream. Jarn had a way of taking foolish
risks, but it was no thrill-seeking or bravado which then prompted the
lad to steal through the thicket toward the floor of the canyon. It was
only that he had a feeling.
Jarn gasped. Just as the boy had feared,
the trodon’s intended victim was no beast. It was instead a shapely human
female, apparently fishing with a long spear in the stream. She appeared
to be about Jarla’s age, perhaps a bit older. She had long, slim tanned
legs, and sturdily curvaceous hips, and she was a full-breasted for a girl
her age, though there was definitely a supple, athletic look about her,
that made Jarn want to go on looking. There was a sound to their left,
and the girl cast her gaze in its direction. She had high cheekbones, a
full mouth with lips the tint of wild berries. Her eyes, a brilliant green,
and almond-shaped beneath elegantly arched eyebrows flashed with tigerish
At first, Jarn supposed she must be a one of O-lar’s warrior
maids, probably one of those who pursued them, who had gotten separated
form her companions. But this girl had tresses that were of glossy, midnight
black, as was typical among the tribes of the inner earth. That meant she
probably she not an O-lar after all, but of an unknown tribe endemic to
But at the moment, Jarn was beyond caring what tribe the
girl was from, or even if she had been among those pursuing them. Something
compelled the lad to clamor up a gnarled and curving limb that stretched
out over the stream.
And not a moment too soon. As Jarn crouched
upon the limb, the trodon launched itself at the girl with a horrifying
The girl gave a short cry, then whirled to defend
herself as she faced the oncoming beast, spear poised at its underbelly.
And at the same moment, Jarn launched himself off
the branch with a wild cry! He landed smack! onto the ridged back of the
enraged saurian. The horny spikes knifed into the skin of the boy’s chest
and belly, but Jarn had wrapped his limbs about the creature’s neck, where
the mighty wings joined with the torso.
The trodon was thrown off-course by Jarn’s attack.
It careened to the side, its terrific screams blasting the lad’s eardrums,
its leatheran wings, thirty-feet across, thrashing thunderously. But the
boy held on, teeth gnashed together, the nauseous, reptilian stench filling
his nostrils. The flying beast bucked and wove, nearly succeeding twice
in throwing the clinging boy-thing from its back.
The girl stood back, for an instant gaping
at the incredible scene.
But for an instant only. The warrior-maid steeled
herself, her eyes narrowing to feline slits. She held her spear at ready,
her smoldering green and catlike gaze trained on her reptilian adversary,
as the monster bucked and hove in the air thrashing the trees over the
stream in its mad efforts to dislodge its tormentor.
The beast launched high into the air giving
vent to an ear-piercing shriek. Then it plunged down, nearly throwing the
lad from its neck one more time. The mighty body swooped low over the stream,
the branches on either side swaying with its vast passage.
The warrior-girl positioned herself directly within the
beast’s path as it hove down at her.
And plunged home her spear in the vulnerable portion of
the monster’s belly, where the mailed torso and neck met.
The girl shrieked as the headlong inertia of the
monster swept her off her feet and carried her along with it. The girl
held on, and as the creature, possessed of the dreadsome vitality particular
to its kind, hove upward, she hung on and managed to work her weapon deeper
into the beast, until she felt the spear puncture the thing’s spinal chord.
The trodon swerved, and crashed headlong into the
trees, carrying the boy and girl along with it. Jarn, miraculously, had
managed to hold on through it all, and was still clinging as the monster
thrashed, jammed into the fork of a massive forest giant. Reacting
on instinct, the boy slid from the great neck. Perched on the creature’s
back Jarn flung down an arm to assist the girl, who was still clinging
to her embedded spear which jutted from the reptile’s mailed chest. She
was dangling in the air over the chasm.
The girl needed no coaxing to reach out and grasp
the boy’s hand. Jarn helped to pull her up onto the back of the beast,
and they made their way down the tree to the mossy turf.
They looked up at the monster’s death throes. Smaller
winged saurians, pterodactyls and rhamphorynchii, were converging upon
the trodon, tearing into it, as though the smaller beasts were not merely
scavengers but seemed to share some sort of instinctive hatred for the
The two youngsters sank down on the steam’s
bank, trembling with exhaustion.
Once Jarn’s dizziness had cleared, he and the
girl faced each other.
The girls’ pretty face had a wild fierce look
that appeared to have been perpetually stamped on her features. But he
could see that she was now regarding her with a kind of awe, and her emerald
eyes widened a bit.
“You killed the trodon!” she gasped.
“I did not kill it.” Jarn corrected her. “You
“But I could not have done so, were it not
for you! Never have I seen such bravery! And you…you are a boy!”
Jarn felt suddenly a bit peeved. “So?”
“Boys and men are all sniveling cowards. Only
women are capable of real bravery.”
“Who told you that!”
“Zeera leader of our tribe! That is what she
had told all of us.”
“And who are your tribe?”
“I am Zara of the Azeer warrior women.
I thank you for saving me.” She gave Jarn a smile that was almost flirtatious.
“Perhaps I shall take you back to my tribe as a prize. I’m sure Zeera would
love to hear of your feat. You would be honored richly. Perhaps you could
convince her some men are capable of courage after all.”
“I’d be glad to go.” Jarn said. But then he
remembered Jarla. “Wait! There’s someone else with me. A girl—"
“A girl?” Zara arched one shapely eyebrow.
There was no mistaking the cold jealousy in her voice.
“Yes, a girl. We’re running away from
her tribe.” Jarn would have preferred to fabricate a story, but could think
of nothing else suitable at the moment.
Zara’s gaze remained icy for a moment. Then
she gave Jarn a sly, secret smile, her emerald eyes flashing. All at once,
Jarn felt his cheeks grow very hot. “You’re the sort of boy after my own
heart.” She said. “What is your name?”
“Jarn of Nu-al.” the muttered, in a daze.
“Jarn of Nu-al.” she murmured as
she continued gazing affectionately into the boy’s eyes. “I suppose the
name suits a brave boy like yourself.” She stroked his cheek. “Take me
Jarn drew abruptly away. “No!” He shook his head
to clear it. “Not without Jarla.” He said. Ordinarily, the pubescent lad
would have savored a moment like this for all it was worth, but he remembered
his loyalty to the girl he was already in love with.
Just then the ferns to their back parted. They gazed up
to see four other armed female warriors. All were well-curved and athletic.
Their raven tresses and tigerish glare of the gaze told Jarn that they
were of Zara’s tribe.
“Zara!” commanded one, an adult woman whose
tone was haughty and commanding. “What are you doing with a boy!”
Zara stepped back, bowed her head in
subservience. “This boy saved my life.” She said. “From a trodon.”
The woman through back her head and laughed.
It was the most cold and contemptuous laugh Jarn thought he had ever heard
in his life, so much so that it chilled him.
“From a trodon! I have heard some fetching lies form
you, Zara, but that one tops them all!”
“He did! Zara insisted. “We can show you the beast’s
“Silence, young miss!” The woman snapped, her
voice cold and deadly again. “I will hear no more from your curling tongue.”
She turned to the other women. “Lash the boy’s wrists! He is going with
The women pounced on Jarn, who was far too
spent form his ordeal with the trodon to even resist. The women were very
strong for their sex, and had him secured in no time.
They then marched Jarn through the forest to
Tethered in the clearing were five gigantic
birds. Each were nearly the of same bulk as an adult stallion, their crested
heads eight feet above the ground, their massive beaks as fearsome and
hooked as those of giant eagles. Jarn knew them for what they were; dyals,
great flesh-eating birds that hunted on the open plains. It was at that
moment that Jarn remembered hearing tales of a race of woman warriors who
tamed and rode dyals; they were supposedly from a far-off country called
Julok. But those women were reputed to be course and hairy, and of masculine
appearance. These feamles, strong and imperious as were their manner, Jarn
nonetheless found it a delight to look upon them.
But it was clear that, save only for the girl Zara, they
were somewhat less than thrilled about him. Jarn felt himself tossed crudely
onto the back of one of the feathered mounts, and then secured in the manner
of a kill.
The warrior-women mounted their steeds and were off
in the direction of their homeland.