CHAPTER 58: "MARTIAN MIRACLE"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The bird-men rushed forward in a large wave of bodies,
determined to free their endangered leader, but they had no idea what powerful
forces of nature they were facing. Seeing no visible enemy the savages
focused their attention on chopping away at the tree limb that held Cro-Yat.
Their confined chief continued his wild motions, just a short distance
from the ground, calling upon his followers to free him at once.
"Don't worry about what exists abd does not exist, Dejah
Thoris! Now you'll see what my friend the plant king can do with the help
of this great tree!" John Carter exclaimed. Hardly had the first hatchet
fallen, when the amazingly limber branch whipped back a great distance,
and from that point of retreat it just as quickly flipped forward, letting
go the body of the bird-man just in front of the warrior mob. The leader
crashed directly into their faces, halting the mob's advance and ending
Cro-Yat's exalted career forever.
Even before the hurled body struck the front ranks of
barbaric troop, the plant king had already compelled the tree limb to encircle
the girl and lift her from the ground. The great wooden arm swung at her
with incredible speed but slowed just short of striking the astounded princess.
Instead of doing her any harm the animated limb gently elevated both Dejah
Thoris and the Earthman away from all danger.
"What death is this? The giant princess asked. "John,
use your senses -- this cannot possibly be happening to us! Something is
very unnatural here! Are we on the Barsoom of my birth or is this -- is
this the abode of my ancestors, beyond the Iss!"
"Fear not, Dejah Thoris." the Earthman reassured her.
"This is our moment of triumph. I have struggled without ceasing to attain
this deliverance and now when we are on the brink of success, we must not
let our imaginations get the better of us!"
"I believe they already have," was her only reply.
In all its wild movements and fantastic displays of power,
the great skeel tree had remained firmly rooted in the center of the bird-men's
village. The savages soon realized this fact and thereafter they were careful
to stay at the edge of their huts, just out of reach of the tree's longest
branches. Again the ferocious villagers rallied and began to attack their
strange new foe.
With Cro-Yat dead the savages had no leader, but a few
among them were cunning enough to sense the tree's vulnerability to fire.
These warriors took the lead in staging a more insidious assault.
"Look my friend, they are throwing torches at us!" John
Carter called out from his perch in the giant maiden's hair. If the plant
king heard him, he did not answer.
Faster and faster the firebrands came. Some were hurled
so high as to force the princess to dodge out of their firey arcs, but
most of the torches landed against the skeel tree's lower trunk. There
the rough and eroded bark offered a perfect lodging place for the flaming
At first the chicken-headed warriors made use of the half-burnt
splintered logs from the disrupted cooking fire, but soon all the bird-men
villagers were engaged in the work of scavenging dead wood from the ground
and tearing branches from the surrounding foliage. Within a couple of minutes
there was a raging bonfire burning out of control at the bottom of the
great tree. The flames rose high on all sides, and still the bird-men added
more fuel to the pyre.
"This will never do!" shouted the plant king. "My old
friend the skeel tree says his bark is beginning to burn! I'm afraid the
time has come for us to take more drastic action. Hold on -- things are
going to get a little bumpy now!"
Under the plant king's direction the great tree began
rocking to and fro. This action split the ground under the village into
a myriad of wedge-shaped segments, radiating outward from the skeel's trunk
in all directions. The violent lurching continued to increase in magnitude,
until in each of the crevices split open in the ground the hidden roots
of the huge tree began to emerge. Suddenly their still buried ends snapped
off and all the roots tore from the soil.
"What in Issus; name is happening?" the apprehensive princess
John Carter moved close to her ear. The noise of the cracking,
lurching roots was drowning out even the shrieks of the villagers. But
the maiden heard his reply.
"When I first met the plant king, something similar happened.
He left his roots in the ground and made himself mobile. Perhaps the skeel
tree will now move about as freely as the plant king does!"
The plant king shrieked in satisfaction, for under his
strange power the tree had become a free moving thing. Now he turned the
mobile tree upon the villagers and raced forward to trample as many of
them as possible beneath its heavy roots. The bird-men went down before
the titanic adversary by the score, their hollow avian bones snapping beneath
the great skeel like so many brittle twigs.
At last it appeared that Dejah Thoris and John Carter
had found salvation from the chicken-headed savages