CHAPTER 66: "LOST!"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The happiness they shared in escaping the clutches of
Vovo the Wizard of Eo was only made brighter now that the princess and
the warrior from another planet again traveled in the company of Sola,
the winsome daughter of Tars Tarkas of Thark. At first the princess recounted
many of her recent mishaps to the attentive green girl, but she soon saw
the discomfort that caused the Virginian swordsman and she ceased her amazing
stories. In all his years John Carter had never feared an enemy, but he
preferred not to do battle with phantoms in the uncharted byways of his
own brain. The discovery that he and the woman he secretly loved had shared
the same illusions, wrought by the cunning Vovo. was unsettling to the
forthright soldier of a thousand campaigns. He seldom spoke of the fantastic
episode at Eo; While Dejah Thoris, puzzled by the man's inexplicible silence,
guessed she had again mistaken his intentions. She concealed her swelling
feelings behind an amicable smile and, like her otherworldly companion,
refrained from discussing their dreamworld adventures and intimacies --
even with him.
The load of provisions bestowed upon them by Oman, the
mecho-man of Eo burdened their poor thoat so heavily that only the tender-footed
Dejah Thoris rode atop the great beast, much against her will. In their
saddlebags were bundles of food, warm capes, excellent weapons, and even
a handful of precious jewels, useful as money anywhere on the dying red
planet. However, the robot did not give up the secrets of Eo's advanced
technology. The scientists of far off Helium would have to discover the
principles of anti-gravity and television minus the erudition of the Wizards
John Carter and the green girl walked along beside the
naked red princess, following a map Oman provided, as best they could in
a barren country that offered few landmarks. They calculated the distance
northwestward to Thark, and from there to the outskirts of the Empire of
Helium. They knew that the air fleets of Tardos Mors were yet searching
the skies for the lost princess. "Hope springs eternal, even on bloody
Barsoom," Dejah Thoris sighed, paraphrasing a favorite saying of the Earthman.
John Carter nodded in agreement.
Several times Sola detected signs of her horde's near
presence, but they all thought it best to circle around the Thark camps
and outposts. When the green maiden guessed they might be close to the
barbarians' capital she sent faithful Woola out with a cryptic message
attached to his collar -- a message that her father alone would comprehend,
if he yet lived. The devoted calot trotted off upon this arduous mission,
only glancing back once, over his massive shoulders, as though to say "I'll
be back." But days passed and Woola did not return. For reasons they never
understood, the markings on their parchment guide resembled less and less
their surroundings as the days of travel wore on. Dejah Thoris and her
little party wandered over the forsaken wastes of the Martian desert, searching
continually for the canal that would lead them to her grandfather's dominions.
Several days after the departure of their watchdog, the travelers at last
saw in the distance a range of hills that seemed to match the position
of some lines on their sketchy map. With luck they might find the waterway
to Helium on the other side. Then, from her high saddle upon the travel
worn thoat Dejah Thoris suddenly cried out: "Look, John -- at the foot
of those mountains across the plain -- a great band of mounted men!"
Sola and the Earthman gazed across miles of the dead sea
bottom, and there, plainly discernible, were a hundred mounted warriors
or more. The distant riders seemed to be headed away from the three lost
pilgrims, but Carter peered through the powerful binoculars Oman had throughtfully
provided them, just to make certain the distant band was no threat to them.
The steel gray eyes of the deathless Virginian took in the fantastic, silent
panoply for many long moments before at last spoke a few grim words. "After
what we've seen -- or thought we'd seen -- at Eo, I hope I can trust my
vision now. They're green desert tribesmen -- Tharks, maybe." He fell silent
and gazed upon the Princess of Helium's flawless face. If she was afraid
she did not show it.
Sola took the glasses. Her trained gaze caught many interesting
things in that strange, distant scene -- small details which had escaped
the Earthman's inspection. "No -- not my people -- Warhoons, I believe.
Our most ferocious and cruel enemies!" Then she added, "All are young warriors,
carrying only weapons and a few woven bags. They are headhunters, no doubt
about it And if we can see them, they can see us!"
John Carter lifted the red girl down from the thoat while
Sola sent a telepathic order to their mount to lie down upon the ground.
There, in the soft yellow moss, they ducked down behind the beast, presenting
as small an object as possible to the eyes of the headhunters. It was hardly
the time or the place for a lesson in Barsoomian anthropology, but Dejah
Thoris' questions to her female companion did not go unanswered. The young
savages were seeking skulls to adorn their unclothed green bodies, and
it did not matter to them whether their prey were six limbed giants or
slender red Martians -- either sort of victim might offer a suitable sun-bleached
cranium for a Warhoon necklace.
A rear guard scout, wearing the metal of a chieftain,
was riding far out from the main body of green men. He halted his lavishly
ornamented gray steed and scanned the ochre hued landscape through a set
of uniquely designed and powerful field-glasses. Through this bizarre looking
apparatus the barbarous chieftain's wide-set organs of vision scrutinized
the sea bottom in all directions, practically simultaneously, searching
for precious plunder and potential victims -- preferably ones who might
furnish nice bloody heads for his empty carry-bag!
Just when it appeared as though the lone Warhoon had given
up his intensive searching, the scout trained his dual scopes in the direction
of the downed thoat and then paused for several seemingly endless seconds.
The trio held their breaths behind the quiet animal -- and waited. Then
the lone rider lowered his remarkable observation instrument and waved
his arms frantically at his fellow headhunters. He had spotted them! Shrieking
wildly, the chieftain and his warriors raced across the plain, closing
the gap between themselves and the travelers' downed thoat almost as rapidly
as the princess and her companions could take in this lightning paced change
In a flash Sola pulled the long barreled rifle they carried
from its holster at the rear of the saddle. The green girl handed the lethal,
loaded weapon to John Carter. No words were necessary. The three had all
spent time practicing shooting this splendid product from Eo's arsenal.
The Earthman was the best shot among them and the finely balanced firearm
fell into his waiting arms like a silvery bird swooping into its empty
nest. His first shot glanced off the advance rider's metal helmet and exploded
in a bright flash and a cloud of white smoke a foot or two away. The green
man wheeled his thoat and John Carter temporarily lost sight of the great
barbarian, behind a small rise in the moss covered Martian landscape.