CHAPTER 6: "KEY OF DEATH"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
Some Barsoomian scientists speculate
that the green race is a product of devolution, that in time will degrade
to the equivalent of calots, then to plant men and finally become worms.
It is an interesting theory but it certainly does not take into account
transformations such as the one wrought in the heart and mind of the green
girl Sola, during the time she spent with John Carter and Dejah Thoris.
A few of the green race have a capacity for loyalty; fewer still learn
the rudiments of friendship. But until the telling of the story of Sola,
daughter of Tars Tarkas, no Barsoomian would have imagined that green Martians
possess the ability to love. And even those who know something about her
might never guess that she possessed the virtue of modesty. She herself
once asked that her role in Captain Carter's adventures not be recounted
in any great detail. But the reader cannot hear the story of Dejah Thoris
of Helium without also hearing something more of the story of Sola of Thark.
While Dejah Thoris was yet in the throne
chamber, listening to the crude threats of Jeddak Tal Hajus, John Carter
was being led off to prison -- or so it appeared to those departing courtiers
who saw Tars Tarkas place the outlander in chains. But after the other
Tharks, following their jeddak's orders, had left the entrance hall and
locked its great sorapus door to the outer palace, Tars Tarkas lingered
for a couple of minutes in the deserted hallway. Here it was that visitors
to the throne room temporarily hung their firearms and other things on
stout metal hooks and rings set in the stone wall. The giant stationed
Woola near the throne room door, and padlocked the Earthman's chains to
one of the steel rings. Then the Thark high chieftain produced a large
key from his pocket pouch and let himself out through the sorapus door,
re-locking it behind him as he left
During those short two minutes the
green female Sola was also busily employed outside the palace walls. Since
all Thark warriors recognize the metal of Tars Tarkas, none of the giants
paid attention to the girl who wore his insignia when she brought three
brawny thoat steeds to the courtyard outside of Tal Hajus' living quarters
at the royal palace. All the actions of the green leader and his daughter
were performed with the greatest speed and with all possible secrecy, so
John Carter's only clue to the intrigue underway was Tars Tarkas' seeming
stupidity in failing to appropriate his weapons -- that, and also something
the green giant whispered in the chained man's ear before he left: "Farewell,
John Carter; you are the only man on Barsoom I've ever liked!"
John Carter cursed the fact that he
had not learned enough of the Barsoomian language to understand all of
the special phraseology employed by Martian royals when they converse together.
Chained to the wall, only yards away from the throne room, he could hear
snatches of the conversation going on between the jeddak and the princess.
He could also catch the occasional thoughts of Tal Hajus but had difficulty
making any sense of them. Then the conversation ceased, the meanings came
together in his mind and he understood.
At that same moment a shrill scream
echoed from the throne room -- the scream of the Princess of Helium!
"Woola!" cried John Carter. "Woola!
Kill the green man, Go! Kill! Kill!"
In an instant the huge calot sprang
to its many feet and bounded through the open throne room doorway. A mixture
of vivid telepathic images pierced Carter's brain. In his mind's eye he
could see Dejah Thoris recoiling from the giant's six-limbed embrace. He
also received an impression of Woola, tusks ready for the kill, dashing
the bellowing jeddak to the floor.
The Earthman's mighty alien muscles
strained at his shackles. The foot clasps snapped open but the steel wristbands
withstood his effort. Then one of those also snapped, leaving him flatfooted
on the floor and attached to the wall by a single chain. His short sword
and other things were piled on the floor only inches away. John Carter
stretched out one foot with all his strength. He hooked a toe under his
sword belt and kicked the long-sword into his waiting free hand.
Listening to female screams emanating
from the chambers of their jeddak was a daily routine for the palace guards,
so they paid no attention to Dejah Thoris' shriek of pain. But shortly
thereafter they all heard the echoing cry of Tal Hajus and that reverberation
sent them scurrying off in a pack to the throne room. For some unexplained
reason the door's lock was jammed and the guards wasted precious time hauling
over a large table to use as a battering ram. Then, in entering through
the broken door they were puzzled to see John Carter at the other end of
the hall, sword in hand, but with one wrist chained to the wall. The foremost
guard hesitated, wary of a possible trick. However, they were twenty against
one. The green swordsmen proceeded to rush forward with horrible curses
on their lips.
The commotion in the adjoining hallway
caught the calot's attention and he wheeled about to look for trouble.
His master's voice and thoughts were calling out for him. Dejah Thoris
followed the leaping calot out through the one open door she could see,
slowing only for a second to pull a dagger from the fallen Jeddak's gold-encrusted
harness. He appeared to be dead but she did not tarry to make certain.
In the spacious hallway beyond the open door, her senses were bombarded
with a wild intermixture of sights and sounds. The Jasoomian was hanging
from the wall, hacking at a padlock and chains with his long-sword and
shouting to Woola. The unrestrained roaring calot was leaping onto the
extended swords of nearly two dozen palace guards at the far end of the
hall. And those same green giants were yelling, cursing and knocking one
another over, as all of them tried at once to squeeze through an entrance
space built by a race half their height!
Many of the women of Mars are trained
for battle in their younger years, but the royal daughters of Helium are
taught how to command the armed fighters of the empire, not how to fend
off a dozen attacking swordsmen at a time. Still, the first thing Dejah
Thoris did was to pull Captain Carter's short sword from its scabbard and
ready herself for the inevitable onrush. Upon seeing that the Earthman
was still struggling to free one manacled wrist, a sudden idea came to
"John Carter! This dagger will help!"
The girl took a step backwards and
handed him the knife she had taken from the fallen Tal Hajus. Here was
a deadly key indeed; its razor-sharp blade and keen point were fashioned
from the highest grade of unbreakable Ptarthian steel.
"My radium pistol!" cried John Carter.
"Can you use it?"
The Earthman's gunbelt was still hanging
on the wall nearby, where Tars Tarkas had left it when the three of them
went in for the audience with Tal Hajus. The pistol, however, was now missing
and its holster was empty. In the gun's place was a brief note, written
in blood on the retaining strap. Dejah Thoris tried to make sense of the
crude inscription "Outside the double window, thoats to ride." The only
green Barsoomian she knew of who could read and write, even a little, in
the hieroglyphics of Helium was Sola of Thark. Dejah Thoris had spent the
past few days instructing the curious girl in that particular skill.
"John Carter! There is no pistol here
-- yet I have found hope. Sola has left you a message. If we can reach
the double window in the throne room -- Oh please! You must open the lock!