"Plummeting from the Ledge"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The only deity that Sola knew of was
Issus, and that was simply a meaningless name to her -- some indescribable
"thing" that would meet her at the end of her days. But if the green girl
had known something more of the gods and their ways, she might have been
swearing and cursing like a Capetown sailor! High above, and totally out
of reach to her eager hands, the two humans were standing practically motionless
on the side of the palace wall -- doing nothing. She had assumed that the
man would jump down into the courtyard. There was a long rope in her thoat's
saddlebag. He could take it, then leap back up to the ledge and use the
line to help the red woman down to the ground. It was such a simple solution!
But she dare not call out to them for fear of putting the thoats in danger.
Already one of their number was lost. She could not risk losing another.
Again and again the girl hurled her mental message to the little people.
Why did they ignore her? Could Woola alone hear her thoughts? "Issus take
Then there were the gunshots. Any one
of them might have killed her or one of the mounts. It did not seem that
the guards had yet seen them, and she knew that the human had, so the daughter
of Tars Tarkas moved the beasts a short distance, into the deeper shadows,
and continued to wait. Without warning a body toppled out of the window
and came crashing into the courtyard, practically at her feet.
"What is this?" she asked rhetorically.
"I've seen him before."
The green girl leaned over the side
and peered down into the gloom. The lesser moon was just rising but there
were clouds in the sky and the light in the place where she waited with
the animals was scanty.
"Gormar," she said -- almost sighed.
"He sat with me at the Great Games last year. Then he killed the Thurds
-- what name? Oh, yes, 'Gormar Jal.' When a man takes me for his woman,
a man like Gormar Jal would be as good as any. And now he is gathered to
So it was that the green girl passed
the time. Perhaps two minutes had already gone by since she had watched
Dejah Thoris emerge from the window -- it was an eternity to the watcher.
"I know who shot Gormar Jal, but I
cannot tell. Perhaps I shall never return to Thark. Perhaps I too will
die before the little moon finishes it's way across the sky. This is a
night unlike any other. What am I to do?"
Beyond the courtyard, beyond the place
where the nearest two avenues met, in pitch black darkness, a lone rider
watched the events transpiring along the palace walls with discerning attention.
In his hands was a warm radium pistol.
"Your muscles can take you to the ground,
John?" The girl asked. On Mars only family members call another by his
first name, if he has more than one. But the Jasoomian's people observed
different customs. It seem all right, given the fact they might die any
"Yes, of course. If there were just
a little more light, I think I could land in the tall red grass without
breaking any bones --"
There was no time to continue the sentence.
A reckless Thark made a successful leap along the ledge and towered over
John Carter with two swords extended. There simply wasn't room enough for
the Earthman to vault up to the green man's full height. Instead, the bronzed
man slashed out with his long-sword, deflecting one thrust from above,
and then another. Behind the attacker two more guards approached, bellowing
like mad bulls -- sounding the highest level alarm. In the distance, both
inside and outside of the palace, similar calls were being given, seemingly
A well made Martian radium pistol,
in the hands of an expert marksman, can hurl its cartridges accurately
up to a range of half a mile, as distances are measured on Earth. Equipped
with an automatic sighting device, the same gun in the hands of the same
gunman, could blast fruit the size of apples in a leafy tree, five shots
out of ten, at twice the distance. The pistol in Tars Tarkas' practiced
upper right hand had no such sight, but he could aim his missiles just
as closely and just as silently as if he were holding the finest Eoan cathode
rifle. In fact, he had to be even more accurate, because there was insufficient
light for his cartridges to explode upon impact. To be certain of a kill
he had to hit the inside quarter of a green man's eyeball, and through
that narrow space pierce the brain. With a shriek of pain, Tars Tarkas'
third victim tumbled off the ledge and plummeted toward the courtyard below.
Then he killed a fourth warrior in the window and watched him go whirling
down, narrowly missing Dejah Thoris as he fell past the ledge.
As the giant guards pressed forward
along the stone ledge, John Carter had been constantly working his way
backwards to the spot where Dejah Thoris and the calot were waiting. Still
the green men came. Carter's elbows were already touching Woola. All three
retreated again, but their movements were brief ones. The three bodies
had reached the end of the ornamental beam. There was no place left to
go but downward.
To the front of them there was one
more guard, and then an open space behind him of fifty feet -- and beyond
that, probably warriors with firearms. The shouting in the distance was
coming closer with every blink of the eye.
The nearest green swordsman was ten
feet away. The calot growled viciously, but Carter purposely held him back.
The Earthman glanced downward and his eye caught a glimpse of something
-- something he must inspect more closely. But first the new attacker must
be dealt with. Taking his long-sword in his hand with his thumb upon the
pommel knob, Captain Carter hurled the weapon through the air and up into
the warrior's heart. The guard fell upon the ledge and remained there gripping
the stonework as the lifeblood spurted out of him in gushes, each one smaller
than the last.
"Woola, jump down!" Dejah Thoris, clasp
your arms around my neck -- from my back -- under the harness strap! Now,
lock your feet together -- no, here, in the front of the groin."
Captain Carter looked again at the
ornamental stone protrusions forty feet below the spot where the walkway
ended at a turn in the wall. He removed his empty long-sword scabbard and
formed the heavy sword-belt into a large leather loop. He looked down one
more time to be certain where the calot had landed. Then he and the girl
dropped over the edge, like a stone.