Chapter 3 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

If Fate had been unkind to me in some respects, she had certainly not in the matter of a companion in misery. You’d have to scour two worlds to find a finer chap or a more loyal friend than Ero Shan, soldier-biologist of Havatoo. Soldier-biologist! In Amtorian it is Korgan Sentar, and it is a title of high distinction.

We climbed rapidly, and at fifteen thousand feet we emerged into clear air with horizontal visibility limited only by the curve of the planet. Now we were between the inner and outer cloud envelopes. It was infinitely lighter and brighter here, but the air was hot and sticky. I knew that at night it would be very dark and cold, for I had dropped down through it that night that I had bailed out of my rocket ship before it crashed. What an experience that had been!

I hadn’t the remotest idea of the direction in which I was flying, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I could see mountains before I crashed into them. I flew on, hoping that there might come a break in the lower cloud envelope eventually that would permit me to come down again. I voiced this hope to Ero Shan.

“Such a thing might happen once or twice in a lifetime,” he replied. “I imagine that the chances that it would happen to us right when we needed it are about one to several billion.”

“Well, I can always hope,” I said. “I’m something of an optimist.” How much of an optimist I am, you may readily judge when I admit that I have been hopefully waiting for years for seven spades, vulnerable, doubled, and redoubled. I might also add that at such a time my partner and I have one game to our opponents’ none, we having previously set them nineteen hundred; and are playing for a cent a point—notwithstanding the fact that I never play for more than a tenth. That, my friends, is optimism.

“Keep on hoping,” urged Ero Shan; “it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s an excellent tonic for one’s morale. Lovely scenery here,” he added.

“Ever been here before?” I asked.

“No; nor anyone else.”

“I have. It hasn’t changed at all. There has been very little building activity since I passed through.”

Ero Shan grinned; then he pointed ahead. “Look!” he said.

I had already seen. The inner cloud envelope was billowing up, gray and menacing. I nosed up to keep above it, and the first thing I knew the outer envelope billowed down and engulfed us. The two envelopes had met and merged.

What has taken such a short time to narrate really encompassed hours of flying. We might be thousands of miles from where we took off, or we might have been constantly circling and right back where we started from.

“How about bailing out now?” I asked. “It is your last chance.”

“Why is it?”

“Because I am going down. The inner envelope has evidently risen: we have just seen it come up: the chances are that we have plenty of ceiling below it. If we hit a mountain, we die: if we stay here, we die.”

“If we don’t hit a mountain, we live to die some other day,” cracked Ero Shan.

“Quite right,” I agreed. “I am going down.”

“I am going with you.”

I came down in a long, slow glide—very slow: I was taking no unnecessary chances. Eleven thousand: ten thousand: nine thousand. I imagine that our visibility was something like a hundred feet, and at nine thousand I saw a jagged mountain peak looming dead ahead! I banked, and how I banked!

Ero Shan whistled. “If your landing gear hadn’t been retracted it would have scraped that mountain,” he said.

“It was retracted.” I felt as though my voice was pale: that had been a close call!

Now, in a new direction, I glided so slowly that most of the time I was almost on the point of stalling. Eight thousand feet: seven thousand. Six thousand: and Ero Shan and I both exclaimed in unison. Below us were hills and trees and rivers and—life!

The sudden reaction after that long nervous strain left us both mute for a time. It was Ero Shan who broke the silence. “That doesn’t look much like any country I’ve seen in Korva,” he said.

“Certainly not like anything I’ve seen near Sanara or Amtor and with which I am very familiar,” I agreed, “nor is it like anything we flew over coming out.”

“It is beautiful,” said Ero Shan.

“Even Oklahoma would be beautiful after what we’ve been through,” I remarked.

“I have never been to Oklahoma,” said Ero Shan.

“Let’s drop down and have a closer look,” I suggested.

It was a hilly country, cut by deep valleys and river gorges, a well watered country lush with vegetation; but it seemed uninhabited. However, we cruised around looking for a human being. I wanted to find one who was alone; so that we could come down and question him in safety. We had to learn where we were before we could make any plans for returning to Sanara.

Presently Ero Shan pointed and said, “There’s a building.”

It stood beside a river on a little knoll, and as I circled low above it I was astonished to see that it closely resembled the medieval castles of the Middle Ages in Europe. At least there were the outer walls with towers at the corners, the ballium, and the central building or donjon. There was no moat, and therefore no drawbridge, but the general effect was quite medieval.

While it was apparently in a fair state of repair, we saw no evidence of life anywhere about it; and so we flew on up the valley, where we presently discovered another similar edifice. This, too, seemed deserted.

“I wonder what’s become of all the people,” said Ero Shan.

“They may have gone to a clam bake,” I suggested.

It so often happens that Ero Shan doesn’t know what I am talking about that he had long since given up trying to find out. He says that what I refer to as a sense of humor would be diagnosed as psychopathy in Havatoo and lead to immediate destruction for the welfare of society in general and future generations in particular.

As we flew on up the valley we at last saw men. There were many of them, and they were armed. They appeared to be guarding a large herd of very small zaldars, about the size of earthly pigs. As the men were numerous and armed, we did not land; but continued on in our search for a single individual.

“Those zaldars looked very good,” said Ero Shan. “I wouldn’t mind having a nice zaldar roast right now.”

“Nor I,” I said. “It is remarkable how good such silly looking creatures can taste.”

I really think that an Amtorian zaldar is about the silliest looking creature I ever saw. It has a large, foolish looking head, with big, oval eyes, and two long, pointed ears that stand perpetually erect as though the creature were always listening. It has no neck, and its body is all rounded curves: ideal for beef. Its hind legs resemble in shape those of a bear: its front legs are similar to an elephant’s, though, of course, on a much smaller scale. Along its spine rises a single row of bristles. It has no tail and no neck, and from its snout depends a long tassel of hair. Its upper jaw is equipped with broad, shovel-like teeth, which protrude beyond its short, tiny lower jaw. Its skin is covered with short hair of a neutral mauve color with large patches of violet, which, especially when it is lying down, make it almost invisible against the pastel shades of Amtorian scenery. When it grazes it drops down on its knees and scrapes up the turf with its shovel-like teeth, and then draws it into its mouth with a broad tongue. It also has to kneel down when it drinks, because of its lack of a neck. There are two species of these animals: the large beef animal that is fully as large as a Hereford; and the smaller piglike creature, the specific name for which is neozaldar, or small zaldar.

The warriors guarding the herd over which we had passed had looked up at us in astonishment, and had fitted arrows to their bows as we came close. However, they had loosed not a single shaft. I imagine that the anotar looked altogether too formidable to them to risk antagonizing. What food for speculation and conversation we must have brought them! Even to the fourth and fifth generations their descendants will have to listen to it.

As we flew on I discovered a third castle perched on an eminence overlooking a river; and, as a forlorn hope, I circled slowly above it. Presently four people came out into the ballium and looked up at us. There were two men and two women. That didn’t look very formidable; so I dropped down closer, whereupon one of the men shot an arrow at us; and he and one of the women screamed insults at us.

About all I could make out was, “Go away, Morgas, or we’ll kill you!” Realizing that it was a case of mistaken identity and knowing that I must in some way learn where we were, I decided to make an effort to allay their fears and win their confidence sufficiently to obtain the information we had to have if we were ever to reach Sanara.

I turned the controls over to Ero Shan; and, taking writing materials from one of the compartments, wrote a note explaining that we were strangers in their country, that we were lost, and that all we wished was information that would help us find our way home.

One of the men picked up the note after we had dropped it in the ballium; and I saw him read it carefully, after which he handed it to one of the women. The other man and woman pressed close and read it over her shoulder; then they all discussed it for several minutes while we circled around above them. Presently the older man beckoned us to come closer, at the same time making the sign of peace.

When we were as close to them as I could get without hitting the towers and they had examined us as closely as possible, one of them said, “It is not Morgas; they are indeed strangers,” and then the older man said, “You may come down. We will not harm you, if you come in peace.”

There was a small level piece of ground outside the castle walls, with barely space to land; but I made it, and a moment later Ero Shan and I stood outside the castle gate. We had stood there several minutes when a voice spoke to us from above. Looking up, we saw a man leaning from the window embrasure of one of the small towers that flanked the gateway.

“Who are you?” he demanded, “and from where do you come?”

“This is Korgan Sentar Ero Shan of Havatoo,” I replied; “and I am Carson of Venus, Tanjong of Korva.”

“You are sure you are not wizards?” he asked.

“Absolutely not,” I assured him; but his question made me wonder if we had, by ill chance, landed at an insane asylum.

“What is that thing that you came in?”

“An anotar.”

“If you are not wizards, how do you keep it up in the air? Why does it not fall? Is it alive?”

“It is not alive,” I told him, “and it is only the pressure of the air on the under surface of the wings that keeps it up while it is in motion. If the motor that drives it should stop, it would have to come down. There is nothing mysterious about it at all.”

“You do not look like wizards,” he said, and then he drew back into the embrasure and disappeared.

We waited some more; and then the castle gate swung open, and as we looked in we saw fully fifty warriors waiting to receive us. It didn’t look so good, and I hesitated.

“Don’t be afraid,” urged the man, who had come down from the tower. “If you are not wizards, and if you come in peace, you will not be harmed. My retainers are here only to protect us in the event you are not what you claim to be.”