The Archives of Horz
Copyright 2013 by Steven A. Warner
(With much thanks to Oberon Zell for his excellent maps of ancient Barsoom)
70 years after the events described in Llana of Gathol…
The invitation from the Warlord came as a surprise. John Carter’s reputation as an educated man with an inquiring mind was well-established, and he was an occasional visitor to the Archives of Helium. Yet despite this, and my position as Archivist of Helium, we had never had a chance to sit down together and engage in that sort of deep and leisurely conversation that was characteristic of an intellectual discourse amongst men. Our contacts so far had been only social at the various functions common amongst Helium's society, and had consisted of the usual trivial pleasantries commonly uttered at such events.
I was asked to appear on the morrow shortly before the second zode at the Warlord’s palace. The time indicated suggested this would not be a social visit.
Upon arriving at the Warlord’s palace I was immediately ushered into his presence, which interestingly also included Mors Kajak, the Jed of Helium. My curiosity was piqued.
John Carter bid me to sit. “Kaor, Saran Tal,” he greeted me.
“Kaor, John Carter. Mors Kajak,” I responded.
After a polite inquiry as to my and my family’s well-being he leaned forward. “You’ve previously told me of your interest in reconstructing ancient history based upon the fragmentary documents retrieved from the dead cities over the ages. How does your work go?”
“Slowly and with much frustration,” I replied. “What has survived that we can find is incomplete, poorly preserved, and of varying ages. In rare cases we have found fragments in different cities that may be fragments of the same document. What’s found in the oldest cities is usually the best preserved – newer cities and construction that followed the retreat of the oceans yield little or nothing of value. In some cases we can even compare these fragments to the few documents passed down through the ages within the Archives of Helium. Sometimes there is even enough present for us to glean a tantalizing glimpse of something new, but usually not.”
John Carter listened and nodded as I spoke. Mors Kajak, as was his way, watched me intently but said nothing. John Carter waited for a moment to see if I wished to say more. When I didn’t he spoke. “Saran Tal, we wish to entrust you with a secret. May we do so?
I must have started, as John Carter smiled at me and then looked at Mors Kajak. That the question would even be asked spoke to the seriousness of the matter. I felt a simple answer was best. "Yes," I replied.
Mors Kajak reached down to a silk bundle beside him. Unwrapping it, he revealed a torch similar to that commonly used within the pits of Helium and similar dark places. He handed it to me and, upon closer examination, I saw that the resemblance was superficial, and that this was no ordinary torch.
"Turn back the hinged cap, and then slowly push the thumb button up," said Mors Kajak. "You'll know when to stop."
I did as he bid. As I pushed the button up a central core became exposed, and immediately glowed with an intense white light that increased with continued motion of the button. I stopped pushing the button up just before the intensity of the light became painful.
I was speechless for several seconds, and could not tear my eyes away from the fascinating thing. Finally, I stuttered, "wh..where did you get this?"
The Warlord smiled. "It comes from one of those dead Orovar cities of which you are so fond." "Is this the secret?" I asked.
John Carter chuckled. "Hardly -- or rather, it is but a miniscule piece."
"Tell me more!" I demanded. I pushed the button down and closed the torch's cap. Mors Kajak reached for the torch and I, reluctantly, handed it back to him.
"The story is not long. It began seventy years ago when I left Helium for a time, as I periodically do. I..." John Carter began.
"You found something!" I interrupted.
"I did." He paused, seeing both my excitement and impatience. "Rather than spend any more time talking about it, would you rather see it yourself?"
I was momentarily speechless. There could be but one answer, which I gave. I was told to put my affairs in order such that I could be gone for an extended period of several weeks, and to return to the palace in the evening.
John Carter and I departed Helium after dark, yet not so late as to attract undue attention. He told me that we would take an indirect course to our secret destination, which he told me was Horz, so as to better preserve its anonymity.
We flew due north for two days, heading to an uninhabited area that would have been just north of the straits between the Toonol and Throxeus oceans in ancient times. During our flight he told me his story.
"Seventy years ago I visited the dead city of Horz. Much to my surprise, the city is not quite dead, and contains a hidden enclave of Orovars who have survived thru the ages."
The obvious question was writ large on my astonished expression.
"They have been able to survive in part because Horz is far from the more populated regions of Barsoom, and in part because they kill any travelers who stumble upon their Citadel within the city. Outside of the Citadel the city retains the guise of long-abandoned ruins. The city becoming isolated early during the receding of the oceans undoubtedly helped also, as I later found out."
"Through an interesting turn of events I was banished to the pits of Horz instead of being summarily executed, and then managed to escape. Eventually I returned to Helium through a series of adventures I will relate at another time."
"The important part of the story begins one year ago."
"I decided to return to Horz and establish friendly relations with their Jeddak. To avoid a repeat of my prior misfortune I took Mors Kajak into my confidence, and had him along with a battleship of Helium follow me to an intermediate destination where he was to wait for me one day's flight from Horz. Only Mors Kajak knew my mission, and no one else would be the wiser if I returned safely at a pre-arranged time. I then flew to Horz in a one man flier."
"I landed in a deserted part of the city, concealed my flier, and stealthily made my way to the Citadel. Deciding boldness was the best approach; I made my way to the gate and rapped sharply on it with the butt of my short sword. Eventually, the Dwar of the guard caused the gate to be opened. He recognized me from my last appearance in Horz, and I was admitted."
"The Jeddak, Ho Ran Kim, recognized me of course. He calmly confessed to a quandary -- the Horzans are a very decent and polite people even when they pronounce your doom -- in that I had previously been sentenced to death, but as the sentence was not carried out before it's automatic expiration I was no longer subject to it. However, I had returned to Horz and, as an outsider, I was theoretically once again under threat of death. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and thus there was neither law nor precedent as to what to do."
"At this point I offered the Jeddak some thoughts based upon my own background. I suggested that laws were meant to enforce behaviors necessary for order and survival, and that since my hasty departure had not resulted in Horz being inundated with visitors then perhaps the law might at least be set aside in my case. Ho Ran Kim considered this, and decided to hold off on making a decision for the moment."
“This was progress, and I let him stew on this for a few hours. In the interim, I was introduced to other Horzans, and was able to learn a bit more about the city’s history.”
“Horz was founded as a colony when Orovar explorers began to reach out to what was then known as the North Polar Continent. As such, it became rich early on as a center of trade where hunters in the vast Northern forests could exchange their harvests of furs. Horz also provided rest and repair services to the trading fleets that passed through it, and sea-weary sailors often jumped ship to try their luck as hunters or to simply become merchants and dock workers serving the fleets. Horz was in an interesting position – it was a long ways from the more travelled trade routes across a very deep and lonely part of Throxeus. This later helped to protect it as the receding seas caused its early isolation. By the time the Orovar civilization was collapsing Horz had become unreachable, and thought abandoned.”
“One of the most interesting things I found out was that Horz’s role as a point for exchange of trade goods soon expanded to a role for cultural exchange and learning. Eventually institutions for education were founded there. These institutions accumulated vast amounts of written materials from around Barsoom, and…”
I interrupted, “These materials still exist?”
John Carter continued, “Yes, they do. What is probably the only surviving Orovar library very much exists. I’ve seen a part of it. I’ve spoken with the Archivist of Horz, although he doesn’t claim that title. You will soon meet him.”
The remainder of our journey was uneventful. We shortly headed west for two days and then briefly south so as to approach Horz from the north. In modern times this area was almost completely uninhabited, with even the green men generally avoiding these unproductive, frigid, upland regions south of the polar ice.
We landed outside the Citadel’s gate, and ran our flier inside a deserted building that must have been a stable in ancient times. John Carter then announced us at the gate, and we were admitted to the Citadel.
John Carter had assured me that my presence would not be unwelcome. He had explained to the Horzan Jeddak that the safety of Horz could not be assured forever by remaining in hiding, and that an alliance with Helium would go far in ensuring this safety. In exchange for access to the ancient library the Navy of Helium would provide Horz with a fleet of fliers for protection. Together, John Carter and the Horzan “Archivist”, whose name was San Bim Ul, had imposed on the Horzan Jeddak and secured his agreement to these terms.
The Dwar of the guard bid a man run ahead to notify the Jeddak of our arrival, and we were shortly ushered into Ho Ran Kim’s presence. The Jeddak was seated at a desk, and standing next to him was a short, unassuming man in rather plain harness. My curiosity was assuaged when he was introduced
as San Bim Ul, who fulfilled the role of Archivist of Horz.
“We are grateful for your permission to access the archives of Horz, oh Jeddak,” offered John Carter. Ho Ran Kim nodded, and said “you shall soon come to a deeper understanding of the glorious accomplishments of the Orovars and the Horzan Empire.” He paused, and then made as to go on, “I…”
San Bim Ul cleared his throat and gently interrupted, “my Jeddak, perhaps we should then begin that understanding now?”
Ho Ran Kim glanced in an irritated manner at San Bim Ul but acquiesced, “perhaps so, then.”
“Go, Saran Tal. I will remain here with Ho Ran Kim and discuss the plans for the defense of Horz,” said John Carter.
San Bim Ul looked at me, and made a clear gesture to the archway.
We walked down a long corridor and then descended by a spiral ramp into the lower levels of the Citadel.
San Bim Ul chuckled, “You should thank me. I saved you from a long diatribe on the ‘ancient glory of the Horzan Empire’”.
I was obviously confused, and said “I would have liked to hear that, actually.”
We continued to descend. “Trust me, “he said, “You do not. Ho Ran Kim believes the common, rather romanticized legend of an Orovar-centric ancient past where the other races were our vassals, and we ruled a world-spanning empire. I held that belief myself until the archives were found, and I had had the chance to examine their contents. The truth is very different. Ho Ran Kim would have waxed poetic and wasted your time on a popular fiction, which he wholeheartedly believes. Horz does have a glorious past, but the seat of an empire it was most definitely not!”
We arrived on what was the lowest level of the Citadel, which appeared to be a large warehouse area filled with a wide variety of containers and sacks. San Bim Ul gestured me to one side, where tables and chairs had been set up in a well-lit area fronting a massive door. The amazing torches that had so captivated me in Helium were much in evidence.
I ran my hand along the shaft of one of the torches and looked at San Bim Ul. “Does the secret of these torches exist in the archives?”
“Possibly, but we haven’t found it yet. There is so much here, and so few actually motivated to understand it. We have lost more than just knowledge.”
“Perhaps it is fortuitous then that Barsoom has rediscovered Horz, at least in a small way?” I asked. “Perhaps,” agreed San Bim Ul. He gestured for me to be seated.
San Bim Ul began, “one million years ago Barsoom was peopled by three major races – the Orovars, the First Born, and the Okar. The Orovars owned the five oceans, and their trading fleets bound the other races together along with their language, whose use as a “trade tongue” eventually ensured its adoption as a common language.
“Early in this period the North Polar Continent was discovered. Horz was founded on the shores of this new land as its gateway, and rapidly grew wealthy as a seaport, for its shipyards that tapped the vast forests of the north, and for the industries that used the other resources of this land. The city rapidly grew and its wealth attracted a sizable population. Horz then expanded into a major center of culture and learning. From these times comes the legend of the ‘Horzan Empire’, which was really a league of races, cities, and trading fleets governed by economics and not a single Jeddak, and certainly not by Horz.
“However, the world was changing. Little signs were starting to appear that began to paint a nightmarish picture. Cities in shallow coastal areas began to have problems with the larger trading vessels running aground. Some of the higher elevation Okar cities were becoming uninhabitable. Over time, the weight of evidence became damning. Barsoom was dying.
“I have found evidence in the archives that suggests a pooling of the best and brightest minds into seeking solutions to mitigate the catastrophe, and to enable the survival of life on Barsoom. The Archives of Horz are one of those solutions, as were other archives that may still lay undiscovered elsewhere. These archives hold the accumulated knowledge, history and culture of the ancient races.”
I was stunned at these revelations. With but a few words, San Bim Ul had turned vague legends into history! I asked, “…and the Archives?”
He smiled. “Come.” He stood, turned, and with some effort opened the massive door next to us.
We walked through the doorway and entered a vast, well-lit cavernous space. Looking right and left, the space faded into the distance. Looking forward, I saw ranks upon ranks of shelves filled with all variety of books, scrolls, and indeterminate objects. I could not see the far wall of the space. I was speechless for I know not how long.
“How many are there?” I whispered, my eyes focused on the ranks of shelves marching into the distance.
“I do not know,” stated San Bim Ul, “I found this 50 years ago, and have read only a small fraction of the materials within. I could not read all of this within my lifetime. The entire space is about eight square haads, although other items beside scrolls and books reside here.”
“I was restless in my younger days,” he continued, “and wished to explore beyond what was everyday life in the Citadel. Since leaving the Citadel was not possible that only left one direction for me. I explored the depths of the Citadel, to include little-used and forgotten areas such as the store room behind us. I discovered the door through which we just walked behind a number of storage containers and managed to open it. The rest you know.”
“Are these readable?” I asked, as I gestured at the shelves.
“Very much so,” he said. “The ancients developed materials for writing that would last an eternity, and these have been left undisturbed and unexposed to the elements. Most are in an early Horzan dialect, but from what I’ve seen of your Heliumite writing they shouldn’t give you too much trouble. I would imagine that, as an Archivist, you are conversant with many written languages, and pick up unfamiliar ones rapidly.”
“That is true,” I said.
“Very well,” said San Bim Ul. “There are a few written in other languages, to include ancient Okar and First Born scripts. These latter you may find more difficult but I can show you how to translate them. There are also a few items the ancients never translated that I cannot fathom, and perhaps you can help me there.”
“Certainly,” I said. “Is there a guide or catalog to what is here?”
“Yes.” San Bim Ul gestured to a nearby shelf, and my education on the Horzan archives began.
Two days later John Carter sought me in the Horzan archives. I had set up a work area near the catalog, and had been working almost non-stop in ferreting out its secrets alongside San Bim Ul.
“Kaor, Saran Tal. What progress have you made?” he asked.
“Much of the time has been invested learning to read ancient Horzan,” I stated. “I’m past that now and trying to understand how the ancient catalog and archives are structured, and how accurate and undamaged they seem to be. Mostly, it’s good, as the archives appear to have lain fallow for at least 400,000 years. At least, I have found no evidence of materials added after that time. But I’ve only been able to read a few items so far.”
“How do the archives relate to events occurring across Barsoom half a million years ago?” John Carter asked.
I answered, “I’m still trying to work that out, and it will take time. I think the answers are all here, but it will take time to find all of them, or to be even sure as to which questions to ask. However I’ve found enough to say that, in that era, the Citadel was present over the archives, that the gulf fronting the city had receded, leaving it at first a river port and then just a city on a non-navigable river, and that the remnants of the city’s population not within the Citadel had moved down what had become a river gorge quite a distance toward what was left of Throxeus. I suspect that the population of ‘Lower Horz’ was eventually destroyed by the predations of green men.”
After a moment’s reflection, John Carter nodded, “I will be returning to Helium, but suspect I will meet with failure if I ask you to accompany me. Therefore I will leave you to continue your work here until my return. What aid may I bring you?”
“I need others of a similar mind to me – 5 to 10 to start but more later,” I said. I gave him the names of a few of my colleagues.
John Carter said “Very well. I will return within 30 days.” He turned and left. Within a few moments I had already forgotten he had been here.
Ten more days resulted in San Bim Ul bringing me to a workable level of efficacy in the Horzan archives. “What now?” he asked.
“Perhaps it would be best for me to extract a "deeper understanding" of the history of ancient Barsoom,” I said.
“Perhaps,” San Bim Ul chuckled, and gestured for me to follow him. We walked a considerable distance, to a far corner of the archives. San Bim Ul reached up, and selected several scrolls from a high shelf.
“These are some of the oldest readable items in the archive. I suggest you start with these.” We walked back to the work area, I sat down, and I reached for the first scroll...
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