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Chapter 8 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Wizard of Venus came storming across the clearing with his warriors at his heels. I could see that he was furious. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Admiring one of your zaldars,” I replied.

He gave me a skeptical look; and then a nasty, sneering smile replaced it. “So you admire zaldars, do you? That is well, for you are about to become a zaldar;” then he fixed me with his terrible, maniacal eyes and made passes at me with his long slender fingers. “You are a zaldar, you are a zaldar,” he kept repeating over and over again.

I waited to become a zaldar, but nothing happened.

His burning eyes bored into mine. I thought of Chand Kabi, and I wondered if this man did have sufficient power to make me believe that I was a zaldar. Chand Kabi could have done it, but he never used his great powers other than beneficently.

I pitted my mind against the mind of Morgas. At first I wondered, but presently I realized that I was immune to his most malevolent machinations. I did not become a zaldar.

“Now you are a zaldar,” he said at last. “Get down on your hands and knees and feed!”

Then I made a mistake: I laughed at him. It wouldn’t have done me any harm to admit that I was a zaldar in which event I should probably have been turned out to pasture and had something of freedom; but that laugh angered him, and he had the warriors drag me away and put me in a cell beneath the donjon, and for good measure he had Ero Shan thrown in with me.

I told Ero Shan of all that had occurred in the garden. He was much interested in this strange power that I had exercised over Vanaja, and I told him a great deal about Chand Kabi and my life in India. I told him of how my father used to go out tiger hunting on elephants, and I had to describe tigers and elephants to him. Ero Shan’s imagination was intrigued. He said that he would like to go to India some day; which was, of course, quite impossible. And presently we fell asleep on the hard, stone floor of our cell.

We were there some time. A jailer came every day and brought us food. He had a most unprepossessing face—a face that one could never forget. It was burned indelibly into my consciousness.

Every day Morgas came and told us we were zaldars. He glared and made his passes, and at the end he would ask, “Now you are zaldars, aren’t you?”

“No,” I said, “but you are a jackass.”

“What is a jackass?” he demanded.

“You,” I told him.

He smiled appreciatively. “I suppose a jackass is a great person in your country,” he said.

“Many of them are in high places,” I assured him.

“But you are only zaldars,” he insisted. “I know that you are just lying to me;” then he went away.

That evening, when our jailer came, he said, “What fine zaldars! You are zaldars, aren’t you, or do my eyes deceive me?”

“Perhaps they deceive you,” I told him, “but mine don’t deceive me. I know that you are not a zaldar.”

“Of course I’m not,” he said.

“Then what are you?” I asked.

“What am I? A human being, of course.”

“With that face? It is impossible.”

“What’s the matter with my face?” he demanded angrily.


He went out and slammed the door and turned the great key in the great lock almost venomously.

“Why do you always try to antagonize them?” asked Ero Shan.

“I suppose because I am bored. While they annoy me, they offer the only momentary escape from my boredom.”

“What is a jackass?” he asked. “I know that it must be something obnoxious, or you would not have told Morgas that he was one.”

“On the contrary, the jackass is a really excellent fellow, a quite remarkable fellow. Creatures of far less intelligence have come to use him to—what should I say? personify? foolish stupidity. I am sorry that I called Morgas a jackass. I apologize to all jackasses.”

“You are a remarkable fellow,” said Ero Shan.

“Neatly put, Ero Shan.”

“I was just thinking that maybe you were a bit stupid in not using those marvelous powers you had from your Chand Kabi to frighten Morgas into releasing us.”

“There is an idea,” I said. “It might be worth experimenting with, but I rather doubt that it will accomplish anything.”

“Try it tonight,” he said; “people are more easily frightened at night.”

“Very well,” I agreed: “tonight I shall frighten Morgas out of seven years’ growth—maybe.”

“If you really made Vanaja think that she saw her father, you should be able to make Morgas think that he sees whatever you wish him to see.”

“Vanaja went and embraced her father and talked to him. It was a most touching reunion.”

“If I didn’t know you so well,” said Ero Shan, “I should be sure that you were lying. When are you going to start in on Morgas? That will prove to me whether—”

“I am a liar or a jackass or an A-1 Merlin,” I concluded for him.

“You are Galahad,” he said, grinning.

The great hall of the donjon was directly above our cell, and at night we could hear people walking around, and we could hear voices and, occasionally, laughter—not much real laughter; but, late at night, drunken laughter. I told Ero Shan that I would wait until things had quieted down and I was reasonably certain that Morgas had gone to bed before I started in on my necromancy.

It seemed to me that they caroused later than usual that night, but at last things quieted down. I waited about half an hour, during which time Ero Shan and I talked over old times in Havatoo; and then I told him that I was going to start in on Morgas.

“Just keep perfectly quiet,” I said, “so as not to distract me, and we shall see what we shall see. It will probably be nothing.”

“I shall then be greatly disappointed and lose all faith in you,” he threatened me.

So I went to work on Vootogan Morgas, the Wizard of Venus. Although I didn’t move, I worked until I was in a lather of perspiration. It is remarkable how similar the effects of sustained, highly concentrated mental activity are to those of physical exertion; but then, perhaps, they are due only to nervous reaction.

Ero Shan sat perfectly quiet. It was almost as though he did not even breathe. The minutes passed—tense minutes—and nothing happened. I fought to keep thoughts of failure from my mind. A quarter of an hour, and the silence of the tomb still reigned within the donjon. A half hour, but I would not give up.

Then suddenly we heard footsteps on the floor above us: the footsteps of running men and the shouts of men. I relaxed and wiped the perspiration from my forehead. “I think it worked,” I said to Ero Shan.

“Something is happening up there,” he replied. “I wonder what will happen next.”

“They will be down here in a moment, very hot and bothered,” I prophesied.

My prophesy was correct. A dozen armed men were presently at the door of our cell. It was unlocked and thrown open, and a torch was stuck in. Three warriors followed the torch inside and the others crowded in the doorway. When their eyes fell on me, surprise was written on their faces.

“What were you doing in Morgas’s sleeping chamber?” one of them demanded.

“Doesn’t Morgas know?” I countered.

“How did you get there? How did you get out of this cell? How did you get back into it?” The questions might have been shot from a tommy gun.

“Morgas, being a wizard also, should know that, too,” I told them.

They looked at me fearfully; they were worried and frightened as they talked among themselves: “The door is heavily padlocked,” said one, “and the padlock has not been tampered with.”

“It is incredible,” said another.

“Perhaps he does not realize that he is now a zaldar,” suggested a third.

“Could it be,” suggested a fourth in a whisper, “that the vootogan drank too much wine this evening?”

“That does not account for it,” said the first warrior; “because the woman who was in the vootogan’s sleeping chamber saw what he saw, and she had not been drinking at all.”

So! I had wrought better than I knew, or else the woman had lied. However, the result was the same.

“Do not leave your cell again,” ordered one of the warriors. “There will be armed men at every door, and if you come they will kill you;” then they went away, but before they closed the door I saw the ugly face of the jailer peering over their shoulders.

“Tell Morgas,” I shouted, “that if he will release me and my companion and the girl, Vanaja, I will bother him no more.”

They did not answer.

“Do you think he will?” asked Ero Shan.

“I think he will,” I replied, “but he will not know it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Wait and see.”

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