Table of content

Chapter 4 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Well, that seemed fair enough; so we went in. I was so anxious to know where we were that I didn’t wait for any proper introductions, but asked immediately what country we were in.

“This is Gavo,” replied the man.

“Is it Anlap?” I asked.

“It is in Donuk,” he replied.

Donuk! Now, I had seen Donuk on Amtorian maps; and as near as I could recall it was at least ten thousand miles from Sanara and almost due west of Anlap. According to the maps, there was a considerable body of water separating the two land masses: one of the numerous great oceans of Venus. I was glad we hadn’t bailed out, for the chances were that most of the time we had been flying above that ocean.

The older man touched my arm; and, indicating the older of the women, said, “This is Noola, my woman.”

Noola was a wild eyed looking dame with dishevelled hair and a haunted expression. Suspicion was writ large on her countenance as she appraised us. She said nothing. The man then introduced his son, Endar, and his son’s woman, Yonda, a pretty girl with frightened eyes.

“And I am Tovar,” said the older man, in concluding the introductions: “I am a togan of the house of Pandar.”

Togan is something of a title of nobility, possibly analogous to baron. The literal translation of the word is high man. Tovar’s real title, as head of the house of Pandar, was Vootogan, or First Togan: his son’s title was Klootogan, or Second Togan. Noola’s title was Vootoganja, and Yonda’s, Klootogania. We had landed among the nobility.

Tovar invited us into the castle, where, he said, he had an excellent map of Amtor that might aid us in returning to Sanara. While I had maps in the anotar; yet, as usual, I was always glad to examine new maps in the hope that I might eventually find one that was not almost entirely useless.

The interior of the main building, or donjon, was a bare and cheerless place. There were a few grass mats scattered about the floor, a long table, some wooden benches, and a low divan covered with the pelts of animals. On the walls were a few pictures, bows, quivers of arrows, spears, and swords. The arrangement of the weapons suggested that they were not there for ornamentation; but that this main hall of the castle was, in effect, an armory.

Noola sat down on a bench and glowered at us while Tovar brought out the map and spread it on the table. The map was no better than any of the others I had seen. While I was examining it, he summoned servants and ordered food brought. Endar and Yonda sat silently staring at us. The whole atmosphere of the place was one of constraint, suspicion, fear. The fear in Yonda’s eyes was like something tangible that reached out and touched one’s heart. Even Tovar, the only one of this strange quartet who had made any gesture of hospitality, was obviously nervous and ill at ease. He watched us constantly, and after he had put the map away, he sat on a bench and stared at us. No one said anything.

I could see Ero Shan fidgetting, and I knew that the situation was getting under his skin just as it was under mine. I tried to think of something to say to start a general conversation and relieve the tension; so I told them about our experience with the merging of the two cloud envelopes, and asked them if the clouds had come down to the ground in Gavo.

Tovar said, “No.” That was his contribution to the conversation.

Yonda said, “The clouds came very low.”

Noola, who up to this point had not entered the conversation, said, “Shut up, you fool!” At that, the conversation languished and expired. Strangely enough, it was Noola who revived it. “Nothing human ever went up into the clouds,” she said. “A wizard might, but nothing human.”

Once again there was a long silence, while the servants brought food and placed it on the table. Tovar said, “Come and eat.”

The food was not very good: mostly vegetables, a little fruit, and some very tough meat which I thought I recognized as zorat meat. The zorat is the Amtorian horse.

I enjoy a little conversation with my meals; so I tried again. “Who is this Morgas to whom you referred?” I asked.

They appeared a little surprised by the question. Noola “Humphed!” and then elaborated upon this brilliant bit of repartee by adding: “As though you don’t know!”

“I am sorry to reveal my ignorance,” I said, “but I really haven’t the slightest idea who Morgas is. You must remember that I have never been to your country.”

“Humph!” said Noola.

Tovar cleared his throat and looked apologetically at Noola. “Morgas is a wizard,” he said. “He turns people into zaldars.” The others nodded their heads. Now I knew that they were all crazy; but after dinner they served in large tumblers something very similar to cognac, and I partially revised my estimate of them; at least I held my verdict in abeyance for the time being.

As I sipped my brandy, I sauntered around the hall looking at the pictures on the walls. They seemed to be chiefly family portraits, most of them very poorly executed. Noola was there, dour and sinister. So were the others, and there must have been fully a hundred that were probably of ancestors, for many of them were faded with age. I came upon one, though, that immediately arrested my attention: it was that of a very beautiful girl, and it was beautifully executed.

I could not restrain an exclamation of admiration. “How lovely!” I said.

“That is our daughter, Vanaja,” said Tovar; and at the mention of her name, both he and Noola broke down and cried. Perhaps the cognac may have had something to do with this sudden access of sentiment: at least on Noola’s part, for she had downed one entire tumblerful and started on the second.

“I am very sorry,” I hastened to say. “I had no idea who she was, nor that she was dead.”

“She is not dead,” said Noola, between sobs. “Would you like to meet her?” Whatever wizards there might have been about the place must have been contained in that brandy. While it hadn’t turned Noola into a zaldar, it had certainly wrought an amazing change in her: her tone was almost cordial.

I saw that they would like to have me meet Vanaja; so, not wishing to offend them, I said that I should be delighted. After all, I reflected, it was not going to be much of an ordeal to meet such a gorgeous creature.

“Come with us,” said Noola; “we will take you to Vanaja’s apartments.”

She led the way out of the castle into the ballium, and we followed. Ero Shan, who was walking at my side, said, “Be careful, Carson! Remember Duare!” Then he poked me in the ribs and grinned.

“And you’d better keep your mind on Nalte,” I counselled him.

“I shall try to,” he replied, “but you’ll have to admit that if Vanaja is half as lovely as her portrait it will be difficult for one to keep one’s mind on anything but Vanaja.”

Noola led us to the rear of the castle, stopping at last in a far corner of the enclosure before a pen in which a small zaldar, about the size of a pig, was down on its knees gobbling a lavender mash from a trough.

The zaldar didn’t even glance at us, but went on gobbling.

“This is Vanaja,” said Noola. “Vanaja, this is Carson of Venus and Ero Shan of Havatoo.”

“She is very sad,” said Noola, sobbing. “She is so sad that she refuses to talk.”

“How distressing!” I exclaimed, recalling that it is always best to humor those poor unfortunates who are the victims of mental disorders. “I presume that this is the work of Morgas, the scoundrel.”

“Yes,” said Torvar; “Morgas did it. She refused to be his mate; so he stole her, turned her into a zaldar, and returned her to us.”

Sadly we turned away and started back toward the castle. “Could you keep your mind on Nalte?” I asked Ero Shan.

Ero Shan ignored my question, and turned to Tovar. “Tell us something about this Morgas,” he said.

“Certainly,” replied our host. “He is a powerful vootogan, whose stronghold is farther up the valley. He is a man of ill repute and ill deeds. He has powers that are beyond those of human men: he is a wizard. He has many warriors, and with them he attacked the other three castles in this part of the valley. Mine is impregnable; and we repulsed him, but he took the other two. Those of their inmates whom he did not kill, he took back to his own castle and turned into zaldars. If you would like to see his castle, I can show it to you from the south tower.”

I said that I would, and soon we were climbing the long spiral staircase that led to the summit of the south tower. Noola and the others accompanied us. Noola “Humphed” a couple of times on the way up; and when Tovar finally pointed out Morgas’s castle standing on an eminence and just visible far up the valley, she said, “As though they had never seen it before!” I sighed, for I knew that the effects of Noola’s brandy had worn off.

From the tower we could see a large herd of zaldars grazing beyond the river that flows below Tovar’s castle. They were guarded by a number of warriors. It was, doubtless, the same herd above which Ero Shan and I had flown.

Tovar said, “Do you see those zaldars?”

“They are not zaldars,” said Noola, “as he very well knows: they are members of the Tolan and Ladja families to whom the two castles farther down the valley belong.”

Tovar sighed. “Morgas turned them all into zaldars. We used to eat zaldars, but no more; we might be eating a friend or relative. Now we eat zorat meat—when we can get it. Very fine zaldars were raised in this valley: each family had its own herd, and we used to go down with our soldiers and steal the zaldars belonging to other families: it was excellent sport.

“As the best grazing is down at this end of the valley, Morgas used to send his herd down here; and he had a lot of them stolen; because the Tolans and the Ladjas or we Pandars would often join our forces and attack Morgas’s men and steal his zaldars: we all hated Morgas. Although the rest of us stole each other’s zaldars, we were good friends: our families visited back and forth and intermarried. Yonda is a Tolan and Noola is a Ladja.

“I’ll tell you, those were the good old days; but when Morgas started turning people into zaldars, there was no use going down and stealing them, for no one would eat them: no one wanted to take a chance that he might be eating a father, a cousin, or even a mother-in-law. But Morgas and his people eat them: they are cannibals.”

It was almost dark when we returned to the great hall of the castle. Noola sat on a bench watching us with those wild eyes of hers: it seemed quite evident that she was mad. I was sure that Tovar was unbalanced, too; although he was not quite as crazy as Noola. I was not so sure as to Endar and Yonda: they sat silent and morose, and I gathered the impression that they were afraid of the others—that Yonda, especially, was: she had that frightened look in her eyes, which I had noticed from the first.

I thoroughly wished myself out of there, and regretted that I had not found an excuse to take off before dark. Now, with a few feeble, flickering lights, the castle was an eerie place; the evening meal something that might have been lifted bodily from a murder mystery story: the mad hostess, eyeing us with suspicion and hate; the uneasy host; the silent, frightened young people; the servants, slinking silently and furtively in and out of the shadows, terror and hatred in their eyes.

All these things conjured thoughts of poison, and when I had an opportunity I cautioned Ero Shan. We were both careful not to take food unless it was contained in a common bowl from which the members of the family helped themselves, and even then we did not taste it until after some of them had. As a social event, the dinner was not a success.

Immediately after dinner I suggested that we would like to retire, as we had had a hard day and wished to get an early start in the morning. At that, Noola laughed: I think a writer of horror stories would have called it a hollow laugh. I don’t know what a hollow laugh is. I have never known. I should describe Noola’s laugh as a graveyard laugh; which doesn’t make much more sense than the other, but is more shivery.

Ero Shan and I had arisen, and now Tovar summoned a servant to show us to our room. We bade the family goodnight and started to follow the servant, and as we passed Yonda she arose and laid a hand on my arm.

“Carson of Venus,” she whispered, “be-” and then Noola darted forward and dragged her away.

“Fool!” she hissed at the girl. “Would you be next?”

I hesitated a moment; and then, with a shrug, I followed Ero Shan and the silent figure that preceded him into the shadows which the lighted taper that it carried seemed only to accentuate. I followed up creaking, rickety stairs to a balcony that encircled the great hall and into a room that opened onto the balcony.

Here, the servant lighted a small cresset and then almost ran from the room, his eyes popping with terror.

 Table of content