CHAPTER 68: "ELUSIVE PREY"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The Earthman's powerful muscles sent him twenty feet above
the closest charging Martians. From this unlikely position he caught his
pursuers unawares and hurled down his short-sword with deadly accuracy.
With the razor sharp blade protruding from his still throbbing heart, one
more green rider went down in the frantic fray. The Warhoon Jed, Dak Kova
the Dreadful, had at that very instant arrived at the scene of extraordinary
activity. The green giant watched with cruel, unblinking eyes as John Carter
alighted, no more than a thousand paces away. Unlike his practically nude
underlings, this enormous monster was decked out in all the finery that
barbaric imagination could fashion. From the leader's golden helmet two
dozen ornamental spikes projected, each one tipped with a dazzling gemstone,
cut to a perfect conical point. Dak Kova's four fat wrists were wrapped
with massive bracelets of rare, ruby-like Martian jewels, each strand worth
a jeddak's ransom. His massive chest harness was sewn from the skins of
butchered red men and studded with their extracted incisors, set in disks
of silver. About his neck drooped a wicked necklace of jawless human skulls,
while his lower waist belt and loin straps were hung with slender banners
of cloth-of-gold, framing a dangling, priceless bauble that scarcely concealed
his organs of generation. Dak Kova carried himself with an air of majesty
befitting an emperor, and he sported the tusky sneer of a hydrophobic calot.
Altogether the Warhoon Jed was an exemplary specimen of the dying planet's
"Take him alive, now!" this sublime luminary bellowed.
"He'll make rare sport for the Great Games We'll see if he can still jump
so high with my dagger stuck in his backside!" But this derisive command
was barely audible above the shouts and screams of his clamoring, berserk
subordinates. And so the Earthman was off and running again, before a single
green hand could touch him. But there remained little open space left for
playing hounds and rabbit upon the dead sea bottom. No matter how he dodged
and changed his direction, John Carter's field of movement steady decreased.
As the barbaric fighters drew in closer, from all sides, they began to
dismount and regroup around the Earthman in a solid ring of giant bodies.
He was left with no place to jump and with less than fifty feet between
himself and one grinning, dull-witted monster who now ran at him -- with
four sets of ugly claws extended meanacingly.
As luck would have it, the Earthman's series of leaps
had brought him back around to his earlier position in the mantalia brush.
Grabbing his discarded, empty rifle, the fighting man smiled mirthlessly
in the face of the unrushing peril and clubbed the ugly, exposed face of
his attacker right between the eyes. The giant toppled like a hewn sorapus
at the toes of John Carter's trail-worn boots. But before the massive body
touched the ocher sea bed, a dozen others had taken his place. The defender
stumbled over a projecting slab of quartz, and down he went, sprawling
face forward upon the pliant moss. With whoops of exultation and obscene
oaths of murder the feather festooned mobsters rushed at their disabled
prey. John Carter barely had time to rise to his feet and draw his long-sword
before half a hundred cruel enemies were upon him. Had their slain chieftain
yet lived, the gigantic brute might have claimed the satisfaction of matching
arms with the diminutive outlander, in a sanguine exhibition of single
combat. Such trivial sport was, however, beneath the dignity of the mounted
Warhoon Jed. Dak Kova, at that moment exerted his military authority in
a thunderous voice, once again ordering the warriors to take the little
man alive. But every green man within a hundred yards of Captain Carter
had pulled out his own sharp-pointed flesh-poker and a dozen of them were
already thrusting madly at their elusive human victim.
Due to all this sudden misfortune, the ageless fighting
man was once again in a most familiar situation. "If I must finally die,
oh unmerciful Ares, then let it come this way and let it come now!" John
Carter exclaimed, using a long forgotten tongue from his home planet. The
last assault fell upon him. Never had Mars witnessed such swordsmanship!
The Earthman's keen blade wove a web of deadly steel all about him, but
the finest swordsman in the universe could not have held back that green
tide for very long. All the soldier of a hundred lifetimes could do was
try to sell his blood as dearly as possible, knowing the love he had sought
for unnumbered ages could now live on Barsoom -- and mourn his final, unstinting
tenacity in the jaws of death. Every fiber of his well muscled body strained
under the incessant swordplay. The outlander was nicked and bleeding from
half a dozen cuts, but none were yet so serious as to slow his powerful
right arm. One more Warhoon collapsed with a blade hole in his breast,
spurting blood. Atop this lifeless hulk the brave swordsman took his final
stand, feinting and darting his unyielding point more swiftly than the
giants' senses could follow.
An eye-blink took a year; a heartbeat a century. The lumbering
foe appeared to him as though they were participants in some great spectacle
of dance, slowing down into statuesque poses -- with sword-arms suspended
in mid air. Ages passed in an instant and an instant lasted a lifetime.
Hazy scenes of a placid Mediterranean harbor passed before the greatest
swordsman of two worlds. The waves lapped gently upon piers of sturdy cedar.
Robes of Tyrean purple and caskets of Ophirian gold were stacked to the
rafters of an ancient storeroom, already old when the pyramids were yet
young. Naked slaves sang as they loaded cargo at the dockside. A wooden
ship with a gilded bull's head carved into its prow bounded into the spray
before the incessant wind. Attacking pirates vaulted balls of fire onto
billowing hempen sails. Images of terrible storms, powerful whirpools and
twenty foot breakers came and went. A vast ocean stretched before the spellbound
observer. Ruddy faces peered down from the tops of white chalk cliffs,
watching. Watching what? They were observing companies of javelin-armed,
bronze-helmeted marines disembarking from vessels flying colors topped
by imperial eagles. Villages burned; castles fell. Armadas perished. Troopers
in coats of blue rode onto the portico of a stately mansion. They were
breaking down its double doors and flinging firebrands among screaming
women and children. A cannon ball sped overhead the acrid smoke of a thousand
muskets turned sunny skies to into gray, misty evening.
A palpable silence swallowed up all traces of sound. Impenetrable
clouds blotted out every hue and form. The world stood frozen and in all
the universe the only motion left unstopped was the beating of John Carter's
heart. The only memory left in his brain -- a sad-eyed, copper colored
face. The countenance of a woman, blurred and dim. But the thought refused
to fade away. The face lingered hauntingly. It was the face of Dejah Thoris,
a princess of Mars!
"I yet live!" he cried out.
In the twinkling of an eye the weird spell broke. Warhoon
blades again flashed in the thin air about him and the unrelenting din
of battle on an alien world closed in from all directions. Vainly he struggled
to dispatch one last foeman. But the odds against the brave swordsman were
overwhelming. It was over. The Earthman reeled beneath countless strikes,
which fell upon him from every side in terrific torrents; his head swam;
a cold blackness stole over his consciousness, and Captain John Carter
of Virginia went down beneath the bloody blows, into oblivion.