CHAPTER 56: "THE HATCHET"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
As if her degradation at the village chopping block were
not already evident enough, one of the bird-men stepped out of the wildly
leaping crowd and seized the princess by her body harness. Under the savage's
indelicate hands the leather straps cut deeply into her soft skin and then
tore apart. With these the savage creature flailed the poor girl mercilessly.
From his vantage point in the plant king's beak, John Carter started forward,
sword in hand.
"Patience, Jasoomian!" the plant king cautioned. "Nothing
you can do right now will help your princess. In a moment or two the time
will be right. I have a friend in the old tree ahead of us and very soon
we shall have greater power at our disposal than all those untamed animals
with their waving hatchets. Wait for my signal, then strike!"
The Earthman bit his lip and held himself back. Not since
he had rescued a poor fleeing plantation drudge from the bloodthirsty hounds
of her merciless overseer at Fredericksburg, had Captain Carter felt such
passionate outrage. He fixed his gaze upon the maiden's defiant face and
took her courage for his example. His berserk wrath abated slightly and
he waited for a better opportunity to vindicate her violated womanhood.
When Dejah Thoris refused to cry out in pain, the girl's
tormentor grew bored with the abuse and cast his improvised whip aside,
retaining but a single long strap, with which he secure the young woman's
hands tightly behind her bruised back. The torturer rejoined the wild motions
his dancing companions, bragging in loud shouts how he had subdued the
"human witch." The young woman took what little consolation she could,
in knowing that the brave Jasoomian was yet free. Her last wish was that
he might know how strong her love was and how she valued the little time
they had spent together as the most precious moments of her life.
The horrid ritual dance ended suddenly. Without warning,
all the village fell deathly silent. The dancers fell back into the crowd
that ringed the courtyard, leaving only their leader to continue the ceremony.
He circled round the girl three times, spiraling in from the verge of the
clearing to the center, where the red princess, battered and bound, awaited
her fate. Dejah Thoris lifted her eyes to watch Cro-Yat approach the chopping
block; with the cruel bird-men watching her every move, she did not dare
to lift her neck from the filthy log. From her confined position, she could
observe the repulsive executioner's actions well enough to know what was
The leader of the bird-men advanced very slowly, accentuating
his every movement, like a performer in some silent and intricately structured
oriental drama. The warrior at the grindstone finished his work, spat upon
the sharpened blade and then ran the keen edge along his own arm. A line
of blood flowed from the new wound and the savage lapped up his own sanguine
flow with an idiotic smile. Satisfied that the blade was sharpened to perfection,
he handed the instrument of death to Cro-Yat.
As Cro-Yat was methodically weaving his way toward the
girl with upraised hatchet and wide staring eyes, the plant king reached
the lone tree whose limb overhung the place of sacrifice. None of the feathered
savages paid the slightest attention when the intelligent plant scampered
up the crooked old trunk and out onto the long leafy branch.
Once he was directly over the chopping block, the plant
king attached himself to the old tree limb with his freshly grown roots.
The connecting process took some time to complete, and in the meanwhile
John Carter continued to observe the depraved tragedy that was being acted
out in the clearing below. He tried desperately to make mental contact
with the red princess, but only a single thought-phrase came into his agitated
"It's too late for me, John -- save yourself! -- and know
Cro-Yat's loud cackling broke the silence, alerting all
the bird-men that the climax to the bloody ritual had begun. All eyes were
on the leader as he raised the sharpened hatchet to behead the first human
they had ever captured who was large enough to serve as a sacrificial victim.
Twice Cro-Yat's hatchet mocked the death stroke, each time halting just
as the sharp edge touched the back of the girl's extended neck. The third
fall of the blade would be the deadly stroke. Cro Yat again held high the
sharpened weapon for all the village to see.
Establishing contact through the thick bark had taken
longer than the plant king had anticipated, but now that the leafy sovereign
had gained the tree's happy cooperation he could exert control over its
trunk and branches.
"Watch this, Jasoomian!" the plant exclaimed. "Now we'll
give my big friend the skeel tree some exercise!"
Little by little the great trunk bent forward and the
long contorted limbs began to move.
Within the plant king's mouth John Carter watched the
tree's unusual motions with amazement, but his gaze was drawn back to the
upraised weapon in the bird-man's hand. The Earthman had tensely awaited
the moment that would send him to the princess' aid. It was coming now!
Cro-Yat's hatchet began to fall upon its mark, but before
the deadly stroke could be delivered, the longest of the swaying limbs
reached down between the executioner and his victim. The great wooden arm
wrapped itself around the bird-man's waist and tore him away from the red
princess. The bird-man was flung backwards with such force that his shoulders
knocked over the heavy cooking pot and set two dozen villagers diving for
safety from the splash of its boiling contents.
At the same time John Carter leaped from the plant king's
open mouth and headed straight down toward the girl's bound hands. Before
any of the bird-men could guess what was happening, the Earthman was upon
the maiden's bent back, hacking at the confining leather strap with his
Where he had come from Dejah Thoris had no idea. But in
that final deadly interval, before the blade could strike, she felt the
familiar movement of the man upon her and knew at once it was the small
form of her chieftain. She kept her head upon the block, so as not to draw
attention to her rescue, but it scarcely mattered. Cro-Yat was gone and
the bird-men were running from the menacing tree in terror and confusion.