CHAPTER 70: "DAK KOVA'S PRIZE"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
John Carter slipped back into blissful unconsciousness.
The green hag strapped the Earthman securely onto the thoat that had carried
him hither, but now the old nurse occupied the saddle and from there attentended
to the wounded human. Thousands of years of constant warfare had given
the six-limbed giants plenty of time in which practice their therapeutic
powers while on the run. Once again the caravan was in motion. The vastness
of ancient Warhoon swallowed up the savage riders as they moved silently
through its lonely, dilapidated avenues. Here and there campfires flickered
amidst the ruins, where the green race lived as nomads among the deserted
buildings and courtyards. Only the royal family and a handful of powerful
nobles lived in dwellings that remotely resembled the habitations of civilized
One set of gigantic buildings still retained some semblance
of archaic grandeur. This was the well guarded palace of the Jeddak of
the hordes of Warhoon. And standing directly behind these impressive piles
was a lofty citadel. Viewed together, these two clusters of prehistoric
architecture were an imposing sight to behold. Here and there the remains
of statuary and wall carvings offered a hint of the lost culture that once
flourished within the ancient city. But the barbarian band moved past these
monumental ruins without a sideward glance. They were headed for the Jeddak's
ceremonial encampment in the great plaza of Warhoon
In the short hour he spent under the green hag's care
John Carter's wounds began to heal with amazing quickness. So effective
were the applications and injections of the elderly female, and so deftly
had she bound and plastered his injuries, that the Earthman awoke to find
his pain greatly eased. His hunger and thirst were alleviated with a few
gulps of cold meat stew provided by the nurse. It was the first and last
resembling kindness that he ever witnessed among the Warhoon.
Soon Dak Kova the Dreadful and his cortege reached the
city center and the ring of sentinels guarding the Jeddak's array of huge
tents, guardhouses, thoat pens and decaying trash heaps. The Warhoon nurse
pulled John Carter from the thoat's back, splashed a pail of water over
his blood-caked, nude figure and handed him a crutch. The walking-stick
proved to be unnecessary and the injured Earthman managed to hobble through
the darkness, closely following the Jed's dismounted lieutenants. At the
entrance to the royal tent bonfires lit up a knot of evil looking guards,
who paid their minimal respects by remaining silent and sullenly attentive
as Dak Kova strode by.
Inside the great tent a red slave appeared, bowed low
before Dak Kova and then approached the throne at the far end of the tent,
crawling upon his hands and knees.
"Oh Majestic Lord of the Land! Mighty General and Commander!
Bar Konas, Jeddak of Warhoon and Governor of all her Tributaries! The Jed
of the Banth Horde seeks audience with Your Lordship!"
Bright torches illuminated the spacious interior and furnished
sufficient light for John Carter to scrutinize the seated figure of the
Warhoon Jeddak even at a distance. Like Jed Dak Kova, he was frightfully
scarred, and also decorated with the breastplate of human skulls and dried
body parts which marks all the commanding royality and nobility among the
Warhoon. Not even the feriocious Tharks (whom the Warhoon claim are a subordinate
horde in rebellion to their authority) are so vicious as to suspend the
rotting, detached arms of children, breasts of women, and intestines of
male victims from their corpulent necks.
Despite his many battle scars and larger mass, the Jeddak
Bar Komas was obviously much younger than Jed Dak Kova and most of the
other high-ranking giants at the ceremonial encampment. John Carter, standing
to one side of his captor, comprehend at once the hatred and contempt that
filled the Jed's dark heart. Dak Kova was clearly making an attempt to
affront his superior, by omitting the obsequious salutations due the preeminent
leader of the hordes. Instead he roughly pushed the bronze-skinned outlander
before the ruler and loudly exclaimed, "I have captured this strange creature
for exhibition in the Great Games. I found him in the stolen metal of a
Thark, but he can run from an enemy faster than any Thark! He wasted my
time and he will see a dastard's death!"
"You dishonor the respect shown this throne by your fathers,
Dak Kova! The little man will die as your jeddak, sees fit, if at all,"
replied the young ruler, in a carefully measured response. "Now place him
in the dungeons until ..."
"If at all?" roared Dak Kova. "He is my prisoner and he
shall be meat for the wild thoats in the Great Games. We have no need for
your weak indecision here -- it is time that Warhoon is ruled by warriors
and not a water-hearted weakling who shames his grandfather's metal!"
Before old Dak Kova could finish his treat -- to tear
the metal from Bar Komas' harness with his bare hands -- the monster on
the barbaric dais had hurled himself across the open space and struck his
scornful subordinate terrific blows from his two right fists. It appeared
to all that the jeddak's might had prevailed, but as he drew apart from
the half-downed jed, Bar Komas teetered in his balance for an instant.
It was all the opening that Dak Kova needed, and leaping upward from his
knees the powerful giant buried his single good lower tusk in Bar Comas'
groin and ripped the young leader open all the way to the chin.
All of this occurred in less time than the telling of
it takes. Not a single sword was raised in Bar Komas' defense and, until
his lieutenants stepped forward to offer their support, not a finger in
the great tent was moved to assist the rebellious jed. Bar Komas lay stone
dead in his gore, and two shattered bones protruded from Dak Kova's blood-drenched
hide. By custom he was now the uncrowned Jeddak of Warhoon. In a day or
two, after his wounds had been treated, he would return to the tent to
sever the unmoved corpse's head and hands. Then, by placing a foot upon
the stub of a neck Dak Kova the Dreadful could assume the title and honors
of his erstwhile ruler.
The uncanny stillness was at last broken by wild and terrible
laughter. The assembled nobles gathered their retainers about them and
filed out of the tent behind the reeling but still conscious Dak Kova.
The lights were extinguished; the guard disbanded and replaced by few of
the new ruler's trusted clansmen. All John Carter could do was guess that
such events were commonplace in uncivilized Warhoon, as he also followed
the substitute jeddak's trail of blood out into the open plaza. Barely
able to stand, the injured Earthman offered no resistance as rough green
hands dragged him off to an old dungeon beneath the royal palace. While
Dak Kova recovered from his impairment in barbarous comfort, ten floors
above, the captive swordsman could lick his wounds, in the gloom and stench
of a basement cell where he had been thrown -- to await certain death in
the Great Games.
The speed with which these latest events had transpired
left the weakened fighting man dazed and exhausted. One scene blended into
another as he struggled to remain alert. Along the way to his cell he overheard
some Warhoon guards muttering in disappointment over some changes in schedule
concerning a planned raid upon Thark. Captain Carter groggily wished he
might somehow inform Tars Tarkas of the impending danger -- then there
was a cold, slimy floor, a pile of bones for a pillow, and nothing else
but deathly silence.