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Volume 4845

Hair and the Heroes: Barsoom
THE PRISONER OF ZODANGA
or, A Doom With a View:
a Hair-Raising Tale in Eight Scenes
by Brian Kunde


John Carter art by Paul Privitera

SCENE 3 ó A ZODANGAN DUNGEON

(John Carter is discovered in durance vile, behind bars, sitting on the floor of a dark stone dungeon and chained to the wall. Together in the same circumstance are Ledin Nogin, Mun Yunet and Slidhi Tov, three other prisoners who have in some fashion offended the all-powerful Guild of Assassins, and yet somehow lived to tell the tale. Temporarily, at least. A number of skeletons also occupy chains, in their cases, it is to be presumed, unnecessarily. Ulsios chitter and fetchingly display their balefully glowing eyes in the corners of the cell. In the foreground, outside the bars, sits Klapmin Kajez, a jailer, on a stool, a ring of keys looped through his belt, learning against the wall and snoring. This is the role for any actor in need of extra sleep, as thatís most of what he is called upon to do. Carter's hair, short in the first scene, is noticeably longer.)

Carter (plainly continuing a conversation): But what I donít understand, Ledin Nogin, is why weíre incarcerated in the first place. The Guild of Assassins isnít big on incarceration. I mean, when they donít like someone, they kill them, right?

Ledin (visibly mulling this over before arriving at a response): So?

Carter (explicating his point): We still live.

Ledin (visibly mulling this over too before arriving at a response): So?

Carter (sighing, cutting to the chase): Why are we here?

Mun (in a hollow, ominous voice): We are the lost, the forgotten, the idiots too dim to go down in a fair fight. It would have been dishonorable to kill us. Therefore we are here, awaiting the pleasure of the Assassinsí Guild, until they can figure out what to do with us.

Carter: My thanks, most redoubtable Mun Yunet. And how much longer is that likely to take?

Mun (in the same tone): There has never been an instance of the Assassins managing to figure this out.

Tov (conversationally): Itís the nature of their work. Theyíre rather narrow-minded; they have this idée fixe, to use your Jasoomian term. Rather dim when it comes to anything beyond swords and knives.

Carter (curious): How did you pick up the Jasoomian term, O Slidhi Tov?

Tov: Well, we ARE telepathic, you know.

Carter (dangerously): No Barsoomian is capable of reading my mind!

Tov: Oh yes. Forgot about that bit. Sorry.

Carter (magnanimously): It is forgiven. See that it doesnít happen again.

Ledin (finally catching on): You really ARE the Warlord, then?

Carter (sighing): Yes, Ledin Nogin. It is as I said. Should you doubt my bare word, I would point out that I am White, and therefore not a Red Man, and I have hair, and am therefore not a Thernó

Ledin (stubbornly): That donít mean nothiní. Therns have wigs.

Carter (patiently): Blond wigs, which come off. My hair is black, and stays on.

(Ledin suddenly seizes his hair and pulls.)

Carter: Ow! What was that for?

Ledin: Testing. Donít like Therns. They talked my grandfather into taking the pilgrimage down the River Iss and willing all his Barsoomly possessions to them. Said he was going to paradise.

Tov (judiciously): Well, if one assumes that paradise is the inside of a Plant Man, it could be arguedó

Ledin (stubbornly): Heard about that. Who hasnít, since the big scandal? Hate Therns.

Carter: Right. Black hair. Stays on. And I donít have a silly name like Ulysses Paxton, and therefore am not the other Jasó

Ledin: Whoís Ulysses Paxton? Ulysses Paxton is a silly name.

Carter (irked): Quite. And as I was explaining, thereforeó

Tov: Ulysses Paxton is Vad Varo. Famous surgeon. Married a princess.

Ledin: Lotsa people marry princesses.

Tov: Donít they, though? It all comes of the fragmentation of the polity, and the consequent exponential increase of royalty. Canít walk down the street without tripping over a princess these past few centuries. There ought to be a lawó

Carter (firmly): And THEREFORE I cannot be the OTHER Jasoomian resident on Barsoom, and THEREFORE I must be John Carter, gent., late of the Confederate Army, Virginia, more recently of the Thark Horde, the Royal House of Helium, and the Overlordship of All Barsoom, at least in regard to military affairs, the late confrontation between Helium and its allies against Ptarth and its over the small matter of the misplaced Princess Thuvia notwithstanding.

Ledin: Whatcha doiní here, then?

Carter (sighing): Weíve been through all that. Why donít we try something new? What are YOU in for?

Ledin (visibly mulling this over before arriving at a response): I dunno.

Tov: He was stupid. An embarrassment to his family. Beat an Assassin hired by his own father to do him in and save the family further embarrassment and then tripped over his own feet, knocking himself out. He was taken by the backup team, who were unable to decide what to do about him.

Carter: And you know this how?

Tov: Um. Iím telepathic?

Carter: Ledin has no mind to read.

Ledin: Hey. . .

Tov: Okay, okay, you got me. Iím the Assassin his father hired. Iím here for failure, all right? Iím a standing offense against the honor of Assassinry for flubbing such a simple assignment! Happy now?

Carter (shrugging): I shall not be happy until I am free, and once more in the arms of my princess.

Tov: So weíve heard you say. But we never get the details. It doesnít exactly help while away the time in here.

Carter (stiffly): Her charms speak for themselves.

Mun (in the usual ominous tone): The way we are written, they would have to.

Ledin: Iím bored.

Tov: Blame it on the Warlord. He doesnít want to help while away the time by retailing salacious bodily details of his mistress.

Carter: Wife.

Tov: Whatever.

Carter: If youíre bored, Ledin Nogin, why not while away the time with exercise, as I do? It helps me maintain the muscles of a Fro Zetta painting while in captivity.

Ledin: Who is Fro Zetta?

Carter: A portraitist attached to the court of Helium. Quite famous.

Ledin: Never heard of him.

Tov: Who can exercise here, anyway? Weighed down by these heavy chains we canít even stand.

(With a rattle of heavy chains, Carter stands. His expression is smug.)

Tov: Oh yeah. (Mumbling): Issus-damned freaky Jasoomian musculatureÖ

Carter (doing squats): With the Carter system, you too can be strong like me! Let me make a man out of Mun!

Mun (hollowly): Exercise is pointless. We are all doomed.

Tov (shying a bone at an inward-creeping ulsio, which skitters off): Be wary, O Warlord, lest an ulsio bite off something important.

Carter (stops and sits back down, plainly annoyed): And Mun is here why?

Tov (shrugging): Beats me. My theory is, he just plain bugs people.

Ledin (repetitively): Iím bored. How long have we been here again?

Tov: Long time. And youíre not making it any shorter.

Mun (ominously): We shall never emerge, for we are doomed. . .

Carter: Is he always like this?

Ledin and Tov (in chorus): Always!

Carter (addressing Mun): Look, why must you ever be so gloomy? We yet live. Where there is life, there is hope. The king could die, or the horse could learn to speak, as they say.

Ledin: What is aó

Carter (impatiently): Itís like a thoat, only smaller and with fewer legs. Do you mind?

(Ledin shrinks before Carterís flashing gaze. Carter turns back to Mun.)

Carter: Come, Mun. Be of good cheer.

Mun (venomously): Thatís what HE said. (Indicates the skeleton next to him.) Thatís what they ALL said, and look at them now. And I alone remain to tell thee. We are doomed, DOOMED, I tell you.

Tov (exchanging a look with Carter): Kicked off from listening to him whine all the time, I fancy.

Mun (suddenly matter of fact): No, I ate them. Oft-times they forget to feed us, here.

Carter: It HAS been a while, hasnít it? (Raising voice): Oh, Jailer!

Kajez (snorts, wakes, and peers wearily at the prisoners): Whaddaya want?

Carter: Oh, not much, most excellent Klapmin Kajez, just food, water, that sort of thing.

Kajez: Whadda I look like, a Tur-cursed commissary? I just watch ya, till Iím relieved. Toogís the one brings your grub.

Carter: And a fine grub-bringer he is, when he sees fit to trouble himself. Which he hasnít, in some time. YOU havenít been getting any either, I notice.

Kajez: I eats when Iím off duty. When Iím on duty, I watches ya, Ďcause Ur Jan says youíre sneaky bastids. Now shaddap aní let me sleep. (Drops off.)

Tov (dryly): A talented jailer indeed, to observe so intently while in a state of repose. It appears no repast will be forthcoming, O Warlord. So howís the escape plan coming?

Carter (airily): Something will present itself. It always does.

Tov: Thatís your plan, is it?

Carter: Have you have a better one?

Tov (shrugs): I am still here, am I not? Had I, I would have absented myself long since.

Carter: You will follow my lead, then?

Tov: Are you going to lead, then?

Carter: Itís what I do.

Tov (nonchalantly): Then yes. Beats us all rotting here.

Mun (hollowly): We shall all rot here!

Tov: I rest my case.

Ledin (sullenly): Iím going to sleep.

Carter: Might as well, with no food. Whose turn is it to watch for ulsios?

Tov: Mun Yunetís.

Mun (glaring at Tov hungrily): Doom.

Tov (hastily): But because I am such a splendid fellow, IíLL do it.

(The others lie back amid their chains and close their eyes. Slidhi Tov keeps watch. The jailer snores.)
 

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