Back in the village of Nu-al,
the boy Jarn had made secret plans to sneak off with the warriors and the
girl on their expedition to Sari. Jarn had no idea where Sari was, only
that it was a far off land, and that there was bound to be loads of adventure
along the way.
But something unexpected had
occurred that altered Jarn’s plans.
While lying asleep on the mat in his
own chamber in the hut of Ju-Kar, the Elder who had raised him, Jarn overheard
the old man talking with two warriors of the village. It was the beginning
of the sleep period, and the two warriors were among the village guards.
Jarn was told that the men would be discussing grown-up things, and sent
him to his chamber early. It might have irked Jarn that he was very near
the age where he could qualify as an adult warrior, but still they left
him out, treating him like a child. When he had helped in the liberation
of the Nu-al people from Zhuma, Jarn thought at first that the older warriors
would accept him as one of their number. That they did not left the boy
disappointed and miffed. They probably still did not entirely believe his
tale of tricking a Mulag warrior, and stealing his thipdar. But he was
determined to join them on the expedition to Sari. Such a journey, fraught
with peril and adventure made the adventurous lad’s head swim. He had tried
his best to show disinterest, while the warriors were preparing for the
long trek. He had even worked with the other village youth on his chores.
So much in fact, that some of the adult overseers began to eye him suspiciously.
So he decided to throw out a question or two concerning the journey to
Sari. He was sharply reprimand, told it was none of his business. Which
satisfied him just fine.
Now that the sleep period had arrived,
it would soon be time to make his move. They were state to leave the village
immediately after the waking. He would pretend first to sleep late, like
the lazy boy they all took him for, but once everyone, Ju-Kar included,
was caught up in the seeing the men off, he would make his move. He had
planned his secret route through a gap in the wall and into the forest
beyond. He would then trail the expedition, making sure not to show himself
until they were well beyond Nu-al, and could not send him home—unless of
course they needed him, in the event a beast attacked for instance. The
boy’s heartbeat was loud already, and Jarn forced himself to be calm; he
almost feared the others could hear his heartbeat.
“A will be sure to see them off,” a
warrior named Kobar was saying. “I shall still volunteer to accompany Torak
and the others, if Zog wishes.” He, Boko, and Ju-Kar were seat in a circle
on the mats in the room beyond. Jarn could easily hear their conversation
through the wall.
“I do not believe that is necessary,
Mokar.” Ju-Kar said. “But I would personally feel better if you and at
least four others trailed them at least until they got beyond the country
of the O-lar. It seems Nuvia, Queen of O-lar does not trust us. I doubt
that they would attack, but one can never trust other tribes.”
“The O-lar have existed peacefully
alongside us for generations. We have not entered their country; nor they
ours.” Boko said grimly. “What could Nuvia have against us?”
“I thought the O-lar were grateful
to us for liberating them along with ourselves, when we escaped Zhuma.”
Ju-Kar sighed heavily. “I am
afraid it is the boy Jarn. It seems he took a liking to a girl named Jarla
of O-lar. They got acquainted while they were both prisoners of the Mahars.”
“Yes, I remember.” said Boko. “But
the boy helped the girl escape. I thought that was why the O-lar were grateful.”
“Indeed they were, at first.” said
the elder. “but it seems this Jarla is Nuvia’s neice. And she does not
take kindly to the idea of her associating with a Nu-al boy—especially
one like Jarn.”
Kobar and Boko exchanged grins. “So it seems
she knows the boy’s reputation.”
“It does. There was much gossip
following the liberation of ourselves and other tribes. I fear that it
was this that has kept the O-lar from allying themselves with us. And that
could become dangerous for both our tribes should we become threatened
by the Mahars again. After the red-haired outlander and his comrades helped
to unite our tribes, we had little trouble overthrowing the reptiles. It
saddens me that the O-lar have thus far refused to cooperate.”
“Can we gain their trust again?”
“I do not know. All I believe we can
do now is leave the O-lar in peace and hope for the best. At least until
the matter of Jarla is settled.”
“Nuvia herself had chosen Jarla a mate.
Apparently she has hand-picked him, for fear she will run off to find Jarn,
or perhaps another Nu-al.”
“Surely, that will settle things.”
“Perhaps.” the old man said. “If I
were Nuvia, I might well having similar feelings about this. But the man
she has chosen as a mate for her niece….from what I’ve heard, I do not
like the sound of him. He is a warrior named Lu-Gor, who is in high standing
with Nuvia herself. He is supposed to be one of O-lar’s bravest and strongest,
and I am told he killed zarith single-handedly…”
“How could single warrior
have achieved that?” asked Boko. Both young men were astonished at this,
for the zarith is perhaps the most dreaded beast in all Pellucidar, and
even an army of warriors would stand little chance.
The elder gave them a wry smile. “I
do not know. I am told he found a vulnerable portion on the beast’s underbelly,
and that he killed it with his spear.”
The warriors exchanged glances, partly
in amusement. But they knew if this Lu-Gor had indeed accomplished this
feet, he had to be a mighty warrior indeed, or at least a very brave and
“But I do not believe the
man’s story.” said Ju-Kar. “A zarith’s underbelly is mailed in armor plate.”
That is right.” said Boko. “Tarok
and I came upon a dead one once.”
The elder nodded. “Even if this Lu-Gor
is a mighty warrior, it seems he has accomplished little else besides this
one feat. His fellow O-lar seem to regard him with a bit of amusement,
for if things begin to go against them on a hunt, Lu-gor often runs away.
And if a dangerous enemy threatens O-lar, Lu-gar seems to have a way of
turning up absent. Of course, the man always has some excuse, like he was
still asleep, and had no idea the village was under attack.”
“His kind always does.” said Kobar.
“If indeed the man is as I suspect.
In any event, I feel pity for the girl who is to become his mate. Do not
repeat this, but I would be less hesitant to marry the girl to a loyal
man of another tribe, than to one such as this Lu-gor. I more than suspect
the man’s capacity for loyalty. Jarn, shiftless and irresponsible as he
all too often is, I nonetheless do not doubt the boy’s tribal loyalty for
a second. I have raised Jarn, and know the boy well.”
“But why must she marry this
man? Surely there are worthier men among her tribe?” Boko asked.
“As I said, somehow he is in high standing
with Queen Nuvia. But back to the mater at hand….”
Jarn, who had been secretly taking
all of this in, was stupefied. Jarla! He had nearly forgotten about her
since she had rejoined her own tribe after the sacking of Zhuma. He had
tried to see her at first, but the warriors only told him that she as back
among her own people and did not want to see him. They had told him the
girl had chosen a mate, a strong brave warrior of own people.
Jarn had been crushed. Then talk
of the expedition to Sari had started, and the boy had been caught up in
it. But all the time, he had been lied to! Jarla had not chosen a mate
at all! They had chosen for her.
His earlier plans abandoned,
Jarn lay there feigning sleep, until long after the two warriors had gone,
and Ju-Kar himself had retired. Then the boy sprang to his calloused feet,
and crept quickly and silently out of hut and through the sleeping village.
He reached the gap in the southeastern wall and crawled through. Then he
set out immediately for O-lar, using his inborn sense of direction to guide
He took to the shadowed depths of the
great jungle, his small agile form gliding through the green and black
shadows as he made his way through the forested leagues which separated
Nu-al from O-lar. He avoided the great beasts of prey which haunted the
forest aisles when ever and however he could. Often, the boy enjoyed taunting
the great carnivore for his own amusement, but this time he was not out
on a lark, but intended on reaching O-lar as soon as he could. He knew
well to avoid the spoor of beasts such as the ryth and the tarag, and was
able to avoid contact with them. He was charged only once, but one of the
great reptiles, a giant bipedal lizard-beast called a Xarg, which is a
smaller cousin to the zarith. Science knows the beast as the ceratosaurus
of the Jurassic, and it resembles a dwarfish allosaurus with a blunt horn
on the tip of its reptilian muzzle. It came upon the young Nu-al when the
boy was lapping water thirstily from a jungle stream. The horned reptile
gave vent to a cry like steam-whistle, searing Jarn’s ears, as it bore
itself upon him. Without difficulty the boy located a sizable tree, and
swarmed up primate fashion. Once out of reach, Jarn sat down on a sturdy
limb, and pelted the enraged saurian with boyish taunts until the beast
gave up in search of easier prey than the young manling.
Other than the Xarg, Jarn made no direct
encounters with dangerous animals, and he reached the land of the O-lar
shortly. The boy climbed a high ridge overlooking O-lar. The village was
located in a deep valley, with forested hillocks on all sides. The crystal
blue of a lake shone in the distance. The huts were arranged in circular
fashion. The boy thought for moment the course of action he should now
take. Jarla’s people would instinctively mistrust a boy of another tribe,
especially if they knew who he was—and there was a good chance they might
suspect who he was and why he was here, even if he weren’t recognized.
He did not care at all for an encounter with their queen, so there was
no possibility of presenting himself directly to them, even were he to
lie about his identity. Jarn was good at lying—he’d had his share
of practice—but he would merely be turned around and sent on his way-if
he was lucky. And there was always the possibility that some of the O-lar
whom he encountered after the sacking of Zhuma would recognize him.
No, he would have to skirt the edge
of the village, then find a way to spy on them until he could certain where
But what if she really
Jarn didn’t even want to think about that.
He made his way down form the crag, and made his way carefully around the
village. Once, he boy was alerted to the sounds of voices coming from nearby.
Jarn hid behind a screen of bushes and peered stealthily out. A large party
of warriors were returning to the village. Jarn saw immediately they were
both male and female. As Jarla herself had once told him, both the men
and women of O-lar were warriors-so unlike his own tribe. All of them wore
the brightly-striped skins of tarags, or the tawny fur of ta-hos, for the
O-lar were a savage people renowned for their ferocity. The warriors were
all talking amongst themselves. They were bearing the carcass of a slain
deer-like runiment, a synthioceras. They were conversing about their friends,
and the thrills of the hunt. Jarn strained his ears, but heard the no one
mention Jarla or her intended mate.
Once the party’s cajoling had faded, the
boy crept on, making sure to stay out of sight, and to take cover if needed.
Before long, he came out into a clearing,
and one end of which was a low ravine. And seated with her back tuned to
him on a log overlooking the ravine was –Jarla!
The boy blinked. Was it really her?
The girl looked to be his own age, or a bit older, as Jarla had been, and
the same height, the same shapely shoulders. And of course, the same abundant
mass of the thick long hair of deep auburn. But all of the O-lar had hair
of this same curious shade. Then she turned her head to the side
slightly, and Jarn caught a glimpse of her pretty, freckled face.
Jarn did not call her name.
Instead he strode to where Jarla sat, vaulted over the log, and promptly
sat down beside her.
Jarla gasped. “Jarn!” she
“I thought you could use some
company.” Jarn said.
“Go away, Jarn. I do not wish
to see you.”
“My aunt, Queen Nuvia,
has chosen a mate for me. He is a strong and brave warrior. Lu-gor is his
name. Single-handedly, he killed a zarith.”
“Of course I believe him. All of O-lar
Jarn laughed out loud.
“Do not laugh at me, Jarn! I am honored
to be Lu-gor’s mate.”
“I am not laughing at you, I’m laughing
at the O-lar, if they really believe that!”
“The O-Lar are my people.”
“I’m sorry.” Jarn said. “But
I know you like me! I helped you escape, remember?”
“I am grateful. But that was
then. Lu-Gor loves Jarla.”
“Do you love him?”
Jarla blushed fiercely.
“Of course…Jarn is foolish asking that! And Jarn is only a boy!” she added
contemptuously. “Lu-Gor is a man—a proven warrior who will be able to care
for Jarla, and hunt with her.”
“We’re almost the same
age! I’ll be a man soon. Then they’ll have to let us marry. If they won’t,
we can run off, and start our own tribe. And Lu-gor? My elder called him
a coward and a liar!”
“Jarn! Don’t say
such things! Lu-gor would kill you if he heard you talk like that. He would
break your spine like a twig!”
“Hah! Where is this big
gordo?” Jarn replied, Gordo being a term of derision among the Pellucidarans,
particularly used to insult one’s intelligence and/or masculinity, if the
target of the intended derision were male. “I’d like to see him.”
“I don’t want him to kill
you, Jarn. You are still a boy, and Lu-gor is much older and stronger.
There is no way you could conquer him. Even most of our adult male warriors
From what he had overheard concerning
Lu-Gor’s alleged cowardice, Jarn was skeptical. But he said, “Just don’t
worry about the big creep. I really like you Jarla.” And when he mouthed
those words Jarn suddenly realized how much he really meant them.
They gazed into each others eyes
for a long moment. “Oh, Jarn……” Jarla said.
She inched closer to him on the
log. Their lips drew toward each other, nearly touching.
The voice had seemed to have
issued out of nowhere, harsh and sneering.
The two young people drew away,
gasping. The man had crept across the clearing behind them. Jarn knew without
question that he was facing Lu-Gor.
He was indeed a huge warrior,
and much older than Jarn form the look of him, about early twenties in
outer-earth measurement. He had broad hulking shoulders, and arms that
were very long and heavily muscled. A long jagged scar ran down the man’s
unlovely face. Whether this was a birthmark, or the man had somehow acquired
it in battle, Jarn had no way to guess. The scar might have lent the man’s
visage a frightening appearance except….
Something about Lu-Gor’s face
gave it a distinctively unmasculine quality. Exactly what it was,
Jarn found himself unable to discern, but perhaps it was a certain softness
in the man’s features, the absence of the rough hardness that so often
characterized the face of a veteran warrior. His long nose was eloquently
shaped, and almost feminine. His eyes, narrow black and squinty, merely
looked cruel and viperish and mocking, and this alone would have made Jarn
take an instant dislike to the man. His lips that framed his gash of a
mouth were also thin and cruel, and they curved up slightly as he regarded
them mockingly. His hair was of the same deep auburn as the other O-lar,
only Lu-Gor’s was thin, lank and greasy-looking, falling over his brow
in almost unkempt strands that were nearly girlish in their length.
The unmanly character of the hulking
man made Jarn want suddenly to laugh out loud, but the boy was able to
restrain his tongue.
“So…” began Lu-Gor. “What is this impudent
little slurg doing with my mate?” As Lu-Gor’s mouth had a sneering cast
to it, so did the man’s voice. A slurg is a repulsive Pellucidaran scavenger,
not unlike a rat crossed with a serpent, and the term is not one of compliment.
“I am not your mate, Lu-Gor!” replied
Jarla in fury. “Nor will you ever be.”
Jarn realized then just how much Jarla
truly detested this man.
Lu-Gor’s unhandsome face nearly
turned purple with restrained rage. “So who do you choose, as though you
have any choice? This weak little stripling!”
“I’m no stripling!” cried Jarn,
Lu-Gor chuckled, a chortling,
ugly sound. “You look like one to me. You should run home to your elders,
brat, so I do not have to kill you.”
Jarn glared at him.
A fierce light suddenly shone
in Lu-Gor’s piggy little eyes. “Wait! I know who this is! Jarla! Have nothing
to do with this boy!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” replied the
“Don’t you know? He’s that
Nu-al stripling—that Jarn.” Lu-gor had stopped sneering, and was now talking
as though he were genuinely concerned about his future bride.
“Of course I know who he is! We met
in Zhuma, and he helped me escape!”
“I forbid you to associate
with this boy. I’ve heard all about him. Not only is he not of O-lar. He’s
a no-good, lying slacker! Not even his own people claim him.”
“At least he’s braver than you!” cried
Jarla. “He proved that by coming here. You may have fooled the others,
but I know that Lu-gor is nothing but a coward!”
“Once you are my mate, you will
regret those words!” Lu-gor raged. He turned to Jarn. “And you stripling,
I will kill you where you stand!”
Lu-Gor lunged at Jarn in
blind rage. The boy and girl were now standing and had backed away from
the log. In his rage at Jarn, Lu-Gor seemed to have forgotten the log was
there, and crashed into it, his face slamming thickly into the mossy turf
on the other side.
“What’s the matter, Lu-gordo?”
Jarn laughed. “If I were going to kill someone, I’d at least look out where
I was going!”
But he instantly pushed Jarla out of
the way, and stepped back. Lu-Gor had regained his feet, and came
charging at Jarn again.
But Jarn was smaller and quicker
than his hulking adversary. He easily ducked under what Lu-Gor intended
to be a shattering blow. In the following instant, Jarn sent a small, hard
boy-fist smashing full-force into Lu-Gor’s shapely proboscis. The man reeled
back, howling in curiously high-pitched agony, clutching at his nose as
scarlet rivels coursed down his face.
When he turned to the girl, Jarn noticed
that Jarla was grinning at him in a manner that he liked. But he knew he
had no time to enjoy it. “Jarla?” he asked.
“Take my hand!”
“No! Now is your chance!
You must run –now!”
“No, Jarla! Trust me—just this
Jarn felt the girls’ hand slip
into his. He gazed down into the depths of the ravine. It was not far,
but it looked deeper form where they were. There was a river running below
them, about thirty feet down.”
Jarn sucked in his breath. “Jump!”
For several moments he felt himself and Jarla
sailing through the air. Then they plunged into the muddy depths of the
river. Instinctively, they began swimming in furious strokes.
When they were both out of breath they stopped,
their heads breaking the surface.
“Jarn! You were wonderful!” he heard
Jarla gasp, and the words were music to his ears.
From far away, they could hear the fury of
They turned toward the cliff from which
they had leapt.
“I’ll get you stripling! No one steals
Lu-gor’s bride and lives No one!! I’ll come after you, Nu-al brat! And
when I catch you, I’ll skin you alive and tack your worthless slacker hide
to my hut!”
After Jarn had yelled back a few retorts
challenging Lu-Gor’s masculinity, the two youngsters paddled for shore.
Before Lu-Gor could recover from his fury,
the waiting forest had swallowed them up.
They were free.