CHAPTER 6: "KEY OF DEATH"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
Some Barsoomian scientists speculate that the green
race is a product of devolution, that in time will degrade to the equivalent
of calots, then to plant men and finally become worms. It is an interesting
theory but it certainly does not take into account transformations such
as the one wrought in the heart and mind of the green girl Sola, during
the time she spent with John Carter and Dejah Thoris. A few of the green
race have a capacity for loyalty; fewer still learn the rudiments of friendship.
But until the telling of the story of Sola, daughter of Tars Tarkas, no
Barsoomian would have imagined that green Martians possess the ability
to love. And even those who know something about her might never guess
that she possessed the virtue of modesty. She herself once asked that her
role in Captain Carter's adventures not be recounted in any great detail.
But the reader cannot hear the story of Dejah Thoris of Helium without
also hearing something more of the story of Sola of Thark.
While Dejah Thoris was yet in the throne chamber,
listening to the crude threats of Jeddak Tal Hajus, John Carter was being
led off to prison -- or so it appeared to those departing courtiers who
saw Tars Tarkas place the outlander in chains. But after the other Tharks,
following their jeddak's orders, had left the entrance hall and locked
its great sorapus door to the outer palace, Tars Tarkas lingered for a
couple of minutes in the deserted hallway. Here it was that visitors to
the throne room temporarily hung their firearms and other things on stout
metal hooks and rings set in the stone wall. The giant stationed Woola
near the throne room door, and padlocked the Earthman's chains to one of
the steel rings. Then the Thark high chieftain produced a large key from
his pocket pouch and let himself out through the sorapus door, re-locking
it behind him as he left
During those short two minutes the green female Sola
was also busily employed outside the palace walls. Since all Thark warriors
recognize the metal of Tars Tarkas, none of the giants paid attention to
the girl who wore his insignia when she brought three brawny thoat steeds
to the courtyard outside of Tal Hajus' living quarters at the royal palace.
All the actions of the green leader and his daughter were performed with
the greatest speed and with all possible secrecy, so John Carter's only
clue to the intrigue underway was Tars Tarkas' seeming stupidity in failing
to appropriate his weapons -- that, and also something the green giant
whispered in the chained man's ear before he left: "Farewell, John Carter;
you are the only man on Barsoom I've ever liked!"
John Carter cursed the fact that he had not learned
enough of the Barsoomian language to understand all of the special phraseology
employed by Martian royals when they converse together. Chained to the
wall, only yards away from the throne room, he could hear snatches of the
conversation going on between the jeddak and the princess. He could also
catch the occasional thoughts of Tal Hajus but had difficulty making any
sense of them. Then the conversation ceased, the meanings came together
in his mind and he understood.
At that same moment a shrill scream echoed from the
throne room -- the scream of the Princess of Helium!
"Woola!" cried John Carter. "Woola! Kill the green
man, Go! Kill! Kill!"
In an instant the huge calot sprang to its many feet
and bounded through the open throne room doorway. A mixture of vivid telepathic
images pierced Carter's brain. In his mind's eye he could see Dejah Thoris
recoiling from the giant's six-limbed embrace. He also received an impression
of Woola, tusks ready for the kill, dashing the bellowing jeddak to the
The Earthman's mighty alien muscles strained at his
shackles. The foot clasps snapped open but the steel wristbands withstood
his effort. Then one of those also snapped, leaving him flatfooted on the
floor and attached to the wall by a single chain. His short sword and other
things were piled on the floor only inches away. John Carter stretched
out one foot with all his strength. He hooked a toe under his sword belt
and kicked the long-sword into his waiting free hand.
Listening to female screams emanating from the chambers
of their jeddak was a daily routine for the palace guards, so they paid
no attention to Dejah Thoris' shriek of pain. But shortly thereafter they
all heard the echoing cry of Tal Hajus and that reverberation sent them
scurrying off in a pack to the throne room. For some unexplained reason
the door's lock was jammed and the guards wasted precious time hauling
over a large table to use as a battering ram. Then, in entering through
the broken door they were puzzled to see John Carter at the other end of
the hall, sword in hand, but with one wrist chained to the wall. The foremost
guard hesitated, wary of a possible trick. However, they were twenty against
one. The green swordsmen proceeded to rush forward with horrible curses
on their lips.
The commotion in the adjoining hallway caught the
calot's attention and he wheeled about to look for trouble. His master's
voice and thoughts were calling out for him. Dejah Thoris followed the
leaping calot out through the one open door she could see, slowing only
for a second to pull a dagger from the fallen Jeddak's gold-encrusted harness.
He appeared to be dead but she did not tarry to make certain. In the spacious
hallway beyond the open door, her senses were bombarded with a wild intermixture
of sights and sounds. The Jasoomian was hanging from the wall, hacking
at a padlock and chains with his long-sword and shouting to Woola. The
unrestrained roaring calot was leaping onto the extended swords of nearly
two dozen palace guards at the far end of the hall. And those same green
giants were yelling, cursing and knocking one another over, as all of them
tried at once to squeeze through an entrance space built by a race half
Many of the women of Mars are trained for battle
in their younger years, but the royal daughters of Helium are taught how
to command the armed fighters of the empire, not how to fend off a dozen
attacking swordsmen at a time. Still, the first thing Dejah Thoris did
was to pull Captain Carter's short sword from its scabbard and ready herself
for the inevitable onrush. Upon seeing that the Earthman was still struggling
to free one manacled wrist, a sudden idea came to her.
"John Carter! This dagger will help!"
The girl took a step backwards and handed him the
knife she had taken from the fallen Tal Hajus. Here was a deadly key indeed;
its razor-sharp blade and keen point were fashioned from the highest grade
of unbreakable Ptarthian steel.
"My radium pistol!" cried John Carter. "Can you use
The Earthman's gunbelt was still hanging on the wall
nearby, where Tars Tarkas had left it when the three of them went in for
the audience with Tal Hajus. The pistol, however, was now missing and its
holster was empty. In the gun's place was a brief note, written in blood
on the retaining strap. Dejah Thoris tried to make sense of the crude inscription
"Outside the double window, thoats to ride." The only green Barsoomian
she knew of who could read and write, even a little, in the hieroglyphics
of Helium was Sola of Thark. Dejah Thoris had spent the past few days instructing
the curious girl in that particular skill.
"John Carter! There is no pistol here -- yet I have
found hope. Sola has left you a message. If we can reach the double window
in the throne room -- Oh please! You must open the lock!