My name is Saran Tal, and I am the Archivist of Helium.
Recently, I had the fortune to accompany John Carter to Horz, what was
hitherto thought to be dead and abandoned hundreds of thousands of years
ago. Much to my surprise, the city was very much not dead, and in
fact had a small and thriving Orovar community intact since ancient times.
The greater surprise was the presence of an intact and comprehensive library
from those ancient times.
I have spent the last year with others of similar inclination
extracting the secrets contained within the library. It is my pleasure
to share with you one of the very oldest stories I found within, from a
magical time when great oceans provided opportunities for those willing
to seize them, and the specter of a dying Barsoom had not yet reared its
Exum stank, but then it always did. Exum was known
to us traders as “a great place to trade, but a terrible place to live.”
The smell was one reason, and the heat and humidity that aggravate it were
the others. However all of this was offset by Exum’s location at
the confluence of multiple ocean currents – making it the crossroads between
the sea-faring trading routes of the north and of the south of Barsoom.
This was my fifth voyage to Exum, and, as always when
we neared a port, I stood in the Blue Malagor’s bow with my hands on the
rails waiting for the first site of land. However, the stench in
the offshore wind could be detected over the horizon, and used to guide
a ship safely to harbor. Situated at the mouth of the great Parnassis
River, the effluvium of the equatorial jungle, along with the smoke from
jungle being burned off for cropland, washed out of the continental interior
and mixed with the town’s aroma of paper works, smoke houses, tanneries,
and docks overcrowded with trading fairs and ships.
My crew knew their tasks well, and my thoughts would
often begin to wander to the past as we approached a port of call, in part
my reminiscing was also prompted by the stench itself...
Who am I, you ask?
My name is Baxtam, by my mother Bonat's First Born people,
and Bax Tam Lo, by my father Tam Ban Lo's Orovar family. I am the
union of two peoples and their hopes to form strong ties across the Sea
of Jahar to the benefit of all.
Many rich ships from around Barsoom entered the Sea of
Jahar and traded at the great market of Xanator. As a young man from
that city my father sailed the Sea of Jahar, trading the many goods found
in the great market for the agricultural products of the Southern plains
which, coupled with my father's youthful shrewdness and wit, enabled him
to quickly gain favorable reputation and status across the region.
A partial share on a single trading ship grew into ownership, and within
a few short years a second ship and then a third. The Jed of Jahar,
Bexar, desiring relationships beyond the realm of the First Born, invited
my father to his court where through his wit and charm he caught the fancy
of Bonat, the beauteous daughter of the Jed. With much pomp and ceremony
the two were eventually wed in the presence of the leading families of
Jahar, the Jeds of the other First Born cities, and the heads of the trading
combines of Xanator. Thus began a time of great prosperity around the shores
of the Sea of Jahar, resulting in wealth for many and, within a few short
years, my birth.
As would be expected, I was brought up within the growing
wealth of Jahar in the palace of Bexar. What started as a great hall
of skeelwood and stone soon expanded into a palace of marble during my
youth. Father was usually at sea on one of his ships, but I still
saw him frequently and was often regaled with his stories and gifts from
Growing up, my peers' favorite game was play acting as
either wealthy caravan merchants, ranchers, plantation owners, or the Dators
who protected them from banths, wild calots, or green men. While
I eventually played all those roles my lighter skin, bronze curly hair,
and knowledge of the larger world thru my father's stories inevitably cast
me in the role of the Orovar merchant from across the sea who would come
to the docks of Jahar, ready to select from the best of their goods.
Thus, it was only natural that, at the earliest age possible, I convinced
my parents to allow me to accompany Father on a voyage to the great market
I will always remember that first sea voyage. My
precociousness quickly turned into my helping the sailors with their chores,
save only for climbing the great masts to set the great lateen sails, which
my father forbade. Other than that, I steered the ship (under close
supervision), cleaned the decks, fed the animals, and helped the cabin
boys with the various unsavory chores with which they were tasked.
The ship's marines, a mixed group of all races serving as the ship's guards,
adopted me as one of their own, and proceeded to teach me the use of the
sword and the bow. This my father encouraged, as he saw in my eyes
and my heart that I would follow in his footsteps. He especially
encouraged my friendship with Gur, a somewhat shorter than usual green
man who regularly sailed as a guard in my father's employment, and who
he realized could teach me the valuable skill of surviving a duel with
others of his kind, as his relatively diminutive stature had encouraged
him to do so.
I well remember the humbling experience of that first
With practice sword in hand I faced off with Gur on the
weather deck of the ship. Gur stood in front of me, waiting, holding a
sword in each upper arm. I looked him in the eye, and said, "Now
what?" At that moment, Gur....blurred....and I had the points of
his practice swords at my throat.
"You're dead, boy", Gur said. "You waited for me,
and that was your first mistake," he paused. "And your last one."
I hung my head in shame, and started to stammer an apology.
"Stop that! Listen, and learn. If you see
a green man with drawn swords in front of you he WILL attack you.
It is his nature. Attack him first! Get under and inside his
arms' reach and kill him quickly.
Gur beckoned to Raxat, one of the Dators. "Watch,"
Gur told me.
Gur raised his swords. Raxat, a Dator of the Calot
Lodge, ran across the deck, drawing a pair of knives as he ran, leaping
when he was little more than a swords-length from Gur with the knives outstretched
in front of him. The knives blurred close to Gur's torso, and then
Raxat turned his leap into a diving roll, tucking and turning as he landed,
and came to his feet so he faced Gur with the knives in his hand.
Gur looked at me. "Had Raxat not been a friend,
and this had been a real fight, I would be on the deck now with all my
entrails spilled out for display. Size doesn't matter -- skill and
doing the unexpected is what matters, and doing it faster than your opponent
I looked up at Gur. "But won't my opponent also
be trying to do that?"
Gur chuckled and patted my head, "Of course he will!
You just have to do it better. That will take much work. Let
us start now."
Gur and Raxat drilled me mercilessly, and I also had many
chores shared with the other cabin boys. Later would come the skills
of sailing and trading, but for now I still had some little time to watch
the sea with the other cabin boys; the screaming malagors perched on the
masts when they weren’t skimming the waves hunting for fish, and the occasional
school of thandars that would follow the ship in the hope that our occasional
jettison of garbage would yield them a tasty morsel. It was a magic time
for me, and…
“Trader!” a loud voice interrupted my reminiscing and
suddenly brought me back to the present. I turned to face Sam Tar
El, the grizzled old sailing master of the Blue Malagor.
“It will be dark before we reach the docks. Do you
wish to hold off-shore until the morning, or chance a run into the river
in the dark?” asked Sam Tar El.
I looked at the sky and considered the wind direction
“I think we will have to tack considerably on the approach.
I fear the shifting sand bars within the estuary. As laden as we
are I think it wiser to hold off-shore until morning.” I said.
Sam Tar El looked relieved, and his posture relaxed.
“Very well” he said.
I smiled and put my right hand on his left shoulder.
“You taught me well, old friend. Drop anchor when we can. Direct
the Padwar of the Guard to set watches.”
Sunrise brought a freshening wind, and the flat sea soon
acquired a decided ripple. I arose with the sun and joined Sam Tar
El by the great steering wheel on the raised quarterdeck, where he was
shouting orders to the crew to raise anchor and set sail. A nod was
all he could vouchsafe me.
"Permission to come up, Trader?" a piping voice asked.
I looked down to see the two cabin boys -- Taxor, my cousin thru my mother's
sister, and Hel Tam Lo, another cousin thru my father's family. The
two had become fast friends on the voyage north, and were inseparable.
They were apt pupils, and soaked up everything the crew and marines would
teach them with an astonishing seriousness.
"Permission granted, Junior Traders,” I half-joked.
Someday they might be traders themselves -- it wasn't too early for them
to start acting like one.
Together the three of us watched the great gaff-rigged
sails set by the crew, the ship first wore against the breeze and then,
with a snap of the sails and catch of the wind, the ship heeled and we
sailed toward Exum.
Exum grew large and we soon converged with other trading
ships who had shared our overnight vigil and were on their way in-bound
to the port. As we closed on the docks we were met by the Harbor
Master of Exum, with his small squadron of ketches with harbor pilots who
quickly ascertained all of the entrants’ cargoes and then deftly directed
us to specific quays -- a Harbor Pilot assisting Sam Tar El in his labors.
Taxor turned to me and exclaimed, "This does not look
like Jahar or Xanator!" We looked at broad avenues lined with great
wooden buildings, all on stilts, fronted with wooden quays, with a further
backdrop of the great jungle.
I chuckled, "no, it does not, nor will it ever.
You will never see a city of marble here. Why, do you think?"
He looked puzzled, and it was Hel Tan Lo who supplied
the answer, "I see no hills, where stone would be quarried. Yet I
see a great forest where wood is plentiful."
I answered, "True, but there is another reason."
Taxor had figured it out. "The river must rise at
times, and flood the city. Building on stilts would keep the buildings
dry." he said.
I said, "You have the princess! Now keep yourselves
out of trouble while I speak with the Port Inspector."
"Ho, Blue Malagor. What cargoes and what for the
Great Market?" This from a Port Inspector, who stood on the quay
next to the weather deck of our ship, looking up at me.
“We carry thoat hides, dried thoat meat, flour selk, the
finest wines of Jahar, and polish-grade carborundum. We also have
a small number of bronze swords, spear points, and arrow points.
What lacks the Great Market?” I answered.
“Your thoat hides and meat will find ready buyers, as
will your selk and wines. The rest could probably sell here, but
there are better markets for that than here at Exum,” said the Inspector,
with a tilt of his head.
This was interesting, and I needed to hear more. “Perhaps
you will want to sample some of the Jahar wines, so as to attest to their
quality?” I offered.
The Port Inspector smiled, and rapidly made his way up
I invited the Port Inspector to my day cabin, and bade
him to make himself comfortable. A glance and gesture to Taxor sufficed
for him to present both of us with goblets of Jahar’s finest – at least
the finest that we currently had in our possession.
After a few minutes of the usual idle chatter one uses
to begin a conversation I voiced my question, “where could there possibly
be a better market than that of Exum?”
“Have you heard of Horz?” the Inspector asked.
“No,” I said, “where is it and what causes it to be a
better market than that of Exum?”
“Far to the north – past Dusar – you can go no farther
– is where it lies on the shores of the Northern Polar Continent,“ he said.
“As to why it is an excellent market – that will require some explanation.”
“Horz lies at the mouth of a great river, similar to Exum.
As is with Exum, this river provides an excellent harbor. The city
actually lies on a plateau above the river, so it is proof from floods.
But there is more” he said.
“The Northern continent holds vast forests of skeel, much
like your Southern lands. As such, many shipwrights have made their home
in Horz, and many fine Horzan ships now ply Throxeus and soon other oceans.
However, the Northern continents also possesses a myriad of game both large
and small, unspoiled by man, whose furs find much market in lands to the
South, AND THERE ARE NO GREEN MEN. Men such as us are free to tame
the wild lands secure in the knowledge that their only enemies are the
wild animals, and their own mistakes.” He paused, drained his goblet,
and looked to Taxor for more wine, which was quickly provided.
“Go on,” I prompted.
“Men like us,” he paused, looked closely at my dusky skin,
shrugged, and repeated himself, “Men like us find much to like in this
Northern land. My son has already left Exum for Horz, and I will
probably follow him before long. It is from him and his writings
back to me where much of what I know comes.”
The Inspector continued, “However, others may be found
there also. Many of the yellow ones – I have difficulty pronouncing
their name for themselves – have also come to Horz. They are sick
of the non-stop dynastic wars in their arid land, and wish to live an easier
life in a land at peace.”
“You refer to the A’ O’ Kaa, I believe.” I said.
“Their Jeds – I think they call them Uul’s – have been fighting each other
“True.” he said, “although my son tells me that the legions
of the Uul of Du’haa are defeating all of his enemies, and that soon there
may be a yellow Jeddak – an U’uul in their language -- in the highlands.”
“All very interesting, “I said. “But how does this
“Very simple,“ he said. “The hunters who range the
vast North will find your weapons most useful, as will the sailors of the
many ships that make Horz their home. Even more so, there is much
quarrying of marble and building of fine palaces for your peers who grow
rich in the North, and your carborundum will find much use there for that.
However, the artisans may never see it. You see, the reason the Uul
of Du’haa has been so successful is that he has armed his legions with
a new type of sword on which your bronze weapons shatter. These new
swords are made of a metal called “steel,” and your carborundum is a key
ingredient in its making. He will buy all you have.”
I escorted the Inspector to the gangway, and then called
for Sam Tar El. I motioned for him to walk with me to the quarterdeck.
“We have a decision to make,“ I stated. Sam Tar
El just looked at me, and raised an eyebrow.
I continued, “We could sell our cargo here, and then sail
home, or we can instead sail north and see firsthand some new markets of
which I have just heard. We won’t be the first in, but clearly few
have yet made the long voyage north past Dusar, since I am just hearing
of them myself.” I then related the rest of my conversation with
the Port Inspector.
“A risky decision Trader, “said Sam Tar El. “We know little
of those waters, and less of the markets.”
“Perhaps, but with risk comes much reward,” I said. “But
you are also right, we know little of those waters, and we must remedy
that quickly. Go you to the Inn of the Wayward Sith,“ I mentioned
a local lodging and tavern where sailors often gathered, “and see if you
can learn anything to speed our decision. I will hold off on any
actions for our cargo for now, and join you there shortly.”
I made my way to the Inn of the Wayward Sith a bit later.
As it was now late afternoon many of the day’s arriving ships had already
unloaded their cargoes, released or paid off their crews, and the tavern
was now filled with sailors determined to drink or gamble their wages away.
A few would be looking for new berths, and I was hoping we might find a
seasoned sailor or two with knowledge of the northern waters.
Sam Tar El saw me enter, and once he saw that my eyes
had grown accustomed to the dimness within he waved me over to a low table
where he was engaged in discussion with several likely looking candidates.
“Trader,“ he began, gesturing to a tall blonde giant seated
with his back to the wall, an older fellow with a large bow balanced against
the same wall. “I know this one from the past. He is Kas Oran, a
Lotharian, and he sailed with your father and me before you were born.
He has been to Horz but not Du’Haa, although he has sailed past the latter
on a few occasions. He can tell us much, but would like to join our
crew and show us personally, with the understanding that he will leave
once we return to our home waters.”
This was good fortune! “And these others?” I asked,
with a hand gesture taking in what appeared to be another Lotharian, and
also a swarthier individual who background was not obvious.
“Kas Oran vouches for both of them. Kel Torak is
another Lotharian, as you can see, and he has sailed with Kas Oran for
several years. Both Kel Torak and Kas Oran are well-versed in the winds
and tides between Exum and Horz. Thas Kai Lek here is a hunter and
explorer from Horz who knows the coast and rivers near it quite well.
He is also a bit of a trader, as hunters tend to be, and came south to
seek markets for the unusual furs and hides of the northern continent.
You two will have much to discuss.”
Even better! I turned to Kas Oran, getting right
to business since he was a known quantity. “I pay standard sailors
wages, with a bonus should pirates close within fighting distance.
You are also free to trade your own items, and will be permitted the standard
modest cargo space for them, for which I will deduct a token fee from your
wages should you use it. Sam Tar El has no doubt told you of our
interests – the markets of Horz and Du’Haa. Do you wish to sign on?
Kas Oran nodded and spoke the required words, “my name
as my bond.” Looking at his two companions, and then back to him,
I raised an eyebrow. He looked back to me, nodded, and spoke, “I
vouch for them.”
“Very well,” I said, turned, and voiced the same question
to them. They both answered as required, and the Blue Malagor had
three new crew members.
I turned back to Kas Oran. “What’s the best course
if we want to sail to both?”