CHAPTER 7: "The Old Lock Opens"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
In the jargon of the green warriors, calots are referred
to as "loin-rippers." The many-toothed, eight-legged Martian watchdog has
sufficient power and deftness to leap to a giant's throat if need be, but
Woola was cunning enough to charge under the tall guards' sword-points.
Nor did he stop to savor the hot blood spurting from one gaping wound before
hurling his piercing tusks and rending teeth upon the vitals of some other
vulnerable victim. Such are the tactics of the trained Barsoomian war-hound
and they can be incredibly effective in disrupting the coordinated efforts
of a tightly grouped squad of infantry.
This unnerving attack completely unbalanced two of
the palace watchmen, sending them crashing into the hallway walls on either
side of the battered-down door. Woola's savage fury also forced several
green swordsmen back upon their four lower limbs, an awkward position for
maneuvering in closely confined spaces. Precious seconds were gained by
the calot's delaying tactics and in those few seconds John Carter sprang
open the wrist lock. His chains fell against the wall with a loud clank;
he was free!
The Virginian felt a great desire to leap to the
end of the hallway and measure swords with the green brutes. The few hours
he had spent in practice fights among the chieftains at Korad convinced
him that he could successfully take on two or more of the giants at one
time, if they kept their pistols out of the fray and fought with blades
alone. But there are times when retreat is a soldier's best choice and
the Earthman felt no shame in backing away from such an uneven contest.
"Quickly, John Carter! To the double window in the
throne room!" commanded the princess.
The bronzed swordsman sent a mental order to his
watchdog, to fall back and join him. Gathering his scant possessions in
one hand, he grasped Dejah Thoris by the other and they sped quickly from
the entrance hall and back into the neighboring throne chamber. Tal Hajus
still rested face down in a pool of his own blood. Beyond, high in the
wall at the level of a green man's head, was a modern addition to the prehistoric
architecture -- the Tharks of recent times had punched two overlapping
holes in the plastered wall and had dressed the edges of the twin window
with rough stone slabs. Beyond that he could see nothing but the jet black
of an overcast Barsoomian night.
John Carter dodged around the monstrous obstacle
and took the shortest path to the open window. Along the way the fleeing
pair passed the two large torches that supplied the room with most of its
illumination. These they knocked down, leaving only their smoldering embers
and the eerie glow of a single radium lamp to light the huge chamber.
The charging guards followed, shouting the general
alarm, only a few yards behind. The throne room was as still as a tomb
and almost as dark. The green men slowed their pace, peering into the shadows.
Upon sighting their fallen jeddak all but two of the squad formed a ring
around the prone monster. While most of the guards were occupied in examining
the motionless hulk on the floor, the other two swordsmen quckly searched
behind the room's decayed tapestries. Then, from out of the darkness, Woola
The swift sharp strikes of John Carter's long-sword
and Woola's fangs immediately sent the two searchers to the realm of their
ancestors, covered in blood. In the shadows a series of events then transpired
in such rapid succession as to defy any proper description. The two humans
and the calot reached the huge open window even before the last of the
guards ran into the room. The Earthman lifted the girl so that she could
pull herself onto the window ledge, then stood with sword ready to meet
Realizing that their prey was about to escape, one
of the senior guards called for firearms. Guns were normally forbidden
in those chambers and another minute's time was lost while the Tharks retrieved
a loaded pistol from an anteroom. By then John Carter had turned and leaped
to the broad stone ledge beside the red princess. When the gun-toting Thark
took aim, all he saw were two pairs of sandals, disappearing from view
into the night. Another guard hurled his short sword at the calot, but
Woola dodged the missile and jumped up onto the vacant windowsill. The
nearest green giant was by then within striking distance but his long-sword
slashed down upon empty ersite. The calot too had disappeared!
It was late evening when Sola wrote the message on
John Carter's pistol strap. She handed the gunbelt back to her father a
short time before Tars Tarkas was summoned forth to exhibit his two human
captives before the august presence of the Jeddak of Thark.
"Will this design succeed?" she questioned.
But the big warrior motioned the inquiring girl to
be on her way. His only words to her came in a cryptic murmur: "Tell no
one of tonight's events -- ever. Even the life of a jeddak must end, sooner
or later. If you survive you will know what to do."
She departed the jeddak's residence without a backward
glance and carried her father's dismissal orders out to the small retinue
that had accompanied them into Thark. Then, taking with her three of the
thoats they had brought to the palace, she circled behind the massive structure
to the ancient city arboretum adjacent to the private courtyard of Tal
Hajus. In a patch of rank undergrowth, untended for millennia, Sola concealed
the mounts from the nearby pacing guards. Except for three armed sentinels
there was not a person in sight. In the deepening gloom before the rising
of the larger moon she watched and waited.
"How have I come to this?" she wondered. "A day ago,
if I had been told all of this would be happening, I could not have believed
it! What is going on in me? I do not want to be like the humans. I want
to be -- I want to be, myself. And that is the only thing in the world
that frightens me. A Thark is never afraid, but tonight I know what fear
is, and I do not like it!"
This self-searching was such a new thing in her life
that Sola did not even know what to call it. So she called it "fear." What
she did know was that she had promised her father she would never speak
of the night's events. All of Thark might call her a water-hearted traitor,
but no green denizen of Barsoom would ever call her father that. Because
-- nobody need ever know that she was truly the daughter of Tars Tarkas,
the high chieftain who one day would rule all Thark in the place of the
self-serving and ineffective Tal Hajus There! -- she had said it in her
mind and therefore, sooner or later it must happen.
A sudden alarm summoned two of the armed sentries
into the palace, but one remained behind at the courtyard gate. This was
no time for a noisy face-to-face confrontation. There had to be some way
to get past the lone guardsman quickly. The girl gathered her thoughts
and then slapped one of the thoats on the flank, sending it galloping onto
the circular avenue and past the startled warrior. He turned and pursued
the speeding shadow down the roadway into the dark, overgrown woods. The
unguarded courtyard gate stood wide open, allowing the girl and the steeds
easy access. A half dozen heartbeats later a pair of small figures appeared
in the double window far above. Sola positioned the two remaining thoats
below the window and concentrated all of her thoughts into a single mental
"Hurry, John Carter -- warriors are coming. There
is no time to waste!