Land of Terror

Chapter Seven

Edgar Rice Burroughs

GOOFO, the palace functionary in whose charge we had been placed, seemed quite pleased with us and our work. He told us that his undertaking was quite important, something of an engineering discovery that was going to revolutionize Pellucidar; and when he had finished telling us that, he shoved all the mud back into the hole, leveled it off, and patted it down with his hands until it was smooth on the surface like the rest of the floor.

“Well, well,” he said, “that was a delicious meal. I hope you enjoyed it.”

“What meal?” I blurted, for I was nearly famished. I hadn’t eaten since I last slept.

He contracted his brows as though in an effort to recall something. “What were we doing?” he demanded.

“We were making mud pies,” I said.

“Tut, tut,” he said. “You have a very poor memory; but we will rectify that at once.” He clapped his hands, then, and shouted something I did not understand; whereupon three girls entered from an adjoining apartment. “Bring food at once,” demanded Goofo.

A short time later, the girls returned with platters of food. There were meat, vegetables, and fruit; and they certainly looked delicious. My mouth fairly watered in anticipation.

“Set it down,” said Goofo; and the three girls placed the platters on the floor. “Now eat it,” he said to them; and, dutifully, they fell upon the food.

I moved a little closer to them and reached for a piece of meat; whereupon Goofo slapped my hand away and cried, “No, no.”

He watched the girls very carefully as they consumed the food. “Eat it all,” he said; “every bit of it;” and they did as he bid, while I sat gloomily watching my meal disappear.

When the girls had finished the meal, he ordered them from the room; and then turned to me with a sly wink.

“I’m too smart for them,” he said.

“Unquestionably,” I agreed; “but I still don’t understand why you made the girls eat our food.”

“That’s just the point. I wanted to discover if it were poisoned; now I know it wasn’t.”

“But I’m still hungry,” I said.

“We’ll soon rectify that,” said Goofo; and again he clapped his hands and shouted.

Only one of the girls came in this time. She was a nice appearing, intelligent looking girl. Her expression was quite normal, but she looked very sad.

“My friends would sleep,” said Goofo. “Show them to their sleeping quarters.”

I started to say something, but Zor touched me on the arm. “Don’t insist any longer on food,” he said, guessing correctly what I had been on the point of saying. “It doesn’t take much to upset these people, and then you can never tell what they will do. Right now, we are very fortunate that this Goofo is friendly.”

“What are you two whispering about?” demanded Goofo.

“My friend was just wondering,” I said, “if we were going to have the pleasure of being with you again after we have slept.”

Goofo looked pleased. “Yes,” he said; “but in the meantime, I want to put you on your guard. Just remember that there are a great many eccentric people in the village and that you must be very careful what you say and do. I, alone, am probably the only sane person here.”

“I am glad you told us,” I said; and then we followed the girl out of the apartment. In the next room, the other two girls were preparing food; and the sight and smell of it nearly drove me frantic.

“We have not eaten for a long time,” I said to the girl who was accompanying us. “We are famished.”

She nodded. “Help yourselves,” she said.

“It won’t get you in trouble?” I asked.

“No. Goofo has probably already forgotten that he has sent you to sleep. If he came in and saw you eating, he would think that it was he who had suggested it; and these girls will forget almost as soon as you are through that you have been here or that you have eaten. They are little better than imbeciles. In fact, everyone in the village is crazy except me.”

I felt sorry for the poor thing, knowing that she believed that she had impressed us with the truth of her statement. I will admit that she didn’t look crazy; but it is one of the symptoms of insanity to believe that everyone else is insane but you.

“What is your name?” I asked, as we sat down on the floor, and commenced to eat.

“Kleeto,” she said; “and yours?” “David,” I replied, “and my friend is Zor.” “Are you crazy, too?” she asked.

I shook my head and smiled. “No, indeed,” I said.

“That’s what they all say,” she observed. She caught herself suddenly, as though she had said something she should not have said, and quickly added, “Of course I know you’re not crazy, because I peeked through the doorway and saw you working in the mud with Goofo.”

I wondered if she were ribbing me a bit, and then I realized that to her poor unbalanced mind the thing that we had been doing might seem entirely natural and rational. With a sigh, I continued my meal—a sigh for the poor warped brain that dominated such a lovely girl.

Zor and I were famished; and Kleeto looked on in amazement at the amount of food we consumed. The two other girls paid no attention to us, but went on with their work preparing more food. At last we could eat no more; and Kleeto led us to a darkened room and left us to sleep.

I don’t know how long we were in the palace of Meeza. I know we slept many times; and we lived off the fat of the land. Kleeto saw to that, for she seemed to have taken a liking to us. Nobody seemed to know what we were doing in the palace; but after they became accustomed to seeing us around, they paid no more attention to us, except that we were not permitted to leave the building, which meant, of course, that we could not escape; but we bided our time, hoping that some day something would occur to give us the opportunity for which we so longed.

Goofo, who was major-domo of the palace, never could recall why we were there. I used to see him sitting with that puzzled look on his face gazing at us intently, and I knew perfectly well that he was trying to recall who we were and why we were in the palace.

As time went on, I became more and more impressed with Kleeto’s intelligence. She had an excellent memory, and by comparison with the others that we met she was unquestionably sane. Zor and I used to like to talk with her whenever the opportunity arose. She told us much about the ways of the people and the gossip of the palace.

“Which village are you from?” she asked one day.

“Village? I don’t understand,” I said. “Zor is from the land of Zoram, and I am from the land of Sari.”

She looked puzzled for a moment. “Do you mean to tell me that you are not Jukans from another village?” she demanded.

“Certainly not. What made you think we were?” “Because Goofo said that you were his friends, and were to be treated well; so I was positive you were not prisoners and, therefore, must be Jukans from another village. I will admit, however, that I was puzzled, because you seemed to be far too intelligent to be Jukans. They, as you have doubtless discovered, are all maniacs.” A light commenced to dawn in my mind then. “Kleeto, you are not a Jukan?” I asked.

“Certainly not,” she said. “I am a prisoner here. I come from the land of Suvi.”

I had to laugh at that; and she asked me why I was laughing. “Because all the time, I thought you were crazy; and you thought we were crazy!”

“I know it,” she said. “It is very funny indeed; but after you have lived here awhile, you don’t know who is crazy and who isn’t. Some of the Jukans look and act perfectly normal; and they may be the craziest of the lot. Now neither Meeza, the king, nor Moko, his son, look like imbeciles; and, well, they are not exactly imbeciles either; but they are both maniacs of the worst type, irresponsible and cruel, always ready to kill.”

“Goofo doesn’t seem such a bad lot,” I said.

“No, he’s harmless. You were lucky to fall into his hands. If Noak, his assistant, had been on duty when you were brought into the palace, it might have been a very different story.”

“You have been here a long while, Kleeto?” I asked.

“Yes, for more sleeps than I can count. In fact, I have been here for so long that they have forgotten that I am not one of them. They think I am a Jukan.”

“It should be easy for you to escape, then,” I suggested

“It would do me no good to escape alone,” she said. “What chance would I have to reach Suvi, alone and unarmed?”

“We might all go together,” I said.

She shook her head. “There has never been a single opportunity, since I have been here, when three people might have escaped from the palace, let alone getting out of the village. There have been many prisoners here, and I have never heard of one escaping. By the way,” she added, “you said you were from Sari, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“There is a prisoner here from Sari, a girl,” she said.

“In this village?” I demanded. “I had heard that there was a Sarian girl in one of the Jukan villages; but I did not know that she was here. Do you know her name?”

“No,” replied Kleeto, “and I have not even seen her; but I understand that she is very beautiful.”

“Where is she?” I asked.

“Somewhere in the palace. The High Priest keeps her hidden. You see, Meeza wants to take her as one of his wives; Moko, his son, wants her; and the High Priest wants to sacrifice her to Ogar.”

“Which of these will get her?” I asked.

“The High Priest already has her; but he is afraid of Meeza; and Meeza is afraid to take her away from the High Priest for fear of bringing down the wrath of Ogar on his head.”

“So for the moment she is safe,” I said.

“In the palace of Meeza, the king, no one is ever safe,” replied Kleeto.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Eight

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