CHAPTER 7: "The Old Lock Opens"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
In the jargon of the green warriors,
calots are referred to as "loin-rippers." The many-toothed, eight-legged
Martian watchdog has sufficient power and deftness to leap to a giant's
throat if need be, but Woola was cunning enough to charge under the tall
guards' sword-points. Nor did he stop to savor the hot blood spurting from
one gaping wound before hurling his piercing tusks and rending teeth upon
the vitals of some other vulnerable victim. Such are the tactics of the
trained Barsoomian war-hound and they can be incredibly effective in disrupting
the coordinated efforts of a tightly grouped squad of infantry.
This unnerving attack completely unbalanced
two of the palace watchmen, sending them crashing into the hallway walls
on either side of the battered-down door. Woola's savage fury also forced
several green swordsmen back upon their four lower limbs, an awkward position
for maneuvering in closely confined spaces. Precious seconds were gained
by the calot's delaying tactics and in those few seconds John Carter sprang
open the wrist lock. His chains fell against the wall with a loud clank;
he was free!
The Virginian felt a great desire to
leap to the end of the hallway and measure swords with the green brutes.
The few hours he had spent in practice fights among the chieftains at Korad
convinced him that he could successfully take on two or more of the giants
at one time, if they kept their pistols out of the fray and fought with
blades alone. But there are times when retreat is a soldier's best choice
and the Earthman felt no shame in backing away from such an uneven contest.
"Quickly, John Carter! To the double
window in the throne room!" commanded the princess.
The bronzed swordsman sent a mental
order to his watchdog, to fall back and join him. Gathering his scant possessions
in one hand, he grasped Dejah Thoris by the other and they sped quickly
from the entrance hall and back into the neighboring throne chamber. Tal
Hajus still rested face down in a pool of his own blood. Beyond, high in
the wall at the level of a green man's head, was a modern addition to the
prehistoric architecture -- the Tharks of recent times had punched two
overlapping holes in the plastered wall and had dressed the edges of the
twin window with rough stone slabs. Beyond that he could see nothing but
the jet black of an overcast Barsoomian night.
John Carter dodged around the monstrous
obstacle and took the shortest path to the open window. Along the way the
fleeing pair passed the two large torches that supplied the room with most
of its illumination. These they knocked down, leaving only their smoldering
embers and the eerie glow of a single radium lamp to light the huge chamber.
The charging guards followed, shouting
the general alarm, only a few yards behind. The throne room was as still
as a tomb and almost as dark. The green men slowed their pace, peering
into the shadows. Upon sighting their fallen jeddak all but two of the
squad formed a ring around the prone monster. While most of the guards
were occupied in examining the motionless hulk on the floor, the other
two swordsmen quckly searched behind the room's decayed tapestries. Then,
from out of the darkness, Woola struck again!
The swift sharp strikes of John Carter's
long-sword and Woola's fangs immediately sent the two searchers to the
realm of their ancestors, covered in blood. In the shadows a series of
events then transpired in such rapid succession as to defy any proper description.
The two humans and the calot reached the huge open window even before the
last of the guards ran into the room. The Earthman lifted the girl so that
she could pull herself onto the window ledge, then stood with sword ready
to meet onrushing foe.
Realizing that their prey was about
to escape, one of the senior guards called for firearms. Guns were normally
forbidden in those chambers and another minute's time was lost while the
Tharks retrieved a loaded pistol from an anteroom. By then John Carter
had turned and leaped to the broad stone ledge beside the red princess.
When the gun-toting Thark took aim, all he saw were two pairs of sandals,
disappearing from view into the night. Another guard hurled his short sword
at the calot, but Woola dodged the missile and jumped up onto the vacant
windowsill. The nearest green giant was by then within striking distance
but his long-sword slashed down upon empty ersite. The calot too had disappeared!
It was late evening when Sola wrote
the message on John Carter's pistol strap. She handed the gunbelt back
to her father a short time before Tars Tarkas was summoned forth to exhibit
his two human captives before the august presence of the Jeddak of Thark.
"Will this design succeed?" she questioned.
But the big warrior motioned the inquiring
girl to be on her way. His only words to her came in a cryptic murmur:
"Tell no one of tonight's events -- ever. Even the life of a jeddak must
end, sooner or later. If you survive you will know what to do."
She departed the jeddak's residence
without a backward glance and carried her father's dismissal orders out
to the small retinue that had accompanied them into Thark. Then, taking
with her three of the thoats they had brought to the palace, she circled
behind the massive structure to the ancient city arboretum adjacent to
the private courtyard of Tal Hajus. In a patch of rank undergrowth, untended
for millennia, Sola concealed the mounts from the nearby pacing guards.
Except for three armed sentinels there was not a person in sight. In the
deepening gloom before the rising of the larger moon she watched and waited.
"How have I come to this?" she wondered.
"A day ago, if I had been told all of this would be happening, I could
not have believed it! What is going on in me? I do not want to be like
the humans. I want to be -- I want to be, myself. And that is the only
thing in the world that frightens me. A Thark is never afraid, but tonight
I know what fear is, and I do not like it!"
This self-searching was such a new
thing in her life that Sola did not even know what to call it. So she called
it "fear." What she did know was that she had promised her father she would
never speak of the night's events. All of Thark might call her a water-hearted
traitor, but no green denizen of Barsoom would ever call her father that.
Because -- nobody need ever know that she was truly the daughter of Tars
Tarkas, the high chieftain who one day would rule all Thark in the place
of the self-serving and ineffective Tal Hajus There! -- she had said it
in her mind and therefore, sooner or later it must happen.
A sudden alarm summoned two of the
armed sentries into the palace, but one remained behind at the courtyard
gate. This was no time for a noisy face-to-face confrontation. There had
to be some way to get past the lone guardsman quickly. The girl gathered
her thoughts and then slapped one of the thoats on the flank, sending it
galloping onto the circular avenue and past the startled warrior. He turned
and pursued the speeding shadow down the roadway into the dark, overgrown
woods. The unguarded courtyard gate stood wide open, allowing the girl
and the steeds easy access. A half dozen heartbeats later a pair of small
figures appeared in the double window far above. Sola positioned the two
remaining thoats below the window and concentrated all of her thoughts
into a single mental message.
"Hurry, John Carter -- warriors are
coming. There is no time to waste!