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Volume 1621
Jeff Long

Foreword: The Visit ~ words by Jeff, art by Duane 

In the beginning, everybody was to live forever and it was all right. There was no death. One day they had to make a decision about it.
Coyote did not want death in The World. He said, "I'm going to throw a stick in the river. If it sinks, people will begin to die. If it floats, it will be all right." He threw in the stick and it floated.

Then Raven said, "No, I have the say here." I don't know where he got that authority; I guess he just had it. He said, "I'm going to throw a rock in the river. If it floats, there will be no death, but if it sinks, people will begin to die." He threw in the rock and it sank right there.

That is how death got started in The World. Now, when the ravens come around, we don't like it at all.
-- Story told by Yellow Bear to his daughter.

I had defeated Shea, again, at our nightly game. He sulked off, as always, muttering under his breath.
Sitting back in my chair, I toasted the feathered head of my victorious jeddak with upraised snifter of brandy. His frozen expression remained the same. Whether greeted by glorious triumph or bitter defeat, no man could know the emotions that churned beneath that chiseled brow.

My glance chanced upward to the stone arch that led to the east veranda, and paused there for a moment as I studied for the thousandth time the "X" scratched into the concrete by the sword of my uncle.

It was past midnight on a warm summer night. The stillness was almost tangible, broken only by the ticking of a grandfather clock in the next room. My mind wandered to Barsoom, as it often did at such times, and I picked out the Red Planet through the large bay window. It seemed to glow even more brightly than usual.

I thought about John Carter and his princess, the incomparable Dejah Thoris; their son Carthoris, and daughter Tara, whose adventures among the Chessmen of Mars had provided me with a means to lord it over my smug secretary. I admit that Shea played a passable game of chess; but with the intricacies of jetan he could not cope. Like Gahan of Gathol, however, I was a master of the game.

I picked up my jeddak and strolled toward the veranda, sipping brandy and examining the detail of the carving. A reader of mine had made the set. Who can fathom the devotion of fans, or the lengths they'll go to in appreciation of a simple chronicler's work? That this fan happened to be in Leavenworth made the gesture no less touching.

A contentment washed over me that was satisfying beyond words. Looking up from the jeddak to the red orb in the sky, I felt a strong attraction. My research for a recent novel revealed that the Apaches called the planet "Gora-ban-Hinsu" -- The Weeping Lover. Its hue reminded them of sorrowful eyes.

The pull was greater than I'd ever known before, and as I leaned against the rail of the veranda, I wondered if this might be the night that I, too, would be drawn across the trackless void home.

The clank of metal shattered my reverie, and the attraction faded as suddenly as it had come upon me. Turning, I saw two warriors in the garb of my uncle's adopted world. One of them, in fact, was John Carter himself.

"Kaor, nephew!" the Warlord said by way of greeting, and I replied enthusiastically in kind, rushing to clasp his hand. He had not changed in the years since I had seen him last.

His companion, a red man of regal bearing, looked on silently. He devoured my humble home with his depthless blue eyes, which glowed with an intense interest, if somewhat detached. This was a fighting man, a warrior of Barsoom, straight as the blade that swung easily at his hip and just as deadly. There was a majesty about him that demanded near-reverence.

John Carter was an imposing presence, it's true. But with him, Warlord though he'd become, I'd always felt more than at ease. He would forever be the "Uncle Jack" who bandied me about on his knee during my babyhood, each of us laughing heartily.

I felt small before this other. There was something about him that suggested the weight of a world upon his shoulders, a fearful burden that would crush lesser mortals. And yet, despite the menace that flitted just below his surface, I felt also that no harm could ever befall me while near him.

John Carter laid one hand upon the shoulder of his companion, and with the other drew me closer.

"I would introduce you, nephew, to one who needs no introduction anywhere upon Barsoom," John Carter said solemnly. "My Jeddak, I present the sole living member of my family upon Jasoom: Edgar Rice Burroughs, a scribe of no mean talent. Nephew, this is Tardos Mors, Emperor of Helium."

Those icily distant eyes softened almost imperceptably as the Jeddak of Helium touched my shoulder.

"Thy name is known well among my people," Tardos Mors said in a voice that resonated against the thickness of the night, heavy with a strange accent. "But more importantly, it is writ with honor upon The Wall of Family in the Hall of Jeddaks."

Shea often remarks that I am never at a loss for words. Would that he had been there that night as I stammered before the most powerful ruler of Mars.

Sensing my discomfort, John Carter led us back into my study, a word of explanation upon his lips.

"It has long been my hope to one day bring Dejah Thoris to visit the planet of my birth," he said. "Recently, Kar Komak and I discovered a way to impart the secret to any I choose."

"John Carter sought to bring my granddaughter hither, across the void," said the Jeddak. "But I intervened."

"No Barsoomian had ever made the crossing," continued John Carter.

"It was a risk I would not permit," finished Tardos Mors. There was something in the way he said it that convinced me that no man, not even John Carter, could have persuaded the Jeddak otherwise. "And, I had reasons of my own for wishing to visit ... The World."

At that last comment, John Carter glanced quizically for a moment toward the great Jeddak.

Perhaps it was the brandy. Or perhaps it was my exhilaration at seeing John Carter again. But I was feeling more at ease, even giddy, at this unexpected visit. My tongue had returned.

"I am honored, my lord, that you saw fit to take the place of the Princess on this first journey to Earth," I said.

Raising my glass to those that John Carter had filled for the Jeddak and himself, I added: "May many such visits be possible."

The gaze of Tardos Mors moved from one object to another in my sanctuary. I hoped it would take in the lion's head on the wall, a trophy from my most recent visit to Greystoke's estate in Africa. The Band-lu spear from Caprona was another prized possession.

But the Jeddak's eyes scarcely paused on either of those trifles, coming to rest, instead, on the jetan board.

Depositing his snifter upon my desk, the Jeddak walked to the set and lightly retrieved the white princess that Shea had so recently given up. He stared at it a long moment.

"An incredible likeness," Tardos Mors finally murmured. A faraway sadness tinged those somber tones.

"I'm told that it is modeled upon my feeble descriptions of your granddaughter," I explained.

That peeked the interest of my uncle, who joined the Jeddak at the table.

"There is something familar about the features," admitted John Carter.

"Shis-Inday," breathed the Jeddak. "My princess."

John Carter and I waited for more, but it wasn't forthcoming. After several moments of silence, the Warlord touched the shoulder of Helium's Jeddak, who turned and sank heavily into the plush couch near my desk. I suspected Earth's gravity was an enormous strain on the Martian, but he said nothing of it and so neither did I.

"She is beautiful," I said, watching as the great Jeddak gently held the carving. "The picture of youth and vitality."

"Youth!" cried Tardos Mors, flashing anger in my direction. "What can that word mean to you, a Jasoomian, whose life is over in the barest fraction of an instant? I have ruled Helium for more than four centuries and for twice that span my own noble sire sat with furrowed brow upon the throne of our mighty Empire. Youth! On this planet, the word is a mockery."

John Carter and I were startled by the bitterness in the voice of Tardos Mors.

"Your entire lives are lived in infancy," the Jeddak continued, more subdued. He set the ivory figure softly on a table at his side. "How do you stand it? I have been told the ways of your Usen are mysterious; and with that explanation I have learned to be satisfied. It took me many lonely years to accept the truth of it, though."

Tardos Mors went to the window, gazing into the night sky.

"Would you like to hear the tale of Shis-Inday?" he asked, without turning.

John Carter and I said that we would, so he told us the story that I have set down here in his own words, as nearly as I can recall them.

Chapter One: The Death of Kings words by Jeff, art by David

The distance between the twin cities of Helium was never greater for me than it was on the day of my brother's death.

As one hundred thoats carrying the highest ranking officers of my father's Navy paraded in single file toward the capital, the Scarlet Tower of Greater Helium grew on the horizon and the Yellow Tower of Lesser Helium shrank behind us. At the procession's head was a golden chariot, bearing the body of my brother. His mortal wounds remained undressed, as befit tradition. It fell to me, the ranking officer of his command, to bear Mors Kajak to his Reward.

Silently I rode, directly behind that chariot. As I stared at it, my mind replayed again and again the scene that had cost my empire its rightful heir and my father, Moros Tar, his eldest son.

It had been my fault.

A nudge at my arm, and I turned to see an odwar gesturing toward the Gate of Jeddaks. It was lined with faces, straining for a glimpse of the truth they had been told, but could not believe without the testimony of their own eyes.

A thousand times had I passed beneath that yawning portal into the city of my ancestors; but ever had it been at the head of a victorious army. Those same faces had shouted my name in unbridled passion as anthems were sung to Helium's honor. I often rode at the side of my brother in those happier days.

I wished now that it was he who was conducting this funeral march; that it was my corpse in the chariot.

The streets that day were a grim affair I can barely stand to recall, even these many years later. The journey through Lesser Helium, where my brother had ruled as Jed, had been even more difficult. All of Helium loved Mors Kajak.

As we passed beneath somber balconies, barely a sound could be heard -- save the soft padding of our thoats.

Eventually, I knelt before my Jeddak in the Temple of Reward, surrounded by tapestries that bore images of my ancestors going back to the dawn of the Empire. After the brief moment that protocol demanded, my father bid me rise, and I spoke words that were old as the Empire:

"Mors Kajak, Jed of Lesser Helium, Defender of the Faith and son of Moros Tar, seeks his Reward," I intoned, according to tradition. "May he serve Issus in the proud manner he has served Helium."

My voice held. Barely.

Moros Tar looked down upon me from the Throne of Righteousness. He did not speak the ancient response.

Instead, he closed his eyes. When his lids fluttered open, there was an unmistakable redness.

"I am tired," said Moros Tar. "The war has taken an awful toll."

There was a heaviness in his voice I'd never heard before.

"My brother's victory was glorious, father," I said slowly, not reacting to the subtle stirring in the great chamber behind me. "The Seige of Flemster is ended."

Flemster is the Heliumetic city to the northeast of the capital that was the scene of my brother's triumph. It was also the place of my greatest shame.

Moros Tar gazed silently upon my upturned face, his own countenance a mask. It was then that I noticed, for the first time, that he'd begun to age. The realization stunned me, as if I'd been struck with the flat of a longsword in battle. There were lines about his eyes. The faintest streaks of gray were shot through the jet-black hair I had always remembered. I detected the weight upon his shoulders that eight hundred years of rule had brought to bear.

I saw my father as none -- save my mother, perhaps -- had ever seen him before. Something of his loneliness was imparted to me in the still chamber that day.

"It was no victory," he said.

Then Moros Tar smiled. Under the circumstances, it shocked me more than the realization that he had become an old man.

"My jedwars have told me of my son's prowess in the field of battle," the Jeddak continued. "Of the honor he has brought to the House of Mor, and to all of Helium. I am proud."

"The name Mors Kajak will long be remembered," I said.

"Yes," agreed the Jeddak. "Remembered in Helium, and feared throughout the rest of Barsoom. But he was not the son I spoke of. "

I shook my head, knowing a thing that neither my father nor his jedwars knew.

"The Siege of Flemster shall ever bring great sorrow to my heart," Moros Tar continued. "The Empire has lost a promising Jeddak. And yet, it gained another whose likeness will do honor to these walls."

I said nothing, which shamed me even more.

The Jeddak stepped down from his throne and laid both hands upon my shoulders.

"I sail for Dor tomorrow," he said. "I leave this world knowing the Empire is safe in your care, Tardos Mors Jeddak of Helium."

Without another word, my father retired to his private apartments at the back of the Temple. At first, his posture was bent. But as he walked away from me, he regained his full height. There was dignity to his step, and purpose.

Moros Tar was about to make peace with his ancestors; and seek his own Reward.

I could only stare after him, my mind a jumble of conflicting emotion.

Dor! He could not embark upon the Final Pilgrimage now! Flemster had been relieved, but the war was far from won. The twin cities themselves were threatened from the east by Ptarthian forces.

Though his last words had been softly spoken, meant for my ears alone, it was clear that many of the nobles and officers in the chamber had heard, or guessed the Jeddak's intention. The stirring at my back rose, and soon hushed whispers became louder. Within moments, a buzz of confusion prevailed. One high- ranking officer hurriedly departed. There was a single shout from the rear -- "Nay!" -- and I felt a tug at my elbow. Questions I could not answer were asked.

I pulled away.

Turning, I faced the body of Mors Kajak. He lay there, on the dais, eyes open. The Jed sometimes slept with open eyes, a thing I chided him about as a child. The red stain upon his chest, however, proclaimed that my brother's sleep was one from which he would never awaken.

Dashing to the rear of the Temple, I tore open the door to my father's private sanctuary.

But the Jeddak was gone.

Chapter Two: Little Green Men ~ words by Jeff, art by Duane 

A whop of recognition went up from the savage horde. . .The thought of my accession left me cold.

There were many about the palace who shared their opinions with me, none of which I desired to hear. Scribes and historians, poets, astronomers, psychologists, educators, nobles of every rank, warlords and even slaves whispered their views on the subject. I shunned them all in favor of the companionship of my fellow soldiers. Among them, I was but a warrior of Helium the only rank I desired, and the only position Id ever been taught to endure.

The transfer of an heir to the throne is a reverant, tradition- bound process in Helium. Precise protocols have been observed throughout the ages. Moros Tar's sudden departure threw the Empire into chaos.

Though the the people were ready to immediately proclaim me Jeddak, it was not so simple a thing -- especially since Moros Tar made no formal declaration of his intent to step down from the throne. His grief must have been greater than I could have suspected. I heard murmurings that perhaps his mind had become unbalanced by the loss of his heir and Jeddara in so short a span. My mother had been killed the year before in a Ptarthian raid upon the capital.

Moros Tar's eyes had looked southward, to Dor. There were his Jeddara, my mother, and now his eldest son, my brother.

And there, too, was the Jeddak's weary heart.

Truth to tell, despite the reverence that still held in those days for the pilgrimage upon the bosom of Iss, I cared not to see my father take that final voyage. He was, after all, my father. And no man could ever return from Dor. Not even a jeddak.

I thought his act selfish. While my father had lost a princess and son, I had lost a mother and brother. Now, I had lost a father -- and Helium had lost its Jeddak. Who bore the greatest sorrow?

War still raged between Helium and Ptarth, and so concerns of the heart had to wait for later contemplation. I took command of the Navy, and left the details of accession to the nobles who cared much more about such things than I. To me, victory was what mattered. And vengeance for Mors Kajak's death. Silently, I thought to redeem myself for my failure at Flemster.

A Ptarthian fleet was massing to the east, and it was there that I cast my attention. Aboard my flagship, I took the battle directly to the enemy, as has ever been the way of Helium.

A week of uninterrupted naval warfare filled the skies over that barren stretch of land. Our ships coursed back and forth, north and south -- but never did the invaders approach closer than a thousand haads of the capital.

We had all but routed the enemy, when a small detachment of Ptarthian ships broke off from the main group. By their course, I determined that no good could come from this development, as it appeared they were attempting to bypass our fleet and make way for the twin cities. My flagship and several others of the task force pursued, leaving the balance of the Heliumetic fleet to mop up what was left of the battle.

From the bow of the lead enemy vessel broke the colors of the Prince of Ptarth, and almost immediately she began firing upon my flagship. I gave the order to hoist my own device and return fire.

And thus began a long, running battle. Eventually, my flagship and the Prince of Ptarth's vessel became isolated -- flying ever eastward, and firing almost constantly upon one another. We'd long ago lost contact with other ships of our respective fleets.

After one particularly horrific volley, I saw the enemy ship begin to list. Fire broke out upon her deck, and men scrambled to repair what appeared to be massive damage. From the sides of the reeling behemoth were launched hundreds of one-man fliers. Once clear, the smaller ships raced headlong in our direction, firing all the way.

I could not help but admire their tenacity as we mowed them down with more powerful and precise guns.

But a few did get through our raking fire. I gave the order to launch several squads of one-man fliers, to engage them directly. I swung to a craft as well. A prince of Helium does not send his men into combat. He leads them.

My craft twisted and turned upon the enemy, and a score went down before my fire ere I was struck by an opposing projectile. But that one shot was enough to spell disaster.

It exploded on the low windshield that buffered the racing wind, and sent a strip of skeel crashing across my brow -- a glancing, yet effective blow. I was knocked backward, senseless, upon the speed lever of my machine.

When I woke, I found myself hurtling at incredible speed close to the bed of an unfamiliar sea bottom.

Pulling myself up, I could see no craft of either fleet. It had been morning when the battle began, but now it was late afternoon. That my craft avoided disaster during those long hours as it raced unguided is a matter of pure chance.

But now, a low structure suddenly loomed in my path. I barely had time to pull the nose of my flier up the fraction of a degree necessary to avoid calamity. As I shot past the structure's roof, I glanced over my shoulder to see what strange object it could be that lay out here in the desolate wastes of a dead sea bottom. The sight that met my eyes brought a chill to my soul.

On the far side of the low building were a thousand green men. The beasts and chariots of a caravan were scattered about the encampment. Most of the barbaric warriors, shouting and pushing, seemed to be swarmed about a deep pit, not far from the structure I'd nearly run headlong into. As I shot by in my mad flight, the wind shrieking past the bow of my trim ship, their heads turned as one to follow my trajectory. A whoop of recognition went up from the savage horde, and as I jammed the speed lever to its final notch I heard their rifles belch at me.

The famed accuracy of the green man's rifle is no myth, and I was struck almost as soon as I recognized my peril. My buoyancy tanks ruptured in a dozen places and my motor was ripped nearly from the one-man flier's hull. Miraculously, but no doubt intentionally, I was not struck by their pellets. My craft plunged Barsoomward, and I crashed none too softly in one of those scattered pockets where the ochre moss is deep and plush which saved me from being mangled in the wreckage.

Dazed, but not seriously hurt, I leaped to my feet as the green men bore down upon me. My sword flashed from its scabbard and I prepared to take on an entire horde, alone.

I hacked at the foremost, slicing an arm from the middle shoulder of one and disemboweling another. Incredibly, none of the towering green men raised a weapon against me. Instead, they overpowered me by sheer numbers and bore me to the ground, helpless beneath their great weight and size.

I'd accounted for a half-dozen before I was carried off in the direction from which they'd come.

Lofted above their heads, I was taken back toward the low building which I recognized now in tumbling glimpses as an incubator used by the green hordes, larger than those I'd encountered elsewhere on Barsoom, but of essentially the same design. The savages had not confiscated my weapons, though I could make no use of them. A dozen rough hands clutched me tightly. Before I could guess their intent, I'd been tossed heavily into the pit and landed on my back on the hard clay at its bottom a drop of about twenty of your Jasoomian "feet."

As I rose slowly to my own feet, momentarily stunned by the impact, I saw that another red man already occupied this roughly- hewn arena. A roar went up from the green men encircled above as I looked over my fellow prisoner. He was resting on one knee, the point of his sword in the ground. He leaned on the pommel to steady himself. The red man was covered in blood, his flesh torn in a hundred places. He looked half-dead, breathing in great gasps.

"If they expect us to fight, warrior, they'll be disappointed," I said under my breath, glancing up at the contorted green faces. "I'll not raise my blade against one who so obviously has no power to harm me."

He shook his head, gesturing weakly about us. I noticed then the bodies piled about the pit. Young green ones, scarcely out of the shell; miniatures of the monsters above, hacked to pieces presumably by the sword of this red man.

"Two days," the warrior grunted. "Possibly three. I've lost count. No sleep. No food or water. But they keep coming."

The sea of hideous faces above parted and others replaced them at the rim of the pit. Without preamble, a half-dozen green hatchlings were dumped over the side as precariously as I had been.

Four feet tall, the young were more head than body. But their scrawny appearance was deceiving.

Green Barsoomians emerge from the shell even more ferocious than their hideous sires, guided by a heredity instinct devoted to one thing: destruction of whatever they encounter. More often than not, the hatchlings use four of their six limbs for locomotion, and thus possess an uncanny, lightning-like speed. If they see a thing, their only thought is to attack it. I'd heard tell of hatchlings falling upon the green women assigned to rear them in their formative months and rending them limb from limb an occurrence that is the height of hilarity among other members of the horde.

It was such as these that I faced mindless, deadly things, visions of horror incarnate.

The infants, if one may call them that, landed all about me. I had no time for further discussion with my fellow captive. Nearly as soon as the hatchlings touched the red clay, they began looking wildly about with their large, protuding eyes. Spying one or the other of us, they leaped insanely in our direction with tearing fingers, goring tusks and distended jaws. It was madness, the way the little creatures swarmed about, tearing at my flesh! Fresh from the incubator, stark naked, the inhuman terrors had no speech or sentient thought only a craving to wreak havoc with whatever lay in their path, whether myself, the red man or each other.

Drawing my blade, I slashed to left and right wreaking an unholy havoc of my own amongst the hissing demons. Uproarious laughter descended from all sides of the pit. I clove the head clean off one of the hatchlings and it flew into the chest of another, knocking the thing backwards. The guffaws from above were like to have drowned me.

The red man, I could see, had barely the strength left to lift his sword, so I made my way to a position directly in front of him and did what I could to keep the tiny horde at bay. It was no easy task, for as soon as I dispatched a few of the things, more would be flung downward to take their places.


The grim scene played itself out for zodes. When darkeness fell, the green men brought torches to light the battle. I fought through the night, beneath that flickering glare, till morning broke. With each swing of my sword I felt more admiration for the red man behind me who had endured this insanity for three days without interlude. I had no time to wonder why the green men were throwing their young to a frightful slaughter. I was preoccupied with preventing my own slaughter and that of the man at my back.

In their haste, the green men sometimes tossed still- unhatched eggs along with the squirming man-things; they burst on the ground in a purplish slime, which covered me from head to foot. Had I not been so preoccupied, the whole affair would have nauseated me.

A dozen creatures tumbled into the pit directly in front of me.

Shaking themselves momentarily, they soon discovered me and leaped in my direction. One of the monstrosities ripped at my jugular with its tusks; another clawed at my leg; and a third had managed to attach itself to my back.

More came at me, taking advantage of the opening created by their fellow hatchlings. Soon, the entire tiny horde was clinging and swarming about me.

I could make no use of my sword in those tight quarters. Stumbling blindly forward, I tore at the creatures' maddening grip.

Then I slipped in embryonic ooze, and went down on my knees in the hard-packed clay.

The balance of the dozen hatchlings swarmed over my crumpled form. I felt their tusks and teeth and claw-like fingers rending every part of my body. I sank lower, unable to stand, thinking:

"A horrible death..."

Chapter Three: Truce ~ words by Jeff, art by Duane 

As long as breath has moved in the breast of Tardos Mors, he has stuggled to live. It has always been thus, and ever will be. It was so that day in that damnable pit of the Warhoons.

I thrashed, rolling across the ground, trying to dislodge the diminutive green things. I swung my arms like a madman and savagely kicked with my legs braining at least one of the brainless hatchlings, but sending the others into even more of a frenzied bloodlust.

My own blood was up as well, however, and as I struggled that day with the frothing young of the green men, my blows were animated by no science taught me by Helium's finest warlords. I fought entirely by instinct; lashing and stabbing, rolling and biting, perhaps jabbering in the same unintelligible tongue that my attackers employed. I do not know, for I remember little of it nor do I care to. All I know is that I fought in a way I had never fought before, or since: without regard to reason, or chivalry, or any other of the things that red men consider sacred in honorable combat.

I fought for survival.

And, by Issus, I survived.

When the last of my antagonists lay dead at my feet, I rose slowly and shook the hazy fog from my befuddled brain. I stumbled toward my red companion, through a maze of mangled flesh and broken shells. He still lived.


He'd accounted for several of the ungodly hatchlings, despite his weakened condition.

"You fight like the green men themselves," whispered the red man. "A shame they were not here to see it."

I looked up and saw that our captors had disappeared from their perches at the rim of our pit. The sound of a great battle raged somewhere above. The clank of metal upon metal, the green men's rifles and hoarse battle cries were unmistakable in the late morning still.

"The Tharks have discovered the Warhoons, Tardos Mors," said my companion. "And they are not pleased with this grim plan for slaying Thark young.

"So that's what this is all about," I mused, taking stock of our situation. Then I looked closer to the red man, remembering that he'd called me by name. But through the gore that covered him, I could not tell if I'd ever met this warrior before.

"Thuvan Dihn, Prince of Ptarth, occupies this hellish pit with you, Tardos Mors of Helium," said the bloodied warrior. "Though we be enemies, I suggest our predicament makes us temporay allies."

The Prince of Ptarth! Wrecker of my beloved Helium; a leader of the nation that had sent Mors Kajak to his death, and my father to the knee of Issus!

All my ancestors cried out for vengeance.

And yet --

Despite the bloodshed between Helium and Ptarth, I could not deny Thuvan Dihn's rationale that present circumstances demanded cooperation. Green savages had a way of turning the most bitter of enemies into allies.

"A truce, then," I agreed, not without difficulty.

We had spoken, and now turned our attention to escape.

The raging battle above grew loud at times, and then faded as it moved to and fro across the sea bottom. I knew that simply escaping the pit was the least of our worries for when we emerged, likely as not we'd do so in the midst of two enraged green hordes. In the heat of battle, a green savage kills first, seldom pausing to examine the body afterward.

Unmolested by the constant deluge of hatchlings, I saw that the roughly hewn walls of our prison were jagged enough to provide a handhold. It would be possible, if precarious, to climb to the rim. Thuvan Dihn was so weak from his long days of battle that I decided to fasten his harness to mine by way of the grappling hooks all Barsoomian navy men carry.

Gingerly, I began the ascent. It was slow work, and I nearly fell back into the pit more than once as my grip loosened in the slippery clay, dragged down by the weight of a nearly unconscious Ptarthian.

Carefully drawing myself up over the rim of the pit, clutching softly at the ochre moss, I looked out across the dead sea bottom for sign of discovery. A short distance away, a small group had broken off from the main battle. Perhaps a dozen green savages fought there, for the moment oblivious to all but their own struggles for victory.

The main forces of fighting men were quite a long distance beyond that; scattered over several haads in the direction of the setting sun. I watched them a moment, appalled by the unprincipled ferocity of a green battle. Hundreds of dead and dying lay haphazardly everywhere that I looked. Even the hideously maimed were crawling or rolling in the direction of a foe, to plunge sword or dagger into scarred flesh. Those who had no arms left with which to wield a weapon gored at the belly of the closest enemy with their wicked tusks. Even the green women joined in the fighting -- a thing I'd never witnessed. They clawed at each other with a savagery that rivaled that of their lords.

The sight of this battle would forever be burned into my memory for its barbarity, and I am the veteran of a thousand bloody campaigns.

I'd fought at the head of Helium's army against the savage green hordes of Thark many times. Never before had I seen two hordes pitted against each other like this though I knew it was a common enough occurence in the wastelands they inhabit. Perhaps the cause of their fight destruction of the Thark hatchlings made it even more bloodthirsty than most.

It surprised me, somewhat, that the Thark incubator was so far from the hordes' usual stomping grounds, closer to Helium. But, at the time, little was known of their nomadic ways. In fact, little was known about the green men at all. Some scholars in Helium debated whether they had sentient thought.

The smaller group of combatants was close enough that I knew Thuvan Dihn and I could not simply get up and go our own way without being seen. Even if we could have, neither of us had the strength for much of a march. I cast about for some possible solution to our predicament.

My entire body ached from a score of wounds; my throat was parched and my stomach empty. I could hear the prince of Ptarth's labored breathing. He was barely conscious. Then I noticed the incubator.

"Why not?" I whispered.

In the distance, I could see many hatchlings darting in and out amongst the battling green warriors, savagely attacking members of either side. The little monsters seemed to be quite enjoying themselves in the thick of the melee. I didn't begrudge them their child's game, so long as I was no longer a playmate. It seemed likely that all the newly hatched Tharks had escaped the incubator and were now running wild, savoring their first taste of the only joy their humorless lives had in store. I hoped the incubator was deserted, for it meant a temporary means of shelter and nourishment for Thuvan Dihn and me. If nothing else, there would be water. And its walls would protect us from the uncanny eyesight of the green men while we rested.

Creeping stealthily, Thuvan Dihn and I managed to make our way into the incubator without being discovered by its savage builders. We found no hatchlings within, for which I breathed a silent sigh of relief. My companion settled heavily against a wall, while I sought out the nutrient and water supplies that fed the eggs during their five-year gestation. But for size, green Barsoomian incubators differ little from our own the design of which has not varied for ten thousand generations. I quickly found what I was looking for and returned to Thuvan Dihn's side.

Having eaten, and quenched intolerable thirst, we slept as the din of battle raged about the ancient structure's walls.

by Jeff Long

ERBzine 1620
Intro & Contents
ERBzine 1621
Section 1
ERBzine 1622
Section 2
ERBzine 1623
Section 3
ERBzine 1624
Section 4
ERBzine 1625
Section 5

Jeff Long's Barsoomian Blade & Panthan Press Features in ERBzine
Blade 1 | Blade 2 | Blade 3 | Blade 4 | Blade 5 | Blade Fiction 1 | Fiction 2 | Fiction 3 | Fiction 4
Princess of Jasoom | Princess 1 | Princess 2 | Princess 3 | Princess 4 | Princess 5 |

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