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Volume 5114

A Gentleman of Mars
Part II: Chapters 5-7 (conc.)
Continued from Part I: Chapters 1-4 in ERBzine 5113
By John “Bridge” Martin
.

5 -- Crash Course on Warlordology

  The next several days were spent in Helium. We took a day for Kantos Kan to give me an aerial tour in a flyer. John Carter himself, of course, could not be seen with me in public, and the Tharks had sworn to keep their traps shut about him having a lookalike.

  Then, I went through several days of intensive training on how to act like a Warlord. I would be making a limited number of public appearances with Dejah, waving to the crowd, that sort of thing, but it was figured that I needed to know a lot more about Warlord protocol in case any unexpected events came up.

Finally, it was time for John Carter to coat his body with red Martian dye and make a few other subtle changes to his appearance and take off in a one-man flyer for Zodanga. With his departure, my act began.

  Mostly, I stayed in my own apartments, where I had a great view of the city and every luxury a man could want, and food brought to me three times daily by an exotic Barsoomian serving girl.

  When they had introduced me to Hanna Fulla, they had told me she would cater to my every need. She would, they said, do anything for me.

  "Anything?" I had unthinkingly replied, realizing as I said the word how it might be interpreted. As a southern gentleman, I was rather embarrassed by what some might think I was thinking.

  Well, I didn't require a whole lot. The food was great and Hanna always showed up, bringing breakfast, just as I was waking. She would insist that I stay in my sleeping silks and would kneel beside me and hand-feed me, telling me it was the Barsoomian way and that, in all respects, I must behave as John Carter. 

  The tablefare was mostly good, nutritious Martian fruit, some of it the looks and consistency of grapes. These, she carefully peeled with her long, sharp fingernails and then placed them into my mouth for me. The peeling was necessary, she explained, to get rid of the skins, which might contain airborne bacteria from the alien Barsoomian world. Having slowly but surely tried various dishes among the Tharks, and now dining on the more carefully prepared fare from the Helium galleys, I was more confident of not getting ill from Barsoomian food. Besides, my digestive system was apparently slowly acclimating to the difference in such sustenance.

  Hanna also let me know that she gave great massages, and soon I was having several a day, in between the Barsoomian language lessons that I was being given by a master Barsoomian linguist. And in the evenings, Hanna would sit beside me and tell me great, heroic stories of Barsoom and then bring out her lute-like instrument and sing me to sleep.

  And, with her sparkling eyes, hint of freckles on a perfectly formed face, and beguiling smile beneath her head of flouncy jet black hair, each night I drifted into the most pleasant sleeps I had ever had.
  A fellow could get used to this.

  A couple of times each day, Dejah would come by and we would go for a walk, a gentleman and his lady, through the gardens, along the parapets of the Helium palace, and once in awhile through the busy marketplace itself. Unlike the United States, it was not considered necessary to spend huge amounts of money for security, and no guards accompanied us. We were considered safe in Helium, where the people loved and adored John Carter and Dejah Thoris. And, besides, what protection did the capable John Carter need from enemies? And one of Carter's spare swords was always in evidence, hanging from my left side. Dejah was always on my right, so potential enemies could see at a glance that my sword was within easy reach and I had space to swing it like a scythe.

  I had also been given a course in basics of swordsmanship while undergoing training, and I spent part of each day continuing my lessons with a fencing master, so that I was actually getting pretty good at the thing.

  Of the progress of John Carter in Zodanga, we at first heard nothing. Carter thought it would be wisest to leave his cell phone at home and, in fact, I carried it as part of the ruse. The ringer was on mute, though, so that any calls dealing with state matters could be handled by Kantos Kan, who always carried the extension cell phone.

  Later, we did start getting some news of killings in Zodanga, so we figured that John was making some progress. But if he himself were to be killed in action, we might not learn of it for some time.

  Meanwhile, in Helium, things were great. What could possibly go wrong?

.

6 -- Spit and Polish Off

  Hanna was giving me another massage. I was lying on her massage table enjoying the feel of her educated palms and knuckles as they kneaded my receptive flesh. But suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and I realized that there was a piece of broken glass on the skimpy mattress. Then I awoke with a start. I was not lying on my stomach. I was on my back. But the pain in my chest was real. Only it wasn't made by a piece of broken glass, but by the tip of a Martian long sword which had penetrated my chest cavity just enough to rouse me.

  "Good, you're awake," came the voice from the repulsive face at the other end of the sword. "I want you to be conscious when I kill you, John Carter. I want you to know exactly what is happening to you."

  My thoughts went like lightning.

  Here, obviously, was an assassin, and he was about to do me in. He had me at a disadvantage. Since I looked so much like John Carter, Warlord of Mars, he thought that was who I was.

  Although some might have tried to plead for their lives by claiming a case of mistaken identity, I knew instantly that I did not have that luxury. Even if I were to die, I could not betray the real John Carter and his secret plan to have me pose as him in Helium while he was exacting vengeance on members of the Assassins Guild in Zodanga.

  I was too much of a gentleman to do that, and I would have to think of some other way to get out of this one.

  "Greatest swordsman of two worlds, huh," sneered the assassin. "Well, meet a greater one."

  "Actually, you're mistaken," I replied.

  "Huh?" said the assassin.

  "I'm now the greatest swordsman of three worlds," I replied matter of factly. "I beat the best they had on Sasoom as well."

  "Why you...." said the assassin. "Even as you face your own mortality, you dare to be impertinent."

  I tried my best to put an unconcerned expression on my face. "If you don't mind," I said, "I always like to know the names of my enemies before I kill them."

  "Ho ho," said the assassin. "You...kill me?" (but he started to look a bit worried. Perhaps he was thinking that I knew something he didn't).

  "But I'll humor you," he added. Like a lot of villains, he was making the mistake of talking too much instead of just dispatching me and being done with it. "My name is Bul Durm," he said.

  "On Jasoom we have a brand of chewing tobacco with that name," I said.

"Jasoom? Tabaca? What in the name of Issus's shredded body are you talking about?"

  "Oh, just the pleasure one gets from a good plug of snoose," I replied. "Would you like some?"

  "I have no idea what you are talking about," said Bul, "and no, I wouldn't like none. Everything in your apartments is mine after I run this sword through your putrid heart anyway."

  "No," you're mistaken again," I said. "It was Gar Nal who had the putrid heart, and Ur Jan already ran a sword through it."

"So he's the one who killed Gar Nal," said Bul, wrinkling up his forehead and gazing up at the ceiling as if some long-sought answer was written there. It wasn't much of a distraction but it would have to do. He had also eased the pressure ever so slightly on the sword and I knew it was now or never. I swung my left arm across my body, batting the sword away and getting a neat cut in my arm in the process. Then, I heaved my body to the right and rolled twice more before coming to my feet. It had all taken only seconds and Bul, stunned for a millisecond at first, was now turning toward me in rage and starting to bring the sword around in a slice that would have separated my intestines into so many loose ends that it would have looked like a bowl of king-size elbow macaroni.

But I, too, was not standing still. I was already pivoting to the wall-mounted sword rack and had my four-foot long sword in my hand before he could even get any real momentum into his deadly swing.

  "Die, you sneaky coward," I snarled, running the point straight toward his enormous gut. 

  The sword went true and for good measure I gave it extra oomph so that it protruded out of his back. He staggered and clutched his stomach in a futile gesture but wasn’t quite dead.

  At that moment, the curtain behind him was flung back and none other than Hanna stepped into the room, her pitifully inadequate jeweled dagger clutched in her hand. Did I say inadequate? Bless that gal. She eschewed the easy target of his broad back and instead planted the blade of the knife into the nape of his neck, severing his spinal cord.     He dropped to the floor like a sack of thoat dung.

  Hanna cut a piece of material from his loin cloth and wiped off her dagger, then grabbed the bell rope and jerked on it twice. Within moments two male servants rushed into the room.

  "Get this garbage out of here," she ordered.   Each grabbed a foot and headed for the door, leaving a wide swatch of blood on the tiles as Bul Durm's body was removed.

  Hanna tossed the blood-stained cloth onto the hulk's frame before it disappeared through the door.

  "You're pretty good," I smiled.

  "So are you," she smiled back, taking a step closer and lifting her head to me.

  "Great news, you two!" exclaimed Dejah Thoris, bursting into the room.

  "John Carter's flyer was just spotted landing on the rooftop of Warlord headquarters and...Oh," she said, looking from one of us to the other. "Did I interrupt something?"

  "No," said Hanna quickly. "Fred was just telling me he needed a flint stone to sharpen his sword." She scurried from the room.

  Dejah watched Hanna go, then turned and smiled at me, winked, and headed back to her quarters.

.

7 -- Reality Check

  It was time to leave Mars.

  John Carter -- the real John Carter -- had returned from his secret mission to Zodanga. He had sent 17 Zodangan assassins to the bosom of the River Iss (figuratively speaking) and had now turned the mop-up job over to a squad of his most elite warriors.

  "I want to thank you for standing in for me," he said, as Dejah clung to his arm. He looked at her and smiled, "And Dejah tells me you've been a perfect gentleman."

  "I'm a southerner," I replied. "How could I be anything else?"

  Smiling in response, the deathless Virginian said, "Well, do you want to stick around for a few days, see some more sights, soak up some rays, or do you need to get back?"

  I looked at my watch. It was one of those fancy ones that shows the date as well as the time.

  "I really need to be getting home," I said. "I need to take care of my vast estate and make sure the servants have been keeping things in top shape in the stables. And Uncle Charlie's horse will be agonizing about me in my absence, and wondering why I haven't been there with a cube of sugar for him every day."

  "I understand," said John Carter.

  We flew to a high plateau where we had a clear view of the heavens and, in the far distance, was a blue-green orb, the colors of which were clearly visible across millions of miles of space, because the thin atmosphere of Mars did not obscure the view as much as the thicker atmosphere would have done on Earth. We were also at one of the points where Mars comes closest to earth -- 48 million miles.

  John Carter told me the secret of interplanetary travel. The way he explained it was easy for me to understand, although he swore me to secrecy since he doesn't want a bunch of rifraff popping up on the Red Planet.

  Dejah gave me a hug and I saluted John Carter, and turned and did exactly what he told me.

  There was a moment of extreme cold and utter darkness.

  Then, I found myself standing once again on the Earth. I could tell it was the Earth because, not only did it look like the Earth, but I could instantly feel the pull of the stronger gravity. I had only been on Mars a few weeks, but I had gotten used to the freedom of movement there. Now, it felt as if I were walking around with a bunch of body weights strapped to my frame. It would probably take a few days to get used to it.

  Then, I was knocked flat onto my stomach. It felt like someone had rammed me with both feet. What kind of a welcome was that?

  I rolled over and grabbed my assailant, only to feel soft, human tissue interrupted here and there by what I knew to be a Martian harness.

  It was Hanna.

  "What the heck?" I said. "How did you get here?"

  "Surprised?" she smiled. "After you left for Earth, John Carter brought me out of the flyer compartment I was hiding in and told me the secret, too. He knew you and I could not help but fall in love, being in such close proximity, and, of course, the minute I saw you, I tried extra hard to make it happen."

  ''Well why didn't you just say so?" I asked, but I was smiling as I said it.

  "I really needed you to fight for me before I could call you 'My Chieftan'," said Hanna.

  "Well, yeah, I fought off Bul Durm, but honestly Hanna, I was really fighting for myself."

  "And me," she added. "He would have tried to claim me as his slave had he been able to kill you."

  "Well, why didn't you just call me your Chieftan right then?"

  "I wanted to, but John Carter had warned me that you were too much of a gentleman to commit yourself to me when you knew that you would be heading back to Jasoom in a few days. And he also knew that you would fret about the effect your more powerful Earth gravity might have on me were I to accompany you."

  "But...here you are," I said. "Does Earth make you feel heavier?"

  "I feel like I weigh about 400 pounds," she said. "But your oxygen-rich air gives me a little energy and John Carter told me you have things called gyms where I can go and build up some more strength."

  "Yes, there's a couple of fitness centers in town," I said. "Well, I'm happy to be your chieftain, but we're on Earth so we'll have to do things the Earth way and get a marriage license and a proper ceremony. But it only takes about an hour to get a license and there's a Justice of the Peace who lives just down the road."

  "I am pleased, My Chieftan," Hanna responded. "Then do we get to go on a Honeymoon? John Carter has told me of such things."

  "Certainly," I said. "But first we'll need to stop by Wal-Mart to pick up some DVDs."

  "We're going to watch movies on our honeymoon?" she asked, slightly frowning.

  "Well, not all of the time," I said in a reassuring voice. "Even Earth people sometimes go out to a movie, or dinner, or something like a carnival on their honeymoons."

  "What movies are you going to get?" she asked.

  "Only one actual movie," I said. "I thought you'd get a kick out of seeing the Disney John Carter. You'll find a lot of hilarious things in it, but there are some things they got right, too."

  "Oh goodie," grinned Hanna. "I think I'll enjoy a romantic comedy."

  "And then," I added, "I'll need to get a couple of science films."

  "Science? About what?" she asked.

  "Well, we'll need one that teaches something about proper egg incubation," I said, "and another one on do-it-yourself obstetrics. I don't think that Earth doctors will know quite what to do with an oviparous Martian lady, once you become pregnant, and I'll be darned if I'm going to take you to see a veterinarian.

  "I'm too much of a gentleman to do that."

The End

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