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TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, we are back to Tarzan and Jana and their captivity within the cave of the Clovi. With any other man, the situation might have suggested a possible romantic interlude, but not for Tarzan. He knows that Jason has already spent a lot of time with this beauty and besides Tarzan is married, and his faithfulness has never seriously been questioned in his previous adventures. Before ERB’s marital problems, Jane Porter was always an interesting character, and any man would have felt obligated to be faithful to her.
Her resourcefulness and courage were very evident in The Return of Tarzan and The Beasts of Tarzan, but in later tales she became at best a background character. In fact, ERB killed her off in the first version of Tarzan the Untamed, a WWI propaganda piece, after seeing Enid Markey play her in an early silent picture – but after a revolt from his editors, he quickly changed the situation so that the burned and charred body Tarzan discovered after the Germans invaded his African ranch was another person that was mistaken for the body of Jane. As it turned out, Jane had not been killed but had instead been kidnapped by the German officer of the raid and both of them ended up in Pal-ul-don, but that’s another story.
XIII: THE HORIBS
Avan, chief of the Clovi, had placed warriors before the entrance of the cavern and as Tarzan approached to enter they halted him.Now be honest now, did ERB have to remind you that the earth curves upwards slowly into the distant haze? We must be firm in our dedication to maintain our sustained imagination. I bet you never forget that Jana is topless, though, did you?
“Where are you going?” demanded one.
“Into the cavern,” replied Tarzan.
“Why?” asked the warrior.
“I wish to sleep,” replied the ape-man. “I have entered often before and no one has ever stopped me.”
“Avan has issued orders that no strangers are to enter or leave the cavern until after the council of the warriors,” exclaimed the guard.
At this juncture Avan approached. “Let him enter,” he said. “I sent him hither, but do not let him come out again.”
Without a word of comment or question the Lord of the Jungle passed into the interior of the gloomy cavern of Clovi. It was several moments before his eyes became accustomed to the subdued light within and permitted him to take account of his surroundings.
That portion of the cavern which was visible and with which he was familiar was of considerable extent. He could see the walls on either side, and, very vaguely, a portion of the rear wall, but adjoining that was utter darkness, suggesting that the cavern extended further into the mountainside. Against the walls upon pallets of dry grasses covered with hide lay many warriors and a few women and children, almost all of whom were wrapped in slumber. In the greater light near the entrance a group squatted engaged in whispered conversation as, silently, he moved about the cavern searching for the girl from Zoram. It was she who recognized him first, attracting his attention by a low whistle.
“You have a plan of escape?” she asked as Tarzan seated himself upon a skin beside her.
“No,” he said, “all that we may do is to await developments and take advantage of any opportunity that may present itself.”
“I should think that it would be easy for you to escape,” said the girl; “they do not treat you as a prisoner; you go about them freely and they have permitted you to retain your weapons.”
“I am a prisoner now,” he replied. “Avan just instructed the warriors at the entrance not to permit me to leave here until after the council of the warriors had decided my fate.”
“Your future does not look very bright then,” said Jana, “and as for me I already know my fate, but they shall not have me, Carb nor any other!”
They talked together in low tones with many periods of long silence, but when Jana turned the conversation upon the world from which Jason had come, the silences were few and far between. She would not let Tarzan rest, but plied him with questions, the answers to many of which were far beyond her powers to understand. Steam and electricity and all the countless activities of civilized existence which are dependent upon them were utterly beyond her powers of comprehension, as were the heavenly bodies or musical instruments or books, and yet despite what appeared to be the darkest depth of ignorance, to the very bottom of which she had plumbed, she was intelligent and when she spoke of those things pertaining to her own world with which she was familiar, she was both interesting and entertaining.
Presently a warrior near them opened his eyes, sat up and stretched. He looked about him and then he arose to his feet. He walked around the apartment awakening the other warriors.
“Awaken,” he said to each, “and attend the council of the warriors.”
When he approached Tarzan and Jana he recognized the former and stopped to glare down at him.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded.
Tarzan arose and faced the Clovian warrior, but he did not reply to the other’s quesiton.
“Answer me,” growled Carb. “Why are you here?”
“You are not the chief,” said Tarzan. “Go and ask your question of women and children.”
Carb sputtered angrily. “Go!” said Tarzan, pointing toward the exit. For an instant the Clovian hesitated, then he continued on around the apartment, awakening the remaining warriors.
“Now he will see that you are killed,” said the girl.
“He had determined upon that before,” replied Tarzan. “We are no worse off than we were.”
Now they lapsed into silence, each waiting for the doom that was to be pronounced upon them. They knew that outside upon the ledge the warriors were sitting in a great circle and that there would be much talking and boasting and argument before any decision was reached, most of it unnecessary, for that has been the way with men who make laws from time immemorial, a great advantage, however, lying with our modern lawmakers in that they know more words that the first ape-men.
As Tarzan and Jana waited a youth entered the cavern. He bore a torch in the light of which he searched about the interior. Presently he discovered Tarzan and came swiftly toward him. It was Ovan.
“The council has reached its decision,” he said. “They will kill you and the girl goes to Carb.”
Tarzan of the Apes rose to his feet. “Come,” he said to Jana, “now is as good a time as any. If we can cross the ledge and reach the trail only a swift warrior can overtake us. And if you are my friend,” he continued, turning to Ovan, “and you have said that you are, you will remain silent and give us our chance.”
“I am your friend,” replied the youth; “that is why I am here, but you would never live to cross the ledge to the trail, there are too many warriors and they are all prepared. They know that you are armed and they expect that you will try to escape.”
“There is no other way,” said Tarzan.
“There is another way,” replied the boy, “and I have come to show it to you.”
“Where?” asked Jana.
“Follow me,” replied Ovan, and he started back into the remote recesses of the cavern, which were fitfully illumined by his flickering torch, while behind him followed Jana and the ape-man.
The walls of the cavern narrowed, the floor rose steeply ahead of them, so that in places it was only with considerable difficulty that they ascended in the semi-darkness. At last Ovan halted and held his torch high above his head, revealing a small, natural chamber, at the far end of which there was a dark fissure.
“In that dark hole,” he said, “lies a trail that leads to the summit of the mountains. Only the chief and the chief’s first son ever know of this trail. If my father learns that I have shown it to you, he will have to kill me, but he shall never know for when next they find me I shall be asleep upon a skin in the cavern far below. The trail is steep and rough, but it is the only way. Go now. This is the return I make you for having saved my life.” With that he dashed the torch to the floor, leaving them in utter darkness. He did not speak again, but Tarzan heard the soft falls of his sandaled feet groping their way back down toward the cavern of the Clovi.
The ape-man reached out through the darkness and found Jana’s hand. Carefully he led her through the stygian darkness toward the mouth of the fissure. Feeling his way step by step, groping forward with his free hand, the ape-man finally discovered the entrance to the trail.
Clambering upward over broken masses of jagged granite through utter darkness, it seemed to the two fugitives that they made no progress whatever. If time could be measured by muscular effort and physical discomfort, the two might have guessed that they passed an eternity in this black fissure, but at length the darkness lessened and they knew that they were approaching the opening in the summit of the mountains; nor was it long thereafter before they emerged into the brilliant light of the noonday sun.
“And now,” said Tarzan, “in which direction lies Zoram?”
The girl pointed. “But we cannot reach it by going back that way,” she said, “for every trail will be guarded by Carb and his fellows. Do not think that they will let us escape so easily. Perhaps in searching for us they may even find the fissure and follow us here.”
“This is your world,” said Tarzan. “You are more familiar with it than I. What, then, do you suggest?”
“We should descend the mountain, going directly away from Clovi,” replied Jana, “for it is in the mountains that they will look for us. When we have reached the lowland we can turn back along the foot of the range until we are below Zoram, but not until then should we come back to the mountains.”
The descent of the mountains was slow because neither of them was familiar with this part of the range. Oftentimes, their way barred by yawning chasms, they were compelled to retrace their steps to find another way around. They ate many times and slept thrice and thus only could Tarzan guess that they had consumed considerable time in the descent, but what was time to them?
During the descent Tarzan had caught glimpses of a vast plain, stretching away as far as the eye could reach. The last stage of their descent was down a long, winding canyon, and when, at last, they came to its mouth they found themselves upon the edge of the plain that Tarzan had seen. It was almost treeless and from where he stood it looked as level as a lake.
“This is the Gyor Cors,” said Jana, “and may we not have the bad fortune to meet a Gyor.”
“And what is a Gyor?” asked Tarzan.
“Oh, it is a terrible creature,” replied Jana. “I have never seen one, but some of the warriors of Zoram have been to the Gyor Cors and they have seen them. They are twice the size of a tandor and their length is more than that of four tall men, lying upon the ground. They have a curved beak and three great horns, two above their eyes and one above their nose. Standing upright at the backs of their heads is a great collar of bony substance covered with thick, horny hide, which protects them from the horns of their fellows and spears of men. They do not eat flesh, but they are irritable and short tempered, charging every creature that they see and thus keeping the Gyor Cors for their own use.”
“Theirs is a vast domain,” said Tarzan, letting his eyes sweep the illimitable expanse of pasture land that rolled on, curving slowly upward into the distant haze, “and your description of them suggests that they have few enemies who would care to dispute their dominion.”"Only the Horibs,” replied Jana. “They hunt them for their flesh and hide.”This is one of ERB’s most effective strategies to maintain suspense. First you present the reader with a very scary situation, then you find a way to temporarily relieve the tension, before you set them up for the final fright.
“What are Horibs?” asked Tarzan.
The girl shuddered. “The snake people,” she whispered in an odd tone.
“Snake people,” repeated Tarzan, “and what are they?”
“Let us not speak of them. They are horrible. They are worse than the Gyors. Their blood is cold and men say that they have no hearts, for they do not possess any of the characteristics that men admire, knowing not friendship or sympathy or love.”
Along the bottom of the canyon through which they had descended a mountain torrent had cut a deep gorge, the sides of which were so precipitous that they found it expedient to follow the stream down into the plain in order to discover an easier crossing, since the stream lay between them and Zoram.
They had proceeded for about a mile below the mouth of the canyon; around them were low, rolling hills which gradually merged with the plain below; here and there were scattered clumps of trees; to their knees grew the gently waving grasses that rendered the Gyor Cors a paradise for the huge herbivorous dinosaurs. The noonday sun shone down upon a scene of peace and quiet, yet Tarzan of the Apes was restless. The apparent absence of animal life seemed almost uncanny to one familiar with the usual teeming activity of Pellucidar; yet the ape-man knew that there were creatures about and it was the strange and unfamiliar scent spoors carried to his nostrils that aroused within him a foreboding of ill omen. Familiar odors had no such effect upon him, but here were scents he could not place, strangely disagreeable in the nostrils of man. They suggested the scent spoor of Histah the snake, but they were not his.
For Jana’s sake Tarzan wished that they might quickly find a crossing and ascend again to the higher levels on their journey to Zoram, for there the creatures would be well known to them, and the dangers which they portended familiar dangers with which they were prepared to cope, but the vertical banks of the raging torrent as yet offered no means of descent and now they saw that the appearance of flatness which distance had imparted to the great Gyor Cors was deceptive, since it was cut by ravines and broken by depressions, some of which were of considerable extent and depth. Presently a lateral ravine, opening into the now comparatively shallow gorge of the river, necessitated a detour which took them directly away from Zoram. They had proceeded for about a mile in this direction when they discovered a crossing and as they emerged upon the opposite side the girl touched Tarzan’s arm and pointed. The thing which she saw he had seen simultaneously.
“A Gyor,” whispered the girl. “Let us lie down and hide in this tall grass.”
“He has not seen us yet,” said Tarzan, “and he may not come in this direction.”
No description of the beast looming tremendously before them could convey an adequate impression of its titanic proportions or its frightful mien. At the first glance Tarzan was impressed by its remarkable resemblance to the Gryfs of Pal-ul-don. It had the two large horns above the eyes, a medial horn on the nose, a horny beak and a great horny hood or transverse crest upon the neck, and its coloration was similar but more subdued, the predominant note being a slaty gray with yellowish belly and face. The blue bands around the eyes were well less marked and the red of the hood and the bony protruberances along the spine were less brilliant than in the Gryf. That it was herbivorous, a fact that he had learned from Jana, convinced him that he was looking upon an almost unaltered type of the gigantic triceratop that had, with his fellow dinosaurs, ruled the ancient Jurassic world.
Jana had thrown herself prone among the grasses and was urging Tarzan to do likewise. Crouching low, his eyes just above the grasses, Tarzan watched the huge dinosaur.
“I think he has caught our scent,” he said. “He is standing with his head up, looking about him; now he is trotting around in a circle. He is very light on his feet for a beast of such enormous size. There, he has caught a scent, but it is not ours; the wind is not in the right direction. There is something approaching from our left, but it is still at a considerable distance. I can just hear it, a faint suggestion of something moving. The Gyor is looking in that direction now. Whatever is coming is coming swiftly. I can tell by the rapidly increasing volume of sound, and there are more than one – there are many. He is moving forward now to investigate, but he will pass at a considerable distance to our left.” Tarzan watched the Gyor and listened to the sound coming from the, as yet, invisible creatures that were approaching. Whatever is approaching is coming along the bottom of the ravine we just crossed,” he whispered. “They will pass directly behind us.”
Jana remained hiding low in the grasses. She did not wish to tempt Fate by revealing even the top of her head to attract the attention of the Gyor. “Perhaps we had better try to crawl away while his attention is attracted elsewhere,” she suggested.
“They are coming out of the ravine,” whispered Tarzan. “They are coming up over the edge – a number of men – but in the name of God what is it that they are riding?”
Jana raised her eyes above the level of the grasses and looked in the direction that Tarzan was gazing. She shuddered. “They are not men,” she said; “they are the Horibs and the things upon the backs of which they ride are Gorobors. If they see us we are lost. Nothing in the world can escape the Gorobors, for there is nothing in all Pellucidar so swift as they. Lie still. Our only chance is that they may not discover us.”
At sight of the Horibs the Gyor emitted a terrific bellow that shook the ground and, lowering his head, he charged straight for them. Full fifty of the Horibs on their horrid mounts had emerged from the ravine. Tarzan could see that the riders were armed with long lances – pitiful and inadequate weapons, he thought, with which to face an enraged triceratop. But it soon became apparent that the Horibs did not intend to meet that charge head-on. Wheeling to their right they formed in single file behind their leader and then for the first time Tarzan had an exhibition of the phenomenal speed of the huge lizards upon which they were mounted, which is comparable only to the lightning-like rapidity of a tiny desert lizard known as a swift.
Following tactics similar to those of the plains Indians of western America, the Horibs were circling their prey. The bellowing Gyor, aroused to a frenzy of rage, charged first in one direction and then another, but the Gorobors darted from his path so swiftly that he never could overtake them. Panting and blowing, he presently came to bay and then the Horibs drew their circle closer, whirling dizzily about him, while Tarzan watched the amazing scene, wondering by what means they might ever hope to dispatch the ten tons of incarnate fury that wheeled first this way and then that at the center of their circle.
Presently a Horib darted in close to the Gyor at such speed that the mount and the rider were little more than a blur. The Gyor wheeled to meet him, head down, the three terrible horns set to impale him, and then two other Horibs darted in the from the rear upon either side .
As swiftly as they darted in all three wheeled and were out again, part of the racing circle, but in the sides of the Gyor they had left two lances deeply imbedded. The fury of the wounded triceratop transcended any of he previous demonstrations. His bellowing became a hoarse, coughing scream as once again he lowered his head and charged.
This time he did not turn and charge in another direction as he had in the past, but kept on in a straight line, possibly in the hope of breaking through the encircling Horibs, and to his dismay the ape-man saw that he and Jana were directly in the path of the charging beast. If the Horibs did not turn him, they were lost.
A dozen of the reptile-men darted in upon the rear of the Gyor. A dozen more lances sank deeply into its body, proving sufficient to turn him in an effort to avenge himself upon those who had inflicted these new hurts.
This charge had carried the Gyor within fifty feet of Tarzan and Jana. It had given the ape-man an uncomfortable moment, but its results were almost equally disastrous for it brought the circling Horibs close to their position.
The Gyor now stood with lowered head, breathing heavily and bleeding from more than a dozen wounds. A Horib now rode slowly toward him, approaching him directly from in front. The attention of the triceratop was centered wholly upon this single adversary as two more moved toward him diagonally from the rear, one on either side, but in such a manner that they were concealed from his view by the great transverse crest encircling his neck behind the horns and eyes. The three approached thus to within about fifty feet of the brute and then those in the rear darted forward simultaneously at terrific speed, leaning well forward upon their mounts, their lances lowered. At the same instant each struck heavily upon either side of the Gyor, driving their spears far in. So close did they come to their prey that their mounts struck the shoulders of the Gyor as they turned and darted out again.
For an instant the great creature stood reeling in its tracks and then it slumped forward heavily and rolled over upon its side – the final lances had pierced its heart.
Tarzan was glad that it was over as he had momentarily feared discovery by the circling Horibs and he was congratulating himself upon their good fortune when the entire band of snake-men wheeled their mounts and raced swiftly in the direction of their hiding place. Once more they formed their circle, but this time Tarzan and Jana were at its center. Evidently the Horibs had seen them, but had temporarily ignored them until after they had dispatched the Gyor.“We shall have to fight,” said Tarzan, and as concealment was no longer possible he arose to his feet.Need I remind the reader that ERB was an early master of horror fiction? He was a major early influence on H.P. Lovecraft, regarded as the master of 20th century horror fiction. If the Horibs aren’t scary, creepy creatures to you, then you are truly a fearless person.
“Yes,” said Jana, arising to stand beside him. “We shall have to fight, but the end will be the same. There are fifty of them and we are but two.”
Tarzan fitted an arrow to his bow. The Horibs were circling slowly about them inspecting their new prey. Finally they came closer and halted their mounts, facing the two.
Now for the first time Tarzan was able to obtain a good view of the snake-men and their equally hideous mounts. The conformation of the Horibs was almost identical to man insofar as the torso and extremities were concerned. Their three-toed feet and five-toed hands were those of reptiles. The head and face resembled a snake, but pointed ears and two short horns gave a grotesque appearance that was at the same time hideous. The arms were better proportioned than the legs, which were quite shapeless. The entire body was covered in scales, although those upon the hands, feet and face were so minute as to give the impression of bare skin, a resemblance which was further emphasized by the fact that these portions of the body were a much lighter color, approximating the shiny dead whiteness of a snake's belly.They wore a single apron-like garment fashioned from a piece of very heavy hide, apparently that of some gigantic reptile. This garment was really a piece of armor, its sole purpose being, as Tarzan later learned, to cover the soft, white bellies of the Horibs. Upon the breast of each garment was a strange device – an eight-pronged cross with a circle in the center. Around his waist each Horib wore a leather belt, which supported a scabbard in which was inserted a bone knife. About each wrist and above each elbow was a band or bracelet. These completed their apparel and ornaments. In addition to his knife each Horib carried a long lance shod with bone. They sat on their grotesque mounts with their toes locked behind the elbows of the Gorobors, anomodont reptiles of the Triassic, known to paleontologists as Pareiasuri. Many of these creatures measured ten feet in length, though they stood low upon squat and powerful legs.No, don’t let it end there! Damn, another cliff-hanger. Well, next time it’s back to Jason and Thoar in the Pheli village.
As Tarzan gazed in fascination upon the Horibs, whose “blood ran cold and who had no hearts,” he realized that he might be gazing upon one of the vagaries of evolution, or possibly upon a replica of some form that had once existed upon the outer crust and that had blazed the trail that some, to us, unknown creature must have blazed from the age of reptiles to the age of man. Nor did it seem to him, after reflection, any more remarkable than a man-like reptile might evolve from reptiles than that birds should have done so, as scientific discoveries are now demonstrating, mammals must have.
These thoughts passed quickly, almost instantaneously, through his mind as the Horibs sat there with their beady, lidless eyes fastened upon them, but if Tarzan had been astounded by the appearance of these creatures the emotion thus aroused was nothing compared with the shock he received when one of them spoke, addressing him in the common language of the gilaks of Pellucidar.
“You cannot escape,” he said. “Lay down your weapons.”
See you then.
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THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS SERIES OF ARTICLES
BY WOODROW EDGAR NICHOLS, JR.
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