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TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
There are only two chapters left. When we left Tarzan he was in the midst of rescuing The Red Flower of Zoram from the Horibs when the ground beneath him suddenly opened and a pair of hands grabbed him and dragged him down. But before we return to that harrowing adventure, we must learn what is happening with the 0-229.
XVI: ESCAPEThe 0-220 cruised slowly above the Gyor Cors, watchful eyes scanning the ground below; but the only living things they saw were huge dinosaurs. Disturbed by the motors of the dirigible, the great beasts trotted angrily about in circles and occasionally an individual, sighting the ship above him, would gallop after it, bellowing angrily, or again one might charge the elliptical shadow that moved along the ground directly beneath the 0-220.Note ERB’s accuracy when describing the shadow of the 0-229. In a world where it is always noon, your shadow is always going to be directly beneath you.“Sweet tempered little fellows,” remarked Lieutenant Hines, who had been watching them from a messroom port.Wow, now that’s what I call a righteous kill. Tarzan must have really hated these lizard-men, wouldn’t you say? Jason was lucky he got off so easily.
“Jes’ which am dem bad dreams, Lieutenant?” asked Robert Jones.
“Triceratops,” replied the officer.
“Ah’ll try most anything once, suh, but not dem babies,” replied Robert.
Unknown to the bewildered navigating officer, the ship was taking a southeasterly course. Far away, on its port side, loomed a range of mountains, hazily visible in the up-curving distance, and now a river cut the plain – a river that came down from the distant mountains – and this they followed, knowing that men lost in a strange country are prone to follow the course of a river, if they are so fortunate as to find one.
They had followed the river for some distance when Lieutenant Dorf telephoned down from the observation cabin. “There is a considerable body of water ahead, sir,” he reported to Captain Zuppner. “From its appearance I should say that we might be approaching the shore of a large ocean.”
All eyes were now strained ahead and presently a large body of water became visible to all on board. The ship cruised slowly up and down the coast for a short distance, and as it had been some time since they had had fresh water or fresh meat, Zuppner decided to land and make camp, selecting a spot just north of the river they had been following, where it emptied into the sea. And as the great ship settled gently to rest upon a rolling, grassy meadow, Robert Jones made an entry in his little black diary.
“Arrived here at noon.”
While the great ship settled down beside the shore of the silent Pellucidarian sea, Jason Gridley and his companions, hundreds of miles to the west, pushed their tunnel upward toward the surface of the ground. Jason was in front, laboriously pushing the earth backward a few handfuls at a time to those behind him. They were working frantically now because the length of the tunnel already was so great that it was with difficulty that they could return to the cavern in time to forestall discovery when they heard Horibs approaching.
As Jason scraped away at the earth above him, there broke suddenly upon his ears what sounded like the muffled reverberation of rifle shots. He could not believe that they were such, and yet what else could they be? For so long had he been separated from his fellows that it seemed impossible that any freak of circumstance had brought them to this gloomy corner of Pellucidar, and though hope ran high yet he cast this idea from his mind, substituting for it a more natural conclusion – that the shots had come from the arquebuses of the Korsars, who had come up from the ship that Lajo had told him was anchored somewhere below in the Rela Am. Doubtless the captain had sent an expedition in search of the missing members of his crew, but even the prospects of falling again into the hands of the fierce Korsars appeared a heavenly one by comparison to the fate with which they were confronted.
Now Jason redoubled his efforts, working frantically to drive his narrow shaft upward toward the surface. The sound of the shots, which has lasted but a few minutes, had ceased, to be followed by the rapidly approaching thunder of many feet, as though heavy animals were racing in his direction. He heard them passing almost directly overhead and they seemed so close that he was positive he must be near the surface of the ground. Another shot sounded almost directly above him; he heard the thud of a heavy body and the earth about him shook to the impact of its fall. Jason’s excitement had arisen to the highest pitch when suddenly the earth gave way above him and something dropped into the shaft upon his head.
His mind long imbued with the fear that their plan for escape would be discovered by the Horibs, Jason reacted instinctively to the urge of self-preservation, the best chance for the accomplishment of which seemed to be to drag the discoverer of their secret out of sight as quickly as possible, and with this end in view he backed quickly into the tunnel, dragging the interloper with him, and to a certain point this was not difficult, but it had so happened that Tarzan had clung to his rifle. The rifle chanced to strike the ground in a horizontal position, as the ape-man was dragged into the tunnel, and the muzzle and butt lodged upon opposite sides of the opening, thus forming a rigid bar across the mouth of the aperture, to which the ape-man clung as Jason dragged frantically upon his ankles, and then slowly the steel thews of the Jungle Lord tensed and as he drew himself upward, he drew Jason Gridley with him. Strain and struggle as they would, the American could not overcome the steady pull of those giant thews. Slowly, irresistibly, he was dragged into the shaft and upward toward the surface of the ground.
By this time, of course, he knew that the creature to which he clung was no Horib, for his fingers were closed upon the smooth skin of a human being, and not upon the scaly hide of a lizard-man, but yet he felt that he must not let the fellow escape.
The Horib, who had been expecting Tarzan’s attack, had seen him disappear mysteriously into the ground; nor did he wait to investigate the miracle, but seizing Jana by the wrist he hurried after his fellows, dragging the struggling girl with him.
The two were just disappearing among the boles of the trees down a gloomy aisle of the somber forest when Tarzan, emerging from the shaft, caught a single fleeting glimpse of them. It was almost the growl of an enraged beast that escaped his lips as he realized that this last calamity might have definitely precluded the possibility of effecting the girl’s rescue. Chafing at the restraint of the clutching fingers clinging desperately to his ankles, the ape-man kicked violently in an effort to dislodge them and with such good effect that he sent Jason tumbling back into his tunnel, while he leaped to the solid ground and freedom to spring in pursuit of the Horib and The Red Flower of Zoram.
Calling back to his companions to hurry after him, Jason clambered swiftly to the surface of the ground just in time to see a half-naked bronzed giant before he disappeared from view behind the bole of a large tree, but that single glimpse awakened familiar memories and his heart leaped within him at the suggestion it implied. But how could it be? Had not Thoar seen the Lord of the Jungle carried to his doom? Whether the man was Tarzan or not was of less import than the reason for his haste. Was he escaping or pursuing? But in either event something seemed to tell Jason Gridley that he should not lose sight of him; at least he was not a Horib, then he must be an enemy of the lizard-men. So rapidly had events transpired that Jason was confused in his own mind as to the proper course to pursue; yet something seemed to urge him not to lose sight of the stranger and acting upon this impulse, he followed at a brisk run.
Through the dark wood ran Tarzan of the Apes, guided only by the delicate and subtle aroma that was the scent spoor of The Red Flower of Zoram and which would have been perceptible to no other human nostrils than those of the Lord of the Jungle. Strong in his nostrils, also, was the sickening scent of the Horibs and fearful lest he come upon them unexpectedly in numbers, he swung lightly into the trees and, with undiminished speed, raced in the direction of his quarry; nor was it long before he saw them beneath him – a single Horib dragging the still-struggling Jana.
There was no hesitation, there was no diminution in his speed as he launched himself like a living projectile straight for the ugly back of the Horib. With such force he struck the creature that it was half stunned as he bore it to the ground. A sinewy arm encircled its neck as Tarzan arose dragging the creature up with him. Turning quickly and bending forward, Tarzan swung the body over his head and hurled it violently to the ground, still retaining his hold about its neck. Again and again he whipped the mighty body over his head and dashed it to the gray earth, while the girl, wide-eyed with astonishment at this exhibition of Herculean strength, looked on.At last, satisfied that the creature was dead or stunned, Tarzan released it. Quickly he appropriated its stone knife and picked up its fallen lance, then he turned to Jana. “Come,” he said, “there is but one safe place for us,” and lifting her to his shoulder, he leaped to the low hanging branch of a nearby tree. “Here, at least,” he said, “you will be safe from Horibs, for I doubt if any Gorobor can follow us here.”ERB loved dramatic appearances. And isn’t it interesting how strange the word “trunk” seems after the countless times ERB used the word “bole” instead? I had to look that one up in the dictionary at the time I first read it, and, oh yeah, that goes for the word “thews” as well.
“I always thought that there were no warriors like the warriors of Zoram,” said Jana, “but that was before I had known you and Jason;” nor could she, as Tarzan well knew, have voiced a more sincere appreciation of what he had done for her, for to the primitive woman there are no men like her own men. “I wish,” she continued sadly after a pause, “that Jason had lived. He was a great man and a mighty warrior, but above all he was a kind man. The men of Zoram are never cruel to their women, but they are not always thoughtful and considerate. Jason seemed always to think of my comfort before everything except my safety.”
“You were very fond of him, were you not?” asked Tarzan.
The Red Flower of Zoram did not answer. There were tears in her eyes and in her throat so that she could only nod her head.
Once in the trees Tarzan had lowered Jana to her feet, presently discovering that she could travel quite without assistance, as might have been expected from one who could leap lightly from crag to crag upon the dizzy slopes of Thipdar’s heights. They moved without haste back to the point where they had last seen Muviro and his Waziri warriors, but as the way took them down wind Tarzan could not hope to pick up the scent spoor of his henchmen and so his ears were constantly on the alert for any slightest sound that might reveal their whereabouts. Presently they were rewarded by the sound of footsteps hurrying through the forest toward them.
The ape-man drew the girl behind the bole of a large tree and waited, silent, motionless, for all footfalls are not the footfalls of friends.
They had waited for but a moment when there came into view upon the ground below them an almost naked man clothed in a bit of filthy goatskin, which was almost indistinguishable as such beneath a coating of mud, while the original color of his skin was hidden beneath a similar covering. A great mass of tousled black hair surmounted his head. He was quite the filthiest appearing creature that Tarzan had ever looked upon, but he was evidently no Horib and he was unarmed. What he was doing there alone in the grim forest, the ape-man could not imagine, so he dropped to the ground immediately in front of the surprised wayfarer.
At sight of the ape-man, the other stopped, his eyes wide with astonishment and incredulity. “Tarzan!” he exclaimed. “My God, it is really you. You are not dead. Thank God you are not dead.”
It was an instant before the ape-man could recognize the speaker, but not so the girl hiding in the tree above. The instant that she had heard his voice she had known him.
A slow smile overspread the features of the Lord of the Jungle. “Gridley!” he exclaimed. “Jason Gridley! Jana told me that you were dead.”
“Jana!” exclaimed Jason. “You know her? You have seen her? Where is she?”
“She is here with me,” replied Tarzan.
The Red Flower of Zoram had slipped to the ground upon the opposite side of the tree and now she stepped from behind its trunk.“Jana!” cried Jason, coming eagerly toward her.I know what you are thinking. You’re wondering if Thoar will still want to kill Jason if The Red Flower tells him that Jason had harmed her. Am I right? And what about the ten Waziri warriors, all with rifles? Didn’t one of them give his rifle to Tarzan, unless the Waziri warrior had retrieved it from Jason’s tunnel first? Yes, that must be it.
The girl drew herself to her full height and turned a shoulder toward him. “Jalok!” she cried contemptuously. “Must I tell you again to keep away from The Red Flower of Zoram?”
Jason halted in his tracks, his arms dropped limply to his sides, his attitude was one of utter dejection.
Tarzan looked silently on, his brows momentarily revealing his perplexity; but it was not his way to in interfere in affairs that were wholly the concern of others. “Come,” he said, “we must find the Waziri.”
Suddenly loud voices just ahead apprised them of the presence of other men and in the babel of excited voices Tarzan recognized the tones of his Waziri. Hurrying forward the three came upon a scene that was momentarily ludicrous, but which might soon have developed into tragedy had they not arrived in time.
Ten Waziri warriors armed with rifles had surrounded Thoar and the three Korsars and each party was jabbering volubly in a language unknown to the other.
The Pellucidarians, never before having seen human beings of the rich, deep, black color of the Waziri and assuming that all strangers were enemies, apprehended only the worst and were about to make a concerted effort to escape their captors, while Murviro, believing that these men might have some sinister connection with the disappearance of his master, was determined to hold and question them. It was, therefore, a relief to both parties when Tarzan, Jason, and Jana appeared, and the Waziri saw their Big Bwana greet one of their captives with every indication of friendship.
Thoar was even more surprised to find Tarzan alive than Jason had been, and when he saw Jana the natural reserve which ordinarily marked his bearing was dissipated by the joy and relief which he felt in finding her safe and well; nor any less surprised and happy was Jana as she rushed forward and threw herself into her brother’s arms.His breast filled with emotion such as he had never experienced before, Jason Gridley stood apart, a silent witness of this loving reunion, and then, probably for the first time, there came to him an acute realization of the fact that the sentiment which he entertained for this little barbarian was nothing less than love.The Land of Awful Shadow is a small area of Pellucidar that falls under the shadow of a permanently stationary small moon situated between the sun and the interior surface. This area never gets any sunlight, making it scary to superstitious minds.
It galled him even to admit it to himself and he felt that he was contemptible to harbor jealousy of Thoar, not only because Thoar was his friend, but because he was only a primitive savage, while he, Jason Gridley, was the product of ages of culture and civilization.
Thoar, Lajo and the other two Korsars were naturally delighted when they found that the strange warriors whom they had looked upon as enemies were suddenly transformed into friends and allies, and when they heard the story of the battle with the Horibs they knew that the greatest danger which threatened them was now greatly minimized because of the presence of these warriors armed with death-dealing weapons that made the ancient arquebuses of the Korsars appear as inadequate as sling shots, and escape from this horrible country was as good as accomplished.
Resting after their recent exertion, each party briefly narrated the recent adventures that had befallen them and attempts were made to formulate plans for the future, but here difficulties arose. Thoar wished to return to Zoram with Jana. Tarzan, Jason and the Waziri desired only to find the other members of their expedition; while Lajo and his two fellows were principally concerned with getting back to their ship.
Tarzan and Jason, realizing that it might not be expedient to acquaint the Korsars with the real purpose of their presence in Pellucidar and finding that the men were familiar with the story of Tanar, gave them to believe that they were merely searching for Sari in order to pay a friendly visit to Tanar and his people.
“Sari is a long way,” said Lajo. “He who would go to Sari from here must sleep over a hundred times upon the journey,which would take them across the Korsar Az and then through strange countries filled with enemies, even as far as The Land of Awful Shadow. Maybe one would never reach it.”“Is there no way overland?” asked Tarzan.Aren’t you glad that they got that out of the way? After all, you never know what Jana will do since she is screwing with Jason’s mind. She knows that he thinks he is better than her, and if he is going to get anywhere with her, he is going to have to learn that she is more than his equal. She is, after all, the primo catch in all of Pellucidar, and he needs to keep that in mind.
“Yes,” replied Lajo, “and if we were at Korsar, I might direct you, but that, too, would be a terrible journey, for no man knows what savage tribes and beasts beset the long marches that must lie between Korsar and Sari.”
“And if we went to Korsar,” said Jason, “we could not hope to be received as friends. Is this not true, Lajo?”
The Korsar nodded. “No,” he said. “You would not be received as friends.”
“Nevertheless,” said Tarzan to Jason, “I believe that if we are ever to find the 0-220 again our best chance is to look for it in the vicinity of Korsar.”
Jason nodded in acquiescence. “But that will not accord with Thoar’s plans,” he said, “for, if I understand it correctly, we are much nearer to Zoram now than we are to Korsar, and if we decide to go to Korsar, our route will lead directly away from Zoram. But unless we accompany them with the Waziri, I doubt if Thoar and Jana could live to reach Zoram if they returned by the route that he and I have followed since we left the Mountains of the Thipdars.”
Tarzan turned to Thoar. “If you will come with us, we can return you very quickly to Zoram if we find our ship. If we do not find it within a reasonable time, we will accompany you back to Zoram. In either event you would have a much better chance of reaching your own country than you would if you and Jana set out alone from here.”
“We will accompany you, then,” said Thoar, and then his brow clouded as some thought seemed suddenly to seize upon his mind. He looked for a moment at Jason, and then he turned to Jana. “I had almost forgotten,” he said. “Before we can go with these people as friends, I must know if this man offered you any injury or harm while you were with him. If he did, I must kill him.”
Jana did not look at Jason as she replied. “You need not kill him,” she said. “Had that been necessary The Red Flower of Zoram would have done it herself.”
“Very well,” said Thoar, “I am glad because he is my friend. Now we may all together.”
“Our boat is probably in the river where the Horibs left it after they captured us,” said Lajo. If it is we can soon drop down to our ship, which is anchored in the lower waters of the Rela Am.”“And be taken prisoners by your people,” said Jason. “No, Lajo, the tables are turned now and if you go with us, it is you who will be the prisoners.”Did you get that? Are you sustaining your imaginations? I know it’s hard work, but it’s worth it in the end.
The Korsar shrugged. “I do not care,” he said. “We will doubtless get a hundred lashes apiece when the captain finds that we have been unsuccessful, that we have brought back nothing and that he has lost an officer and many members of his crew.”
It was finally decided that they would return to the Rela Am and look for the longboat of the Korsars. If they found it they would float down in search of the ship, when they would at least make an effort to persuade the captain to receive them as friends and transport them to the vicinity of Korsar.
On the march back to the Rela Am they were not molested by the Horibs, who had evidently discovered that they had met their masters in the Waziri. During the march Jason made it a point to keep as far away from Jana as possible. The very sight of her reminded him of his hopeless and humiliating infatuation, and to be very near her constituted a form of refined agony which he could not endure. Her contempt, which she made no effort to conceal galled him bitterly, though it was no greater than his own self-contempt when he realized that in spite of every reason that he had to dislike her, he still loved her – loved her more than he had thought it was possible for him to love any woman.
The American was glad when a glimpse of the broad waters of the Rela Am ahead of them marked the end of this stage of their journey, which his own unhappy thoughts, combined with the depressing influence of the gloomy forest, had transformed into one of the saddest periods of his life.
To the relief of all, the boat was found still moored where the Horibs had left it; nor did it take them long to embark and push out upon the waters of the River of Darkness.
The river widened as they floated down toward the sea until it became possible to step a mast and set sail, after which their progress was still more rapid. Though the way was often beset of dangers in the form of angry and voracious saurians, the rifles of the Waziri proved adequate protection when other means of defense had failed.
The river became very wide so that but for the current they might have considered it an arm of the sea and at Lajo’s direction they kept well in toward the left bank, near which, he said, the ship was anchored. Dimly visible in the distance was the opposite shore, but only so because the surface of Pellucidar curved upward. At the same distance upon the outer crust, it would have been hidden by the curvature of the earth.As they neared the sea it became evident that Lajo and the two other Korsars were much concerned because they had not sighted their ship.Boy, she really knows how to rub it in. I don’t know if I can speak for all men, but one thing I hate the most about a relationship with a woman is when she is angry and won’t talk to you. I really hate the silent treatment. Am I normal in that?
“We have passed the anchorage,” said Lajo at last. “That wooded hill, which we just passed, was directly opposite the spot where the ship lay. I cannot be mistaken because I noted it particularly and impressed it upon my memory as a landmark against the time when we should return from our expedition up the river.”
“He has sailed away and left us,” growled one of the Korsars, applying a vile epithet to the captain of the departed ship.
Continuing on down to the ocean they sighted a large island directly off the mouth of the river, which Lajo told them afforded good hunting and plenty of fresh water and as they were in need of meat they landed there and made camp. It was an ideal spot inasmuch as that part of the island at which they had touched seemed to be peculiarly free from the more dangerous forms of carnivorous mammals and reptiles; nor did they see any sign of the presence of man. Game, therefore, was abundant.
Discussing their plans for the future, it was finally decided that they would push on toward Korsar in the longboat, for Lajo assured them that it lay upon the coast of the same landmass that loomed plainly from their island refuge. “What lies in that direction,” he said, pointing south, “I do not know, but there lies Korsar, upon this same coast,” and he pointed in a direction a little east of north. “Otherwise I am not familiar with this sea, or with this part of Pellucidar, since never before has an expedition come as far as the Rela Am.”
In preparation for the long cruise to Korsar, great quantities of meat were cut into strips and dried in the sun, or smoked over slow fires, after which it was packed away in bladders that had been carefully cleaned and dried. These were stowed in the boat together with other bladders filled with fresh water, for, although it was their intention to hug the coast on the way to Korsar, it might not always be expedient to land for water or food and there was always the possibility that a storm arising they might be blown out to sea.
At length, all preparations having been made, the strangely assorted company embarked upon their hazardous journey toward distant Korsar.
Jana had worked with the others preparing the provisions and the containers and though she had upon several occasions worked side by side with Jason, she had never relaxed toward him; nor appeared to admit that she was cognizant of his presence.
“Can’t we be friends, Jana?” he asked once. “I think we would both be very much happier if we were.”
“I am as happy as I can be,” she replied lightly, “until Thoar takes me back to Zoram.”
Well, ERB has one more chapter to wrap this all up.
TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE IN ERBzine C.H.A.S.E.R.
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