"THE VANISHED PRINCESS"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
In its wetter, warmer days, Barsoom was the crowded
abode of countless species of birds. But when the planet entered into its
long downward spiral of death and decay, practically all of the feathered,
flying things became extinct. Bevies of flightless birds still dot the
more fertile spots on Mars, but their numbers too have been on the decline
for centuries. Among the surviving birds of flight are the durkoos and
the malagor, common examples of which sometimes reach the size of an adult
man. Beyond these denizens of the air are the giant birds of Barsoom, which
even today many Martians think of as mythological or prehistoric creatures.
Under some circumstances, given a good supply of a certain kind of nourishment
and a very long and healthy life, both the durkoos and the malagor may
grow to possess wingspans twice or even thrice as wide as a man is tall.
The curious reader might like to know that the region where sightings of
the Giant Durkoos are most often reported lies between the Forest of Kaol
and the dead city of Warhoon, though fossilized specimens have been uncovered
as far south of Warhoon as the southern ice fields.
Following the initial clawing and seizure of her
body in the shadows, Dejah Thoris had no recollection of her body being
carried through the air to the monstrous bird's nest. She was as alert
as could be expected under the dismal circumstances. The only explanation
she could think of was that the great bird's flight must have been a very
short one. The girl guessed correctly; the nest of the durkoos overlooked
the L-shaped plaza of Go-La-Ra, almost directly above the spot where John
Carter had defeated Grombo the white ape. At least the air was more breathable
on the rooftop where the huge feathered creature had released her. The
maiden's affliction of rigidity did not abate in the least, but she felt
that perhaps her being so far removed from the deadly fumes might retard
the rapid progress of the calcification for a while. But none of that mattered;
she expected death would soon overtake her.
As John Carter looked upward, through the diminishing
vapors, he saw his princess being carried away by a monstrous bird. Nothing
he had seen since his advent on the planet prepared him for such a sight
and he had to rub his eyes to be certain he was not hallucinating. Comparing
the giant durkoos to earthly avian species, it looked to him something
like a greatly enlarged eagle with the head of a prairie fowl. The female
durkoos that carried off Dejah Thoris was easily six times the size of
the largest bird Captain Carter had ever before seen. The thing that had
swooped down so silently and so quickly clutched Dejah Thoris in its mighty
talons, now flapped to the top of the tallest building fronting the plaza.
Although the Earthman could not tell for certain, he correctly guessed
the bird's purpose -- to feed the girl to its young nestlings on the rooftop.
The enormous bird dropped the princess into the nest
and then flew back down to the spot where it had captured her. The feathered
chimera was thus absent from the roof for a couple of minutes and Dejah
Thoris instinctively used that opportunity to trudge out of the great mass
of rubbish which comprised the nest. The five youngsters appeared to be
newly hatched and were not yet fledglings. So long as she retained some
limited power of movement the nestlings did not pose much danger to her.
However the piles of disarticulated bones the lay scattered on the rooftop,
and which partly made up the material of the nest, indicated clearly what
her fate would be once the mother bird returned. Moving very sluggishly,
the maiden did not reach the parapet of the rooftop until the mother durkoos
was fluttering back from her second trip to the plaza. In its beak was
the flaccid body of a luckless reptile. The girl peered down into the plaza
far below but John Carter had disappeared.
More than half a day had passed since John Carter
had left the campsite. Sola, daughter of Gozava and Tars Tarkas of Thark,
sat with Woola the Martian watchdog in a most despondent posture gazing
at the northern horizon. That was the direction the Earthman had taken
when he rode off and it was the direction from whence the thoat returned
a little before the sun reached its high point for the day. A couple of
distinctive knots in the saddle thongs relayed the man's signal that he
had arrived at Go-La-Ra safely. The three pinnacles she remembered from
her past visits were, at most, only a few hours away on thoatback. But
she knew nothing else regarding what might be transpiring in that dangerous
place. She made up her mind, that if the Jasoomian had not returned by
mid afternoon, she would trace the charger's trail back to the place where
Carter had dismounted and begin a search for him and the princess. That
meant disobeying the direct orders of the chieftain to whose retinue she
belonged, but the green girl could think of no other option. Her greatest
concern was that both of her human friends might be in grave danger at
that very moment and that she was doing nothing about it.
The gentleman from Virginia did not pause to enjoy
the resplendent furnishings and decorations of the great building as he
dashed through its many great rooms and grand hallways, trying to reach
the roof as quickly as possible. But, after passing through one vast ballroom
sort of chamber, which might have easily accommodated all the belles of
Richmond, the ramp he had been ascending plunged into stygian gloom. Go-La-Ra
had been built and abandoned well before artificial light was invented
on Mars and there were no radium bulbs to be seen anywhere in the building.
Captain Carter knew he was losing precious time by backtracking, but he
had no other choice in solving his need for illumination.
Once he had returned to the sunlit apartments, the
Earthman sought out combustible materials, formed a pair of torches and
set one of them ablaze with his Tharkian burning glass. All organic materials
in Go-La-Ra suffer, to some extent, from the effects of the deadly mists,
but in the case of the cloth and parchment he put into his torches, their
calcification only served to make their burning a slow, sputtering process.
Aided by this new source of light, he returned to the ramp and resumed
his ascent. He could only hope he had taken a way that would not end somewhere
short of the building's roof.
"Can I possibly find a way to her side in time?"
John Carter wondered.
Then he met with something so deadly that only the
torches could have saved him from -- such a peril as is found in the nightmares
of the insane!
Dejah Thoris watched in horror as the mother durkoos
dismembered the dog-sized lizard with her sharp bill, and then proceeded
to drop hunks of the still quivering flesh into the waiting mouths of squawking,
blind chicks. The princess had never before heard a Barsoomian bird utter
a sound, but then again, she had never seen a giant durkoos either. Soon
the reptile's flesh was entirely consumed and the bones left to add their
small contribution to the walls of the foul nest.
Dejah Thoris smiled sadly. The nestlings would be
grimly cheated, she knew, for her body was already so hardened that her
arms clicked against the parapet of the rooftop, like the sound of one
piece of stone striking upon another.
Meanwhile, the mother durkoos had grabbed the girl
in its beak and was carrying her toward its nest of ugly, screeching young.