...the spirits of the storm have swept him away and left no tidings: he is gone out of sight, out of hearing, and for me he has left anguish and weeping...
Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, Regent of the Royal Helium Academy of Science, and newly wedded wife of John Carter, woke to screams. She took up a bejeweled dagger and swiftly climbed the flight of stairs to the next terrace, where she was astonished by the spectacle of her husband bleeding from wounds to his arms — injuries apparently inflicted by his hitherto faithful calot, Woola, who now barred her path, snarling and barking, his eyes fixed upon his victim.
“It’s gone mad! Kill it!” the man shrieked.
The Princess drew her blade and let the sheath clatter on the floor. There was a growing clamor behind her as members of the household and guests, and even some of the tall, four-armed green men, arrived, drawn by the noise. Above it all rose the voice of her father, Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium, demanding, “What is this? What is happening?”
“Sentries, to me!” Dejah cried. When two of the palace guard moved to flank her, she risked a glance at the crowd and was glad to spy a familiar green face looming over some bewildered attendants. “Sola! Would a calot ever turn against its master?”
The Thark took in the tableau upon the terrace and slowly shook her head. “Never have I heard of such a thing.”
“I did not think so.” Now Dejah addressed the cringing figure who was still shrinking from the hound’s ferocity. “And if Woola ever were to attack John Carter, he could defend himself. Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?”
At that, the man scowled. Dejah glimpsed a flash of baleful blue that marked the operations of the Ninth Ray, and then he seemed to burst into a cloud and vanish. A few witnesses screamed, while more shouted that he had thrown himself over the parapet. The guards sprang forward, and the larger gripped her partner’s legs, serving as an anchor so he could lean perilously far over the edge. After a moment the sentry signaled to be pulled back. “He’s gone! I saw no body.”
“Sound the alarm!” ordered Tardos Mors. “Guards, search the palace. Be wary, this enemy can look like your dearest friend. Everyone else, please go back to your chambers and remain there until further notice. Let no one be left alone for even a moment — stay in pairs, at least, at all times!”
The crowd scattered in obedience to the Jeddak’s commands, and soon only he and Dejah Thoris were left on the moonlit terrace. Woola crept forward and nosed at Dejah’s empty hand, whining softly. She stopped to pick up her sheath and slid the knife back in.
“He’s probably long gone. The false Therns seem able to disappear and reappear elsewhere,” she said dully.
“It had John’s face. Mother Issus, if it weren’t for Woola, would I have known? If that thing had come to our bedchamber —”
“Oh, daughter …”
For a moment they clung together, and she hid her face against his shoulder. Then she straightened. “We need to find some means of defense and attack, we can’t just keep reacting.”
“Agreed.” He brushed a tear-track from her cheek. “Come. First, we shall make sure there are no spies among us, as best we can, and then we shall hold a council — you, me, Kantos Kan, the Tharks’ jeddak and his daughter — pool our knowledge, and decide what’s to be done. Perhaps things will look brighter in the light of day.”
“If only I’d had more time with him,” Dejah lamented as they started the long descent, Woola dashing ahead. “John told me a little of what he’d learned from Matai Shang, the one who took him captive in Zodanga, but …”
“I understand. After all, you’re newly wed. Your mother and I were absolutely useless for the first teean of our marriage.”
Things did seem brighter once the sun had risen, everyone had eaten ... and Woola, who had run into the wilderness before dawn, returned with a Thern medallion dangling from a chain tangled in his teeth.
When Dejah felt the first stirrings, she dismissed them as the body mindlessly craving what it had lost. (Had they killed him? Was he captive? Did he yearn as she did, or had he forgotten?) The later twinges, she attributed to hours spent hunched over transcriptions of the glowing glyphs in the Therns’ facility at the Gates of Iss, searching for insights into the enemy’s mastery of the Ninth Ray. Preoccupation could only last so long, however, and ultimately her recurring symptoms prompted a consultation with the court physician.
“Wonderful!” Tardos Mors exclaimed when she told him.
“A fast worker, this Carter,” chimed in Kantos Kan, which earned him Dejah’s elbow to his gut.
“It’s so small!” Sola said on her next visit, when Dejah took her to see the royal incubator and its precious cargo. “But very handsome,” she added hastily.
“When will it hatch?”
“We’re not sure. Normally, knowing the time of conception, we could predict it almost to the hour, but we don’t know the period of incubation for Jasoomians. If we ever get the telepanopticon working, perhaps we’ll be able to observe them and find out.”
“I think it must be very different for them.” At her friend’s questioning look, Sola explained, “One night, as we were riding for the river Iss, after you and Dotar Sojat had spent the day arguing, I told him — forgive me — that as a princess of Helium you had probably been headstrong since the shell. He was surprised to learn that your people, too, are hatched from eggs. So I asked him how his people did these things, and he said their females carry their offspring inside for the better part of a year, and then the young come out kicking and screaming.”
After a long pause, Dejah said, “I am extremely glad I’m not an Earthwoman.”
Sola nodded fervently.
Once the bodies had been cleared away, and her husband had been formally introduced to their son, Carthoris (“From an egg, truly? Well, he looks alright”), Dejah Thoris finally, finally had a proper, private reunion with her chieftain.
“What did I tell you? I said, ‘Be back in one xat, John Carter of Earth.’”
He shrugged and smiled, the small, shy grin she had seen so rarely and loved so well. “Sorry, Penelope. Wasn’t my doing.”
She tightened her embrace. “Who is Penelope?”
“Well, Professor,” he mumbled between kisses, “she is a wise queen in one of the oldest stories on my world. Her husband went away to war for ten years, and then spent another ten trying to get home. She raised their son and fended off a bunch of greedy suitors in the meantime.”
“Good for her. I should count myself lucky, then, that I only had to wait half as long.”