17: "THE VANISHED PRINCESS"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
In its wetter, warmer days, Barsoom
was the crowded abode of countless species of birds. But when the planet
entered into its long downward spiral of death and decay, practically all
of the feathered, flying things became extinct. Bevies of flightless birds
still dot the more fertile spots on Mars, but their numbers too have been
on the decline for centuries. Among the surviving birds of flight are the
durkoos and the malagor, common examples of which sometimes reach the size
of an adult man. Beyond these denizens of the air are the giant birds of
Barsoom, which even today many Martians think of as mythological or prehistoric
creatures. Under some circumstances, given a good supply of a certain kind
of nourishment and a very long and healthy life, both the durkoos and the
malagor may grow to possess wingspans twice or even thrice as wide as a
man is tall. The curious reader might like to know that the region where
sightings of the Giant Durkoos are most often reported lies between the
Forest of Kaol and the dead city of Warhoon, though fossilized specimens
have been uncovered as far south of Warhoon as the southern ice fields.
Following the initial clawing and seizure
of her body in the shadows, Dejah Thoris had no recollection of her body
being carried through the air to the monstrous bird's nest. She was as
alert as could be expected under the dismal circumstances. The only explanation
she could think of was that the great bird's flight must have been a very
short one. The girl guessed correctly; the nest of the durkoos overlooked
the L-shaped plaza of Go-La-Ra, almost directly above the spot where John
Carter had defeated Grombo the white ape. At least the air was more breathable
on the rooftop where the huge feathered creature had released her. The
maiden's affliction of rigidity did not abate in the least, but she felt
that perhaps her being so far removed from the deadly fumes might retard
the rapid progress of the calcification for a while. But none of that mattered;
she expected death would soon overtake her.
As John Carter looked upward, through
the diminishing vapors, he saw his princess being carried away by a monstrous
bird. Nothing he had seen since his advent on the planet prepared him for
such a sight and he had to rub his eyes to be certain he was not hallucinating.
Comparing the giant durkoos to earthly avian species, it looked to him
something like a greatly enlarged eagle with the head of a prairie fowl.
The female durkoos that carried off Dejah Thoris was easily six times the
size of the largest bird Captain Carter had ever before seen. The thing
that had swooped down so silently and so quickly clutched Dejah Thoris
in its mighty talons, now flapped to the top of the tallest building fronting
the plaza. Although the Earthman could not tell for certain, he correctly
guessed the bird's purpose -- to feed the girl to its young nestlings on
The enormous bird dropped the princess
into the nest and then flew back down to the spot where it had captured
her. The feathered chimera was thus absent from the roof for a couple of
minutes and Dejah Thoris instinctively used that opportunity to trudge
out of the great mass of rubbish which comprised the nest. The five youngsters
appeared to be newly hatched and were not yet fledglings. So long as she
retained some limited power of movement the nestlings did not pose much
danger to her. However the piles of disarticulated bones the lay scattered
on the rooftop, and which partly made up the material of the nest, indicated
clearly what her fate would be once the mother bird returned. Moving very
sluggishly, the maiden did not reach the parapet of the rooftop until the
mother durkoos was fluttering back from her second trip to the plaza. In
its beak was the flaccid body of a luckless reptile. The girl peered down
into the plaza far below but John Carter had disappeared.
More than half a day had passed since
John Carter had left the campsite. Sola, daughter of Gozava and Tars Tarkas
of Thark, sat with Woola the Martian watchdog in a most despondent posture
gazing at the northern horizon. That was the direction the Earthman had
taken when he rode off and it was the direction from whence the thoat returned
a little before the sun reached its high point for the day. A couple of
distinctive knots in the saddle thongs relayed the man's signal that he
had arrived at Go-La-Ra safely. The three pinnacles she remembered from
her past visits were, at most, only a few hours away on thoatback. But
she knew nothing else regarding what might be transpiring in that dangerous
place. She made up her mind, that if the Jasoomian had not returned by
mid afternoon, she would trace the charger's trail back to the place where
Carter had dismounted and begin a search for him and the princess. That
meant disobeying the direct orders of the chieftain to whose retinue she
belonged, but the green girl could think of no other option. Her greatest
concern was that both of her human friends might be in grave danger at
that very moment and that she was doing nothing about it.
The gentleman from Virginia did not
pause to enjoy the resplendent furnishings and decorations of the great
building as he dashed through its many great rooms and grand hallways,
trying to reach the roof as quickly as possible. But, after passing through
one vast ballroom sort of chamber, which might have easily accommodated
all the belles of Richmond, the ramp he had been ascending plunged into
stygian gloom. Go-La-Ra had been built and abandoned well before artificial
light was invented on Mars and there were no radium bulbs to be seen anywhere
in the building. Captain Carter knew he was losing precious time by backtracking,
but he had no other choice in solving his need for illumination.
Once he had returned to the sunlit
apartments, the Earthman sought out combustible materials, formed a pair
of torches and set one of them ablaze with his Tharkian burning glass.
All organic materials in Go-La-Ra suffer, to some extent, from the effects
of the deadly mists, but in the case of the cloth and parchment he put
into his torches, their calcification only served to make their burning
a slow, sputtering process. Aided by this new source of light, he returned
to the ramp and resumed his ascent. He could only hope he had taken a way
that would not end somewhere short of the building's roof.
"Can I possibly find a way to her side
in time?" John Carter wondered.
Then he met with something so deadly
that only the torches could have saved him from -- such a peril as is found
in the nightmares of the insane!
Dejah Thoris watched in horror as the
mother durkoos dismembered the dog-sized lizard with her sharp bill, and
then proceeded to drop hunks of the still quivering flesh into the waiting
mouths of squawking, blind chicks. The princess had never before heard
a Barsoomian bird utter a sound, but then again, she had never seen a giant
durkoos either. Soon the reptile's flesh was entirely consumed and the
bones left to add their small contribution to the walls of the foul nest.
Dejah Thoris smiled sadly. The nestlings
would be grimly cheated, she knew, for her body was already so hardened
that her arms clicked against the parapet of the rooftop, like the sound
of one piece of stone striking upon another.
Meanwhile, the mother durkoos had grabbed
the girl in its beak and was carrying her toward its nest of ugly, screeching