CHAPTER 41: "COCK'S CROW"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
John Carter and Dejah Thoris remained quiet, with the
Earthman positioned in one of the side pockets of her upper harness. He
kept his fingers upon the handle of his long-sword for perhaps an hour,
but he had no occasion to draw the blade. The couple exchanged a few fragments
of silent telepathy, but until they could be certain what danger they faced,
the two refrained from further communication. On Mars carelessly projected
thoughts my reach the mind of a foe as easily as that of a friend.
After a long period of time, during which they heard no
more voices, the two at last began conversing in a silent transfer of thoughts.
"My princess, what worries me is that the voices were
spoken in the same low tones that I hear when you speak. Those sounds did
not come from beings of my size!"
"Perhaps you are right, John. But I could not make out
any of the words. You are small enough to escape the attention of any giant.
Can you quietly explore in the direction that the sounds came from, while
I remain here?"
"I do not like the idea of leaving you alone, Dejah Thoris.
Yet I shall do as you suggest. There is a radium torch among the items
Oman provided. I will put the light on its lowest setting. So long as you
see its dim glow you may know how far I have scouted."
The Earthman moved through the sparse vegetation, keeping
the little light trained on the ground. The great trees blocked much the
starlight, but with only a little difficulty he made his way forward in
the darkness, perhaps the distance of an earthly mile. It was there that
John Carter came across the tattered remains of a large sheet of canvas,
soaked in blood. He had been on Mars long enough to sense the peculiar
odor of calot's blood and he needed no greater light than the dim glow
of the radium bulb to discern that the canvas was precisely the same kind
as that which made up the carrying bags attached to Woola's harness.
If the swordsman needed any more evidence of what had
happened among the trees of that forbidding forest, he found it in the
form of four huge impressions in the sandy soil. One was a calot's fresh
footprint, somewhat wider than his own body was long -- the other three
were of an unfamiliar, three-toed pattern of similar width and twice the
length of the calot print.
The Earthman's thoughts reached the red princess even
before she saw him returning in the dim glow of the radium bulb. She reached
out carefully to lift the man to her shoulder and then listened to his
scouting report in dismay.
"I think it is likely that some intelligent beings, as
large as yourself, have killed Woola and taken his body, perhaps to butcher
for meat. There is much blood in the forest downhill from us and I found
gigantic footprints there also. Their shape reminds me of the clawed feet
of the great durkoos that snatched you up to its nest in Go-La-Ra. I fear
that the rumbling voices came from the very same giants who left those
strange birdlike prints. Daybreak will soon be upon us; then we can better
determine what has happened. If the danger here is as bad as I think it
to be, we may have to backtrack to the city of Eo and seek the aid of Oman
and the mechano-men."
Before the sun had yet risen, when the darkness first
began to recede, the couple moved cautiously through the scattered trees.
By the time they reached the place where John Carter had seen the footprints
the brief Barsoomian dawn had come and gone. Their inspection of the scene
in the light of day turned up many more huge footprints, as well as pieces
of Woola's harness and even traces of some of the provisions the great
beast had carried upon his back.
"Had I known there were hostile beings of my own size
in this place, I might have convinced you to accept Oman's offer of an
armed escort. But even so, I doubt that the explosions of several of their
rifle cartridges would bring down even one such giant. And we see here
evidence of many giants. We must turn back, John Carter."
It was the Earthman was the first to see the giant bird-men
leaping toward them over the distant rocky terrain. For a moment their
fast moving shapes were concealed by clumps of the tall trees, but then
they reemerged into open view, much closer.
"They have seen us!" cried John Carter. "Run back the
way we came from!"
Dejah Thoris fled in haste before the cackling brutes,
but they gained ground upon her with their every leap.
"Stop!" the foremost giant crowed out in the universal
language of Barsoom.
The princess redoubled her speed, seeking vainly to outdistance
feathered beasts. The day before she had descended from the mesa gingerly,
watching her every step. Now the giantess threw caution to the winds, climbing
up the long ascent as quickly as her feet could carry her. If she could
possibly reach the rim of the plateau there might be some safety there.
At least she knew there were many boulders that she could roll down upon
her pursuers from that great height.
Captain Carter hoped that they must find a way to distract
and detain the horrid creatures, so that the princess could reach the rim
of the tableland. The rim was still far away, however, and her chances
of ever reaching it alive were growing more slender by the second.
From force of habit he shouted orders to Woola, but immediately
the swordsman recalled that the great beast must be lying somewhere below,
dead or terribly wounded. For a split-second, the man felt as if he had
caught a faint telepathic reply from the calot. His false hope faded quickly,
however, and he credited the uncanny feeling to his imagination.
The Virginian made his way from an unsteady perch on the
fleeing maiden's shoulder to a more secure hold high up in her flowing
black tresses. From his new vantage point he could look back at the horrible
giants. The nearest of them was about a thousand yards away. From his elaborate
decorations Carter took him to be the leader of the bird-like giants, nor
was he wrong. Subsequent events revealed that the titan's name was Cro-Yat,
but at that moment John Carter thought of him as the "Chicken Man."
This same Chicken Man -- Cro-Yat -- was not content to
close the gap between himself and his prey to slowly. He flung a mighty
stone hatchet. With lightning speed the weapon cut through the air, coming
straight at the girl's head.