Land of Terror

Chapter Twenty-Two

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS I CONTEMPLATED the vast expanse of ocean ahead and the inadequate craft that was supposed to transport us to our elusive destination, I wouldn’t have given U-Val a lead nickel for his slave. As a matter of fact, I seemed more of a liability than an asset, for I was merely dead weight that U-Val had to carry; but I was reckoning without full appreciation of U-Val’s resourcefulness.

After we had gone about a mile from land, a small saurian rose from the depths; and when his cold, forbidding eyes discovered us, he came for us, his jaws distended, his long neck arched, the water rippling from his sleek body.

He presented a most formidable appearance; and, though not one of the larger species, he was, I knew, fully as formidable as he appeared and quite capable of ending our voyage almost before it was started.

I had encountered these terrible creatures before, and so I knew something of what to expect of blind and senseless ferocity. They are wanton destroyers, killing, apparently, solely for the sake of killing, though I will have to admit that they seem never to be able to satisfy their ravenous hunger, and eat nearly everything they kill.

Bound and helpless in the bow of the canoe, I would fall easy prey to the killer, which would doubtless pluck me out and devour me before finishing U-Val. Such were my thoughts as the saurian bore down upon us. Yet there was that about the situation which offered some compensation even for the loss of my life, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to take full advantage of it.

“You are about to lose your slave,” I called to U-Val, “and no one will ever know you owned one. Being a rat didn’t pay, U-Val.”

U-Val made no reply. The saurian was about a hundred feet away now and coming rapidly, hissing like a leaky steam valve. The canoe was broadside to him.

U-Val swung the craft around, presenting the stern, where he sat, to the charging reptile; then he seized one of the long spears we had made, and stood up.

I hated to admit it; but it certainly seemed that U-Val had plenty of intestinal fortitude, and he unquestionably didn’t intend to give up his slave without a struggle.

The saurian came straight for him. U-Val poised his twenty foot spear, and when the creature was within fifteen feet of the boat he drove the point of the weapon deep into the reptile’s carcass. It was done with all the skill and assurance of a professional matador giving the coup de grace to a bull.

Perhaps half a minute the saurian lashed about in an effort to reach U-Val; but the man, clinging to his end of the spear, skillfully held the canoe in a straight course in front of the beast; so that all its efforts to reach us only succeeded in propelling the craft through the water, until, at last, with a final, convulsive shudder, it rolled over, belly up, dead. The point of U-Val’s spear had pierced its heart.

Had it been a more highly organized creature it would have died sooner. It is really astonishing the length of time it takes for perceptions of even mortal injuries to reach the brains of some of the lower orders of Pellucidar. I have seen a lidi painfully wounded in the tail totally unconscious of its hurt for almost a full minute; but then it is sometimes a matter of sixty feet from the tip of a lidi’s tail to its minute brain at the far extremity of its huge body.

U-Val dragged the carcass to the side of the canoe and hacked off some of its flesh with his stone knife. Before he had finished, the water was alive with terrible, carnivorous fishes and reptiles attracted by the promise of flesh. As they fought over the remains of the saurian, U-Val seized his paddle and drove the canoe out of further immediate danger as rapidly as he could; then, when we were at a safe distance, he laid aside his paddle and cut the meat of the saurian into thin strips which he strung across one of the spears to dry in the sun.

All this time, U-Val never addressed me. He resumed his paddling, and I curled up under my shelter and fell asleep. Let the master paddle for the shore, I thought dreamily just before I lost consciousness.

When I awoke we were out of sight of land. U-Val was paddling steadily with long, powerful strokes, yet seeming utterly tireless. I must have slept for a long time as land a hundred miles away, possibly a hundred and fifty, would have been visible, as the atmosphere was quite clear. At a rough guess, I should say that U-Val must have been paddling for at least fifteen hours—paddling a twenty foot canoe heavily laden. The strength and endurance of the men of the maritime tribes of Pellucidar is astounding.

The canoe was beautifully designed for speed; and, although hewn from a single tree trunk, was extremely light. The bottom was a trifle more than an inch thick, and from there the thickness tapered to the gunwales which flared outward to a breadth of four inches. The hull was as smooth as glass, and how they achieved such perfection with the crude implements at their command is a mystery to me.

The wood of the tree from which the canoe was hewn is as tough as wrought iron and very oily. To this latter characteristic is partially attributable the ease with which it glides through the water.

The cargo was stowed amidships and covered with the enormous leaves of a palm-like jungle tree. Each of us had shelters made of these leaves which we could lower quickly when it was necessary. At least, U-Val could lower his; but with my hands bound, I, of course, could not lower mine; nor was there any occasion for me to do so. It is always desirable to be protected from the eternal noonday sun, which has long since burned me to the color of a South Sea Islander.

Shortly after the encounter with the saurian, U-Val laid aside his paddle and came forward to where I sat.

“I am going to free your hands, slave,” he said. “You will paddle. You will also help me if we are attacked by any of the larger beasts, such as an azdyryth. You will remain always at this end of the canoe. If you come aft, I’ll kill you. I shall only tie you up when I wish to sleep. Otherwise, you might kill me.”

“You need not tie me while you sleep,” I replied. “I will not kill you then, I promise you. We might be attacked while you slept, and then you wouldn’t have time to free me. You may need me, badly, you know.”

He thought this over for awhile, and at last he agreed that I was right. “Anyway, it wouldn’t do you any good to kill me,” he said, “for you might never find your way to land again. The Bandar Az reaches farther than any man knows. Perhaps it has no farther shore. That is what many men think. No, you would not dare to kill me.”

“I have promised that I will not kill you while you sleep,” I replied; “but some day I will kill you—not because you made me your prisoner, though, under the circumstances, that is reason enough in itself; but because you kicked me while I lay bound and helpless. For that, U-Val, I will kill you.”

He had finished removing the bonds from my wrists; and he returned to his seat without commenting on what I had said, but he had something else to say.

“There is a paddle forward under the pangos leaves. Take it, slave, and paddle,” he commanded. “I shall steer.”

At first I was minded to refuse; but I saw no good reason for it, as I needed the exercise badly after lying so long in the ant hill, stuffed with grain and honey; so I took up the paddle and went to work.

“Faster!” commanded U-Val. “Faster, slave!” I told him where to go; and it wasn’t Heaven, either.

“What you need is a beating,” he growled; and with that he started forward with a length of bamboo in his hand. I dropped the paddle and picked up one of the long spears.

“Come on U-Val!” I cried. “Come on and beat your slave.”

“Put down that spear!” he commanded. “That is no way for a slave to act. Don’t you know anything?”

“I don’t know how to be a slave,” I admitted. “At least not to a stupid clout like you. If you had any brains, neither one of us would have to paddle. But why don’t you come on up here and beat me? I’d like nothing better than to have you try it.”

“Put down that spear, and I will,” he said.

“Go back and sit down. Go way back and sit down.”

He thought the matter over for awhile, and then evidently decided that if he wanted a live slave or a live master he’d better not push the matter too far; so he went aft again and sat down. So did I, but I didn’t paddle.

After awhile he picked up his paddle and went to work, but he was quite surly about it. He was not a very bright person, and evidently he was much concerned about what attitude he should take with a recalcitrant slave, never having had a slave before. But what troubled him most was the suggestion I had made that it was stupid for either of us to paddle.

Finally he broke a long silence by saying, “How could we get anywhere without paddling?”

“By sailing,” I replied.

He didn’t know what I meant, for there is no equivalent for sailing in the Pellucidarian language. They just haven’t reached that stage in progress. They have stone weapons; and they have learned to make fire, but sailing is something their greatest minds have not, as yet, conceived.

We had a steady wind blowing in the direction U-Val had been paddling; so I saw no reason why we shouldn’t take advantage of it, for after all paddling under a noonday sun is no joke.

“What is sailing?” he asked. “I’ll show you. Let me have some of that grass rope you have back there.” “What for?” he demanded.

“Give it to me, and I’ll show you. Do you want the canoe to go without paddling, or do you want to paddle? It makes no difference to me because I don’t intend to paddle, anyway.”

“Listen!” he fairly shouted. “I’m sick of this. Don’t you know you’re my slave? Don’t you know you have to paddle if I tell you to? If you don’t paddle, I’ll come up and tie you up again and give you a good beating—that’s what you need.”

“I won’t paddle, and you won’t beat me. If you come up here, I’ll run a spear through you. Now, toss that rope up and quit being a fool. I want to show you something that’ll save you a lot of hard work.”

He kept on paddling away, and the scowl on his face would have soured cream. The wind freshened. The canoe rose and fell as it topped the waves and dropped into the troughs. The sun beat down out of a cloudless sky. U-Val was dripping sweat from every pore. At last he laid down his paddle; and, without a word, tossed a coil of rope forward to me.

It wasn’t easy to rig a sail alone; but finally, with spears, a couple of lengths of bamboo, the grass rope, and several pangos leaves from the cargo covering, I fashioned a spread of “canvas” that would take the wind. Instantly the canoe shot forward, cutting the waves in brave style.

“Steer!” I called to U-Val. He started to paddle.

“Don’t paddle!” I told him. “Put you paddle in the water astern with the edge up; then turn it first one way and then another until you learn what happens; then you will know how to steer.”

He could steer all right, but he had been so surprised to see the canoe move forward without paddling that he had become confused. Presently, however, he was steering; but he didn’t say anything for a long time.

At last he asked, “Suppose the wind should blow from another direction?”

“Then you’d have to paddle,” I told him. “If you had a boat properly constructed you could sail almost into the wind.”

“Could you build such a canoe?” he asked.

“I could show you how to.” “You will be a very valuable slave,” he said. “You will show me how to build a canoe that will go without paddling.” “As long as I am a slave, I’ll show you nothing,” I replied.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-Three

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