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Volume 3984

Part Twenty-Three
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)

(Chapter 3 concluded)
“Food! Food! There is a way out!” Bradley has found the way out as a result of, and in spite of, An-Tak’s incessant, annoying chant. He found the secret panel and the ladder leading down into the Wieroo sewer that passes beneath the Blue Place of Seven Skulls, as well as, according to An-Tak, the temple. It is pitch black and Bradley slowly makes his way waist deep through the swirling waters, with only courage and determination as his guide.
“The monotony of the blind trail was increased by the fact that from the moment he had started from the foot of the ladder, he had counted his every step. He had promised to return for An-Tak if it proved humanly possible to do so, and he knew that in the blackness of the tunnel he could locate the foot of the ladder in no other way.
“He had taken two hundred and sixty-nine steps – afterward he knew he should never forget that number – when something bumped gently against him from behind. Instantly he wheeled about and with knife ready to defend himself stretched forth his right hand to push away the object that now had lodged against his body. His fingers feeling through the darkness came in contact with something cold and clammy – they passed to and fro over the thing until Bradley knew that it was the face of a dead man floating upon the surface of the stream. With an oath he pushed his gruesome companion out into midstream to float on down toward the great pool and the awaiting scavengers of the deep.
“At his four hundred and thirtieth step another corpse bumped against him – how many had passed him without touching he could not guess; but suddenly he experienced the sensation of being surrounded by dead faces floating along with him, all set in hideous grimaces, their dead eyes glaring at this profaning alien who dared intrude upon the waters of this river of the dead – a horrid escort, pregnant with dire forebodings and with menace.
“Though he advanced very slowly, he tried always to take steps of about the same length; so that he knew that though considerable time had elapsed, yet he had really advanced no more than four hundred yards when ahead he saw a lessening of the pitch-darkness, and at the next turn of the stream his surroundings became vaguely discernible. Above him was an arched roof and on either hand walls pierced at intervals by apertures covered with wooden doors. Just ahead of him in the roof of the aqueduct was a round, black hole about thirty inches in diameter. His eyes still rested upon the opening when there shot downward from it to the water below the naked body of a human being which almost immediately rose to the surface again and floated off down the stream. In the dim light Bradley saw that it was a dead Wieroo from which the wings and head had been removed. A moment later another headless body floated past, recalling what An-Tak had told him of the skull-collecting customs of the Wieroo. Bradley wondered how it happened that the first corpse he had encountered in the stream had not been similarly mutilated.
“The farther he advanced now, the lighter it became. The number of corpses was much smaller than he had imagined, only two more passing him before, at six hundred steps, or about five hundred yards, from the point he had taken to the stream, he came to the end of the tunnel and looked out upon sunlit water, running between grassy banks.
“One of the last corpses to pass him was still clothed in the white robe of a Wieroo, blood-stained over the headless neck that it concealed.
“Drawing closer to the opening leading into the bright daylight, Bradley surveyed what lay beyond. A short distance before him a large building stood in the center of several acres of grass and tree-covered ground, spanning the stream which disappeared through an opening in its foundation wall. From the large saucer-shaped roof and the vivid colorings of the various heterogeneous parts of the structure he recognized it as the temple past which he had been borne to the Blue Place of Seven Skulls.
“To and fro flew Wieroos, going to and from the temple. Others passed on foot across the open grounds, assisting themselves with their great wings, so that they barely skimmed the earth. To leave the mouth of the tunnel would have been to court instant discovery and capture; but by what other avenue he might escape, Bradley could not guess, unless he retraced his steps up the stream and sought egress from the other end of the city. The thought of traversing that dark and horror-ridden tunnel for perhaps miles he could not entertain – there must be some other way. Perhaps after dark he could steal through the temple grounds and continue on downstream until he had come beyond the city; and so he stood and waited until his limbs almost paralyzed with cold, and he knew that he must find some other plan for escape.
“A half-formed decision to risk an attempt to swim under water to the temple was crystallizing in spite of the fact that any chance Wieroo flying above the stream might easily see him, when again a floating object bumped against him from behind and lodged across his back. Turning quickly he saw that the thing was what he had immediately guessed it to be – a headless and wingless Wieroo corpse. With a grunt of disgust he was about to push it from him when the white garment enshrouding it suggested a bold plan to his resourceful brain. Grasping the corpse by an arm he tore the garment from it and then let the body float downward toward the temple. With great care he draped the robe about him; the bloody blotch that had covered the severed neck he arranged about his own head. His haversack he rolled as tightly as possible and stuffed beneath his coat over his breast. Then he fell gently to the surface of the stream and lying upon his back floated downward with the currrent and out into the open sunlight.” (OTA/3.)
Bradley knows how to take action, that’s for sure. If any of you readers think that Bradley has done nothing a normal thinking human being wouldn’t have done, I caution you to think twice about this. I just saw a documentary on the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy about people that were trapped on the 88 or 89 floor i th th n the first tower. The door to the only operable stairway was jammed because the building had twisted when the airliner hit. Not one person thought of busting through the walls to escape, even though the place was on fire and filled with smoke. A Port Authority official heard them banging on the door and climbed the stairs to their floor and with a crow bar, busted through the sheet-rock panel of the wall next to the door, giving them exit.

Yes, the normal human reaction to this kind of drama is panic or doing the wrong thing, or just giving up and doing nothing at all. Bradley should be viewed as an exceptional human being under stressful conditions. In other words, as a hero.

“Through the weave of the cloth he could distinguish large objects. He saw a Wieroo flap dismally above him; he saw the banks of the stream float slowly past; he heard a sudden wail upon the right-hand shore, and his heart stood still lest his ruse had been discovered; but never by a move of a muscle did he betray that aught but a cold lump of clay floated there upon the bosom of the water, and soon, though it seemed an eternity to him, the direct sunlight was blotted out, and he knew that he had entered beneath the temple. 
“Quickly he felt for the bottom with his feet and as quickly stood erect, snatching the bloody, clammy cloth from his face. On both sides were blank walls and before him the river turned a sharp corner and disappeared. Feeling his way cautiously forward he approached the turn and looked around the corner. To his left was a low platform about a foot above the level of the stream, and onto this he lost no time in climbing, for he was soaked from head to foot, cold and almost exhausted.
“As he lay resting on the skull-paved shelf, he saw in the center of the vault above the river another of those sinister round holes through which he momentarily expected to see a headless corpse shoot downward in its last plunge to a watery grave. A few feet along the platform a closed door broke the blankness of the wall. As he lay looking at it and wondering what lay beyond, his mind filled with fragments of many wild schemes of escape, it opened and a white-robed Wieroo stepped out upon the platform. The creature carried a large wooden basin filled with rubbish. Its eyes were not upon Bradley, who drew himself to a squatting position and crouched as far back in the corner of the niche in which the platform was set as he could force himself. The Wieroo stepped to the edge of the platform and dumped the rubbish into the stream. If it turned away from him as it started to retrace its steps to the doorway, there was a small chance that it might not see him; but if it turned toward him there was none at all. Bradley held his breath. 
“The Wieroo paused a moment, gazing down into the water, then it straightened up and turned toward the Englishman. Bradley did not move. The Wieroo stopped and stared intently at him. It approached him questioningly. Still Bradley remained as though carved of stone. The creature was directly in front of him. It stopped. There was no chance on earth that it would not discover what he was.
“With the quickness of a cat, Bradley sprang to his feet and with all his great strength, backed by his heavy weight, struck the Wieroo upon the point of the chin. Without a sound the thing crumpled to the platform, while Bradley, acting almost instinctively to the urge of the first law of nature, rolled the inanimate body over the edge into the river.
“Then he looked at the open doorway, crossed the platform and peered within the apartment beyond. What he saw was a large room, dimly lighted, and about the side rows of wooden vessels stacked one upon the other. There was no Wieroo in sight, so the Englishman entered. At the far end of the room was another door, and as he crossed toward it, he glanced into some of the vessels, which he found were filled with dried fruits, vegetables and fish. Without more ado he stuffed his pockets and his haversack full, thinking of the poor creature awaiting his return in the gloom of the Place of Seven Skulls.
“When night came, he would return and fetch An-Tak this far at least; but in the meantime it was his intention to reconnoiter in the hope that he might discover some easier way out of the city than that offered by the chill, black channel of the ghastly river of corpses.
“Beyond the farther door stretched a long passageway from which closed doorways led into other parts of the cellars of the temple. A few yards from the storeroom a ladder rose from the corridor through an aperture in the ceiling. Bradley paused at the foot of it, debating the wisdom of further investigation against a return to the river; but strong within him was the spirit of exploration that has scattered his race to the four corners of the earth. What new mysteries lay hidden in the chambers above? The urge to know was strong upon him though his better judgment warned him that the safer course lay in retreat. For a moment he stood thus, running his fingers through his hair; then he cast discretion to the winds and began the ascent.” (OTA/3.)
Yes, this is another situation where the reader knows this is not a good idea, and would gladly yell, “Don’t go up that ladder!” if he or she knew Bradley could hear them. But there would be no suspense and adventure if he didn’t. And what we really want of ERB is suspense and adventure, isn’t it?
“In conformity with such Wieroo architecture as he had already observed, the well through which the ladder rose continually canted at an angle from the perpendicular. At more or less regular stages it was pierced by apertures closed by doors, none of which he could open until he had climbed fully fifty feet from the river level. Here he discovered a door already ajar opening into a large, circular chamber, the walls and floor of which were covered with the skins of wild beasts and with rugs of many colors; but what interested him most was the occupants of the room – a Wieroo, and a girl of human proportions. She was standing with her back against a column which rose from the center of the apartment from floor to ceiling – a hollow column about forty inches in diameter in which he could see an opening some thirty inches across. The girl’s side was toward Bradley, and her face averted, for she was watching the Wieroo, who was now advancing slowly toward her, talking as he came.
“Bradley could distinctly hear the words of the creature, who was urging the girl to accompany him to another Wieroo city. ‘Come with me,’ he said, ‘and you shall have your life; remain here and He Who Speaks for Luata will claim you for his own; and when he is done with you, your skull will bleach at the top of a tall staff while your body feeds the reptiles at the mouth of the River of Death. Even though you bring into the world a female Wieroo, your fate will be the same if you do not escape him, while with me you shall have life and food and none shall harm you.’
“He was quite close to the girl when she replied by striking him in the face with all her strength. ‘Until I am slain,’ she cried, ‘I shall fight against you all.’ From the throat of the Wieroo issued that dismal wail that Bradley had heard so often in the past – it was like a scream of pain smothered to a groan – and then the thing leaped upon the girl, its face working in hideous grimaces as it clawed and beat at her to force her to the floor.” (OTA/3.)
This is another one of ERB’s famous near rape scenes. If you have any doubts that a sexual assault is taking place, then you need to go back and read the frustrated lust in the words of the Wieroo attacker. He really wants this woman. He is willing to betray his religious leaders to have her. Remember, she is a Galu, so her right breast and vulva are exposed, even though she is otherwise clothed in a deerskin tunic. As for the Wieroo, his robe is open in the front, exposing his genitalia. Most likely he is erect and in the struggle on the floor, their genitalia are likely touching. To imagine this scene any other way is not doing justice to ERB’s craft.

However, read as you must the entire ERB corpus, you won’t find a rape that actually takes place. Jane Porter, Tarzan’s mate, is nearly raped so many times the reader loses count. ERB had too much respect for his heroines, knowing that a rape victim was always regarded by the majority of males of his age as damaged goods. Besides, by “almost but not quite,” he was able to get away with a lot vis-a-vis the censors.

“The Englishman was on the point of entering to defend her when a door at the opposite side of the chamber opened to admit a huge Wieroo clothed in red. At sight of the two struggling upon the floor the newcomer raised his voice in a shriek of rage. Instantly the Wieroo who was attacking the girl leaped to his feet and faced the other.
“‘I heard,’ screamed he who had just entered the room. ‘I heard, and when He Who Speaks for Luata shall have heard –’ He paused and made a suggestive movement of a finger across his throat.
“‘He shall not hear,’ returned the first Wieroo as, with a powerful motion of his great wings, he launched himself upon the red-robed figure. The latter dodged the first charge, drew a wicked-looking, curved blade from beneath its red robe, spread its wings and dived for its antagonist. Beating their wings, wailing and groaning, the two hideous things sparred for position. The white-robed one being unarmed sought to grasp the other by the wrist of its knife-hand and by the throat, while the latter hopped around on its dainty white feet, seeking an opening for a mortal blow. Once it struck and missed, and then the other rushed in and clinched, at the same time securing both the holds it sought. Immediately the two commenced beating at each other’s heads with the joints of their wings, kicking with their soft, puny feet and biting, each at the other’s face.
“In the meantime the girl moved about the room, keeping out of the way of the duelists, and as she did so, Bradley caught a glimpse of her full face and immediately recognized her as the girl of the place of the yellow door. He did not dare intervene now until one of the Wieroo had overcome the other, lest the two should turn upon him at once, when the chances were fair that he would be defeated in so unequal a battle as the curved blade of the red Wieroo would render it, and so he waited, watching the white-robed figure slowly choking the life from him of the red robe. The protruding tongue and the popping eyes proclaimed that the end was near and a moment later the red robe sank to the floor of the room, the curved blade slipping from nerveless fingers. For an instant longer the victor clung to the throat of his defeated antagonist and then he rose, dragging the body after him, and approached the central column. Here he raised the body and thrust it into the aperture where Bradley saw it drop suddenly from sight. Instantly there flashed into his memory the circular openings in the roof of the river vault and the corpses he had seen drop from them to the water beneath. 
“As the body disappeared, the Wieroo turned and cast about the room for the girl. For a moment he stood eyeing her. ‘You saw,’ he muttered, ‘and if you tell them, He Who Speaks for Luata will have my wings severed while still I live and my head will be severed and I shall be cast into the River of Death, for thus it happens even to the highest who slay one of the red robe. You saw, and you must die!’ he ended with a scream as he rushed upon the girl.
“Bradley waited no longer. Leaping into the room he ran for the Wieroo, who had already seized the girl, and as he ran, he stooped and picked up the curved blade. The creature’s back was toward him as, with his left hand, he seized it by the neck. Like a flash the great wings beat backward as the creature turned, and Bradley was swept from his feet, though he still retained his hold upon the blade. Instantly the Wieroo was upon him. Bradley lay slightly raised upon his left elbow, his right arm free, and as the thing came close, he cut at the hideous face with all the strength that lay within him. The blade struck at the junction of the neck and torso and with such force as to completely decapitate the Wieroo, the hideous head dropping to the floor and the body falling forward upon the Englishman. Pushing it from him he rose to his feet and faced the wide-eyed girl.
“‘Luata!’ she exclaimed. ‘How came you here?’
“Bradley shrugged. ‘Here I am,’ he said; ‘but the thing now is to get out of here – both of us.’
“The girl shook her head. ‘It cannot be,’ she stated sadly.
“‘That is what I thought when they dropped me into the Blue Place of Seven Skulls,’ replied Bradley. ‘Can’t be done. I did it. – Here! You’re mussing up the floor something awful, you.’ This last to the dead Wieroo as he stooped and dragged the corpse to the central shaft, where he raised it to the aperture and let it slip into the tube. Then he picked up the head and tossed it after the body. ‘Don’t be so glum,’ he admonished the former as he carried it toward the well; ‘smile!’
“‘But how can he smile?’ questioned the girl, a half-puzzled, halffrightened look upon her face. ‘He is dead.’
“‘That’s so,’ admitted Bradley, ‘and I suppose he does feel a bit cut up about it.’” (OTA/3.)
Okay, how many of you recognized the James Bond retort humor in this exchange?Wasn’t ERB slightly ahead of his time, even in English humor?
“The girl shook her head and edged away from the man – toward the door.“‘Come!’ said the Englishman. ‘We’ve got to get out of here. If you don’tknow a better way than the river, it’s the river then.’
“The girl still eyed him askance. ‘But how could he smile when he wasdead?’
“Bradley laughed aloud. ‘I thought we English were supposed to have theleast sense of humor of any people in the world,’ he cried; ‘but now I’ve foundone human being who hasn’t any. Of course you don’t know half I’m saying; butdon’t worry, little girl; I’m not going to hurt you, and if I can get you out of here,I’ll do it.’
“Even if she did not understand all he said, she at least read something inhis smiling countenance – something which reassured her. ‘I do not fear you,’ shesaid; ‘though I do not understand all that you say even though you speak my owntongue and use words that I know. But as for escaping’ – she sighed – ‘alas, howcan it be done?’
“‘I escaped from the Blue Place of Seven Skulls,’ Bradley reminded her.
‘Come!’ And he turned toward the shaft and the ladder that he had ascended fromthe river. ‘We cannot waste time here.’
“The girl followed him; but at the doorway both drew back, for from below came the sound of some one ascending.
“Bradley tiptoed to the door and peered cautiously into the well; then he stepped back beside the girl. ‘There are half a dozen of them coming up; but possibly they will pass this room.’
“‘No,’ she said, ‘they will pass directly through this room – they are on their way to Him Who Speaks for Luata. We may be able to hide in the next room – there are skins there beneath which we may crawl. They will not stop in that room; but they may stop in this one for a short time – the other room is blue.’
“‘What’s that got to do with it?’ demanded the Englishman.
“‘They fear blue,’ she replied. ‘In every room where murder has been done you will find blue – a certain amount for each murder. When the room is all blue, they shun it. This room has much blue; but evidently they kill mostly in the next room, which is now all blue.’
“‘But there is blue on the outside of every house I have seen,’ said Bradley.
“‘Yes,’ assented the girl, ‘and there are blue rooms in each of those houses – when all the rooms are blue then the whole outside of the house will be blue as is the Blue Place of Seven Skulls. There are many such here.’
“‘And the skulls with blue upon them?’ inquired Bradley. ‘Did they belong to murderers?’
“‘They were murdered – some of them; those with only a small amount of blue were murderers – known murderers. All Wieroos are murderers. When they have committed a certain number of murders without being caught at it, they confess to Him Who Speaks for Luata and are advanced, after which they wear robes with a slash of some color – I think yellow comes first. When they reach a point where their entire robe if of yellow, they discard it for a white robe with a red slash; and when one wins a complete red robe, he carries such a long, curvedknife as you have in your hands, after that comes the blue sash on a white robe, and then, I suppose, an all blue robe. I have never seen such a one.’ (OTA/3.)
How’s that for a culture? Murder as advancement in society. A true meritocracy! The Wieroos are weirder than weird. Bradley must have earned a yellow robe by now, but not really, since he kills only in self defense.
As they talked in low tones they had moved from the room of the death shaft into an all blue room adjoining, where they sat down together in a corner with their backs against a wall and drew a pile of hides over themselves. A moment later they heard a number of Wieroos enter the chamber. They were talking together as they crossed the floor, or the two could not have heard them. Halfway across the chamber they halted as the door toward which they were advancing opened and a dozen others of their kind entered the apartment. 
“Bradley could guess all this by the increased volume of sound and the dismal greetings; but the sudden silence that almost immediately ensued he could not fathom, for he could not know that from beneath one of the hides that covererd him protruded one of his heavy army shoes, or that some eighteen large Wieroos with robes either solid red or slashed with red or blue were standing gazing at it. Nor could he hear their stealthy approach.
“The first intimation he had that he had been discovered was when his foot was suddenly seized, and he was yanked violently from beneath the hides to find himself surrounded by menacing blades. They would have slain him on the spot had not one clothed all in red held them back, saying that He Who Speaks for Luata desired to see this strange creature.
“As they led Bradley away, he caught an opportunity to glance back toward the hides to see what had become of the girl, and, to his gratification, he discovered that she still lay concealed beneath the hides. He wondered if she would have the nerve to attempt the river trip alone and regretted that now he could not accompany her. He felt rather all in, himself, more so than he had at any time since he had been captured by the Wieroo, for there appeared not the slightest cause for hope in his present predicament. He had dropped the curved blade beneath the hides when he had been jerked so violently from their fancied security. It was almost in a spirit of resigned hopelessness that he quietly accompanied his captors through various chambers and corridors toward the heart of the temple.” (OTA/3.)
Doesn’t ERB really frustrate the reader sometimes? But you have to understand: if Bradley wasn’t discovered and captured at this point, we could never learn what the temple is like and most of all, what He Who Speaks for Luata is all about. We will find all that out next time in Chapter 4.
(Continued in Part Twenty-Four)
(For any comments, contact

Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
ERBzine Refs
The Land that Time Forgot - eText edition

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Wieroo of Caprona by Den Valdron
The Mystery of Caprona by Den Valdron
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Caspakian Demography
Caspakian Fauna
Caspak Art by Mahlon Blaine
Sociology of the Wieroo by Rick Johnson
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The Land That Time Forgot - ERB C.H.A.S.E.R.

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