TARZAN ON MARS
by STUART J. BYRNE
(writing as John Bloodstone)
CHAPTER 1: Destiny For Two
La, High Priestess of the Flaming God, looked disconsolately at her own reflection in a full-length mirror of polished silver which had been set in the ancient wall of her living quarters by remotely remembered ancestors. She saw a tall, white-skinned woman, nearly naked but for a jeweled girdle wrought mostly of masterfully strung pearls of another age, and breastplates of golden wires spun into finer filagree than ever had been seen even in the old world jewel markets of the Middle East. In her copious raven black hair rested a jewel-set circlet of gold and platinum. In all, she wore a fortune in precious elements and gems which seemed only appropriate to grace the exquisite perfection of her natural feminine endowments.
But La, who had not in her long recollection ever contacted the civilization of men, only sensed but dimly the tremendous value of her accoutrements. Save for the few lesser priestesses of Opar who yet assisted her in the rituals of the crumbling Temple of the Flaming God, she had no basis for comparing her great beauty of face and form with the standards of that outer world which lay somewhere beyond the age-old granite ramparts of this hidden valley in East Central Africa. Only instinctively did she guess that she was well formed, as it seemed to her primitive logic that, as it was true in all the other manifestations of Nature, so it must be with the human body -- that symmetry of feature and form were the mark of perfection.
"I am beautiful!" she exclaimed. "So why should he not love me? Why does he never return from his accursed forests to claim me -- before it will be too late? Is he such a blind and ungrateful fool that he will forever spurn the love of La? -- who spared him from the sacred knife of the sacrifice?"
Before her mind's eye there formed the vision of a tall, handsome giant of a man, bronzed from a lifetime of exposure to the equatorial sun, an incomparable lord of the jungles whose mighty muscles had gained him supremacy over the great apes and even Numa, the erstwhile King of Beasts. She saw herself borne in his irresistible arms into the sanctuary of the trees on that long-gone day when he had rescued her from Tantor the bull elephant. She not only remembered but had relived that precious night a thousand times when she had implored him to save them both by giving her his love. Bound hand and foot beside her within the privacy of the thorn boma which her priests had constructed, he had lain there in stoic, maddening indifference both to the imminence of death by sacrifice to the Flaming God and to her tearful importunities and the avowals of her pent-up desperate love for him. Unashamed, she had caressed him and loved him through that cruelly fleeting night, seeking to capture one moment of response from him that might save him from the sacrifice which it devolved upon her to make when the sun arose. For should he have chosen to join the dwindling community of Opar and become a priest, it would have lain within her vested authority as High Priestess to select him for her mate.
And in Opar it was law that she should have chosen a mate long ere this! But in comparison to the gnarled and stunted half-human atavisms that were the native priests of Opar, Tarzan of the Apes emerged as a shining god. She saw him through the veil of memory, standing there in the forest after he had overcome her priests in furious combat, a towering wild thing of breath- taking masculine perfection and terrifying strength, as his gray eyes blazed in anger, and clearly she would always hear his parting words to Cadj, the high priest.
"La goes back to her temple under the protection of her priests and the threat of Tarzan that whoever harms her shall die. Protect her so that when Tarzan comes again he will find La there to greet him."
"La will be there to greet thee!" she had exclaimed. "And La will wait, longing, always longing, until you come again. Oh, tell me that you will come!"
"Who knows?" he had answered even as he swung effortlessly into the lower terraces of the jungle and disappeared from her sight.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the appearance of one of her few remaining assistant priestesses. This one had been once fair to look upon, but the passage of years in the time-stranded ruins of Opar had wrought two fatal changes in the woman. She now displayed the marks of age which slashed at the once firm contours of her face with wrinkles and withdrew the bloom of youth from her flesh. But the environment of Opar had also added to this a dereliction of the human attributes, reducing her to an unkempt, primordial female with the wary, shifty eyes of the wild and untamed. In fact, she had abandoned the ancient tongue of her ancestors in favor of the gutteral speech of the apes which had infested Opar for ages.
"Cadj awaits you with the other priests in the council chamber," she announced. "He says he has something of great importance to tell you." The knowing look in the savage eyes of the lesser priestess apprised La only too readily of the nature of the impending conference. Her time had come. The priests would not wait any longer for her to choose a mate among them. Especially Cadj, son of Cadj, the new high priest, who had inherited his father's jealousy of Tarzan. In view of his superior station above the others he felt that he had a particular priority in this matter, and of late his beetling eyes had gazed upon her with ill-concealed possessive lust.
It nauseated her to think of his gnarled and stunted body, the low, slanting brow and the graying shaggy hair of his body and his matted, lice-infested beard that reached to his sagging belly. Nor were any of the others more prepossessing, with the possible exception of A-tun, who at least was cleaner than the others and slightly more intelligent.
"Tell Cadj," she said, "that La would prepare herself for the occasion. I shall be there presently." It was a well-calculated reply which, coupled with a sad expression of resignation, seemed to carry with it the connotation of acceptance. It was by this ruse that she hoped to obtain time to think of some alternative to this long-impending fate.
Excited by the prospect of change in the changeless monotony of the miserably limited society of Opar, the lesser priestess withdrew at once from La's quarters and hastened away to advise the others.
When she had gone, La no longer looked at her reflection in the silvery mirror. Instead, she walked out onto her vine-grown balcony which overlooked the barren valley and gave her a view of the distant cliffs which barred her from the mysterious outer world she had never really known. From that direction had come Tarzan on various occasions which had been separated by many long years.
Yet on each visit he had appeared to be as invulnerable to the arrows of time and the talons of death as was she, herself. Could it be that both of them shared the guarded secret of immortality in common? And if this were so, then did not Fate itself decree that they were meant for each other? La bit her lip to fight back the tears which were generated by conflicting emotions, tears of unrequited love, yet tears of jealous rage and deeply hurt pride -- as she realized that she had been deliberately deceiving herself with the false hope that Tarzan was destined to come back to her. For did she not remember Tarzan's mate, the same woman whom he had rescued from the altar of the Flaming God, even from under the point of La's descending knife?
"Who is she?" La had asked him.
And Tarzan had wounded her with the simple statement, "She is mine."
The words had struck her down as effectively as if he had hit her with the blood-stained bludgeon in his mighty hand. The distant cliffs that cut off her view of the savage African jungle seemed to give her the answer to her plight. As barren of hope as they were of vegetation, those boulder-strewn slopes and ledges seemed to say, "Thy dream is done. Go, thou, and face the fate to which thou wert born."
For the first time since she had laid eyes on Tarzan, La was freed from the debilitating defense mechanism which had caused her to depend upon the fulfillment of wishful thinking rather than upon herself for salvation. Now that circumstances had at last forced her to face the reality of her situation alone and unaided, she groped subconsciously within the depths of her mind and spirit in an ettempt to take inventory of whatever faculties or powers she might possess with which to meet the impossible alternative which Cadj was waiting to inflict upon her.
La, to her own self, was a mystery, a mystery compounded of certain dreaded secrets which were known to her alone, and by other secrets which she had not had the courage to penetrate, so stupendous and incomprehensible was the nature of them. But one sustaining certainty emerged before all other considerations. She was different from the others of Opar, both from the degenerated priestesses and from the weird, half-human male inhabitants who were the progeny of a twisted ethnic evolution. In her was a subconscious awareness of exalted origin, though veiled by years too numerous to recall, as though her soul, rather than her mind, had become afflicted with amnesia. And more important and tantalizing still, she had long been aware of a certain distant call to tremendous destiny, as though it were muffled by intervening years yet to come. If this were so, she asked herself, then why should it be possible for Cadj or any of the other priests to succeed in defiling her? On the other hand, was this sense of greatness but another hallucination to spare her mind and heart the cold shock of facing a fruitless reality?
She straightened her lithe, graceful body and lifted her perfectly molded chin disdainfully, her blue eyes flashing in regal anger. She was different. She was a chosen child of destiny. And she was not for the likes of Cadj! Neither would she run away from Opar and risk the ignominy of being overtaken by them and dragged back to the obnoxious fate which they sought to impose upon her, nor would she accede to their demands this day.
"La will take her own mate!" she exclaimed aloud, stamping her sandaled foot. "And on the day when La chooses, not they!"
"La is wrong. She will take her mate today, and it is too late for her to choose. I, Cadj, have spoken!"
She whirled about, startled by the gutteral voice, her full lips parting in a muffled shriek as she saw the high priest standing in the doorway of her private quarters. Beyond him she could see the other priests. She also saw the angry scowls on their faces and heard them grumbling and threatening. In Cadj's wide, gnarled fist was a short golden bludgeon which glistened with fresh- spilled blood. As he stood there, several deep-red drops fell to the floor suggestively.
"A-tun said you were his," growled Cadj, brandishing his weapon and baring yellowed fangs. "Now A-tun is dead, because you belong to Cadj!" His small eyes were bloodshot, his heavy brows lowering ominously. Already the restraining wall of age-old religious code had broken under the violent pressure of primitive emotions. La's trained eye and senses forewarned her of what was impending. They had started to fight among themselves over her, but in a few moments every last vestige of human refinement in their reasoning would be blotted out by murderous, bestial rage. And at least one of them -- perhaps Cadj -- would run amok, killing blindly and indiscriminately. If she could but deflect the direction of this menacing tide back among the others, she might --
At that moment, three of the other priests roared out their defiance to Cadj and charged him, but in the same instant he whirled with lightning swiftness and slammed the heavy door of iron wood and plated gold in their faces, throwing the great bar in place.
While the muffled shrieks of frustration and rage sounded beyond that barrier, Cadj now turned slowly to face La. Far from being subtle, which was beyond the scope of his mentality, he was now gloatingly obvious concerning his intentions, but sadistically he was making it clear to her that he had plenty of time to accomplish the inevitable without interruption.
"Now," he growled, the while he trembled and slavered in anticipation, "you are Cadj's she!"
As he waddled toward her on his short, hairy legs, his long arms reaching out to grasp her, La knew that his mind was fully blocked to any appeal to reason. This was a horribly clear and simple circumstance which called for self-defense. She wore between her breasts the slim golden knife of the sacrifice, but that she might have a chance to use it effectively on this evilly aroused brute was doubtful. Though Cadj was stunted in stature, he was half as strong as the great apes and weiged fully two hundred pounds. La backed away from him, and instantly his eyes widened in lustful triumph. Her demonstration of fear made her the more enticing. He leaped at her . . .
Tarzan rode his horse disconsolately after the other members of the hunting party. Ahead of him were his wife, Jane, and two important guests who were attached to the British Consulate staff in Nairobi. They were laughing and chatting together just as though the official summons the men had brought to him had been an innocent invitation to attend a Sunday church picnic.
But perhaps he could not blame them for failing to sense that which only he could feel. At least his Waziri warriors who were guiding the party ahead must have known what was burning in the depths of his heart and spirit, for their quiet mood seemed but to reflect his own. Like the primordial dumb beasts of the jungle, Tarzan chose to lick his secret wounds alone and in silence, and particularly was he resolved not to inflict his private unhappiness upon his wife, whose long unexpressed life's dream was about to be fulfilled.
They were to leave Africa, possibly forever. War clouds had long been gathering in Europe, and at last Mussolini's ruthless invasion of Ethiopia had marked the beginning of the inevitable. As John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan now had responsibilities in London. He had been requested to organize a certain secret advisory committee, for, as the diplomatic message advised him, there was "no citizen of the entire British Empire who might be considered a more qualified authority on Central Africa" than himself. He was urgently needed, and he would go, because duty demanded it.
To Jane the summons had come in the guise of a long-awaited opportunity. At last Tarzan would join her again in the civilized world that had been a normal part of her life before she had met him. Nor would there be much purpose, he told himself, in trying to return to Africa after the war, for already the dark continent had changed for him, considering the steady advances of modernism and the growth of organized social ideologies which left few corners of the jungle in the olden spell of timeless peace and pristine beauty to which he had been accustomed during the more vigorous years of his life.
Tarzan did not consider himself to be old. On the contrary -- thanks to a lifelong exposure to that same natural environment which guarded all other creatures of the wild from the effects of disease and senility -- he was an astonishing example of perpetuated virility and strength. But at last he had been forced to face the fact that the old days were over with and gone. There were no more frontiers of adventure and mystery, only the political concept of the world remaining, and he felt that the age of individual contribution to the welfare of his particular area of Africa had been replaced by a rather inevitable historical transition to group effort. Much as he was saddened to close the book on all those blissful and exciting chapters of the "good old days," he realized that the die was cast. Adventure was done. He would retire to the carpeted salons of civilized society and begin to atrophy in the smog-laden atmosphere of the metropolis.
The hunting party was passing leisurely along an open trail on the edge of the jungle. The unforested side of their path slanted upward several hundred yards and ended abruptly. Tarzan knew that this was the low Muwansa Ridge marking the northern boundary of the Waziri country. Beyond lay some of the lesser known territory of the African interior in which many a strange adventure had befallen him as well as Jane. Just as memory was beginning to draw his thoughts far away into that mysterious land and into another almost forgotten day, he was startled to see little Manu, the monkey, come scuttling and screaming toward him over the top of the ridge. Attracted by the little creature's loud, excited chatterings and chirpings, the rest of the party stopped and turned to look.
"Oh, John!" exclaimed Jane Clayton, with a delighted smile of recognition on her patrician face. "Isn't that little Nkima? The poor little thing wandered off somewhere and was lost," she explained to her guests. "We haven't seen him in months!"
The two rather pasty faced gentlemen from he British Consulate laughed at the antics of the monkey as it sprang unhesitatingly to Tarzan's knee and screamed at him hysterically. "My word!" exclaimed one of them, laughing. "Here is an opportunity to see whether it is fact or fiction that Lord Greystoke can actually converse with the children of Nature! What is the little beast saying to you, Greystoke?"
Only Jane and several of the Waziri interpreted the quick passing shadow of concern which crossed over Tarzan's face before he looked up at them and smiled.
"Only what your dog might tell you," he answered. "When a dog barks or growls he is telling you what a mighty fighter he is. Or when he licks your hand or wags his tail he is saying simply that he loves you. Little Nkima here is telling me that same old story which is ever new in the jungle -- that he's a mighty hunter and a mighty fighter, but that he is at the same time tremendously glad he has found me -- and he wants to know if I have anything to eat."
The two government employees laughed understandingly and turned to continue on their way, but Jane paused, her delicate brows contracting slightly as she saw Tarzan's smile fade suddenly and his gray eyes turn toward the ridge. When he guided his mount in that direction, she followed him.
"Do you see what I see?" he asked her as she drew alongside him.
He pointed out across the rolling plains that stretched away before them, and Jane strained her eyes to discover the cause of Nkima's excitement. Above the distance-purpled horizon rose mighty mountain peaks. Then came the broad green mat of the jungle, followed by the semi-forested plain in the foreground, broken here and there by the meandering silvery band of an unnamed river. At first she could discern nothing that might be regarded as unusual, but suddenly she stifled a gasp of astonishment. And then she gripped her husband's mighty arm in fear -- a fear which memory brought to her out of the distant past.
"Oh no, John!" she exclaimed.
"Nkima says that I am the objective. You'd better get our guests back to the bungalow for dinner. Tell them I have gone to track down some hartebeests for them and that if my hunch is right I'll take them out to get some of them tomorrow."
"But John -- " Jane started to protest.
"There is no danger," said the apeman, patting her arm where it rested on his. "But I am going to have to strip down and revert to the primordial, dear. Our guests are not accustomed to hearing an English lord converse in the language of the first men." As she hesitated to leave him, he added,
"You can tell Muviro about it, if it will ease your mind. Half of his Waziri can remain here to watch how I get along."
"All right, John," she answered. "But promise me you will take no chances."
"I promise. But go now. I must hurry."
As she left him, Tarzan looked down at little Nkima and smiled. "In this last hour," he said to the monkey in English, "you bring Tarzan yet another call to adventure."
Yes, it was adventure that called Tarzan of the Apes down there beyond the ridge, but at a price which he would never have been prepared to pay. Nor could he know that little Nkima, by finding him, had affected the destiny of an entire world . . .
Copyright 2014 Stuart J. Byrne
Fascinated? Read Stuart J. Byrne's novels written as John Bloodstone. Was Palmer right? Was Bloostone a "worthy successor to Edgar Rice Burroughs"?
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