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Chapter 6 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

We followed the stream up the valley, and shortly after daybreak we arrived before the massive gates of Morgas’s castle. It was a formidable pile, frowning down from an elevation. We could see no sign of life about it: no sentry appeared upon the barbican. It was like a house of the dead.

I picked up a rock and pounded on the gates, and then I called aloud. “He doesn’t seem much afraid of an attack by enemies,” remarked Ero Shan.

“That is probably because he has no enemies left to attack him,” I suggested, as I continued to pound on the gates.

Presently a little wicket in the gate was opened and a pair of eyes looked out at us. “Who are you? and what do you want here?” demanded a surly voice.

“We are visitors from a far country,” I replied, “come to pay our respects to Vootogan Morgas.”

I saw the eyes looking past us. “Where are your warriors?” demanded the voice.

“We are alone: we come in peace upon a peaceful visit.”

There was a pause, as though the voice were scratching its head in thought. “Wait here,” it said, and slammed the wicket closed.

We waited fifteen minutes, during which men came onto the barbican above us and looked down at us and the wicket opened and closed several times and eyes stared at us; but no one spoke. Soon, however, the gates swung open; and an officer bade us enter. Behind, was a detachment of some twenty warriors.

“Vootogan Morgas will see you,” said the officer. He was looking us over carefully. “You have no weapons?” he asked.

“None,” I assured him.

“Then come with me.”

The twenty warriors surrounded us as we crossed the ballium toward the donjon, a large circular building surrounded by a fosse in the bottom of which many sharpened stakes were embedded. To my amazement, I saw that the fosse was spanned by a drawbridge: Morgas was a jump ahead of his contemporaries.

We entered immediately into a large hall, at the far end of which a man was seated upon a very high dais. Warriors were banked behind him, and others were posted below the dais. In addition to these, there were probably a hundred people in the great hall: both men and women. I immediately looked for Vanaja, but I did not see her.

We were conducted to the foot of the steps leading up to the dais. The man, whom I assumed to be Morgas, locked us over carefully. He was a most unprepossessing person: his hair, growing low upon his forehead, stood up on end; the whites of his eyes showed all around the irises; and his eyes were set very close to his nose. His hands were extremely long fingered and slender: the kind of hands that, in a man, have always impressed me as being particularly revolting, almost obscene. His skin was an unhealthy white: it had a corpselike pallor. All in all, as you may have gathered, he was a most obnoxious appearing person.

The room was very quiet, there was not a sound, when suddenly he shouted, “Silence! I cannot endure this infernal noise. Chop off their heads! Chop off their heads! Then, perhaps, I shall have peace.”

This was the first outward demonstration of his insanity that we had witnessed; though his appearance had immediately convinced me that he was a congenital maniac. The only reaction to his outburst was a babble of voices and stamping of feet.

“That is better,” he shouted above the din; “now I can sleep. Put their heads back on again.” His eyes, which had been wandering about the hall, now returned to us. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“These are the strangers from far countries who have come to visit you,” explained the officer who accompanied us.

“I am Vootogan Morgas, the wizard of Gavo,” said the man on the dais. “Who are you?”

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

“So you don’t believe I’m a wizard, eh?” demanded Morgas, and before we could make any reply, he added, “Come up here, and I’ll show you. Don’t think I’m a wizard, eh! Don’t think I’m a wizard, eh! Come up here! Come up here!”

It seemed wise to humor him: so we mounted the steps to the dais, where he was rummaging around in his pocket pouch for something. At last he found what he had been searching for, and withdrew a small nut, which he held up before us between a thumb and index finger.

“Here you see a small nut,” he announced. “Here! take it; examine it.”

We took it and examined it. “It is, indeed, a small nut,” said Ero Shan.

Morgas snatched it away from him, palmed it, rubbed his hands together, made some passes in the air, and then opened his hands. The nut had disappeared.

“Extraordinary!” I exclaimed.

Morgas seemed vastly pleased. “Have you ever before seen wizardry like that?” he asked.

I thought it best to assure him that I never had.

“You’ve seen nothing,” he explained; then he approached Ero Shan and pretended to take the nut from one of his ears. The people in the hall gasped simultaneously. It was as spontaneous and unrehearsed as the drafting of a president for a third term.

“Amazing!” said Ero Shan.

After this Morgas did a few more parlor tricks of simple legerdemain. It was plain to see how he had commenced originally to get the idea that he was a wizard and to impress it on his simple and ignorant followers.

“Now,” he said, at last, “I am going to show you something that will really take your breath away.” He looked around the hall, and presently fastened his eyes on an individual at the side of the room. “You Ladjan,” he shouted; “come here!” The man approached, fearfully, I thought. “This is one of the members of the Ladja family,” Morgas explained to us. “I have turned him into a zaldar. You are a zaldar, aren’t you?” he demanded of the man. The fellow nodded. “Then be a zaldar!” screamed Morgas, at which the poor creature went down on his hands and knees and scampered about the hall. “Feed!” shouted Morgas, and the man put his face close to the earth floor and pretended to scrape up turf with his upper teeth.

“Feed!” shouted Morgas. “I told you to feed: you are only pretending to feed. How do you expect to get fat enough to butcher, if you don’t eat anything? Eat!”

The unfortunate creature now dug at the hard packed earth of the dirt floor with his upper teeth, letting the dirt drop from his mouth immediately. That made Morgas furious. “Swallow it, zaldar!” he screamed; and the man, half choking, did as he was bid. “There!” exclaimed Morgas, triumphantly. “Now do you continue to deny that I am a wizard?”

“We have not denied it,” said Ero Shan.

“So! you call me a liar?” he demanded angrily.

I thought that we were in for it then; but his manner suddenly changed, as though he had entirely forgotten the imagined insult. “How did you get here to Gavo?” he asked in a quiet, rational tone.

“We flew in in an anotar,” I explained, “and came down to inquire where we were; because we were lost.”

“What is an anotar?” asked Morgas.

“A ship that flies in the air,” I replied.

“So they did not lie to me,” muttered the vootogan. “My herdsmen told me of the strange thing that flew through the air, and I thought they were lying. You know how it is with herdsmen. They all lie. Where is this anotar?”

“One of your enemies has it; and if we don’t get it back, he may use it to destroy you.”

“You mean Tovar? He is the only enemy I have left. How did he get the thing?”

I explained how we had been betrayed and overpowered. “So we came to you to enlist your aid in recovering our anotar.”

“Impossible,” said Morgas; “Tovar’s stronghold is impregnable. I have tried many times to take it.”

“With the anotar and our r-ray pistols it could be taken,” I assured him.

“What are r-ray pistols? Where are they? Let me see them.”

“They are weapons that kill from a great distance. Tovar has them now. If he learns how to use them and the anotar, he can fly over here and kill you all.”

Morgas shook his head. “No one can take Tovar’s stronghold,” he said.

“That won’t be necessary,” I explained. “We can get the anotar and the pistols back without risking a single life.”

“How?” he demanded.

“By letting us return Vanaja to her parents,” I said.

Morgas’s countenance clouded. “What do you know about Vanaja?” he demanded.

“Only what Tovar and his woman told us.”

“They already have her,” snapped Morgas. “She is a zaldar now. I sent her back to them a long time ago.”

“Such a good wizard as you should be able to turn a zaldar into Vanaja,” I suggested.

He looked at me narrowly. I think he suspected that I was spoofing him, but he came right back at me: “Bring Vanaja from Tovar’s stronghold and I will transform her into a girl again.” Then he stood up, yawned, and left the hall by a little doorway behind his throne.

Our interview with Morgas was ended.

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