ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT
(Chapter Five continued)
AT THE DUM DUM
I had an interesting experience last Friday,
August 17, 2012, at this year’s Dum Dum. I went on a bus tour to the office
of Edgar Rice Burroughs at ERB Inc. and was standing around a large, low,
round coffee table with several ERB items displayed thereon, listening
to a gentleman explaining how people in the business had spent two million
dollars pitching a John Carter movie to Paramount, that was declined, and
then went on to explain that he was developing a HBO like series with a
“steam punk” theme.
I asked him what steam punk was and he looked
surprised. He said, “I would expect a person that looks like you to know
all about steam punk.” I don’t know what gave him that impression, but
he explained the gist of it and gave me the website for the project he
was developing, which was
Now, the whole time this conversation was going
on, I kept thinking, I’ve seen this guy somewhere before. Was it on TV
or a movie, or both? I hurried into the adjacent room where the lovely
Cathy Wilbanks was standing behind ERB’s old ornate mahogany desk, got
her attention, and asked her if she knew who the TV/ Movie actor was standing
around the coffee table. “Oh,” she said, “that’s Bruce Boxleitner.” I snapped
my fingers in recognition. My God, it was Tron! He had been my two daughters’
hero when they were growing up watching the Disney Channel on cable TV.
And he was looking for ideas in steam punk.
Well, here’s an idea for you, Bruce. If you’ve
seen American Pickers on the History Channel then you will get the
premise of plot. It’s called “Time Pickers.” A pair of pickers come across
some old junk in some old Long Island barns. Legend has it that they once
belonged to Nicolas Tesla’s giant tower for the wireless transmission of
electricity, Wardenclyffe, and were pilfered in the early days of its demise.
They find the steam generator that was used by Tesla to allegedly provide
the power for 100 million volts. They also find a strange contraption with
dials and whatever, that once assembled, resembles an H.G. Wells type of
Well, as you probably have guessed, they open
a business that recovers precious historical artifacts for rich collectors.
The first two episodes deal with the recovery of the Spear of Destiny and
the Ark of the Covenant, with all of the dangers and thrills that go along
with it. Hope that helps, Bruce.
This was my first Dum Dum and I may never go to
another in fear that none will top it. I had some of the most fun I’ve
ever had in my life, playing Mucker Jeopardy (I was clueless most of time
since they concentrated on the Westerns I hadn’t read), competing in the
Tarzan yell contest (my traditional Tarzan yell sucks and I only competed
because a young girl who was behind the registration booth dared me: thank
God you could do an alternate yell, and I chose the horrid Herman Brix
yell, a real loser), getting to meet and hear Lee Chase speak about his
days with ERB (by the way I got to ask him if he remembered what book ERB
had sent the Hawaiian fisherman who had left a message in a bottle, and
he said he couldn’t recall, thought it was a current one, and told me that
it was actually him that found the bottle), and of course, getting to hear
Dr. Jane Goodall’s Cheetah yell and then the next night at the dinner,
to hear how Tarzan was such a major influence on her life. What a wonderful
Well, I guess we have to get back to our story
now. As you recall, Billings has just rescued a Kro-lu warrior who was
about to be put to the dance of death by hostile Band-lu warriors. Tom
and Ajor, his savage babe, approach the Kro-lu, who witnessed his rescue
still as as a statue.
F. Tom Billings (continued):
“The Kro-lu stood watching us with stolid
indifference. I presume that he expected to be killed; but if he did, he
showed no outward sign of fear. His eyes, indicating his greatest interest,
were fixed upon my pistol or the rifle which Ajor still carried. I cut
his bonds with my knife. As I did so, an expression of surprise tinged
and animated the haughty reserve of his countenance. He eyed me quizzically.
Oh, what strange fate has Caspak placed into the lap of Tom Billings. First,
there is the unheard conspiracy between the Galu and the Wieroo, and now
the ancient laws are again broken by a conspiracy between the Galu and
the Kro-lu, which we will discover, is just another part of the overall
conspiracy of the Wieroo to be the dominant species on Caspak. Can Billings
put a stop to all this Caspakian madness and restore order to its strange
“‘What are you going to do with me?’ he asked.
“‘You are free,’ I replied. ‘Go home, if you
“‘Why don’t you kill me?’ he inquired. ‘I am
“‘Why should I kill you? I have risked my life
and of this young lady to save your life. Why, therefore, should I now
take it?’ Of course, I didn’t say ‘young lady’ as there is no Caspakian
equivalent for that term; but I have to allow myself considerable latitude
in the translation of Caspakian conversations. To speak always of a beautiful
young girl as a ‘she’ may be literal; but it seems far from gallant.
“The Kro-lu concentrated his steady, level gaze
upon me for at least a full minute. Then he spoke again.
“‘Who are you, man of strange skins?’ he asked.
‘Your she is Galu; but you are neither Galu nor Kro-lu nor Band-lu, nor
any other sort of man which I have seen before. Tell me from whence comes
so mighty a warrior and so generous a foe.’
“‘It is a long story,’ I replied; ‘but suffice
it to say that I am not of Caspak. I am a stranger here, and – let this
sink in – I am not a foe. I have no wish to be an enemy of any man in Caspak,
with the possible exception of the Galu warrior Duseen.’
“‘Du-seen!’ he exclaimed. ‘You are an enemy of
Du-seen? And why?’
“‘Because he would harm Ajor,’ I replied. ‘You
“‘He cannot know him,’ said Ajor. ‘Du-seen rose
from the Kro-lu long ago, taking a new name, as all do when they enter
a new sphere. He cannot know him, as there is no intercourse between the
Kro-lu and and the Galu.’
“The warrior smiled. ‘Du-seen rose not so long
ago,’ he said, ‘that I do not recall him well, and recently he has taken
it upon himself to abrogate the ancient laws of Caspak; he has had intercourse
with the Kro-lu. Du-seen would be chief of the Galus, and he has come to
the Kro-lu for help.’” (PTF/5.)
“Ajor was aghast. The thing was incredible.
Never had Kro-lu and Galu had friendly relations; by the savage laws of
Caspak they were deadly enemies, for only so can the several races maintain
I am not sure if I get this part of Caspakian evolution for it sounds like
having first, second, and third generations involves childbearing, which
just doesn’t occur in Caspak, except among the Galu and Wieroo. If someone
else understands how this works, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think Tom Billings felt the same.
“‘Will the Kro-lu join him?’ asked Ajor. ‘Will
they invade the country of Jor my father?’
“‘The younger Kro-lu favor the plan,’ replied
the warrior, ‘since they believe they will thus become Galus immediately.
They hope to span the long years of change through which they must pass
in the ordinary course of events and at a single stride become Galus. We
of the older Kro-lu tell them that though they occupy the land of the Galu
and wear the skins and ornaments of the golden people, still they will
not be Galus till the time arrives that they are ripe to rise. We also
tell them that even then they will never become a true Galu race, since
there will be those among them who can never rise. It is all right to raid
the Galu country occasionally for plunder, as our people do; but to attempt
to conquer it
and hold it is madness. For my part, I have been
content to wait until the call came to me. I feel that it cannot now be
“‘What is your name?’ asked Ajor.
“‘Chal-az,’ replied the man.
“‘You are chief of the Kro-lu?’ Ajor continued.
“‘No, it is Al-tan who is chief of the Kro-lu
of the east,’ answered Chal-az.
“‘And he is against this plan to invade my father’s
“‘Unfortunately he is rather in favor of it,’
replied the man, ‘since he has about come to the conclusion that he is
batu. He has been chief ever since, before I came up from the Band-lu,
and I can see no change in him in all those years. In fact, he still appears
to be more Band-lu that Kro-lu. However, he is a good chief and a mighty
warrior, and if Du-seen persuades him to his cause, the Galus may find
themselves under a Kro-lu chieftan before long – Du-seen as well as the
others, for Al-tan would never consent to occupy a subordinate position,
and once he plants a victorious foot in Galu, he will not withdraw it without
“I asked him what batu meant, as I had not before
heard the word. Literally translated, it is equivalent to through, finished,
done-for, as applied to an individual’s evolutionary progress in Caspak,
and with this information was developed the interesting fact that not every
individual is capable of rising through every stage to that of Galu. Some
never progress beyond the Alu stage; others stop at Bo-lu, as Sto-lu, as
Band-lu or as Kro-lu. The Ho-lu of the first generation may rise to become
Alus; the Alus of the second generation may become Bo-lu, while it requires
three generations of Bo-lu to become Band-lu, and so on until the Kro-lu’s
parent on one side must be of the sixth generation.” (PTF/5.)
“It was not entirely plain to me even
with this explanation, since I couldn’t understand how there could be different
generations of peoples who apparently had no offspring. Yet I was commencing
to get a slight glimmer of the strange laws which govern propagation and
evolution in this weird land. Already I knew that the warm pools which
always lie close to every tribal abiding-place were closely linked with
the Caspakian scheme of evolution, and that the daily immersion of the
females in the greenish slimy water was in response to some natural law,
since neither pleasure nor cleanliness could be derived from what almost
seemed a religious rite. Yet I was still at sea; nor, seemingly, could
Ajor enlighten me, since she was compelled to use words which I could not
understand and which it was impossible for her to explain the meanings
We must not forget that this mountain of a man is involved in a conspiracy
with Du-seen to conquer her father’s land. How much easier that would be
if he already possessed Jor’s daughter. Surely Tom must be thinking along
these lines as he is challenged in his possession of Ajor.
“As we stood talking, we were suddenly startled
by a commotion in the bushes and among the boles of the trees surrounding
us, and simultaneously a hundred Kro-lu warriors appeared in a rough circle
about us. They greeted Chalaz with a volley of questions as they approached
slowly from all sides, their heavy bows fitted with long, sharp arrows.
Upon Ajor and me they looked with covetousness in the one instance and
suspicion in the other; but after they had heard Chal-az’s story, their
attitude was more friendly. A huge savage did all the talking. He was a
mountain of a man, yet perfectly proportioned.
“‘This is Al-tan the chief,’ said Chal-az by
way of introduction. Then he told something of my story, and Al-tan asked
me many questions of the land from which I came. The warriors crowded around
close to hear my replies, and there were many expressions of incredulity
as I spoke of what was to them another world, of the yacht which had brought
me over vast waters, and of the plane that had borne me Jo-oo-like over
the summit of the barrier-cliffs. It was the mention of the hydro-aeroplane
which precipitated the first outspoken skepticism, and then Ajor came to
“”I saw it with my own eyes!’ she exclaimed.
‘I saw him flying through the air in battle with a Jo-oo. The Alus were
chasing me, and they saw and ran away.’
“‘Whose is this she?’ demanded Al-tan suddenly,
his eyes fixed fiercely upon Ajor.
“For a moment there was silence. Ajor looked
up at me, a hurt and questioning expression on her face. ‘Whose she is
this?’ repeated Al-tan.
“‘She is mine,’ I replied, though what force
it was that impelled me to say it I could not have told; but an instant
later I was glad that I had spoken the words, for the reward of Ajor’s
proud and happy face was reward indeed.
“Al-tan eyed her for several minutes and then
turned to me. ‘Can you keep her?’ he asked, just the tinge of a sneer upon
his face.” (PTF/5.)
“I laid my palm upon the grip of my pistol
and answered that I could. He saw the move, glanced at the butt of the
automatic where it protruded from its holster, and smiled. Then he turned
and raising his great bow, fitted an arrow and drew the shaft far back.
His warriors, supercilious smiles upon their faces, stood silently watching
him. His bow was the longest and the heaviest among them all. A mighty
man indeed must be to bend it; yet Al-tan drew the shaft back until the
stone point touched his left forefinger, and he did it with consummate
ease. Then he raised the shaft to the level of his right eye, held it there
for an instant and released it. When the arrow stopped, half its length
protruded from the opposite side of a six-inch tree fifty feet away. Al-tan
and his warriors turned toward me, and then, apparently for Ajor’s benefit,
the chieftan swaggered to and fro a couple of times, swinging his great
arms and his bulky shoulders for all the world like a drunken prize-fighter
at a beach dance-hall.
Like we really believe him. Note how he left out any mention of Ajor. Of
course, Billings has little choice in the matter. Deception is another
common law in Caspak, as it is in our everyday world.
“I saw that some reply was necessary, and so
in a single motion I drew my gun, dropped it on the still quivering arrow
and pulled the trigger. At the sound of the report, the Kro-lu leaped back
and raised their weapons; but as I was smiling, they took heart and lowered
them again, following my eyes to the tree; the shaft of their chief was
gone, and through the bole was a little round hole marking the path of
my bullet. It was a good shot if I do say it myself, ‘as shouldn’t’; but
necessity must have guided that bullet; I simply had to make a good shot,
that I might immediately establish my position among those savage and warlike
Caspakians of the sixth sphere. That it had its effect was immediately
noticeable, but I am none too sure that it helped my cause with Al-tan.
Whereas he might have condescended to tolerate me as a harmless and interesting
curiosity, he now, by the change in his expression, appeared to consider
me in a new and unfavorable
light. Nor can I wonder, knowing this type as
I did, for had I not made him ridiculous in the eyes of his warriors, beating
him at his own game? What king, savage or civilized, could condone such
impudence? Seeing his black scowls, I deemed it expedient to terminate
the interview and continue upon our way; but when I would have done so,
Al-tan detained us with a gesture, and his warriors pressed around us.
“‘What is the meaning of this?’ I demanded, and
before Al-tan could reply, Chal-az raised his voice in our behalf.
“‘Is this the gratitude of a Kro-lu chieftan,
Al-tan,’ he asked, ‘to one who has served you by saving one of your warriors
from the enemy – saving him from the death dance of the Band-lu?’
“Al-tan was silent for a moment, and then his
brow cleared, and the faint imitation of a pleasant expression struggled
for existence as he said: ‘The stranger will not be harmed. I wished only
to detain him that he may be feasted tonight in the village of Al-tan the
Kro-lu. In the morning he may go his way. Al-tan will not hinder him.”
“I was not entirely reassured; but I
wanted to see the interior of the Kro-lu village, and anyway I knew that
if Al-tan intended treachery I would be no more in his power in the morning
than I now was – in fact, during the night I might find opportunity to
escape with Ajor, while at the instant neither of us could hope to escape
unscathed from the encircling warriors. Therefore, in order to disarm him
of any thought that I might entertain suspicion as to his sincerity, I
promptly and courteously accepted his invitation. His sastisfaction was
evident, and as we set off toward his village, he walked beside me, asking
many questions as to the country from which I came, its peoples and their
customs. He seemed much mystified by the fact that we could walk abroad
by day or night without fear of being devoured by wild beasts or savage
reptiles, and when I told him of the great armies which we maintained,
his simple mind could not grasp the fact that they
Leave it to ERB to take pokes at modern man’s crazy customs, making a total
savage afraid of a world where there is little fear of being devoured by
wild animals. I mean, which is worse?
existed solely for the slaughtering of human
“‘I am glad,’ he said, ‘that I do not dwell in
your country among such savage peoples. Here, in Caspak, men fight with
men when they meet – men of different races – but their weapons are first
for the slaying of beasts in the chase and in defense. We do not fashion
weapons solely for the killing of man as do your peoples. Your country
must indeed be a savage country, from which you are fortunate to have escaped
to the peace and security of Caspak.’
“Here was a new and refreshing viewpoint; nor
could I take exception to it after what I had told Al-tan of the great
war which had been raging in Europe for over two years before I left home.”
“On the march to the Kro-lu village we
were continually stalked by innumerable beasts of prey, and three times
we were attacked by frightful creatures; but Al-tan took it all as a matter
of course, rushing forward with raised spear or sending a heavy shaft into
the body of the attacker and then returning to our conversation as though
no interruption had occurred. Twice were members of his band mauled, and
one was killed by a huge and bellicose rhinoceros; but the
Thus Chapter 5 comes to a conclusion. After such a great feast, what possibly
can go wrong? Stay tuned, same channel, same time, to find out.
instant the action was over, it was as though
it never had occurred. The dead man was stripped of his belongings and
left where he had died; the carnivora would take care of his burial. The
trophies that these Kro-lu left to the man-eaters would have turned an
English big-game hunter green with envy. They did, it is true, cut all
the edible parts from the rhino and carry them home; but already they were
pretty well weighted down with the spoils of the chase, and only the fact
that they are particularly fond of rhino-meat caused them to do so.
“They left hide on the pieces they selected,
as they use it for sandals, shield-covers, the hilts of their knives and
various other purposes where tough hide is desirable. I was much interested
in their shields, especially after I saw one used in defense against the
attack of a saber-tooth tiger. The huge creature had charged us without
warning from a clump of dense bushes where it was lying up after eating.
It was met with an avalanche of spears, some of which passed entirely through
its body, with such force were they hurled. The charge was from a very
short distance, requiring the use of the spear rather than the bow and
arrow; but after the launching of the spears, the men not directly in the
path of the charge sent bolt after bolt into the great carcass with almost
incredible rapidity. The beast, screaming with pain and rage, bore down
upon Chal-az while I stood helpless with my rifle for fear of hitting one
of the warriors who were closing in upon it. But Chal-az was ready. Throwing
aside his bow, he crouched behind his large oval shield, in the center
of which was a hole about six inches in diameter. The shield was held by
tight loops to his left arm, while in his right hand he grasped his heavy
knife. Bristling with spears and arrows, the great cat hurled itself upon
the shield, and down went Chal-az upon his back with the shield entirely
covering him. The tiger clawed and bit at the heavy rhinoceros hide with
which the shield was faced, while Chal-az, through the round hole in the
shield’s center, plunged his blade repeatedly into the vitals of the savage
animal. Doubtless the battle would have gone to Chal-az even though I had
not interfered; but the moment that I saw a clean opening, with no Kro-lu
beyond, I raised my rifle and killed the beast.
“When Chal-az arose, he glanced at the sky and
remarked that it looked like rain. The others already had resumed the march
toward the village. The incident was closed. For some unaccountable reason
the whole thing reminded me of a friend who once shot a cat in his backyard.
For three weeks he talked of nothing else.
“It was almost dark when we reached the village
– a large palisaded inclosure of several hundred leaf-thatched huts set
in groups of from two to seven. The huts were hexagonal in form, and where
grouped were joined so that they resembled the cells of a bee-hive. One
hut meant a warrior and his mate, and each additional hut in a group indicated
an additional female. The palisade which surrounded the village was of
logs set close together and woven into a solid wall with tough creepers
which were planted at their base and trained to weave in and out to bind
the logs together. The logs slanted outward at an angle of about thirty
degrees, in which position they were held by shorter logs embedded in the
ground at right angles to them and with their upper ends supporting the
longer pieces a trifle above their centers of equilibrium. Along the top
of the palisade sharpened stakes had been driven at all sorts of angles.
“The only opening into the inclosure was through
a small aperture three feet wide and three feet high, which was closed
from the inside by logs about six feet long and laid horizontally, one
upon another, between the inside face of the palisade and two other braced
logs which paralleled the face of the wall upon the inside.
“As we entered the village, we were greeted by
a not unfriendly crowd of curious warriors and women, to whom Chal-az generously
explained the service we had rendered him, whereupon they showered us with
the most well-meant attentions, for Chal-az, it seemed, was a most popular
member of the tribe. Necklaces of lion and tiger-teeth, bits of dried meat,
finely tanned hides and earthen pots, beautifully decorated, they thrust
upon us until we were loaded down, and all the while Al-tan glared balefully
upon us, seemingly jealous of the attentions heaped upon us because we
had served Chal-az.
“At last we reached a hut that they set apart
for us, and there we cooked our meat and some vegetables the women brought
us, and had milk from cows – the first I had had in Caspak – and cheese
from the milk of wild goats, with honey and thin bread made from wheat
flour of their own grinding, and grapes and the fermented juice of grapes.
It was quite the most wonderful meal I had eaten since I quit the Toreador
and Bowen J. Tyler’s colored chef, who could make porkchops taste like
chicken, and chicken taste like heaven.” (PTF/5.)
(Continued in Part Sixteen)