Jane tumbled through vertiginous space.
"Oh, lovely." Her clutching fingers found purchase on one of the vines that strung between the cliff faces. She hung there a perfectly splendid moment and swung like a sort of British pear, or banana, or some other sort of fruit that hung on a vine. She really ought to be able to identify which type of fruit. But then her arm ached and she came to the conclusion that perhaps her main focus ought to be climbing down from this rather precarious perch.
The baby baboon that had caused such a terrible fuss scampered down the cliff face and jumped onto her head. It screamed at her and she said, "Oh, please, no," as her fingers lost their grip and they plunged toward the racing river below.
Her last thought before she plunged into the stygian depths was, "What good fortune that there’s a river." Everything went black and the water flung her from rock to rock with the baby baboon clutched in her arms.
The corridors of Opar stretched for empty miles through the primeval jungle. Here and there the trees had taken back a former a palace or temple.
La, the high priestess of the Flaming God and Queen of Opar, walked through her treasure room full of gold ingots that long ago were to have been sent to Atlantis when that empire spread from dawning sea to the ocean where the sun descended to cool his flaming brow. Before the wretched place sank beneath a tidal wave and cursed Opar to this lonely existence.
She removed her crown and caressed the cat’s eye crystal that her mother had given her before leaving her as a small child to the tender care of the Leopard men. "You should have taken me with you, mother." It had been ages, but La could be stubborn in her grudges. If they’d gone together, they would have found Atlantis, not merely never returned.
She walked through the cavernous stone hallways. The Leopard men made way for her. They always made way. She leaned against a stone balcony and looked out at Opar’s echoing spaces. She laughed. "My kingdom."
Bored, she put her crown back on and tapped her staff to appear in a flash in her throne room. She lounged upon the throne, because thrones were for lounging. The Leopard men came in with their offerings.
La whispered. "Queen La, the lonely. High Priestess La, the empty. All I ask for is a companion to share my burden." She struck her staff upon the ancient stone slabs. "And what do you bring me? A monkey." Cadj, one of her Leopard priests, who had held up the limb body of a baby baboon, stumbled back to avoid disintegration. She sighed, "Why do you always bring me monkeys. Do I look like a monkey?"
Bha, another Leopard priest, pushed forward through the throng. He held a limp girl in his arms. La slid from her throne. "Is she dead?"
She was not dead. La snapped her fingers. "Prepare a chamber." She brushed those same fingers now gentle with her mother-love along the livid bruises on the girl’s head. "For my sweet princess."
Mother raised her sinewy arms and intoned the sacred invocation to the Flaming God.
Princess Ja wished that she could remember all the times before that Mother had performed this rite, but the accident had stolen that from her. Just as it had stolen from her all of her surely happy memories playing in the buildings of Opar as a child. All that was left was from before was a memory of falling and little Nkima clutched in her arms.
Nkima sat on a statue of a Leopard man and bared his teeth happily at her, but Ja did not turn to wave or play with him.
There would be time for that later.
The sacrifice on the altar struggled at his bonds. He yelled, "You can't do this by Jupiter. I'm the Emperor Sublatus Imperator of Castra Sanguinarius. We’re Romans!"
Princess Ja smiled and thought, "Invader, now you are a sacrifice."
Mother was of stronger stuff and did not falter in her prayers. She called upon the great Cat's Eye and the Flaming God answered to claim his prize. As the flames seared at the burning flesh of the sacrifice, Cadj, a Leopard priest, snapped in the crazed blood lust of one of his kind. He dashed the brains of Tha, another priest, on the floor. He struck Mother a thunderous blow. Her staff spun across the floor while Mother fell in a tangled heap. He leapt toward Mother with a growl.
Princess Ja cried out, "Mummy." She didn't think. She pulled out the knife of her Mother and jumped on Cadj’s back as he crouched. She wrapped one arm around his neck. As he struggled, she struck with the sharp tooth blade of her Mother. She stabbed again and again until his savage heart was stilled.
Princess Ja stood and pointed the blade dripping with blood at the room of watching Leopard men. "Nobody touches Mummy."
"Oh," Mother struggled to her feet. "I could not be prouder. Wish for better technique perhaps, but never prouder." Mother wrapped her hands around the wrist that held the knife. She delicately licked at the golden blade. "Mmm." After a taste, she pushed it with gentle maternal hands to Ja's lips. "Taste the blood of what you have killed this day."
Ja licked at the blade and tasted the cooper salt. Her veins surged with the primal joy of victory. When the blade was clean, Mother tilted it so that Ja could see herself in its bright reflection.
"Look at yourself. Today, you are a woman." Mother snapped her fingers. "Take this thing," she waved at Cadj’s corpse cooling on the temple floor, "and skin it."
She brushed back Ja's hair with a mother's love shining from her face. "The princess will wear that which she has killed for her crown."
Mother sniffed at the air and whispered a word. The Eye of the Flaming God ceased to consume the crispy remains on the altar. "And take that away. It's done."
Ja swung lightly through the gloom of the jungle. It was Mummy’s birthday tomorrow and while she said that she hated to be reminded just how hideously old she was, Ja knew better.
A blazing light streaked above the trees in the bleak jungle night.
Ja raced toward it. Nkima raced at her side. The baboon bared a long fanged grin at her and she couldn’t resist. "I know. I hope that this one works out. I’m out of ideas and I simply can’t give Mummy another giant lizard for her birthday."
They reached the place where the light had gone down. A copper and steel tube lay at the center of a raw crater amid the trees. A door cracked open in the tube and smoke billowed out from inside, but nothing came out.
From the opposite side of the crater, faster than the jungle lion leaps, a mostly naked figure swung down from the trees and ran to the object. With mighty bronze thews, the savage jungle man wrestled the door of the tube open the rest of the way and pulled first one and then another tall green figure out into the crater.
She brushed her fingers through Nkima’s tangled fur. She whispered, "I’ll take all of them." She turned and raised her eyebrows at the Leopard men following her. "I said, I’d take all of them." She snapped her fingers. "Chop, chop. I still have to wrap them before tomorrow."
Mother clapped her hands and sighed over her gifts, which had been washed and oiled with pleasing unguents and clad in the bejeweled raiment of Opar.
Mother gestured with her staff having cast a spell to allow them to understand each other. "I am La, Queen of Opar. I’m so sorry about the roughness of how you were brought here, but my daughter, Princess Ja," her hand brushed down the pelt on Ja’s back, "was so overcome at your plight that she rushed to bring you here." Her eyes slid appreciatively over all fifteen feet of the green man with his four muscular arms. "What is your name?"
The giant bowed his tusked head and said, "I am Tars Tarkas, a former Jed of the Thark. We are green Martians." He rested his hand on the shoulder of the twelve foot tall woman next to him. "This is my daughter," a smile flashed between the yellow tusks on the green woman’s face, "Sola."
"A daughter. How lovely." Mother turned to the lithely muscled man, beautiful as a statue of a god, not that Ja had caressed him overly long when she personally rubbed and oiled him to glistening. "And you are?"
"Tarzan of the Apes." He stood straight and proud. Ja’s heart clenched in her chest, because it hurt to give him away.
Mother smiled at him. "How quaint." She turned back to the green man. "Welcome to the wonders of lost Opar. It is my sincere hope that you will be so comfortable that you will never leave." Her tone held the command of the queen that she was, which made Ja’s heart surge with pride. Mother put her hand upon Tars Tarkas’ arm. "Do you believe in fate?"
Tars Tarkas looked down with red eyes deep as the rubies that studded Mother’s robes. "Yes, great Queen La. I believe in a fate that could take me to a place where I may fight for one worth fighting for."
Mother tapped her staff on the stone floor and gained a couple inches of height. "Excellent. I’m certain that fate has aligned our stars."
Meanwhile, Tarzan stared at Ja and she knew, she just knew that Mother’s next order would be to drag him to the altar for her celebration, and her heart hurt. However, Mother knew her heart even before it was spoken. Mother looked back over her shoulder. "I know you got him for me, but," Mother licked her lips, her hand drifted up Tars Tarkas’ arm, "you keep him. I want you to be happy."
Ja squealed, because she had the best Mummy in the lost world. She took Tarzan’s hand. "I have so much to show you." He followed her, smiling, through the dark paths of Opar and they were lost together.