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Volume 0536

A PANTHAN'S STORY
Matthew Bluhm
Copyright © 2003
Log report: Panthan Kor Voral this date applied for a position as kador at the Imperial Palace. As dwar of the Palace Guard I interviewed him. I asked the panthan about the details of his most recent employment. The following is Kor Voral's report. Copy forwarded to the Warlord's Aide.
Logo of the ERB National Capital Panthans
My name is Kor Voral and I am a panthan. I have traveled across Barsoom selling my services with my sword to any who could pay me and to a few who could not. I have been under the employ of princes in huge cities and of farmers living solitary lives along the canals cut through the bottoms of the dead seas. I have fought for just causes against unjust men. I have battled many, from wild calots to some of the best swordsmen on Barsoom. After fulfilling my duties to my employers with the best of my abilities, I went on to search for my next adventure.

The life of a panthan is a lonely one. A panthan has few friends since after he has completed a mission he must move on, away from any acquaintances he has made to another place. Even if I made friends with another panthan, who's to say I would not fight that same man while in my next employ. A panthan has no time or a place for a wife and by nature avoids contemplating the pleasure of marital lure. There is one exception to my lonely existence, though. I had heard once that the great John Carter, Warlord of Mars had a pet calot which had gone into battle with him on several occasions. I gave the matter some thought and came to the conclusion that a pet calot would be the perfect remedy for my solitude. A calot could be a traveling companion that would watch out for itself. It could assist me in battle and it would never voice an opposition with me. I visited the market while I was in Tjanath and found a merchant selling young calot pups. I purchased one. Over the past few years I trained my calot during the breaks I had between duties and he has proven to be a fine addition to my arsenal and good company during my long journeys across this dying planet. I named my calot Padwar, since I felt he fit the role as my lieutenant quite well.

Recently, while living in Jahar, I was in the employ as a body guard by Manor Fallarok; the owner of a facility that harnessed radium and encased it within bullets for pistols, rifles, and larger guns; making the projectiles explosive. Perhaps you have heard of him? His was a lucrative business indeed upon a world as war-like as ours. However, he was as jealous as he was wealthy. His wife was stunningly beautiful, but I am afraid she was lured to her husband more by his wealth and power and less by his personal attributes. Manor Fallarok sensed a fondness of his wife for me and I for her even though I still contend that this was most untrue. Manor Fallarok had his suspicions though and I learned through a mutual acquaintance that he was looking to hire an assassin to end my life, so I terminated my own employment. I planned to leave Jahar for the safety of anonymity in another city but waited to leave, knowing that assassins would guess my motives and attempt to track me. To prevent their discovery of me I waited to move from Jahar until I felt that I would be following any assassin searching for me instead of the other way around.

Padwar and I were making our way across the soft ocher moss spanning the bottom of a dry sea, when I heard a familiar sound.

There were shouts, screams, and the clanking of metal. Battle sounds! A thrill rose up from my heart to my head. It seemed that my next adventure might be close at hand! I was at the base of a wide hill and the sounds were coming from the other side. I climbed to the top in order to investigate. I crouched low to the ground as I reached the summit of the hill and lay on my belly so I would not attract any unwanted attention from the participants of the skirmish. I strained my eyes to see the battle that was taking place 400 ads from me. I saw what looked like a small caravan of zitidars and thoats tended by a number of red men. They were engaged in a battle with the bane of Barsoom's dead sea bottoms, the monstrous green men. It did not look to me like the green men vastly outnumbered their adversaries so I felt they were probably members of a small scout detail. Still, there were enough of them to overpower the men in the caravan.

Just then, Padwar, who had been crouching beside me, began to growl in a low guttural tone. I glanced over at him and noticed that he was not watching the battle but that his attention was focused directly behind us. I have heard that growl before and have learned it most assuredly means trouble.

I leapt to my feet and whirled around, drawing my long sword in the process. A green man, mounted on a thoat, its hooves swift and silent on the mossy vegetation of the sea bottom, was approaching. He held his spear with his lower set of limbs and pointed it directly at me.

Padwar charged at the thoat and grasped its throat within his jaws. The thoat reared and bucked the green warrior off its back. The green warrior drew his long sword before he stood up, but I did not give him a chance to use it. In a flash I was on him and thrust the point of my blade through his heart.

I noticed then the metal on the harness of the green man which denoted that he was of the Torquas tribe, a tribe that has been known to occupy this particular area on Barsoom.

I called to Padwar who released his grip from the thoat's neck and ran back over to me. The thoat reared up on its hind four legs, turned and ran the opposite direction, bucking as it went.

"Come on, Padwar!" I shouted as I charged over the hill to join the battle of the caravan against the remaining green warriors.

As I reached the battle site I found that several of the red men I assumed to be attached with the caravan had already given their lives to the swords of the green men. However, there were only a few slain green corpses about. As I approached I caught the eye of the nearest red warrior and we nodded in recognition to each other. It did not matter whether I was friend or foe to the caravan. Red men instinctively know to assist any fellow red men when put upon by the green warriors. Any differences that might be between the red men can be worked out later after the threat of the green men has passed. I faced the nearest green warrior.

Padwar and I work together when trying to dispatch these green behemoths. Their height, generally more than an ad above me, and the presence of a second set of limbs gives these brutes a distinct advantage over me. I have found that I can even the odds by forcing my green antagonist to split his attention between both Padwar and me if necessary. We approach our common adversary from either side. If the green man attempts to draw any other weapons other than the one he has engaged me with, Padwar will act by clamping his mighty jaws down on the arm drawing the second weapon thereby helping me to focus my attention on the first weapon at hand.

This is just how my engagement with the first green warrior occurred. I was holding my own against him and his long sword when he started to draw his short sword. Padwar noticed this and grasped the green man's limb that had just drawn the short sword within his mouth, between three rows of jagged teeth. The green man howled in pain and tried to strike Padwar with his long sword. I then jabbed the green man's right leg. He went down on his right knee. With a mighty swing I decapitated him with my long sword. As his head rolled onto the scarlet soaked ground, Padwar and I engaged our next foe.

The battle waged for about a zode longer. Both Padwar and I finished the battle with only minor cuts and bruises.

While I was cleaning my sword on the carcass of a slain green warrior, the red warrior I had noticed when I first entered the battle approached me. He appeared to be another panthan. His harness was of plain leather which bared the insignia of a merchant. He wore no other trappings. I noticed he wore sheaths for two knives instead of the single knife standard to the accouterments of all red Barsoomian males. He was shorter than me and of slighter build.

The red warrior greeted me by saying "Kaor," and placing his hand on my shoulder, the standard Barsoomian greeting.

"Kaor," I said as I returned his greeting and I placed my hand on his shoulder as well.

"What brings you to the fray?" he asked.

"I am a panthan," I explained. "I have recently left the city of Jahar and am now on my way to Hastor. My name is Kor Voral. This," I said motioning to Padwar, "is my traveling companion Padwar."

"My name is Salot Tar," said the warrior. "I too am a panthan, the dwar of the panthans currently under the employ of the merchant Sal Thafsol. This caravan has also recently left the city of Jahar and is on its way to Hastor."

"It is by fortunate coincidence that I was able to help you," I remarked.

"It would seem so," Solat Tar said.

"Kaor!" A man called as he made his way over to us by sidestepping the bodies of the dead and wounded. He was a heavy man who had obviously enjoyed excessive food and drink often during his lifetime. His harness was adorned by brilliant jewelry as well as the merchant's insignia. After he had approached Solat Tar and I he placed his hand on my shoulder.

"My name is Sal Thafsol and I am the owner of this caravan. I thank you for your chivalrous deeds in helping my panthans protect my caravan. As you can see I need to replenish my ranks so you will start working for me immediately. You can take an insignia from one of the poor souls who have departed to Issus," he said gesturing to the slain members of the caravan. "Now let us leave this grotesque scene for a more peaceful backdrop in which to dine. I am starving!" With that he was off shouting orders at the other survivors of the attack by the Torquasians.

Sal Thafsol had not asked me whether I wanted to work for him or not and no terms of employment were discussed. He did not even give me a chance to speak my name. I decided to go along with the caravan, though. I was offered greater protection traveling to another city in a group of armed men and I had an opportunity to make some extra money, whatever that wage might be.

The caravan was made up of ten zitidars and ten thoats. Each zitidar was pulling a high-wheeled cart. Each cart was piled high with large skeel crates which were tied down with ropes. Sal Thafsol, the merchant, was carried inside of an ornately carved skeel carriage by eight slaves, four in front and four in back. The merchant's wife, Mal Vishal, who was as large as her husband but in an abundantly female way, rode in her own carriage drawn by her own set of eight slaves. There were a number of panthans that circled the perimeter of the caravan while it was on the move.

After the caravan had traveled some distance from where the battle took place and the sight of the bloody remains of the fallen had been obscured by a low hill, it stopped in order for a slave to serve food.

While our lunch was being prepared I sat on the ground next to Solat Tor and another panthan, whose name I learned was Turrell.

I noticed that Turrell's abdomen was wrapped with bandages. "How are you fairing?" I asked nodding at the wound.

"I will be well soon enough. That Torquasian son-of-a-calot slashed me with a knife while I was paying attention to his long sword."

Padwar sniffed both Solat Tar and Turrell with his great snout and then sat on the ground by me.

"I think we managed to kill all the green men in the party," Turrell said.

"I hope so," said Solat Tar. "It would be very unfortunate for us if any escaped back to Torquas and returned with their entire army."

A slave walked by us carrying a large golden serving tray. On it was an ornate golden pitcher and two glasses and the fruit of an usa tree which was cut into bite size portions. The slave carried the tray over to the merchant and his wife who were still seated upon the thrones inside their carriages.

"Of coarse Sal Thafsol and his wife, Mal Vishal, are served first, even though they contributed nothing in our last battle, except for shouting useless orders from underneath a chariot."

"What is Sal Thafsol carrying in these crates?" I asked.

"None of us know for sure," answered Solat Tar.

"He has never deemed it necessary to tell us panthans," added Turrell. "He may greet us with a smile but beneath that slimy grin lurks his true loathsome feelings for our kind."

"It has been rumored among the slaves of the caravan that Sal Thafsol had made a deal with the Torquas tribe to sell them radium bullets. They had agreed on a price, but Sal Thafsol raised the price before he would let the Torquasians have his cargo. That is why the Torquasians attacked. They felt that they had been betrayed by Sal Thafsol," Solat Tar explained.

The merchant caravan continued on its slow march to Hastor after we had all finished our meals. Just before night fell and Barsoom's moons rose, the caravan broke for the evening. Slaves set up a tent for Sal Thafsol and a separate tent for Mal Vishal. Solat Tar picked several panthans, one of them was Turrell, to guard the camp throughout the night.

I threw my sleeping silk on the ground and laid down on it. Padwar kneeled down beside me. I was exhausted and I fell asleep almost immediately.

I was awoken by a loud commotion. It was not yet light but the moons had set and day would break soon. Slaves and panthans around me were stirring; thoats and zitidars shuffled and bayed nervously. The center of the commotion was around the merchant's tents so I got to my feet and made my way over to them, intending to find out what was causing the disturbance. As I approached the tents, I noticed the prone and bleeding body of a slave next to Mal Vishal's tent. Solat Tar came out of Sal Thafsol's tent and walked over to me.

"What has happened?" I asked.

"Last night, while we slept, Mal Vishal was abducted. With her it seems Turrell was also taken. A slave and another panthan on guard duty were slain," he explained. "Obviously, we did not kill all the green men in the party."

"What has Sal Thafsol decided to do about this situation."

"Sal Thafsol feels that he cannot spare any of his men to find her at this time. She could have been taken in any direction. After the caravan reaches Hastor he will hire a force to return and find Mal Vishal."

I was shocked by Sal Thafsol's decision to leave his own wife behind as a plaything for the green horde while he continued on his way to safety.

"I will go," I stated. "It is my duty not to allow any member of the red race to fall into the horrible hands of the green men. The rest of the caravan may continue on. I will not need any help except for Padwar."

"I will inform Sal Thafsol," said Solat Tor and with that he returned to Sal Thafsol's tent.

I walked back to where I had slept and rolled up my sleeping furs in preparation for my departure. Solat Tor approached me. "Sal Thafsol is most displeased with your decision, which he calls insubordination. He says if you return to the caravan, you should not expect the heavy wages you were promised."

Promised, indeed, I thought. I was never actually promised anything from Sal Thafsol. I was also beginning to think that he did not want his wife to be found.

"My mind is made up Solat Tar. Somebody needs to save her."

Solat Tar asked "How will you know what direction to go?"

"Padwar will find the way," I said.

Padwar sniffed the ground around Mal Vishal's tent and then lifted his head with his blunt snout pointed in a northern direction. I knew he had sensed drops of Turrell's blood that had dripped from the wound in his abdomen. I commanded Padwar to follow the trace of Turrell's blood and soon we had left the caravan, which was breaking camp in preparation for another day's journey towards Hastor.

Padwar and I kept going in a northern direction, I at Padwar's ten heels while he swiftly scoured the ground for the scent of Turrell's spilled blood. For three days we traveled over low lying hills and eventually a city came into view lying in the direction Padwar seemed to be leading me. The land dipped down into a bowl as we continued on. As we drew near, it occurred to me that the city must have been deserted for I saw no sign of life. There were no fliers buzzing overhead or any sounds that usually emanate from all populated cities. I thought that this would be just the sort of place a green man would take his prisoners since green men use these old cities for their bases of operations as they prefer not to build anything themselves. We were walking up the far lip of the basin towards the city when I decided that Padwar and I should spend the rapidly approaching night outside of the city. Green men are not the only Barsoomian creatures who have adopted these deserted ancient cities as their homes. The great white apes have also made these places their habitats. Wishing to avoid these creatures that usually hunt at night, I decided that Padwar and I should wait and enter the city in the morning, after the sun had risen.

The night went by without any incident. Padwar and I awoke once to the sound of white apes calling out to each other with shrilling screams from within the city, but they did not sound close to us.

Morning came and with the rising of the sun Padwar and I made our way to the rim of the basin.

The city before us had been one of the many sea-port cities that used to hold the ancient populations of Mars before the waters receded and the green men appeared to drive its inhabitants away. Padwar and I passed by a pier built by ancient hands out of skeel which now stood as a monument to a once proud and now by-gone age of sea-faring. At the tops of the posts were intricately carved heads of sea creatures long extinct upon Barsoom.

The banks of the shoreline were too steep for any Barsoomian to climb. Padwar followed the blood trail to a landing made of skeel planks. We followed the landing up to a boardwalk over-looking what was once the sea, and now only vegetation, on one side and the city on the other.

Turrell's trail lead us off of the boardwalk and up a broad avenue into the city. We passed by large buildings with delicate carvings on their ersite walls. These buildings must have been the store houses for the harbor. The avenue made a slight assent towards the center of town. Padwar and I followed the avenue and passed through a deserted market place. The buildings on either side of the avenue had either an emblem embossed on the outer walls or symbols carved on signs still hanging over their doorways. The emblems were visual representatives of what had been sold at a particular shop, whether it was fish, arms, clothing, or anything else that had been shipped to this once mighty sea-port during ancient times. We passed by small round huts that were clustered around a cylindrical tower. The tower stood about 20 ads in the air. There were carved hieroglyphics in the tower's ersite walls surrounding the tower from its base to its tip. At its peak there was an oval aperture; wider than it was tall. It resembled a single large eye watching over this area of the city.

Padwar stopped at an open doorway into the tower and looked up at me, signaling to me that the captor or captors of Mal Vishal and Turrell had brought them to this tower.

I commanded Padwar to remain outside to guard the entrance. I did not want to be surprised by any of the captors compatriots, should any more arrive. Carefully, I entered the tower. Immediately to my right was a ramp following the outer edge of the wall of the tower as it curved upward. On the inner wall of the ramp was another open doorway. I looked inside and saw an empty room covered in dust which evidently had not been disturbed in a long time; probably centuries. I continued on up the ramp. At each floor there was a doorway into a room the size of the circumference of the tower. In some of the rooms there were tables and chairs scattered about. In others there were boxes and crates but the dust covering the floor revealed to me that no one had entered any of these rooms for quite some time.

I continued on to the summit of the tower. There was a wall directly in front of me and a doorway to my left. A ray of light was cast from the doorway of the room onto the floor of the passageway, leading me to believe the room to my left was the observation floor I had noted from the outside before I entered the building.

I put my back against the inner wall of the passageway and turned my head into the doorway in order to look into the room without drawing any unwanted attention. I recognized the round prostrate form of Mal Vishal an ad in front of me. She was on top of a sleeping silk. Her head was turned away from me so I could not ascertain whether she was conscious or not but her chest was rising and falling slowly, which indicated to me that she was breathing and still alive. I did not notice any bruises or cuts on her. There was a man standing at the opposite end of the room with his back to me, looking out of the middle of the aperture I noted before I entered the tower. I noticed he was bandaged about his abdomen which meant to me that he must have been Turrell. He was still armed. I thought it strange for an abductor to allow his abductee to keep his weapons.

I did not see anyone else in the room with Mal Vishal or Turrell, but I could not see the entire room from where I was standing. I would have to enter the room in order to face who had abducted Turrell and Mal Vishal.

I put a hand on my long sword but I did not want to draw it and take the chance that the noise of steel sliding on steel would alert anyone to my presence. Silently, I crept into the room and I hastily glanced from side to side. I found that besides Mal Vishal, Turrell, and myself, there were no other people in the room.

Just then a loud shrilling screech cut through the silence. It seemed to originate from outside of the tower and it followed up the ramp to resound throughout the room. Mal Vishal stirred and quickly raised herself up on her elbows. She gasped when she saw me. Turrell whirled around and his eyes met mine. They grew wide with surprise and he quickly drew his pistol, leveling the barrel at me.

"Don't move!" he commanded.

I froze in my spot.

"Put your hands up." he said.

Reluctantly, I released the handle of my sword and raised my hands in the air.

"But Turrell," I said, "It's me..."

"I know who you are. If you move a muscle I will blow your body parts all over this chamber." Turrell backed along the wall away from the aperture. With a repeated swiping motion of the pistol barrel he indicated that he wanted me to move over to the opening. "Step over to the edge of the window," he said. As I did so without taking my eyes off him, he drew his short sword. "Rather then make a mess of you up here I would prefer it if you would jump to your death."

"I would rather not," I said.

Turrell laughed and said "I do not think you have a choice."

"So, I can assume that there were no surviving members of the Torquas scouting party to abduct both you and Mal Vishal and that it was actually you, Turrell, who did the abducting," I accused.

"I shall demand a high price of a ransom for Mal Vishal as soon as Sal Thafsol gets paid for his wares in Hastor."

"Sal Thafsol's concern for Mal Vishal's well-being is in doubt," I commented.

"The price of ransomed or the price of a slave; either way I shall be paid more than what Sal Thafsol was willing to pay me for my services as a panthan. Now, climb out to the window ledge."

Before I could move, something flew through the air from the entrance to the ramp and knocked Turrell's pistol out of his hand. Both the object and Turrell's pistol fell out of the window.

I glanced quickly to the doorway but saw nothing. Then, a familiar whirl of excited emotions rose up inside of me as I drew my long sword and advanced towards Turrell. We crossed swords and I found that Turrell was a good swordsman. His ability rivaled my own. Turrell managed to parry my thrusts and make a few cuts on my skin with his own sword. I made my way around him and forced him to turn his back on the window.

"You are very good Turrell," I commented while our steel clanked together. "You must have had good teachers."

"The best," he snarled back at me.

"Here is one lesson you have not learned," I said and with that I lunged at him. Instinctively, he backed up. As he did, the heel of his right foot caught the edge of the window and he fell backwards out of the tower. I rushed to the window and watched as Turrell hit the ground 20 ads below with a thump. Then, I turned and found Solat Tar standing in the doorway of the chamber looking at me. Evidently, he was responsible for removing Turrell's pistol with one of his knives. In his hand, Solat Tar held his second knife. "Well done," he said. "You are a good swordsman and an admirable panthan. You rescued Mal Vishal, Sal Thafsol's wife, even when Sal Thafsol was unwilling to put forth any effort to save her himself. It is unfortunate that I have to kill you now."

"How is this?" I asked.

"I am not a panthan," admitted Solat Tar. "I am actually a gorthan hired by Manor Fallarok to find you and kill you. I joined Solat Tar's caravan as a cover for my true intentions. I had a feeling you would leave Jahar for Hastor and hoped that I would catch up to you along the way. It seems my plan has paid off."

"That noise I heard earlier must have been Padwar trying to warn me of your presence. I hope you did not harm him."

"On the contrary, I would not be a good assassin if I was not able to get around a calot without alerting him to my presence. Something else must have spooked the beast."

Just then, an immense white form charged through the doorway. I recognized it immediately as a great white ape. It grabbed Solat Tar with all four of its arms and lifted him into the air hugging him to its chest. By the grimace on Solat Tar's face I know the ape was crushing the life out of him. I ran over to the ape and thrust my sword into one of its shoulders. The ape made a hissing shriek. It swiped at me with the arm that was attached to the wounded shoulder. With a mighty blow I brought my sword down on the arm, severing it from its body. The ape made another hissing shriek and released Solat Tar who fell to the ground gasping for air. The ape began flailing its remaining three arms in my direction and advanced on me stepping over Solat Tar. Solat Tar got back to his feet and thrust his knife into the ape's back. The ape spun around and knocked Solat Tar against the wall with one its arms. It swung back to face me just as I drove my sword straight through its heart. The ape released one last mighty breath. Its legs collapsed and the great white ape fell to the floor on its side, dead.

I wiped the ape's blood off my sword on its hide and returned it to its scabbard. Then, I walked over to where Solat Tar was slumped against the wall.

"I am a fair panthan," I said, "I will wait until you recover to fight you in a dual."

Solat Tar shook his head and looked up at me. "There will be no dual, Kor Voral. I owe you my life. I cannot fulfill my obligation as an assassin under these circumstances."

I looked over at Mal Vishal. She had crawled over to a wall and was leaning against it, whimpering. There were tears rolling down her robust cheeks.

Solat Tar, Mal Vishal, and I made our way out of the tower, where I found Padwar. He had been badly injured trying to prevent the white ape from entering the tower. He was licking one of his several wounds and two of his ten legs were broken.

I attached some sleeping silks to two poles I found in one of the rooms in the tower and created a stretcher. Solat Tar and I carried Padwar with us while we escorted Mal Vishal all the way to the city of Hastor. Solat Tar helped me track down Sal Thafsol in order to return Mal Vishal to her husband. Sal Thafsol acted happy to see her in her presence but he refused to pay me anything because I went against his will in searching for Mal Vishal. After Padwar recovered, I decided to move on to Helium. Before I left, Mal Vishal secretly came to see me. She removed one of her armbands laced with jewels and gave it to me in gratitude for all I had done for her. The armband was the only payment I received for my service.

Recommendations: Acceptance for Primary Training and Protocols, Second Tier. Applicant appears promising.


Pastiche Fiction by Matthew Bluhm

When I was a boy of about ten years old there was a mini-series on television I watched based on Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles." My mother worked in a bookstore at the time and I would browse through the books while I visited her.  I came across ERB's "Martian Chronicles" and wondered if ERB's and Bradbury's "Chronicles" were somehow related. I was a little nervous about bringing these books to the attention of my mother because of the nudity on the covers. Eventually, I chose "A Fighting Man of Mars" because there weren't any nude women featured on the cover. 

I brought the book to school intending to read it during "reading time (students were expected to bring a book to class and read for an hour)," but I didn't understand what was going on in the book because I wasn't familiar with a background of Barsoom presented in the earlier six "Chronicles." Finally, I got the courage to present "A Princess of Mars" to my mother and ask her to buy it for me. She did and she didn't even say anything about the well-endowed beauty draped over John Carter's arms on the front cover.

Later, I learned that my Grandfather, my mother's father, was a big fan of ERB's Tarzan books. So, each time I finished a "Martian Chronicles" book, I loaned it to him to read. Recently, I read the whole "Martian Chronicles" books again and looked around the Web to see if I could find any websites pertaining to the "Chronicles." I was really interested to find any illustrations of fliers. While looking at Barsoom related websites I came across the pastiche fiction. Then, I felt compelled to write my own and I came up with "A Panthan's Story."

Matthew Bluhm is 33 years old and lives in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with his wife, Melanie.  Matthew has a BA degree in English and a BS degree in Mass Communications from St. Cloud State University. 

Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyA Fighting Man of Mars ~ Michael Whelan art: Del Rey 1979A Princess of Mars ~ Ballantine Edition cover art by Michael Whelan


Volume 0536

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