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Ghek, the Kaldane, boarded his headless rykor, and answered the summons of John Carter, the Warlord of Mars. Carter paced the room in full battle regalia and took him a moment to notice that Ghek had arrived.
Ghek inclined his head, which was almost his entire spiderlike body. “Warlord, you called me.”
Carter’s crouched and his right hand automatically touched the hilt of his longsword. He relaxed when he saw the Kaldane. “I did. I have to travel to Gathol and officiate a state wedding. So boring. Rank may have privileges, but it also has responsibilities. We both enjoy our weekly visits and I wanted you to know that I’ll be gone for a while.”
Ghek used the Rykor’s hands to pour a few ounces of wine. ‘Very kind of you. While you’re gone, I’ll visit you home planet again. Any recommendations?”
“Since you’ve far exceeded my abilities in astral projections and can control not only where and when you send yourself, I do. I’ve often wondered about a book I read, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” As you know, we’ve both been imprisoned more than once. Like us, the Count, escaped. I’ve wondered about the truth of the story. It takes place in France following the years of Napoleonic rule, I should say around 1815, as my people reckon time. Perhaps, you could visit there and then.”
“Sounds interesting. Can you give me any more details?”
“A young sailor named Dantes was falsely accused of treason by his friend Fernand, who lusted after Dantes’ woman. The man was imprisoned at the island prison, Chateau d’If for thirteen or so years. He escaped and became a wealthy count before having his revenge.”
Ghek tried to smile, but his Kaldane face managed only a grimace. “Not unlike yourself. You were made prisoner of the Tharks, who wanted Dejah Thoris, but you escaped and became the powerful Warlord of Mars.”
“I understand the similarity. Nevertheless, you can use your mental powers to impersonate a Frenchman and learn the truth of the tale. I’ve taken the liberty of having clothing designed for your adventure. Bring back a couple bottles of champagne. Some friar or monk named Pérignon is credited with its invention.”
“I’ll leave this evening when Jasoom, your planet Earth, is visible in the night sky. Enjoy the wedding.”
“Perhaps it won’t be all bad. Someone could object and I’d get to kill him.”
Cluria hurtled though the night sky while Ghek attempted to don the French style clothing. He finally gave up and called the tailors to help him. By the time they finished, Jasoom was low in the western sky. Ghek focused on the distant planet and vanished.
He materialized in Marseille, a French town near Chateau d’If. The talk of the town was the trial of Edmond Dantes for treason. Ghek attended the trial and used his mental powers to give his Kaldane and Rykor combined bodies the perfect illusionary appearance Dantes’s boss, Monsieur Morrel.
During the night, Ghek separated his Kaldane head from his Rykor body and prowled the sewers in search of rats. He thought they tasted like ulsio. Poor Frenchmen said the rats tasted like chicken, whatever that was.
As the trial neared its end, Dante revealed the name of the man to whom he was to deliver a letter from Napoleon claiming he was only the courier and that he didn’t know the letter’s contents.
Ghek climbed the wall outside the prosecutor, Villefort’s, window and listened while two men talked. “Father,” said Villefort, “Dantes claims that you were the intended recipient of Napoleon’s letter. Is this true.”
“It is. Napoleon is the true leader of France.”
“This is treason. If Dantes’s testimony becomes public, you’ll face the guillotine.”
“So what. Behead him. Cut out his tongue. Imprison him for life.”
“I’ll do what I can, but I am not the judge. Don’t expect me to protect you forever.”
In court the next day, Dantes was not allowed to testify. Ghek, in the guise of Morrel, pled for mercy, but Dantes was sentenced to life.
Ghek took the appearance of a famous supporter of Napoleon, Abbé Faria, an Italian priest and intellectual, and gave an impassioned speech calling for his return. He was tried and sent to the same prison as Dantes, the infamous Chateau d’If, where he befriended Dantes. They two soon became cellmates.
The cells were dank, dark, and infested by biting insects and the rodents that ate them. Dantes, a sailor, was accustomed to rats but not to being a host to fleas, ticks, and lice. Ghek feasted on the rodents, but soon learned that the fewer rats, the more insects. The lice and ticks ignored the Kaldane and his Rykor, but the fleas loved the taste of their blood almost as much as they enjoyed the taste of sailors.
Dantes explained that sanitation would stop the little creatures and after Dante slept, Ghek detached himself from his Rykor and wandered the prison at night in search of soap, razors, and better food. The Kaldane was hairless himself, but he shaved Dantes regularly and the two washed themselves daily. He wandered the prison freely at night, hiding in the shadows and stealing not only things of value, but anything that interested him. Ghek collected fleas and lice-infested scraps of clothing which he delivered to the guards’ quarters on a nightly basis. Share and share alike was his motto.
During their imprisonment, Ghek, posing as Faria, taught Dantes history, science, philosophy, and other languages. He made frequent astral trips to the future and learned that which he taught Dantes. He made regular trips to spy on the real Faria, who had returned home to Italy and who told of a great hidden treasure on the island of Monte Cristo, which was located in Italy and was not one of the Sandwich Islands. The treasure wasn’t deep fried, but it was deeply buried.
After a few years, Faria died in Italy and Ghek and Dantes finally made a plan to escape.
Ghek said, “I’ll pretend to be dead. You should know that I’m not human. My real name is Ghek and I’m two creatures, one the master and one the servant. Don’t be afraid.” He lifted his head-like Kaldane body from his Rykor servant.
Dantes crossed himself. “Demon. Child of Satan. Abomination. Get thee hence.”
“I am not a demon and I know not the location of Hence. Is it in France?”
“I am a godly man and will have no truck with evil.”
Ghek convinced Dantes that he was a strange form of human from a hidden city in Africa. “I can slow my heartbeat. The guards will believe me dead. I’ll be sewed into a shroud. You hide in the shroud with me. They’ll bury us. We’ll dig ourselves free from the grave. I’ll return to Africa and you make your way to Monte Cristo and claim the treasure.”
Dantes crossed himself. “God forgive me, I’ll trust you, but your plan seems dangerous. I’m not comfortable being buried alive.”
“I know it’s a grave decision, but what can possibly go wrong.”
The plan was implemented and everything went is planned until the morning after when the guards didn’t bury Ghek and Dantes. Instead the two were thrown into the sea. Dantes, who was a sailor, didn’t panic, but Ghek, a denizen of an arid planet, had never been submerged in water before. Kaldanes don’t require air, but their Rykors do. Ghek’s Rykor inhaled the sea water and struggled for breath. Ghek felt his mount’s distress and reacted badly. The Rykor clutched at Dante and ripped at the waterlogged shroud.
Dante used a razor that Ghek had stolen and he slit the shroud open. He freed the Martian duo and pulled them to the surface.
Ghek had no idea how to swim, but since he didn’t require air, he could have just drifted with the currents until he made landfall somewhere, but it wasn’t the same for his Rykor, the only one he had. They pair struggled wildly and almost drowned Dantes.
The sailor punched Ghek in the face. ‘Be still, demon creature. Turn on your back and I will carry you to shore.”
It took all of Ghek’s power to control the gasping Rykor, but he forced it to sleep. It was late afternoon when Dantes pulled them onto a beach of the mainland.
After they recovered, Dante stole a small boat and the escapees made their way along the coast to Toulon. Ghek separated from his Rykor that night, prowled the city, and stole several francs. The next morning Dantes bought food and clothing.
They remained together until they reached the city of Nice. Ghek said, “We’ll separate here my friend. I’ll obtain passage to Africa and return to my people. I implore you to continue to Monte Cristo.”
“I thank you for everything, be you saint, demon, or devil.”
Ghek maintained his appearance as Faria. “I’m only a man, different from you, but only a man.”
Dantes smiled. “In the water, your appearance changed. I think I saw you as you are, and you aren’t a man. Nevertheless, I thank you. I shall go to Monte Cristo and if the tale of the treasure is true, I’ll find it.”
“What will you do with the treasure?”
“Money buys many things and I’ll use it to revenge myself on those who lied and sent me to prison.”
“I’ve been told that living well is the best revenge.”
Dantes sneered and said. “That’s half true. Living well and destroying those who’ve wronged you is better.”
The two shook hands on the dock. Ghek watched Dantes’s ship vanish into the morning mist. He concentrated on Barsoom, vanished from France, and reappeared in the Warlord’s palace in Greater Helium. His first few steps on Barsoom were almost disastrous. He’d have to get used to the lower gravity.
He sent a servant to inquire if John Carter was in and the return message said that the Warlord would only be available for a few hours. He had a wedding to perform.
John Carter stood like a statue while his servants dressed him in formal clothing. “Back so soon, Ghek. I thought you were going to check out the escape of the Count of Monte Cristo for me.”
“I did, but I used my control of astral projection to return only minutes after I left you. I spent several Earth years with Dante, the man who became the count.”
“You have to teach me to do that. Tell me the story before I leave.”
Ghek related his adventures in post-Napoleonic France. Carter thought for a few minutes. “I’ve got some questions. “ Why didn’t you just use your powers of disguise to simply convince the guards that you and Dante were also guards and just walk out of the prison?”
“That would have violated the story. Besides, am I a shadow to cloud men’s minds?”
“Yet, you skulked about the prison at night and regularly visited the future to learn the things that you taught Dante.”
“Indeed, I did. I also learned that I’m not fond of fleas.”
“If you read the book, you knew that you were going to be thrown into the water, not buried.”
Ghek shuddered. “My vision of thrown-into-the-water didn’t envision an ocean. I panicked when my Rykor began drowning, otherwise I would have projected myself to shore.”
Carter buckled on his ceremonial sword and walked to the door. “One last question. Is there really a treasure buried on Monte Cristo?”
“I made that up, but there will be. I stole a fortune in gold and jewels while I wandered the prison and towns. I’ll bury it where I told Dantes to look for it. I feel compelled to help him.”
“To extract revenge for yourself or your friends is not only an absolute right, it is a duty.”
“You best hope the marriage goes well, otherwise you, as the officiant, may be the target of revenge.”
“Were that the case, marriage and performing marriages would be more dangerous that fighting banths,” said John Carter and he closed the door behind him.
Ghek nodded. “Often true, unfortunately.”
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