Lu-Gor sat down dazed on the
log that the boy and girl had been sitting on a moment before. His poor,
damaged nose still throbbed with scarlet agony. The whelp had quite possibly
broken it. What he would do to Jarn when he caught him! He would make the
boy beg for his life before he killed him. And he would make the girl watch.
That would teach her that he was fit to become her mate, and not a man
to be trifled with. He imagined her throwing her arms about him, her lips
ravishing his, after he had pounded Jarn to a pulp.
How she had ever fallen for a slacker-brat
like Jarn in the first place was beyond him. But soon she would realize
her mistake. He thought of pursuing them now, trying to pick up their trail
on the other side of the river. But by the time he did, they were bound
to be far from here already, and they doubtless intended to put O-lar as
far behind them as they could. And there were dangerous beasts in the forest,
like the tarags the ryths, not to mention the great carnivorous reptiles.
No, Lu-Gor reasoned, he dared not pursue them alone, for he was only a
lone warrior. This required a large party.
There would be no problem in assembling
one, he realized. He already had Queen Nuvia’s ear. And he had easily persuaded
her to marry him to Jarla, once the girl had struck his fancy. The girl
despised him, recognized him for the coward that even Lu-Gor himself realized
that he was. But the queen was very much on Lu-Gor’s side, as Lu-gor was
the son of two of the greatest warriors in the village. To-lar and Zhara,
both veteran warriors had mated and produce many strong children, most
of them brave as well. But somehow Lu-Gor, even though he was their first
born and favorite, was very unlike the rest. He had been oversized even
as a child, and used his size to intimidate and bully other village children.
He was stronger than most other village boys, but those who were able to
test his courage found it utterly lacking. Lu-Gor avoided bullying boys
his own size naturally. But he was no dullard, and always found ways to
scheme or cheat others to get his own way whenever he could. He was unfailingly
loyal to the Queen—at least he pretended to be. And when he came of age,
he made certain that he observed all tribal rites and rituals, flawlessly.
When the time came for Lu-Gor’s test of manhood, he had formulated excuses
up until this time, when he was the rough equivalent of eighteen, for he
terribly feared taking on one of dreaded beasts of prey single-handedly.
He avoided accompanying even parties of armed warriors whenever he could.
Nuvia at first granted him privilege over the other youths, but at last
Lu-Gor was forced to go.
Still, most had high hopes
for Lu-Gor, as he was the first born of such honored parentage. All of
his younger siblings had already succeeded admirably. And Lu-Gor was now
an imposing and broad-shouldered man. But those who knew Lu-Gor whispered
secretly behind his back that the man was likely to panic and run on his
test—and subsequently be killed. Some warriors even put up bits of shells
and bits of carved bone as to whether Lu-Gor would return to the village
Lu-Gor himself dreaded encountering
a tarag or ryth, and began formulating a plan with which he might be able
to fake his death, and then flee form O-lar to some other land. Yes… that
would not be a bad idea. If he could pull that off, make it look like the
beast had killed him, he would be mourned as a hero in the village. Then
he could find the carcass of one of the great beasts, and take it some
other village, where none knew him, and claim he had killed it. He was
huge and hulking, and it would be without difficulty he could get others
to respect him and treat him well. They would think it wise to accept him,
as such powerful warriors as himself were always in demand, even if he
were a stranger.
They had gone for about a league through
the forest without encountering any dangerous wildlife. Then, seeking better
luck, they changed course and entered the vast plains region to the south.
They had not ventured far out onto the plain when an enormous stampede
ensued. It started slowly at first, with small animals like plains-hares
and rodents. Then the antelope, red deer, and then even the largest species--
the mighty tua, great primordial stags whose magnificent racks spanned
twelve feet. The mighty thags, or aurochs, and even the mighty plains thag,
a giant species of wooly bison with mighty sweeping horns began to charge
across the plains their hooves shaking the earth with their thunder.
Finally, even the mighty tandor and the maj were fleeing, apparently for
their lives. They bellowed mightily as they thundered over the plain, joined
even by the few species of great herbivorous saurians.
The warriors of O-lar had seen such
stampedes before. They were usually the result of a large hunting pack
of tarags, the great saber-toothed tigers, which in unison could overwhelm
even the largest grass-eaters. But what made this particular stampede exceptional-and
unnerving-was that even the predators were fleeing along with their prey,
including the mighty tarag themselves. There are few things within the
inner earth that are cause of a tarag to flee, and the O-lar did not welcome
the sight. Occasionally, such stampedes were the result of brush fires,
but they could see no plumes of smoke rising in the distance, nor could
they make out the slightest tinge or arcid smoke on the sweetly blowing
Immediately, the warriors knew what
they were facing.
“It is the zarith.” said O-lag, a bushy
bearded man who was their leader ominously. “The largest flesh-eater.”
O-lag was a veteran warrior, and had
seen this phenomenon once before. The zarith were rare within the inner
earth. Their numbers were few for the necessity that they would destroy
all other life within Pellucidar had they existed in large numbers.
“What shall we do?” asked Tor-lar,
“The same as the animals. We
run. We must run now, or all may be lost.”
The O-lar ran, still skirting
the edge of the herds, away from the bulk of the thundering horde of primordial
But then it happened. One of
the bull tandors trumpeted in agony. The great predatory saurian was already
among them, and had selected its target for the kill. The target was an
aged bull, not quite as fleet as the rest. The tyrannosaurus lunged down
upon it, felling it with one mighty bird-clawed foot. Then the tyrant lizard
commenced to devour its still-living victim, gouging out a great slab of
juicy mammoth-meat with its great jaws. The tandor screamed again in terror
and agony, curling its mighty trunk into the air. The strength of eleven
men resided within that trunk, but even this could avail it not.
It attempted to gore its reptilian foe with sweeping tusks, but the dinosaur
was already ripping loose another scarlet-dripping chunk from the animal’s
flank, feasting while its hapless prey was still alive. The tandor collapsed
in a welter of its own life-fluid, drenching the dense plains-grass crimson.
The zarith bolted down the slab of mammoth meat, then through back its
hideous head and bellowed in ghastly triumph at the misty sky.
The drama had occurred
less than one hundred feet from the massed warriors. The zarith’s unearthly
scream yet rang in their ears. They stared in horrified wonder as the monster
began once more to feast.
The other inhabitants of the
plains had calmed and gone back to their incessant grazing.
“Move back slowly.” said O-lag,
in a soft though commanding voice. “We must do nothing to disturb the beast.
Let him feast, and we will leave him alone.”
The party of warriors began to back
up, though all of them faced the zarith, spears at the ready, in case the
Then a terrible scream sounded
out. It was Lu-Gor.
The young man had been in a state
of shock at the sight of this beast, unable even to cry out. Then his terror
overwhelmed him, and he could no longer contain it.
Lu-Gor broke form the party and ran,
screaming very loudly, in the direction of the distant trees.
At first, the tyrannosaurus took no
notice, still preoccupied with his feast of tandor-flesh.
But then its blunt, reptilian muzzle rose
from its kill, as it caught the scream, and then the sight, of the lone
man-thing fleeing across the plains. The zarith began to lumber in pursuit,
its great strides making the ground shudder. The beast was drawn more out
of curiosity than hunger, though the O-lar were naturally fearing the beast
would snatch up the unfortunate Lu-Gor as an extra appetizer.
The great zarith strode through the
thick grass in the wake of the fleeing caveman. The reptile was not particularly
fast, but its stride was gigantic, clearly capable of overtaking Lu-Gor
in short order.
Fortunately for Lu-Gor, he was
able to reach the distant trees before the monster. Perhaps if the he had
managed to get a head start on the beast, it might have numbered back to
enjoy its feast. But the reptilian brain is scarcely capable of containing
one thought at a time. And with the zarith already gaining, its Volkswagen-sized
head already lowered and mighty-fanged already starting to gap in hideous
and frightful anticipation, it crashed on into the trees after him. Lu-Gor
ran on, his brawny arms flung out in front of him, as the tyrannosaur crashed
forward in pursuit of its hapless mammalian prey, its mighty bulk snapping
the trees in it path to flinders.
At last Lu-Gor, realizing he would
soon be gobbled up, through himself into the mold of the forest floor,
and curled up, knees against his chest, whimpering.
The massive scram of the zarith filled
his mind. The screaming and bellowing continued on and on. Finally, through
the haze of his own terror, Lu-gor realized that the monster was screaming
out its death agonies, and he ventured to look.
The zarith had somehow managed to skewer
itself through the belly-plates on the massive end of a fallen tree. The
great mossy log was propped upon another at an angle, its end had worn
to a point that was nearly dagger-sharp. Like a massive Ttian’s spear it
had slain the primordial dragon. Only the beast had not the capacity to
yet realize it. It writhed and flailed, crashing more trees and saplings
around it, screaming like a steam-engine gone mad. At long last the beast’s
throes ceased, and Lu-Gor, still quaking, got to his feet.
The O-lar had already found him. They
had gathered at the side of the body of giant reptile. All were gaping
at Lu-Gor in a mixture of amazement and awe.
“Never have the O-lar witnessed such
a mighty feat.” said one man.
“Yes,” answered another. “At first
we took your flight from the zarith for cowardice but we now see you intended
to lure him into this trap.”
“You made the beast impale
himself on a tree.”
Some of the other warriors were
looking skeptical though, and O-Lag was scowling openly.
But Lu-Gor then realized his opportunity
and seized on it. “The beast did not fall on the tree. I ran to lure him
into the woods, yes. But only so that I could find a heavy log with which
to kill him. I lifted the log which pierced the beast’s heart! But he almost
had me, in another moment--”
A great cheer went up from the warriors.
The female warriors were now gazing at Lu-Gor in admiration. And the male
warriors were clapping him on the back in open comradery. Most of them
anyway. Some were still not entirely convinced his flight from the zarith
had all been a ruse. And O-lag still looked skeptical. But
they returned to the O-lar village with Lu-Gor’s story, along with great
steaks of zarith flesh which were supposedly Lu-Gor’s kill. It grew
even wilder in the re-telling, and soon practically everyone in O-lar was
believing Lu-Gor’s tale.
He had been an even greater favorite
of the queen after that. Except that Lu-Gor sometimes suspected that the
queen had some misgivings about the story underneath.
Lu-Gor returned to the
O-lar village. The other men and boys moved out of his way as he made his
way toward the hut of Queen Nuvia. Some of them whispered to each other
when they saw that Lu-Gor’s nose had been damaged. But they all knew better
to laugh at him or insult him openly.
At last Lu-Gor reached the hut, and
demanded the two guards admit him. He stalked into the large hut.
Queen Nuvia of O-Lar reclined majestically
upon her throne of saurian bones. A stuffed pterodactyl crowned the throne,
its stiff lether pinions outspread. The queen was in the equivalent of
her late twenties, still lithe, and athletic as were all warrior women.
The queen tossed her abundant auburn tresses, then fixed her imperial gaze
on Lu-Gor. The fiery green eyes in her lovely though savage face spit fire
at him as she regarded him with an air of cold haughtiness.
Observing this, Lu-Gor felt his heart
sink. “My queen…” he began.
“I see someone has damaged your
face, Lu-gor.” Queen Nuvia observed. “I hope this is not because Lu-gor
is not such a mighty warrior as believed.”
Lu-gor gulped, blushing
fiercely. Never before had Nuvia spoken to him in this manner. He cleared
his throat with some difficulty, then began. “It is a matter of much importance,
my queen. It is your niece, the girl Jarla.”
“Yes. I already promised you the girl.”
"Of course. You see, that Nu-al
boy was here. He is in O-lar now—"
The queens eyes sparked with
rage. “What! Jarn? Jarn of Nu-al? That little slacker boy my niece took
a likening to?”
Lu-gor was relieved. If Nuvia
knew Jarn had fled with her niece, she would be putty in his hands.
“Yes! Jarn! That is the lad’s
name. He was with Jarla! I found them sitting together outside the village.
I tried to stop them, but the boy escaped me, and he took your niece with
you!” His tone was now one of feigned urgency, for he cared nothing for
Nuvia herself, or Jarla either, other than that she would be his mate.
He expected the queen to side
with him immediately, but instead the queen only gave him a cold and half-mocking
“And I don’t suppose he’s the
one who did that to you?”
“He..uh…well, he did, but I was
trying to restrain him from taking the girl, you see, and—"
“How could such a brave strong warrior
such as Lu-Gor be overwhelmed by a mere stripling?”
Lu-Gor blushed scathingly crimson.
He realized he should never have admitted it was the boy you had broken
his nose. But it was too late now.
“He is small, and quicker than I!”
the man stammered. “I tried to grab him, but—"
Nuvia waved long-fingered hand to silence
him. “No matter about your precious nose. I am certain that even the bravest
of warriors has difficult situations. But my concern is that you did not
stop him! She is to be your mate, Lu-Gor! If they escape, it will be your
fault if my niece ends up with that Nu-al whelp!” Her tone was now one
of deadly fury. “Were you not a trusted warrior, and the son of the bravest
of O-lar, I would have you killed, and your head decorating a pike outside
Lu-Gor had fallen to his knees.
“Please, my queen! The boy outwitted me, or I would have killed him!”
“Then do not try my patience
again! I will give you a chance, Lu-Gor. Since you need badly to gain my
good graces once more, you can make this up by leading our warriors to
return my Jarla to me!”
Vast relief flooded through Lu-Gor.
He scrambled to his feet, thanking his queen and pouring out blessings.
“Guards!” cried Nuvia imperiously.
“Rouse our other warriors! Now!!”
By this time, Jarn and Jarla had traversed
deep within the jungles to the north of O-lar. Jarn was certain what would
happen if he were to return to Nu-al. Ju-Kar, though he did not relish
the idea of the girl’s marriage to Lu-Gor, would doubtless send her home.
And doubtless the Nu-al would be alerted anyway. For the moment, he knew
they must concentrate on outdistancing their pursuers, even if it took
them both into regions unknown. It would not take Nuvia’s warriors to pick
up their trail.
Traveling in a northeasterly fashion, they
found themselves heading into the deepest, most secluded portions of the
great jungle. They kept to most remote jungle trails as they could, scurrying
through the emerald depths of the mighty forest, under the bulks of fallen
forest giants, and through winding, narrow ravines.
Finally, exhausted and out of breath, they
sat down on a rock in a deep creek basin. They had already ventured far,
having not stopped to rest until now, and were by this time deep within
the vast wilderness. Both boy and girl realized that they needed more than
rest; they would have to find food of some kind, and they would need to
sleep soon. And this meant they would need to make weapons to kill their
own meat, and would have to find a place of shelter for resting where their
pursuers could not find them.
“Maybe they’re not following
us.” said Jarn, “I haven’t heard any sign of them.”
“They are following.” said
Jarla. “Nuvia will not give up once she learns I am with you. And her beast
trackers have undoubtedly picked up our trail.”
Jarn looked around them. They were
deep within territory that unfamiliar to him. Strange hoots and shrieks
sounded throughout the gloomy aisles. He strained his ears into the distance,
but could pick up no sounds indicating pursuit.
“Do you think we’re safe here?”
“For a while perhaps. But we
need to lose them.”
“We’ll cross this stream” Jarn said.
“Then find another, and cross it. Then we’ll rub out our tracks. That will
“I doubt it. Nuvia’s trackers
are not that easily fooled. We might lose them for a time, but not forever.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
the boy asked, slightly irritated. “That we give up?”
Jarla appear to consider this for a
moment, then shook her head. “No. There is no pointed in returning to O-lar.
I will not be Lu-Gor’s mate. You already know how much I despise him, so
there is no point pretending.”
“I think we should cover
our tracks, and then hide. Let them go off in the wrong direction.”
Jarn nodded, thinking of nothing
better at the moment than to follow the girl’s advice.
They searched about the narrow creek
bottom, eventually locating a tunnel into another, more shallow ravine.
They followed this new ravine to a place where the great forest giants
grew close around the lip. Some of their massive roots extended over and
into the chasm. They were so large that the youngsters had no trouble walking
Jarn suddenly cried, “Jarla!
Look here!” He pointed to a narrow gap in the massive twist of roots. They
both peered in, but the blackness was utter.
Jarn descended into the opening first,
sliding his feet through, then his legs, then his waist, followed by the
rest of him. He still clung there, not feeling any ground below, and he
had the brief, frightening impression of hanging over a bottomless pit.
But he let loose, and was gratified when his feet hit a solid, if moldy,
floor. “Come on, Jarla.”
The girl followed Jarn’s example, sliding
her legs into the gap. Her hips presented a problem as the gap was narrow,
and she was becoming wide in this region as is the case with all girls
reaching puberty. She turned herself to the side, and managed to wriggle
They found themselves in small,
smug enclosure, with a slightly moist floor packed damp leaves. Its walls
were formed of the dense layers of twisted root.
They tested the hole, seeing
that they could exit it easily. They then made certain to cover their spoor
leading to and from their hiding place. They slipped back through the opening
and prepared to sleep.
Then they each snugged up against
the wall and promptly fell asleep.
It was not very much later, that Jarn
felt the girl’s hand shake him on the knee. “Jarn!”
The girl’s voice was a hoarse whisper.
Jarn blinked himself awake.
And heard the voices.
They were coming from somewhere outside
their enclosure, not more than several feet away! He heard the voices of
two young women talking, but it was not the often careless banter of girls.
He knew immediately that these were young warrior-maids, possibly for Jarla’s
“Are you certain they came
this way, Ula?” one asked.
“Yes!” exclaimed the one called
Ula, in a fierce tone. They undoubtedly crossed this creek to cover their
“Then where are their tracks?”
“I have not found them yet.”
“I thought you were a tracker
Ula.” This voice belonged to a man. “It seems you’ve let two mere youngsters
get away from you.”
Jarn recognized the man’s voice at once.
“Be quiet! They are around here somewhere.”
Jarn and Jarla squeezed themselves
up tightly against the wall covering themselves with the damp leaves in
an attempt at camouflage. Each feared dreadfully one of the warriors would
take notice of the gap in the roots, and venture to look inside.
“I do not think they even came this
way.” Lu-Gor’s voice said. “The last of their spoor is on the back of the
“They could have vanished.” Ula said.
“This ravine is the one other place they could have gone.”
“Then they are not here now.”
“They probably escaped out the back
of the other ravine, and into the forest again.” said the other woman.
“And rubbed out their tracks.”
There was a silence. Jarn felt
himself biting his tongue.
“I suppose you are right, Varna.”
Ula said. “They are not in this ravine, and there is no sign they left
it by the other side.”
There followed the footsteps
as the party of warriors left. But for several moments longer, Jarn dared
not even to breath.
At last, he whispered. “They’ve gone.”
It was a long time before they
were able to sleep again, but they made sure to cover themselves up with
the moldy leaf-litter.
After their sleep time had passed, they again
set out, this time traveling in the opposite direction as Nuvia’s trackers.
Deeper and deeper into the forest the
youngsters fled. Jarn hoped fervently that they had at last given their
pursuers the slip, or that Nuvia’s had given up.
This latter possibility he doubted,
but they encounter no more of Nuvia’s warriors, so perhaps they were free.
The next time they stopped to rest,
Jarn and Jarla fashioned themselves spears. They had had nothing to eat
so far besides edible roots and fruits they were about to find. Jarn showed
the girl how to break open wild melons, which they both found to be delicious.
But they badly craved meat.
Jarn was able to spear a small
orthopi, which is diminutive species of horse considered to be the eohippus
by science. The orthopi were very numerous throughout the forest, forever
scurrying for cover in the underbrush at the youngsters’ approach, but
they were also very swift, after the manner of most small animals, and
it was a while before the boy was able to catch one.
After some debate, they decided
to build a small fire to cook their meat. They would make certain to keep
the flames low, and they had camped within a craggy orifice under a shelf
of rock, so as to provide concealment on the chance that any of their pursuers
had managed to track them here. They skinned the orthopi carcass, and Jarla
fashioned a sling for herself from its hide.
They skewered and roasted the dawn-horse.
The meat of the orthopis is delectable, so much that some tribes take to
farming them, but there was not much meat on the single animal.
“I’m going to try out this sling.”
Jarla announced, while the boy was still munching on a leg, the juices
dripping form the corners of his mouth. “I’m pretty good with these. I
think I can kill us some zintroks.”
Zintroks are the native term
for the archaeopteryx, the scaled and clawed predecessor of modern fowls.
“You stay here and mind the camp.”
Jarla went off. Jarn polished
off the rest of the horse, then made sure to bury its remains in case they
were still being followed. He did not break camp though, in case Jarla
returned with a successful catch—and since he was still famished after
their long trek, he rather hoped that she would.
They had made camp within another
small canyon overgrown with huge trees. Jarn sat down on a convenient root,
and gazed down at the winding stream below. Where should they go next?
This was a new stream they had not traversed before, and both of them wondered
where it might lead them.
Something down in the ravine, amongst the
layers of fronds and creepers, caught the boy’s eye.
Jarn blinked twice, to make certain
his mind was not playing him tricks.
The thing was there, he was sure
Still, the boy scarcely credited what
his eyes kept telling him. Had the orthopi meat, or perhaps the water from
one of the streams they had drank from been bad, and was now affecting
his vision? Jarn doubted it. He could always detect bad water from a mere
taste on his lips.
The creature below crouched
half-hidden in the jungle. Possibly its’ mottled, reptilian hide possessed
some kind of chameleon-like properties which allowed it to nearly blend
with its surroundings. But Jarn saw that it was solid, and frighteningly
real. It stood well over nine feet tall. The back and neck were ridges
with a series of dragonish serrations. The head, at the end of a serpentine
neck was a toothy and elongated beak, not unlike that of a Mahar. But the
huge grey-green body was more akin to the great dinosaurs than any of the
flying reptiles, most notably, thought Jarn, the great Jalgor, a mighty
predatory reptile which science identifies with the allosaurus. Jalgor
were terrible beasts, larger than the horned xarg, but smaller and more
numerous than the great zarith. Only a party of several armed warriors
could possibly kill one. The jalgor had an armored hide decorated in gorgeous
crimson rosettes, and it bore upon its prey in massive bounds, thanks it
its enormous hindlimbs. This is what it was about this strange saurian
that reminded Jarn of the jalgor; its hindlimbs were massively exaggerated
and had the appearance of being incredibly powerful. Its forefeet were
comparatively small, but equipped with huge grasping talons, after the
manner of the flesh-eating dinosaurs. A thick, massive reptilian tail supported
the creature’s weight. And folded across the things sloping back were what
appeared to be a pair of tremendous bat-ribbed wings.
The most astonishing thing was
that Jarn believed that he could identify this beast. It was a trodon,
one of the most dread monsters within the world’s hollow center. Only until
now, he had not fully believed in their existence. The elders had warned
him of them, of course. So had other adults. They were supposed to have
four limbs and a pair of wings, just as the creature he was now observing
appeared to have. Male trodons, it was said, only captured prey to kill
and eat, as did any other predatory beast.
The female trodons however, were
They were said to paralyze their
victims with a wicked, barbed tongue, that put the unfortunate man or beast
in some sort of semi-consciousness. They had a flap of skin that served
as a belly-pouch, and in this they transported their victims to their brood.
The victims were kept alive but paralyzed, in the same manner that spiders
will paralyze prey for later feasting, in order to feed their brood of
hideous young. Victims of the fabled beast were said to lie in the lair
of the trodon until the baby reptiles hatched—at which time they were devoured
by the hatchlings alive and screaming.
But no one that Jarn knew had
ever actually seen a trodon, so he began to think they were only one of
the lies grownups used to frighten children into safety and obedience.
Even so, the beast he now saw crouching in the ravine, he was certain,
was all too real. He had to warn Jarla as soon as the girl returned to
camp. The monster had not seen or scented him, that much Jarn was sure.
But if it caught their attention, and it really was a trodon, there might
be very little they could do to escape it.
But the beast’s attention was not upon him,
but upon something further down the canyon in the river. Yes, he could
it splashing. Some kind of wild beast was wading in the stream, an antelope
or deer maybe, and the reptile had selected it for its prey. Jarn saw the
beast’s hunched muscles tense, in an almost feline fashion, as though the
beast were steeling itself for a spring. The reptile seemed possessed of
intelligence more wily than that of its kin.
Jarn rose to his feet and moved down
a little further on the ledge. Still, he could not make out the trodon’s
target. He realized that he should retreat back to the campsite, but something
compelled him to venture cautiously down from the rock shelf and sneak
through the tangle of vines in the direction of the stream. Jarn had a
way of taking foolish risks, but it was no thrill-seeking or bravado which
then prompted the lad to steal through the thicket toward the floor of
the canyon. It was only that he had a feeling.
Jarn gasped. Just as the
boy had feared, the trodon’s intended victim was no beast. It was instead
a shapely human female, apparently fishing with a long spear in the stream.
She appeared to be about Jarla’s age, perhaps a bit older. She had long,
slim tanned legs, and sturdily curvaceous hips, and she was a full-breasted
for a girl her age, though there was definitely a supple, athletic look
about her, that made Jarn want to go on looking. There was a sound to their
left, and the girl cast her gaze in its direction. She had high cheekbones,
a full mouth with lips the tint of wild berries. Her eyes, a brilliant
green, and almond-shaped beneath elegantly arched eyebrows flashed with
At first, Jarn supposed she must be a one
of O-lar’s warrior maids, probably one of those who pursued them, who had
gotten separated form her companions. But this girl had tresses that were
of glossy, midnight black, as was typical among the tribes of the inner
earth. That meant she probably she not an O-lar after all, but of an unknown
tribe endemic to this region.
But at the moment, Jarn was beyond caring
what tribe the girl was from, or even if she had been among those pursuing
them. Something compelled the lad to clamor up a gnarled and curving limb
that stretched out over the stream.
And not a moment too soon. As
Jarn crouched upon the limb, the trodon launched itself at the girl with
a horrifying shriek!
The girl gave a short cry, then whirled
to defend herself as she faced the oncoming beast, spear poised at its
And at the same moment, Jarn launched
himself off the branch with a wild cry! He landed smack! onto the ridged
back of the enraged saurian. The horny spikes knifed into the skin of the
boy’s chest and belly, but Jarn had wrapped his limbs about the creature’s
neck, where the mighty wings joined with the torso.
The trodon was thrown off-course by
Jarn’s attack. It careened to the side, its terrific screams blasting the
lad’s eardrums, its leatheran wings, thirty-feet across, thrashing thunderously.
But the boy held on, teeth gnashed together, the nauseous, reptilian stench
filling his nostrils. The flying beast bucked and wove, nearly succeeding
twice in throwing the clinging boy-thing from its back.
The girl stood back, for an instant
gaping at the incredible scene.
But for an instant only. The warrior-maid
steeled herself, her eyes narrowing to feline slits. She held her spear
at ready, her smoldering green and catlike gaze trained on her reptilian
adversary, as the monster bucked and hove in the air thrashing the trees
over the stream in its mad efforts to dislodge its tormentor.
The beast launched high into
the air giving vent to an ear-piercing shriek. Then it plunged down, nearly
throwing the lad from its neck one more time. The mighty body swooped low
over the stream, the branches on either side swaying with its vast passage.
The warrior-girl positioned herself directly
within the beast’s path as it hove down at her.
And plunged home her spear in the vulnerable
portion of the monster’s belly, where the mailed torso and neck met.
The girl shrieked as the headlong inertia
of the monster swept her off her feet and carried her along with it. The
girl held on, and as the creature, possessed of the dreadsome vitality
particular to its kind, hove upward, she hung on and managed to work her
weapon deeper into the beast, until she felt the spear puncture the thing’s
The trodon swerved, and crashed headlong
into the trees, carrying the boy and girl along with it. Jarn, miraculously,
had managed to hold on through it all, and was still clinging as the monster
thrashed, jammed into the fork of a massive forest giant. Reacting
on instinct, the boy slid from the great neck. Perched on the creature’s
back Jarn flung down an arm to assist the girl, who was still clinging
to her embedded spear which jutted from the reptile’s mailed chest. She
was dangling in the air over the chasm.
The girl needed no coaxing to reach
out and grasp the boy’s hand. Jarn helped to pull her up onto the back
of the beast, and they made their way down the tree to the mossy turf.
They looked up at the monster’s death
throes. Smaller winged saurians, pterodactyls and rhamphorynchii, were
converging upon the trodon, tearing into it, as though the smaller beasts
were not merely scavengers but seemed to share some sort of instinctive
hatred for the beast.
The two youngsters sank down
on the steam’s bank, trembling with exhaustion.
Once Jarn’s dizziness had cleared,
he and the girl faced each other.
The girls’ pretty face had a
wild fierce look that appeared to have been perpetually stamped on her
features. But he could see that she was now regarding her with a kind of
awe, and her emerald eyes widened a bit.
“You killed the trodon!” she
“I did not kill it.” Jarn corrected
her. “You did.”
“But I could not have done so,
were it not for you! Never have I seen such bravery! And you…you are a
Jarn felt suddenly a bit peeved.
“Boys and men are all sniveling
cowards. Only women are capable of real bravery.”
“Who told you that!”
“Zeera leader of our tribe! That
is what she had told all of us.”
“And who are your tribe?”
“I am Zara of the Azeer
warrior women. I thank you for saving me.” She gave Jarn a smile that was
almost flirtatious. “Perhaps I shall take you back to my tribe as a prize.
I’m sure Zeera would
love to hear of your feat. You would be honored richly.
Perhaps you could convince her some men are capable of courage after all.”
“I’d be glad to go.” Jarn said.
But then he remembered Jarla. “Wait! There’s someone else with me. A girl—"
“A girl?” Zara arched one
shapely eyebrow. There was no mistaking the cold jealousy in her voice.
“Yes, a girl. We’re running
away from her tribe.” Jarn would have preferred to fabricate a story, but
could think of nothing else suitable at the moment.
Zara’s gaze remained icy for
a moment. Then she gave Jarn a sly, secret smile, her emerald eyes flashing.
All at once, Jarn felt his cheeks grow very hot. “You’re the sort of boy
after my own heart.” She said. “What is your name?”
“Jarn of Nu-al.” the muttered,
in a daze.
“Jarn of Nu-al.”
she murmured as she continued gazing affectionately into the boy’s eyes.
“I suppose the name suits a brave boy like yourself.” She stroked his cheek.
“Take me home.”
Jarn drew abruptly away. “No!” He shook
his head to clear it. “Not without Jarla.” He said. Ordinarily, the pubescent
lad would have savored a moment like this for all it was worth, but he
remembered his loyalty to the girl he was already in love with.
Just then the ferns to their back parted.
They gazed up to see four other armed female warriors. All were well-curved
and athletic. Their raven tresses and tigerish glare of the gaze told Jarn
that they were of Zara’s tribe.
“Zara!” commanded one, an adult
woman whose tone was haughty and commanding. “What are you doing with a
Zara stepped back, bowed
her head in subservience. “This boy saved my life.” She said. “From a trodon.”
The woman through back her head
and laughed. It was the most cold and contemptuous laugh Jarn thought he
had ever heard in his life, so much so that it chilled him.
“From a trodon! I have heard some fetching
lies form you, Zara, but that one tops them all!”
“He did! Zara insisted. “We can show
you the beast’s remains.”
“Silence, young miss!” The woman
snapped, her voice cold and deadly again. “I will hear no more from your
curling tongue.” She turned to the other women. “Lash the boy’s wrists!
He is going with us.”
The women pounced on Jarn, who
was far too spent form his ordeal with the trodon to even resist. The women
were very strong for their sex, and had him secured in no time.
They then marched Jarn through
the forest to a clearing.
Tethered in the clearing were
five gigantic birds. Each were nearly the of same bulk as an adult stallion,
their crested heads eight feet above the ground, their massive beaks as
fearsome and hooked as those of giant eagles. Jarn knew them for what they
were; dyals, great flesh-eating birds that hunted on the open plains. It
was at that moment that Jarn remembered hearing tales of a race of woman
warriors who tamed and rode dyals; they were supposedly from a far-off
country called Julok. But those women were reputed to be course and hairy,
and of masculine appearance. These feamles, strong and imperious as were
their manner, Jarn nonetheless found it a delight to look upon them.
But it was clear that, save only for the
girl Zara, they were somewhat less than thrilled about him. Jarn felt himself
tossed crudely onto the back of one of the feathered mounts, and then secured
in the manner of a kill.
The warrior-women mounted their steeds
and were off in the direction of their homeland.