CHAPTER 54: "DEATH MARCH"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The green girl opened her eyes. It was already morning
but all was quiet in the forest, save for the calot's rhythmic breathing.
The same dream had come to her again. Before the two humans appeared in
her life, it had been simply a dim recurring feeling of danger and hunger
-- a typical Thark dream she supposed. But more recently something else
was happening in her deep slumber. She was a hatchling again; cold -- lost
-- alone. A figure would approach her from out of nowhere, offering gentle
words and a friendly smile. He embraced her in his two bronzed arms and
comforted her. Then, just as she was beginning to feel warm again, the
fantasy would fade and Sola would awaken.
The maiden slipped out from under the calot's protecting
legs and looked across the little glade at the two glass cases. The forest's
morning dews were evaporating and hanging in a thin haze not far above
the ground. Through these unfamiliar mists Sola could see the head and
shoulders of the unconscious princess -- but where was the man? John Carter
The plant king made a pointing motion with his long green
beak. The swordsman looked to see what it was that had caught his strange
friend's attention. Partly visible, behind a cluster of rude huts, was
a massive iron cooking pot, as large as a typical farmhouse back on Earth.
From under the boiling pot the smoke of a cooking fire rose into the air
and drifted through the enveloping tree tops of the feather forest.
It seemed passing odd to John Carter that the savages
should have the means to make or obtain such a metallic vessel, but he
dropped the matter from his mind at once. A group of giant bird-men were
heading across the village courtyard, in the direction of the boiling pot.
Their ranks parted for an instant and for the second time in as many minutes
the Earthman beheld the Princess Dejah Thoris. The girl was being forced
along by the untamed creatures. Carter's muscles tensed and his hand instinctively
went to his sword. But he was powerless to act. Not only was the girl's
body fifteen times its normal size, the bird-men were even larger giants
than she was.
"What can I possibly do to help her?" the swordsman asked.
"I counted fifty of the giant males -- all are armed and seem ready for
battle. My sword is useless against such a foe!"
Sola rushed to the transparent enclosures that Oman had
provided for the two sleepers. It was only when she had approached so close
as to be able to touch the glass that she realized her mistake. Quickly
she wiped the remaining droplets of meager Barsoomian dew from the man's
case and scrutinized the interior. Her friend was still there, but he was
curled into a ball at the foot of the spacious enclosure. As the girl's
pounding heartbeat slowed back to its normal pace, she decided that she
must do something to remedy the alarming situation.
The man's elongated glass dome was extremely heavy. Sola
was only able to raise it from one side after she had pried it up a little
with her short-sword and inserted a number of tree branches into the space
between the glass and the thick silk ground cloth. Eventually the assortment
of wooden wedges lifted the heavy glass high enough that the girl was able
to tip it over, away from the two sleepers. With the transparent confinement
removed, the unconscious Earthman slowly moved to straighten himself out,
aided only by the mild guidance of Sola's ministering hands. Not long after
she had removed the glass, the man was again flat on his back and evidently
oblivious to all that was going on around him.
Being careful not to step too heavily upon the man-flowers
and other beautiful plants that surrounded the dreamer, Sola straightened
out his sleeping silk as best she could. Then she turned her attention
to the situation of Dejah Thoris.
"I'm sure that Oman had the best of intentions." she confided
to the motionless woman beneath the glass. "But a forest is a place of
sounds and smells and feelings. With the glass removed you'll be closer
to the source of those wonders. And if an insect buzzes around you or the
wind chills you, that will be better than remaining in this confining shell
for Issus knows how many days or years!"
When she had tumbled the glass away from the sleeping
form of the princess, Sola straightened her silk as well. It was only when
she was finished with this final ministration that the young green woman
realized her eyes were filling with water. The Thark girl had lost a mother,
probably also a father, and now her last dear friend in a hostile world
drifted on the dreamer's Iss. Sola did not know what kissing was, but she
put her moist cheek next to the red girl's lips and bade her a tender adieu.
Then she did the same with the man, lingering only long enough to straighten
a lock of his hair and to wipe her own tear-stains from the unkempt stubble
of his jaw and cheek.
The girl moved several paces away, sat down amid the blooming
pimalia bushes and brooded over the melancholy scene for hours.
From their perch in the feather tree the two companions
could see that the scene being played out in the rude village below was
fast approaching a terrible climax.
The plant king spoke to the Jasoomian in hushed tones.
"Don't think that you are so alone. Unrooted animals always
seem to overlook the most obvious things; don't you know? All night long
my root hairs were growing; now I just need to get them into the proper
connection and get myself in touch with helpful friends."
"You haven't told me anything I can understand," answered
Captain Carter. "But I'm ready to believe your magic is real, and to do
all I can, if you'll begin now. Even from this distance I can read the
giant chickens' thoughts. They are ready to chop the girl into pieces and
eat her right now. There's no more time for talking!"
"Your absolutely right!" chirped the talking plant. "So
get on my back and let's get going!"
Without any further warning the plant king sprang into
the air. With the Earthman holding on tightly the leafy thing floated down
to the ground. How the plant king managed such a leisurely fall, John Carter
did not know or care. His only thought was, that very soon, he would be
at the giantess' side. Already flashes of her perceptions were entering
his brain. It was just a matter of time now, before their telepathy was
"Courage, my princess!" were his first thought-words.
The plant king drifted to the edge of the village courtyard,
like just another green branch carried along on the morning breeze. The
clearing was ringed with numerous clusters of plant growth and the leafy
king looked much like all the rest. The Earthman's form, however, was another
"I need to hide you, Jasoomian," the talking plant whispered.
"Climb inside my beak and none of the giants will see you."