Chapter 11 The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Early the following morning I was up and out going over the anotar. There was no indication that it had been touched during our absence. Evidently my warning had been sufficient to protect it. I removed the compass and disassembled it, and much to my relief discovered that only a slight adjustment was necessary to correct the fault that had already cost us so dearly and might yet cost us infinitely more.

While I was replacing it, Ero Shan joined me. “I suppose that we shall be off for Sanara immediately after breakfast,” he said.

“What?” I exclaimed, “and leave this valley in the clutches of a madman? Ero Shan! I am surprised.”

He looked at me a moment, questioningly; then he shook his head. “I suppose that is an example of Earthly humor,” he said. “You took not the slightest interest in the valley last night.”

“On the contrary, I lay awake for fully an hour trying to plan how best to free those people whom Morgas has imprisoned.”

“And you have a plan?”

“It would be simple to fly over and shoot up the place,” I said, “but that wouldn’t be sporting. It would come pretty close to being plain murder, as they have no firearms.”

“And so—?” asked Ero Shan.

“Frankly, I have no plan that suits me. About the only thing I could think of was the spreading of a little propaganda among them to impress upon them the fact that Morgas is a fake; that he can’t turn anyone into a zaldar and that what they should do is rise against him. After all, the people he has harmed are the ones who should bring him to justice. We could drop notes among them carrying our message. We could even fly low enough to exhort them by word of mouth.”

“It will do no harm to try it,” said Ero Shan; so we set to work writing out our messages, a task in which we enlisted the services of the Pandar family and several of their servants.

Shortly after noon we took off in the anotar and flew up the valley to Morgas’s castle. As we circled above it, we could plainly see the consternation we were causing. Ero Shan was at the controls, and as he circled low above the castle grounds, I dropped out our messages, each weighted with a small stone.

I saw a few brave souls venture from the hiding into which they had gone, pick up the notes, and scurry back again. Later, some of them came out and waved to us: the propaganda was having effect. Morgas emerged from the castle and made passes at us with his long fingers, evidently attempting to hypnotize us; but he remained close to the doorway. I think that he must have been rather fearful of the huge bird circling above him.

Well he might have been, for the antics of the anotar were awe inspiring. As we had flown up the valley from Tovar’s castle, we had tossed about considerably, as the air was rough. Now, over Morgas’s stronghold, it was even worse. A down draft would drop us suddenly perhaps a hundred feet, and we would bring up with a thud, as though we had struck a solid substance; then we might as suddenly shoot upward. Nor was the ship often on an even keel. Ero Shan was constantly fighting with the controls.

I was leaning far out over the side of the cockpit, dropping our propaganda leaflets and watching Morgas when Ero Shan banked steeply. Simultaneously a freak gust of Wind caught the ship and turned it over. I fell out. I had neglected fastening my safety belt.

I have encountered numerous embarrassing moments in my career. This was another. Furthermore, in addition to being embarrassing, it might easily prove fatal. I was falling into the stronghold of a madman who probably felt that he had every reason to destroy me.

As I pulled the rip cord of my chute and floated gently down, I tried to plan against the immediate future after I had alighted. It was wasted effort. I could think of nothing, off hand, that might release me from my predicament. I didn’t even have my r-ray pistol: it was in the plane with the rest of our armament.

Looking up, I could see Ero Shan circling overhead. I knew that he must be frantic. But what could he do? Glancing down, I saw that Morgas’s retainers were scattering to give me a wide berth when I landed. Morgas was staying close to the doorway. It was evident that they held me in considerable respect. This gave me a ray of hope. Perhaps I could bluff my way out. Then a plan occurred to me. It did not seem like a very good plan, but it was the best that I could think of.

I alighted without falling. I was glad of that, as rolling about in the dirt would have added no dignity to my appearance and might have reduced my prestige. Peeking from doorways, windows, and around the corners of buildings and outhouses were the men and women whom Morgas held in thrall and his warriors. Unimpressed were a few score zaldars in the ballium. I was the only person there who knew whether they were zaldars or human beings. Even Morgas did not know, so thoroughly was his insane mind convinced of his power to transform human beings into beasts.

Turning my back on Morgas, I addressed the prisoners, or at least those whom I could see. “You may come out of hiding,” I said. “You need fear nothing from me. I have come to release you. My power is greater than that of Morgas. That you must realize, for how else would I have dared come down alone and unarmed into his stronghold?”

This seemed to make an impression on them, for slowly they came out and approached me. Morgas shouted to his warriors to seize me, but they hesitated; then I turned upon him.

“You are an impostor,” I accused. “You have no power, otherwise you would not call upon your warriors to seize an unarmed man. If you are not an impostor, meet me singlehanded.”

“You are a zaldar!” he screamed at me, making his ridiculous passes.

“I am not a zaldar,” I said, “nor are any of these people zaldars, nor are any of the zaldars human beings. You have not changed me into a zaldar; you cannot change me into a zaldar; you have never changed anyone into a zaldar.” I shouted this so that all might hear. “Now I am going to show you what a real wizard can do.” I concentrated my thoughts upon Morgas. “Look!” I shouted, pointing at the real zaldars which were huddled in a bunch at one side of the ballium. “These poor creatures which you have used to destroy others will now destroy you.”

Presently Morgas’s eyes went wide in horror. I alone knew what he thought he was seeing—that which I was willing him to see. He was seeing those harmless, foolish little zaldars gradually being metamorphosed before his eyes into fierce and hideous tharbans—the ferocious lions of Amtor. He saw them creep toward him with bared fangs; then he turned and fled. Into his castle he dashed; but always behind him, roaring and growling, he heard the terrible beasts.

They followed him up the circular stairway to the top of the castle’s loftiest tower. I saw him emerge at the very summit. He turned and looked back, screaming in terror; then he ran to the edge and jumped.

His broken body lay at my feet. I turned to the prisoners and the warriors. “There is your wizard,” I said. “He will never harm another. The prisoners are now free to return to their homes; and if any of Morgas’s warriors think to prevent, I will cause his death as I have caused the death of his master.”

It was then that I learned that the warriors hated Morgas as much as his prisoners had, and were only held in his service by fear. One and all, they gathered about me; and there were tears in the eyes of many as they thanked me. I looked aloft for Ero Shan, but the anotar was nowhere in sight. I feared that he might have lost control and crashed; so I hastened toward the gates that I might go out and search for him.

As the gates swung open, Ero Shan leaped through the gateway, an r-ray pistol in each hand. He had made a landing near the castle and was coming to my rescue.

That night at Tovar’s castle we had delicious zaldar steaks for dinner, and the next morning we took off for Sanara.