JASON OF PELLUCIDAR
A story of the inner world
by Richard Senate
Pellucidar Art by Paul Privitera
Chapters 4 | 5 | 6
AMONG THE MAHARS
“How can that be?” I asked Weena.
“My father was king of the Thali and said I was to be joined to the first warrior who could set the head of a thag before my cave,” she explained. “This Fang, he managed to accomplish this thing, I know not how. He boasts of being a mighty hunter and a great warrior but know its a lie. I now believe he must have found a Thag that was sick or dead, that or he took the kill from another warrior. When I learned I was to mate with Fang I ran away into the forest. That was why I was not killed when the treacherous Gunt came to the village. I watched as they slaughtered many. I believe Fang betrayed them to the Armaz Tribe. He was with Gunt, who gave him many gifts and slave girls.” Now she broke into sobbing, overcome by the memories of her fallen people.
“This act of treachery have ended nay claim he might have on you,” I consoled her. “When I find this man I will personally kill him.”
“You will need to get to him first, for I have vowed on my fathers grave to avenge his death.” said Weena, her sobbing stopped now by her rage.
“Let us go to Sari and with the new army we can march on Gunt and Fang and destroy all of their band!” I said. She was pleased with this idea. But I had to explain why I could not sense my way home. Once she understood, she seemed to take pity on me, as if I was born with some terrible handicap. Once she realized how lost I was she pointed to the location of her caves, then, she pointed the other direction.
“Sari, is located that way,” she said. “I have seen maps and spoken with trade groups from the Empire.”
We cut up the meat of the fallen saber toothed tiger, while I took the hide. In Pellucidar, nothing goes to waste. We built a fire, using a flint and steel I had with me, and enjoyed the rather tough meat. After feasting, we found a comfortable tree where we could rest as lesser predictors finished off the carcass of the Thag. She slept in my arms, as we rested.
When we woke we found fruit and started on the long trip to Sari, I believed it would be a pleasant trip where I could get to know my companion better. The trip only lasted two sleeps until, when we turned a corner in the trail and we came face to face with several large ape like creatures. I knew them to be Sagoths. I could see they wore ornaments of the Mahars. These were the Mercenaries that still were loyal to the lizard creatures. I could see their were ten of them. They were armed with bronze axes and crude crossbows, a Mahar adaptation of the bows and arrows introduced to Pellucidar by my father and Abner Perry. The Sagoths quickly pointed these destructive weapons at Weena and I.
“Surrender! You are now prisoners of the mighty Mahars!” the leading ape-man bellowed. We both raised our hands as two of the huge creatures tied our hands behind our backs with thongs of leather.
“We are not your enemies,” I protested. “Why do you treat us like this?”
“Are you not of Gunt's tribe?” the Sagoth said. “They killed twenty-one of our people on a trade caravan, not ten sleeps from here. We are just Sagoths. We will take you before the all-wise Mahars, they will sort out what shall become of you two. If it was up to me, I would leave you bound for the next hungry Thag who walks this trail.”
“Then I am glad it isn't up to you,” I answered him. “ We are not of Gunt's tribe, we hate him. We are his enemy.”
“Yes, that is what I expect you to say,” the hairy Sagoth said, he was no one's fool, and they pulled us along the trail heading in an opposite way from Sari.
I noticed Weena was trembling with fear. The Mahars were reptilian monsters who once dominated all Pellucidar. Know eaters of human flesh, my father put an end to their rule. This seems to have been a pocket of them he hadn't known about.
As we were marched along, I tried to question the Sagoth leader but like all of his race, he was a taciturn fellow, given more to grunts and single syllable answers. From what I could see they were really angry with the Rebellion and Gunt. Perhaps I would have better luck with the Mahars. I was confident because I had, what my father called, an ace in the hole.
We were escorted down a long path by our brutish captors. They were traveling hard as if they had an appointment to keep. They kept a close watch on us as well as the real of the trail. I came to believe they feared they were being followed. The path ended at a valley where we started down the cliff lined formation.
“We are going to the hidden city of Mahara,” informed the Sagoth. “Once the Mahars has vast cities
all over Pellucidar. Once they had vast holdings of thousands of Sagoth warriors, and tens of thousands of slaves. Now all that is left is Mahara.”
My father had told me the tale many times how they used science and gunpowder to break forever the rule of the cold, merciless, Mahars. After the war, what few Mahars survived were permitted to flee north where they established themselves along the coast. That was until they fell victims of the savage Korsairs, decedents of 16th Century Pirates from the outer world. What Mahars survived this attack fled back into the Empire begging my father for someplace to settle. He took pity on them and granted them permission to dwell in an isolated part the Empire, as long as they took no more human slaves and vowed to no more eat the flesh of human beings. In time they began to trade with other tribes as well. I never knew where they ended up –but I speculated that this hidden city might be the last colony of the reptilians. It was their misfortune that they chose to build too close to the Armaz Tribe. Little by little I put together what happened. Gunt had slaughtered a number of them as they traveled. Perhaps over a hundred had been butchered by the rebels.
"I finished off (drop "off") my talk with a great finger flourish..."
We were lead up a valley that became narrower, and narrower, until it was stopped by a stone wall. At this point the valley was only ten yards apart. The path ended at the wall but I could see no gate or door. The only thing breaking the solid looking wall was a single large, square gun port where the maw of a thirty-two pound bronze cannon was pointed at us. I noticed, as we came closer, it was an old Korsair piece. I later learned it was captured by the Mahars and used to defend their city from attack. The cannon could blast anything and anyone coming up the valley.
“Open in the name of Song-To-To,” one of the Sagoths, bellowed and and magically a portion of the wall opened up. It was a skillfully hidden gate, made to look like the rest of the stone masonry. We were ushered in where more nervous Sagoths were waiting. These were armed with crude matchlocks and swords. They were copies of Korsair pieces I had seen in Sari.
We passed though the thick wall and were handed over to a larger Sagoth with many medals on his harness. He alone wore a sort of helmet, with a feather on the top marking him as the person in charge.
After conferring with the ape men who captured us. He returned and spoke to four of his Sagoths.
“Take them to her magnificence, Song-To-To” he didn't speak to us, obviously considering mere humans as inferiors. The burly guards nodded there heads, I guess as a form of salute, and started taking us down a paved pathway to what must be the city of Mahara.
Weena was scared, I smiled at her confident that we were in no danger even among these slimy, cannibals and their hairy soldiery.
“Don't worry,” I said to her, “Everything will be all right.”
“How can you say that?” she said in a low voice. “They are taking us before Mahars!”
“Yes,” I answered with a smile, “I'm counting on that.”
“Silence!” ordered a big Sagoth, “Be quiet. Its too hot to beat you, but I will if you do not stop jabbering.”
We were silent as we made our way into the city. There were buildings of stone, and huts. I even saw fields where crops were being cultivated. To my surprise, I saw many humans working in the fields and employed doing things. I later learned that these were not slaves but humans who drifted into Mahara, many as refugees of the rebellion. They were permitted to stay and were well fed as long as they worked for the Mahars. Much of the city was built underground and in its center was a lake stocked with fish. Canals had been dug throughout the city and we were ushered into a most elaborate structure, painted with geometric symbols and crude pictures of the Mahars themselves. In the cool building was a broad stairway that went down into the ground.
I knew from my father that all Mahars are female, their eggs fertilized artificially by a process known as “the Great Secret”. Once my father had stolen the secret and used it to barter his freedom and that of his mate, my mother. Down the broad stairway was a large room where, upon a stone rise waited three winged Mahars, the one in the center wore a sort of wide collar of green jewels and I took her to be the Queen. The four guards took us before her as the others flapped their wings nervously. They were tall reptiles, with a greenish skin and large unblinking eyes. It was hard for me to imagine a cunning intelligence behind those watery eyes.
The Queen used a sign language using both her human like hands. The Mahars have no oral speech, lacking auditory nerves of any kind. The big Sagoth acted as translator addressing us.
“The mighty Queen of all Mahars asks if you are of Gunt's Tribe?” boomed the ape man.
As the big reptile signed to him, I smiled for one of the things old Abner Perry had taught me was the art of speaking with my hands. I can say without boasting my sign language vocabulary was greater than any Sagoth and almost as complete as most Mahars.
I ignored the Sagoth and addressed the Queen herself signing to her the following:
“I am Jason, son of David Innes, the Emperor of Pellucidar. King Gunt is my enemy! He is in rebellion against the Empire and my father. This girl is called Weena, she is a victim of the terrible Gunt. Many of her people were murdered by Gunt's warriors. We seek your help in destroying the rebellion of the Armaz Tribe.” I finished my talk with a great finger flourish.
The winged Queen was surprised that I knew their language of the hand signs. She beat her wings and replied with her hands. Even the Sagoths were impressed, and it takes a lot to impress these simple ape men.
The Mahar ruler replied swiftly. It was hard to follow her quick hand motions.
“If you are the son of David Innes you are a friend of the Mahars. It was he alone who granted us permission to exist within the Empire. Many wanted us destroyed, and he spoke out for us. We owe him much. All we have is at your command; but we have little, few servants, a few Sagoth soldiers, few firearms, and we Mahars, we are not warriors and could be of little use in battle.”
“The Mahars may not be strong in numbers,” I answered in their finger language. “But they are strong in intellect. Let the mighty Mahars use this skill against their enemies.”
“Yes,” the Queen of all Mahars signed, “You have your father's wisdom and his way with words. I detect the style of Abner Perry in your signs. He lived with us for a time.”
“It was Perry who taught me the sign language of the Mahars,” I answered truthfully.
“We are secure in Mahara, from anything but a direct attack. We also have the incense of death.”
I had heard Perry tell me of the poison gas developed by the Mahars to protect their cities.
“With that,” continued the Mahar, “and the guns and cannon we discovered on a beached Korsair Galleon, we are safe behind the wall.” With that she pointed at a design painted on a wall to our left. After studying, what I first thought was an example of abstract art, I saw it was a map of the city. There were but three ways into the valley, two small passes where a few could hold off a thousand, and the long valley with its wall and cannon. The place looked impregnable. The Mahars had selected the site well.
“Where are the Rebels?” I asked and one of the two associated of the Queen, left the dias, and walked to the wall, as she did, the creature took a long stick and pointed to a spot not far away from the Mahar city. I could now see that the map was very accurate even depicting the poison river where I had faced defeat. This should not have surprised me—the Mahars have wings and can fly, enabling them to produce fine aerial maps. They had been observing the rebels for some time, so it seems.
The Mahar with the long pointer, placed the stick in her mouth and signed to me.
“Gunt and his men are at the Caves of the Thali,” she said using both hands. They appear to be gathering their forces for some reason. We believe it is for a move on Sari.”
“What is going on?” demanded Weena. I forgot she couldn't speak sign language as was mystified by what we were doing.
“Gunt's army is still at the caves of your people,” I told her. “We have nothing to fear from the Mahars. They hate Gunt worse than we do.”
“It would be hard to hate him more than I do,” answered Weena.
“What is she saying?” asked the Queen.
I translated her remarks to the Mahar ruler and detected a grim smile on the reptiles face.
“Perhaps one of your number can fly to Sari and warn them?” I signed.
“We are only good for short flights,” informed the Queen. “Such a journey would be long and hard, but not impossible. Perhaps a Sagoth could make the trip in better time?”
Just then a new Mahar walked in bowing to the Queen Song-To-To. She was beating her wings excitedly. She quickly started to sign to the ruler. I caught most of what she was informing her.
She was an observer set to watch Gunt's camp. She reported that the rebels had captured a dozen men who were marching down from the north, from the mountains of the Thipdars! I signed to the observer to describe there captives. As she did I realized that one of them was my father, David Innes! He was a prisoner of Gunt and his rebels!
THE CAVES OF THALI
I was stunned, Weena didn't know what was happening but she could see from my face that it wasn't good. I realized what had happened. My father had secured the sought after remains of the airplane and sent it to Sari by ship. The sea rout is a long and perilous one so he and a few trusted men elected to take the shorter march overland back to the empire. Not knowing of the rebellion in the north he walked right into their hands! I quickly signed to the Queen that we should do all in our power to rescue him. She nodded her head.
“What are you saying?” asked Weena. I quickly informed her of these new discoveries.
“I do not know how we can secure the Emperor?” signed Song-To-To. “ The rebel band is too strong.”
“I know a way we could enter their camp,” remarked Weena.
“What?” I stammered to the cave girl.
“You forget, they are in the caves of my people,” she told me. “I spent all of my life in those caves and I know of the hidden tunnels that lead from some of them to a small valley on the other side of the mountain. That hidden valley isn't far from here, maybe one or two marches.”
“Are you sure no one else knows of this hidden tunnel?” I asked. “Could Fang know of them?”
“Only Weena knows and my father, the chief. He was killed by Gunt's warriors.”
I quickly signed what we were saying to the Mahar ruler who beat her wings in excitement. What had seemed impossible was becoming a viable plan.
“But, I must go with you,” added Weena.
“No,” I snapped at her. “It would be much too dangerous. It is a risky plan at best. Little chance of success.”
“Without me,” she said with a smile. “There is no plan. You would become lost in the maze of caves and caverns within the mountains. Only little Weena knows the way.”
I was forced to admit she was right and let Song-To-To know that the cave girl would be acting as a guide. I could see a look of distrust on the reptile's face. She had been fooled before.
We gathered and planned the rescue attack. In time a complex plan was set in place. Twenty Sagoths and an equal number of Mahars would attack the camp from the southwest as a diversion as we would use the tunnels and with fifteen Sagoths, find and release my father and his friends, then use the tunnels to retreat away from the caves and quick march to the security of Mahara.
As we rescued my father the Mahars would fly over the camp and drop crude hand bombs as the Sagoths fired their blunderbusses from the forest. I hoped that would be enough to keep Gunt's men busy while we found My father and his party and got them out.
It was decided that a fast Sagoth named Nash would be dispatched to Sari with two messages to Perry and Ghak the Hairy One. Perry had devised a phonetic alphabet of 29 letters. He claimed it was the best thing he ever invented. Song To-To also wrote a message in the strange hieroglyphic script of her race. Perry had learned to read this when a prisoner of the Mahars in their library. It was hoped these messages would get though and bring help from Sari.
I was armed with my pistol and a spear, Weena was given a bronze tipped spear and dagger. The rest of out party, made up of Sagoth warriors were armed with crossbows, swords and axes. What few firearms the Mahars had were given to the group that would provide a diversion once they heard a single shot from my pistol.
We rested and feasted and then we were ready, Weena lead the strange army down the valley and back into the forest. The way wasn't easy and we didn't make good time. Still, we noticed Mahars watching over us, high in the sky. Song To-To was following out progress. We passed though several dry riverbeds and valleys until we had to go up a deep ravine.
“Here is the entrance to the caves,” she said with pride. “No one saw us, no one knows we are here.”
I leaned over and kissed her! “The Empire owns you a great debt.”
“Wait until we have David Innes before we do a victory dance,” grunted Slug, the Sagoth.
“Its not far,” she said, leading the group on to a section of the ravine with many trees and plants. She pulled away the vines and there was a round entrance of a dark tunnel. The cave was well concealed and I could see why it hadn't been discovered before. The entrance wasn't big, even Weena had a hard time getting in, I had to bend over and the Sagoths had the hardest time, fitting their large gorilla like forms though the hole. Slug helped each of his troop enter, by pushing , vivid insults, and a few kicks they got in. Fortunately, the cave became bigger as it progressed into the mountain. We had torches with us, and my flint and steel illuminated our way.
My father spoke of night and a fear of the dark but I never believed him. But, in the caves I began to understand what he was talking about. It was like being blind and our torches provided weak illumination as we slowly made out way though the tunnels. We saw signs of animal habitation, bones of predators but we thankfully didn't encounter anything large er than a rat or two.
After an hour we entered a large room with paintings done on the walls of wild beasts and strange men proving these caves were once known to people, but how long ago they were painted was anyone's guess. The cave art was interesting but we didn't pause long as we followed Weena though the labyrinth of caves. I saw she was looking for landmarks as she went, markings she made on the walls in the past. I had to admit she was correct, without her knowledge of the caves we would have become hopelessly lost.
“We would have been lost a thousand time without you,” I told her. The Sagoth Slug grunted in agreement. As we walked we noticed the cave going up slightly.
“We are near the caves of my people,” she whispered to the group. “be quiet least they hear us.”
We waited and made sure we were all together but in Pellucidar there is no such thing as time and a wait can seem like forever. I guessed that the Mahars had positioned themselves near the caves and crept forward with Weena. It became lighter and I feared we might chance upon some of Gunt's men when we got into the cave. The passage narrowed, as it grew light, then it ended in a small cave. There was no one there, fortunately, but we heard the voices of gruff men and smelled cook fires from nearby caves. I got on all fours and inched closer to the entrance and looked down. The whole area before the cave city was filled with warriors and brush huts.
“Go back, lead the others here,” I ordered her. She nodded and went back, taking a torch as she withdrew into the darkness. I tried to count the men in the camp but it was clearly over three thousand I estimated.
Little by little the Sagoths came into our small cave, excited but glad to be in the light once again. Weena lead the last one in to the cave, now full of our hairy troops.
“It is time,” I said, hoping I was right. I pulled my pistol and pointed it out the cave entrance, pointing it into the air I fired a single shot to alert the Mahars. I could only hope they were in place.
The sound of the pistol echoed off the cliffs, No one could tell where it came from. I could see confusion in the camp now. Rebels were getting their guns. For a long moment I wondered if my shot was premature. There was the crack of a musket, firing into the camp from the forest, it was followed by another and another. Gunt's men yelled out and returned fire. The yells filled the caves, As Mahars flew over dropping black jars filled with rocks glass and gunpowder. The fuses sparkled, and explosions rocked the little canyon where the caves were located.
“Now!” I yelled leading the Sagoths and Weena along a path, checking caves as we went.
“Let us avenge our dead!” grunted Slug.
“Gilak and Sagoth, let us seek revenge,” cried Weena.
Those who resisted were cut down, by Sagoth crossbows. Most were unarmed and seemed to welcome us, a few even joined our ranks taking weapons from dead tribesmen.
We made our way up a crudely carved stairway to the upper level. We saw one of the larger caves was guarded by to armed warriors. They were firing into the forest. No one took much notice of us as we progressed, we all were dressed much like Gunt's men, even Sagoths had joined the rebellion and a the sight of our hairy soldiers didn't cause alarm. Most of Gunt's men were focused on the Mahars and a suspected attack out of the trees.
We rushed to the cave, and were almost at the entrance when one guard, saw us, turned his weapon on us. I brought him down with a pistol shot to the chest. The other turned and, as his firearm was unloaded, he cast it away and drew a sword. I aimed at him and pulled the trigger, the pistol misfired. He was rushing me and I was about to throw my gun at him when an iron dart flew past me and buried itself into his chest, killing the man instantly. I turned and saw the smiling Sagoth Slug, with a discharged crossbow.
I rushed in to the cave fully expecting another warrior but all I saw was two other Rebel warriors, They drew single shot pistols but, we were on them and within moments they were cut down with bolts and sword. Beyond them were dark forms on the floor.
I heard a whistle from one. It was a tune my father always sang to me, “I dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”.
There were half a dozen men, covered with skins and tied up.
“The Emperor is here!” I yelled to the Sagoths and our few tribesmen. I rushed to the origin of the tune and pulled away the dark skins, It was my father.
“Thanks be you made it, Jason!” he cried, “now untie us and lets finish off this Gunt! I knew you would send a rescue party from Sari! How many men do you have son?”
“What you see,” I answered. Gesturing to the hand full of Sagoths, tribesmen and Weena.
I had my sword out and cut him free as the others did the same with the five imperial guards, that were held captive.
“This is it? Asked David Innes.
“I'm afraid so,” I answered him.
“Then we better get out of Dodge pronto!” he said. I nodded in agreement. He took up one of the rifles dropped by a dead rebel as the others helped themselves to what weapons they could, and powered horns as well. The Sagoths were reloading their crossbows.
“I know those medals on the gorilla-men,” remarked my father, “they work for the Mahars. I see they have the crossbows Perry designed.”
“The Mahars were attacked by Gunt as well,” I explained, “they are with us in this fight.”
“Is old Song-To-To still Queen?” he asked.
“Yes, and we better hurry if we hope to keep from being captured again.”
“You lead the way, son,” he said. We left the cave as the gunfire from the forest started to slack off. We made way back to the cave where we entered the camp, with Weena leading us. A few gun shots were directed at us, and one loyal Sagoth was killed.
We, ducked into the dark cave, taking torches we went deeper in, pausing only to light them. We could hear pursue but in time they fell back fearing they might get lost in the caverns. The five guards were all armed with recovered rifles, and they formed a perfect read guard. They were all expert marksmen and would have dispatched any who got too close.
We were deep in the caverns below Thali when my father told his story. As I suspected they found the remains of the airplane and brought it down the mountains. It was a challenge and several times they were attacked by Thipdars and savage men. It took many sleeps to bring the pieces of the wreck to the sea coast. There the Emperor chose to return by the shorter land rout to the Empire. There were more encounters with savage beasts and they all breathed a sigh of relief when they entered the territory of the Empire, they didn't know of the rebellion and walked right into a trap and were captured, about half of my fathers party were killed.
“They got the jump on us at a 'welcome feast'”, he explained. “Once we were tied up, Gunt himself told us he had shattered an Imperial Army and killed you. This Fang person said he personally shot you. I didn't believe him for a second. Gunt does have quite an army together and its growing all the time. He said he defeated the Mahars and the tribes of Thuria and Kali and he's planing on marching to Sari and crowing himself the new Emperor.”
“Gunt did defeat one Imperial force, that trickster Fang, lead us into a trap. He did ambush a Mahar/Sagoth party and raid the tribes of Kali and Thuria—but he hasn't conquered the Empire and I am sure if he gets to Sari, Ghak will have a few surprises waiting for him.”
“I think your right, son,” my father said as we made out way though the system of caverns.
“I sent a message to Sari,” I told him. “help should be coming north soon.”
“That's what I would have done.” he said placing a hand on my shoulder. “So the Mahars are helping us out, I never thought I would live to see this day.”
“They have a pretty good set up in Mahara,” I answered him. “Looks like its almost impregnable to attack.”
“It will have to be,” said the Emperor “I fear the full wrath of Gunt will fall on them.”
We left the caves and once in the sun light our spirits lifted. I had to admit, I didn't like the thing called darkness. Weena still led the way but I took time to introduce her to my Father. He thanked her for her service to the Empire. I could see he was impressed with the little cave girl.
“She lead though the caves for the rescue,” I told him. “Weena is a most remarkable woman.”
“I can see that!” My father said, taking her hand and kissing it. “Thank you for saving my life and the lives of my men.”
“She saved my life as well,” I added.
We progressed up the valley and into the woods, but from this vantage point we could see back towards the Caves of Thali, we could see a large army moving towards us. It was more a mob than an army, we could see they flew the red flag of the rebellion. I could see they even had a few cannons with them.
“How far are we from Mahara?” the Emperor asked.
“Not far, sire,” answered the Sagoth Slug. “We will be there soon.”
“I would guess that force to be approximately five thousand strong,” continued my father. “I see they have a couple of cannons too and a supply train as well. Its very impressive. How many Sagoths do the Mahars have in their city, Son?”
“Maybe a hundred, not many,” I answered sheepishly.
“Then it looks like we are in for some real trouble, if help doesn't arrive in time,” he said.
The march back to Mahara was quick, My father was impressed with the wall and cannon set up they had in the long valley. We were taken though the hidden gate and though the city to the underground palace of the Queen. We were received with cool refreshments and foodstuffs. The queen of the Mahars came out, lastly, to greet us.
“We joyfully welcome David Innes, Emperor of Pellucidar,” she fingered to us. “All we have is at your command in this war against the Armaz Tribe. None may say that the Mahars are not loyal and grateful to the Empire.”
My father had been a prisoner of the Mahars years ago and he knew the sign language of the lizard creatures as well as Perry. He replied in the sign talk, speaking the words so that all could hear what he was saying. His sign language was very stylish I noticed.
“I and all of this party,” he began, “thank you for sending out a rescue force to save us. But I fear in so doing you have brought down the wrath of Gunt upon you and your city. We will do all in our power to help you defend Mahara until help arrives from Sari.”
“You offer of help is most welcome, David Innes,” signed Song-To-To. “I do have good news to add. Many of the Sagoths who had joined the rebels have changed sides and now fight for us. The Sagoths are a simple folk but fiercely loyal to their ancient overlords. When they heard that Gunt was planning an attack on us, they would have none of it. Many are coming to the city to join our ranks. Many still had guns as well and powder. More are coming and now we have perhaps four hundred, as well as some Thalian tribesmen who come to avenge Gunt's attack upon them.”
“How much gunpowder do you have?” asked My Father as he looked at the map of the city.
“Sadly,” replied the Mahar. “We have very little. Most was used in the rescue of your group. Our scientists are working to make more but we are in short supply of saltpeter.”
“What of the incense of death?” Father asked.
“We have that as a last resort,” replied the Queen. “the winds in the long valley makes it hard to deploy at that site—the winds would blow it into the city. But in the other two entrances, it can be used with great effect.”
The Emperor studied the map for a long time.
“They will come up the valley in waves to breach the wall,” he said. “I and what men we have should be placed there, with a reserve behind them, in case they get though. We will need all the gunpowder you can give us. That will be the place that will decide the issue.”
“I quite agree, David Innes,” answered the Queen. “Some Mahars are volunteering to fly over and drop bombs upon them.”
“The powder might be better used in the cannon you have,” he answered. “What do you say, Son?”
“I agree, I want to be there with you when Gunt attacks,” I said.
“I know your skills as a marksman, I taught you myself,” he responded with a smile. “We will need you there.”
“I too want to be at the wall!” added Weena, “I have a spear.”
“Its too dangerous!” I protested.
“Nonsense,” countered My father. “If Gunt breaks though the wall, I'm sure he will spare no one. Better to die in battle than be slaughtered in defeat. Weena, we will get you a crossbow. I'm sure the Mahars have plenty of them.”
At that Song-To-To assigned us rooms to rest in the palace, Weena came with me, she wouldn't go with other members of her tribe but hung close to me.
“I want to be with you, Jason,” she told me. “I feel safe with you in this strange place. I expect the Mahars to jump out and eat me at any moment.”
“They have given up on eating people,” I told her.
“How can you be so sure?” she asked. I had to admit that I had no proof of this but their word.
I was given a small chamber carved into the rock. There was a bed and a few covers. A hole set with mirrors brought light into the cave like room. The mirror could be turned to make the light dim if one wanted to sleep. I took the time to clean my pistol. Weena was fascinated by the weapon with its cartridges so unlike the muskets used by her people. I didn't have many bullets left.
Some time later, a large Sagoth can and presented Weena with a small crossbow, and bolts.
“It is the smallest we have,” he said gruffly. “Most we use are to powerful for a Gilak to load barehanded—let alone a woman.”
Weena, put the nose of the weapon to the floor, took the string with both hands and drew it back, loading it. The Sagoth was impressed and with a grunt he left.
“I have used a crossbow before,” she confided to Jason. “Now, if I can only get Fang in my sights.”
“Not unless I get him first, as my father says, I have a bone to pick with that Fang.”
“A curious saying,” she said. “Do you wish to pick his bones? You sound like a Mahar.”
“Its just something my father says, he says many curious things.”
“Your father is a strange man,” she said.
“Just wait 'til you meet Abner Perry in Sari,” I informed her.
“You plan to take me to Sari?” she asked. “Do you take me, as your mate?”
“Only if you are willing.”
“Oh yes,” Weena said throwing her arms around my neck. “I will follow you anywhere you go! I have loved since you saved me from the Thag.”
“Mother, will like you, Weena.” I told her. “I think father has a favorable impression of you now.”
“When can we go?” she asked excitedly.
“When we have crushed Gunt and the rebellion.”
“Then, may we have a speedy victory!” she smiled. “Until then, we have each other.”
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