a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
|BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors) or get HELP Reading, Downloading and Converting files)
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search
Title: Tigress of T'wanbi Author: John Peter Drummond * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0604011h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit Date first posted: July 2006 Date most recently updated: July 2006 This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
GO TO Project Gutenberg of Australia HOME PAGE
THERE was no sound except the monotonous dreeing of insects. Birds and beasts alike were sunk in torpor under the baking heat of the brassy, noonday sun. But far down on the jungle floor, protected from the fierce glare by layers of leafy canopy, Ki-Gor, White Lord of the jungle, strode along a tiny trail.
On his powerful shoulders was balanced a freshly killed antelope that would weigh not an ounce less than two hundred pounds. But Ki-Gor padded swiftly along with it as if it weighed no more than a jungle fowl. Indeed, so rapid was his pace that his friend, little Ngesso the Pygmy, traveling the tree-route above him, was hard put to it to keep up.
Ordinarily, Ki-Gor would not have carried off the entire carcass of such a big buck. One quarter, or even a few good steaks would be all that he and his mate, the beautiful red-haired Helene, could consume before the meat spoiled. But because Ngeeso had been near when he felled this buck, and had looked so longingly at the plump legs and fat ribs, Ki-Gor had decided to take the whole beast along so that Ngeeso's people could have a feast.
In the remote, secluded glen which was Ki-Gor's home, his only human neighbors were the Pygmies. And from old, wrinkled-face Ngeeso, the Chief, down to the tiniest solemn child, they were devoted to Ki-Gor and Helene. The jungle man and his mate reciprocated this affection by just such gestures as killing fresh meat for the tiny forest denizens.
Now, as Ki-Gor strode tirelessly along, the drone of the insects took on a deeper undertone. That would be the waterfall, and Ki-Gor knew he was not far from home, that lovely sanctuary on the island in the rapids below the falls. Helene would not be expecting him home so soon. Unconsciously, Ki-Gor's steps hastened a little. They always did when Ki-Gor got close to home. For, of all the things in heaven and on earth, nothing counted for so much as a single red hair on the head of his beautiful mate.
"Hai!" squeaked Ngeeso, considerably to the rear. "Art thou carrying the antelope, O Big Brother-or it thee?"
"What's the matter, Little One?" Ki-Gor laughed, stopping and turning around. "Art thou getting too old and decrepit to keep up a normal pace any more?"
"A normal pace!" Ngeeso raged. "Aye, I can keep up a normal pace-even when the trees grow far apart in spots as they do along here. But I never was able to keep up with one who lunges along the ground like a charging leopard!"
The little man swung himself to a bough above Ki-Gor, his tiny bow and quiver flapping against his wrinkled torso. There he sat for a moment puffing and blowing indignantly, while Ki-Gor laughed up at him. Then, Ngeeso's beady little eyes, scanning the forest restlessly suddenly fixed themselves on a spot ahead on the trail.
"Speaking of leopards," Ngeeso said in a voice suddenly lowered, "unless my eyes mistaken me there is one not far away."
The laughter disappeared from Ki-Gor's bronzed face, and he watched Ngeeso's seamed face.
"Where, Little Brother?" he murmured, "in front of us?"
"Aye," Ngeeso muttered, "and it's as well I saw him. He is at some distance. The leaves are thin between us-else I had not seen him at all. I think-" the little man craned his neck-"I think he is stretched out on a bough directly over the trail."
"Aha," Ki-Gor murmured, "that is not too good."
He shifted the buck on his shoulders and prepared to drop it on the ground, but Ngeeso spoke.
"Nay, Big Brother, leave him to me. It is a long bowshot but-" he plucked a tiny arrow from the quiver--"I think I can reach him."
"As thou say," Ki-Gor shrugged. "Thy bow hand is still steady, but-"
"Oh, I will not miss him," Ngeeso said confidently, "as long as I can reach him. These arrows of ours have only to pierce the fur and make the veriest scratch. It will take a little while for the poison to travel through the veins. But when it does-no one will be troubled by that leopard any more."
"Those are dangerous things, those arrows of yours," Ki-Gor observed humorously. "I hope thou wilt always be quite sure of what thou shoot at. For instance, I wear a breechclout of leopard skin. It would be most awkward, O Little One, if one fine day thou shot me by mistake thinking I was a leopard."
Ngeeso giggled as he raised the bow.
"Thou are forever joking, Big Brother, and mocking me. Be still now, for a moment while I take aim. This is no easy, shot."
He squinted along the tiny arrow, then suddenly lowered the bow again to giggle.
"Imagine," he snorted, "mistaking thee for a leopard!"
Once again, he aimed the arrow, his beady eyes narrowing to deadly slits. It was a difficult shot only because of the distance involved. The little patch of spotted fur which he saw through the light screen of leaves did not budge. It was a motionless target. The brown claw which was his right hand drew the bowstring back steadily. Back, back it went until the bow was bent almost double.
Then two fingers of the claw flew open. There was a little ping! The tiny arrow flittered away through the air, carrying on its tip enough poison to kill an elephant if it struck an unprotected spot-the eye, for instance or the inside of a--nostril.
Ngeeso leaned forward from the bough following the flight of the little arrow. His mouth and eyes were wide open. Seconds went by, then the Pygmy gave a squeak of triumph.
"Got him!" he exclaimed. "A little high on the back, but I wanted to be sure the arrow wouldn't fall short-"
Suddenly, the Pygmy's voice died away with a little groan.
"Why-what's the matter, Little One?" Ki-Gor demanded.
Ngeeso's eyes were bulging with horror.
"Aie, me!" he whispered, and began beating his breast slowly. "Ai! Big Brother, what have I done!"
"What, what?" Ki-Gor cried fiercely in sudden alarm.
"It-it is no leopard!" Ngeeso sobbed, "I see I see-white flesh!"
Just then there came a piercing scream from down the trail, and another-and still another.
"Ki-Gor! Ki-Gor! KI-GOR!"
It was Helene's voice.
For a second, Ki-Gor was numb. Then horror began to roll up and down his back in great ripples. Helene wore leopard skin, too.
"Thou murderous little monkey-" he bellowed, in a strangled voice. He flung the antelope from his shoulders and pounded up the trail, moaning.
To Ki-Gor every step seemed an eternity. Actually, it was scarcely six seconds before he was standing under a tall baobab tree looking upward.
Helene was stretched out on a bough twenty feet over the trail, staring down with bloodless face, her fingers clutching the bark of the limb spasmodically.
"Oh, Ki-Gor!" she moaned, "thank heavens you were near! One of the Pygmies shot a poisoned arrow at me. I'm sure it was a mistake-"
"Where did it hit?" Ki-Gor demanded, tensely.
"The small of my back," Helene replied. "Hit the leopard fur a half inch away from my own skin."
"Did it go through?" Ki-Gor hardly dared listen for answer.
"I-I don't know," Helene stammered. "I felt a slight bump. Then I looked back over my shoulder and saw the arrow..."
"Don't move a muscle," Ki-Gor commanded, and started up the tangle of vines that coursed twistingly up the huge tree trunk.
His mind was numb, and his hands and feet worked purely automatically to hoist him up to the bough on which Helene was outstretched. It could not be! He told himself, it must not be! The arrow must not have penetrated the leopard skin! The veriest scratch, Ngeeso had said, and it would take but a little while for the poison to go through the veins.
Ki-Gor hauled himself up to the bough and crept out toward the prone body of his mate. Another wave of horror swept over him as he saw the arrow. The tiny, deadly shaft, hardly a foot long, was slanting into the back of Helene's abbreviated leopard skin garment at the small of her back. A half inch to the right, and it would have penetrated Helene's own fair skin. But chance-or Ngeeso's fine shooting-had sent it into the leopard skin.
It was that fact that enabled Ki-Gor to get a grip on himself. It remained to be seen whether the point had gone through and scratched Helene's skin beneath. While there was a chance that it had not-there was hope. Ki-Gor bent over his mate's still form.
"Keep perfectly still," he said gently, and calmly. His right hand went down to the edge of the leopard skin garment just above the arrow. Slowly, ever so slowly, he drew the leopard skin up and away from Helene's tanned skin.
A thrill of joy went through Ki-Gor as he perceived that the leopard skin lifted away without resistance. Warily, though, his left hand went to the feathered butt of the arrow and drew it out of the leopard skin. Then he lifted the garment higher-and now his hands began to tremble a little-and peered at, Helene's skin underneath. Long and carefully, his keen eyes searched the smooth velvety surface. Then he took a deep breath and dropped the leopard skin back into place.
The arrow had not so much as touched Helene's skin.
Thanks to the angle at which it had struck, it had not penetrated the leopard skin. Ki-Gor's head began to swim a little. He quickly dropped the deadly little arrow to the ground, and moved backward carefully along the bough.
"It is O right, Helene," he said and his voice was trembling a little. "It, is all right. The poison didn't touch you-there is no danger."
"Oh!" Helene gasped. "Oh, thank heaven!"
She turned her head and looked back over her shoulder with a wan smile. But the smile began to broaden immediately, the blue eyes twinkling.
"Why, Ki-Gor!" she chuckled. "Your face is positively gray! Oh! and look behind you-behind your right shoulder."
Ki-Gor quickly twisted his head around. On the branch just above him sat Ngeeso. His seamed little face was set in agonized lines, and his right hand clutched one of his own arrows half way down the shaft. The poisoned tip was a scant inch away from Ngeeso's own leathery neck.
"What did thine eyes see, Big Brother?" the Pygmy said quaveringly. "Did the tip . . .?"
"The tip did not touch her, Little One," Ki-Gor interrupted quickly. "Put down that arrow!"
"Art thou positive, O Big Brother?" Ngeeso persisted. "Because if I caused the death of thy mate-even unwittingly-then must Ngeeso decently die as soon as possible."
"Nay, nay, Little Friend, no harm has been done."
"Ai-ee!" Ngeeso wailed, moving the arrow down from his neck, but still holding it in his hand. "But suppose-suppose-"
"Forget it!" Ki-Gor commanded, and quoted a Pygmy proverb. "If the arrow fail to hit the bird, it is as if it had never been fired."
"Ai-ee!" Ngeeso moaned disconsolately, "Thou art too kind, Big Brother. I cannot bear it!"
It took Helene and Ki-Gor at least ten minutes to persuade Ngeeso that he should not punish himself for the accident which came so near to having fatal consequences. But at the end of those ten minutes Ngeeso finally replaced the arrow in his quiver, and both Ki-Gor's and Helene's nerves had returned to normal.
"You know," Helene said, as the trio resumed the journey toward the island home, "we really ought to know some sort of antidote to whatever poison they use on those arrows."
"Yes, we should," Ki-Gor agreed grimly. "But there isn't any that I know of. Or that the Little People know of either."
"Why that's terrible!" Helene observed. "Suppose one of them accidentally scratched himself..."
"That has happened," Ki-Gor said. "And when it did-there was no hope. The little man died."
"That's why I nearly went crazy," Ki-Gor said simply.
"Well, that's not right," Helene declared. "Somewhere there must be an antidote. I suppose they get the poison from a plant, don't they?"
"Yes," Ki-Gor said, "I know the plant."
"You do?" Helene said thoughtfully. "You know-there is someone who, I'll bet would know the antidote. He was a great herb doctor-that Hindu doctor that helped you escape from the slave traders."
"Hurree Das," Ki-Gor murmured. "Yes, he might. He knew a great deal about all kinds of plants. Yes, Hurree Das might know."
"Why don't we make a trip sometime up north and visit him?" Helene suggested.
"All right," Ki-Gor said. "The next time we go up to see Tembu George. Hurree Das is about a week's journey northwest of George. We will do it. But not for several weeks."
Ki-Gor did not know it then, but he and Helene were destined to be traveling northward much sooner than several weeks from then. Destiny was, in fact, awaiting them just a hundred yards up the trail, in the person of a tall, uneasy Karamzili youth.
The Karamzili had a right to be uneasy. He was crouching, eyes rolling, under the great tree which supported one end of the rope bridge to the island. And above him in the tree, a half dozen of Ngeeso's Pygmies had arrows trained on him.
"Hai, Bwana Ki-Gor!" the youth cried breathlessly as the jungle man and his mate came into view. "Tell the Little People I come as a friend! They have threatened me with the poisoned death in their little arrows for too long. We Karamzili are brave-but that is a horrible death."
"Calm your fears," Ki-Gor said. "They will not shoot until you do something unfriendly. Why did you come here?"
"I bring a message, O Bwana Ki-Gor," the young black said. "And urgent message from Dingazi, King of the Karamzili, Protector of the Race, Emperor of the World."
"Dingazi!" Ki-Gor exclaimed in astonishment. "Dingazi sends me a message!"
"Aye, that he does!" the youth cried. "The great King is troubled by things that are happening in Karamzililand. He desires your advice. He begs you to make the journey to Dutawayo as fast as you can come!"
Ki-Gor stared at the messenger. Dingazi was a tremendously powerful potentate. He ruled over a large territory with a population of not less than four million souls. He had a magnificent army of nearly thirty thousand men, welldisciplined and drilled in Zulu tactics. What possible trouble could Dingazi be in that he should call upon Ki-Gor to help him out?
Yet, if Dingazi were in some trouble and needed Ki-Gor's help, Ki-Gor could not refuse it. It was not too many months before that Dingazi bad, almost single-handed, dared his own subjects' hysterical blood-lust to protect the lives of Ki-Gor, Helene and Tembu George-all of whom were then at Dingazi's court.
"What is the trouble?" Ki-Gor bluntly asked the messenger.
"I do not know," the youth said. "I am but a messenger. There are rumors about invaders from the north."
"Invaders?" Ki-Gor said incredulously. "Who dares to invade Karamzililand? Not the Masai-for they are friendly, and are connected by marriage. Who else is there to dare the might of Dingazi's impis?"
"I don't rightly know," the youth confessed. "But it is said that there is some sort of mighty ju-ju being performed. The rumors say our border guards are slain before they could see the enemy. They say also that the subject tribes in the north are rising."
"I can't believe it," Ki-Gor said slowly.
"Why does not Tembu George and the Masai come to Dingazi's aid?"
"Maybe he has sent for them," the messenger suggested. "I only know that Dingazi sent me to bid you hasten to him."
"Very well, then," Ki-Gor said, with decision. "We will come." He turned to the Pygmies in the tree. "Hai, Little Brothers, have you seen aught of the great gray elephant? Is he hereabouts?"
"Aye, Big Brother," the Pygmies chorused, "that he is-just above the falls stuffing himself with the lush grass beside the water."
"It is good," he said and turned to his mate. "I will go after Marmo. Will you go across and collect my war-gear and some food? The Little Ones will help you bring them back over the bridge. We will start for Karamzililand as soon as I come back with Marmo."
* * *
Dutawayo, the capital of Karamzililand, was in a ferment of excitement by the time Ki-Gor, Helene, and the messenger arrived. Well-trained and docile as old Marino was, he would obey Ki-Gor only up to certain points. He did not like towns and crowds, and he had, therefore, stopped of his own accord in the outskirts of Dingazi's capital and let his passengers off.
As the trio walked through the crowded, noisy streets, an excited throng gathered in their wake and followed them up the hill to Dingazi's kraal. Ki-Gor was quick to notice one thing about the crowd, and that was that they were excited without knowing exactly what they were excited about. They were bewildered and uncertain. Whatever the menace on the northern border was, the Karamzili had heard only rumors-they had been told no facts.
At the gateway to the royal kraal, a young warrior stepped forward and informed Ki-Gor that Dingazi would receive him immediately. This was unusual. Dingazi loved his pomp and ceremony as well as any other African monarch, and out of sheer autocratic whim he would keep his dearest friend waiting for two days for an audience. It was an indication, therefore, of the extreme urgency of the situation, that Dingazi did not stand on the usual ceremony now, but wished Ki-Gor to come and see him without delay.
As Ki-Gor and Helene walked into Dingazi's large circular throne room, the old king was lost in thought, staring at a piece of parchment in his hands. A tense silence prevailed among the score and a half persons in the room, as Dingazi sat motionless on his throne, a vast, thick-shouldered, pot-bellied man, naked to the waist and wearing the yellow-and-black striped kilt of his own bodyguards.
Ki-Gor stepped forward unafraid and spoke.
"Greetings, O Dingazi!" he intoned. "Emperor of the World, All-conquering Lion!"
Dingazi's massive head jerked tip.
"Hail, Ki-Gor!" he roared. "White Lord of the jungle-whose Kingdom lies in the direction of the Four Winds! Right glad am I to see thee and thy slender wife! Come, we will go to my apartments and talk over the strange happenings up on the Border. By the Gods! I don't know whether to laugh about them or fly into a rage!"
Dingazi stood up, a huge figure, and slowly stepped down off the throne-dais. Four of his guards hastened to his side. There was a party of strangers in front of the throne-Arabs, by their dress. Three men and a heavily veiled woman, they were, and they drifted to one side as Ki-Gor and Helene came toward the King. Dingazi clamped a huge hand on Ki-Gor's wrist and led him off to a doorway on the right side of the room. In the other hand, the king still held the piece of parchment.
It was a strange story Dingazi had to tell. . . .
About two weeks before, a messenger had arrived from the north, bearing a report from the leader of a small military outpost on the rugged, broken frontier. This leader had noticed smoke rising from behind the hills to the west of his post. He had taken a squad of men to investigate. He had eventually come upon the smoking ruins of a village. And they were truly ruins. The village had been completely destroyed, and every single inhabitant had been killed or abducted. There was not one living thing in the village.
The messenger went on to say that the only clues as to the identity of the raiders were footprints. There were all manner of footprints, indicating a considerable force. Among the prints were some which looked like zebra tracks except that they were much larger. And there were other tracks that were unmistakably elephants' spoor.
The conclusion of the message was to the effect that the leader of the patrol intended to follow the tracks northward and catch up with the raiders.
However, there was no word from that patrol leader for two days. As a matter of fact, he and his patrol were never heard from again. The next messenger came from a different patrol farther to the east.
This messenger had much the same story to tell. A village desolated with no survivors to tell of the disaster or of the perpetrators. This time, there was less evidence left. The raiders had driven off the cattle of the villagers and had covered most of their own tracks in doing so.
Dingazi had dispatched reinforcements to the frontier posts with orders to keep him informed. But five days went by without a word from the frontier.
Finally, a small trading safari of Arabs had come to Dutawayo and delivered to Dingazi a roll of parchment which they said had been given to them by a mysterious veiled horseman.
"A horseman!" Ki-Gor interjected.
"That is what the Arabs said," Dingazi replied. "And here is the parchment. What language is the writing on it? I cannot read it."
Ki-Gor took the parchment wonderingly. "It is written in English," he said, after a moment.
"What does it say?" Dingazi demanded.
Ki-Gor studied the parchment without speaking for some time. When he looked up again, his face was perplexed.
"O Dingazi," he said. "This message is hard to believe. If it were not for the other things that have been happening, I would say it was an impudent joke."
"A joke?" Dingazi said grimly. "My destroyed villages are no joke, or my frontier guards who have vanished without a trace."
"I will read it to you," Ki-Gor said, "and you may judge for yourself."
Helene moved over beside him and looked curiously over his shoulder. Her face, too, took on a perplexed expression. Slowly, Ki-Gor translated:
"To Dingazi, Chief of the Karamzili-"
"Chief!" Dingazi exploded. "Who dares to address a King-an All-Conquering Emperor as a petty chief!"
"I am but reading you the message, O King," Ki-Gor said patiently. "There is much worse to come. It goes on, 'Know then, Dingazi, that your days as a ruler are numbered-'"
Dingazi splattered wrathfully, but subsided as Ki-Gor continued.
"Unless you make due amends for the crimes committed against me by your stupid subjects!"
"Crimes!" Dingazi gasped. "What crimes?"
Ki-Gor shrugged and went on, "'First some villagers wantonly attacked my people who were passing peacefully through their village. When we punished them for their impudence, you sent soldiers after us. My people well know how to take care of them. Your insolent troops have been annihilated. Any others you think to send against me will meet a like fate. Be warned, Dingazi! My patience is nearly exhausted! Stop this insolent aggression against my peaceful people! If you cease your senseless resistance, and agree to pay an indemnity, then you will not be harmed. You may continue to rule the Karamzili until you die.
"Upon payment of one hundred pounds of gold, five hundred tusks, one thousand pounds of salt, and every tame elephant in your kingdom, I will agree not to wage war against you during your lifetime. Failure to make this payment will result in a lightning invasion of your lands. The Sword of Hannibal as wielded by me, his descendant, will fall on the Karamzili with unexampled ferocity, killing and enslaving! The tribes subject to you will rise against you. Your power will be shorn from you! And you, Dingazi, will be dressed in chains! Be warned, Dingazi!-in time! (Signed) Queen Julebba-the Tigress of T'wanbi."
Having finished the translation of this extraordinary ultimatum, Ki-Gor handed the parchment back toward Dingazi. The old man struck it to the floor in a fury and stood glaring at it in rage.
"Who-" gasped the king, finding his voice at last-"who is Queen Julebba? Who dares to send me, Dingazi, such a monstrous message? What sort of people are these who slaughter peaceful villagers in the dead of night!"
Ki-Gor sat down while Dingazi's fury blew itself out. At last, the old king fell silent. His eyes rolled at Ki-Gor and something close to a grin appeared on his broad, black face. "This is silly," he declared. "It is silly for me to be upset by such a thing. Queen Julebba!"
Dingazi snorted. "Still, I suppose I'd better send an expedition after these raiders right away, before they do too much damage. What do you think, Ki-Gor?"
"I don't know what to think," the jungle man replied. "Tell me, O Dingazi, is there no one who has brought you firsthand information about them?"
"No one," Dingazi replied promptly. "There are plenty who have come with rumors, but no one to tell me how many of the raiders there are or even what they look like. Much less does anyone know of this woman who calls herself Queen Julebba."
"What about the Arabs who brought this parchment to you?" Ki-Gor persisted. "Do you believe that they saw only a single horseman?"
Dingazi looked thoughtful for a moment, then he barked a command to one of his guards. A moment later, one of the Arabs was led into the room, and Dingazi began questioning him. The Arab maintained that he had seen only a single horseman. It was in the evening when the light was poor, but he had seen that the man's face was wrapped in cloth. However, the Arab said that he had talked with some villagers who had seen a good-sized force near the place where the veiled horseman had stopped the safari.
Dingazi finally dismissed the Arab and sent for his companions who were brought in one by one and questioned singly. The other two men corroborated the first Arab's story about the villagers seeing a foreign army, although these later versions increased the size of that army considerably.
But the last person to be questioned held different views on the subject. It was the woman, tall and slender under the voluminous outer garment which veiled her from her head to her toes. Ki-Gor caught just a glimpse of flashing eyes behind the narrow slit in the cloth, and he sent a quick glance at Helene at the sound of the Arab woman's deep dramatic voice.
"How can I speak of an army which I scarcely saw?" she said contemptuously in Swahili, "and yet I saw more than my father and brothers. I saw a few veiled horsemen, a few black spearmen. There may have been more-there may not. But they have caused great destruction up in the north, so much that my father and brothers think it is a large army. I think not, but then I don't know."
Dingazi stared at her in puzzlement for a moment, then turned to Ki-Gor.
"Wah!" he said. "How can I get at the truth? One says one thing, another says another. I'll send up five impis. That should be enough to smoke out the dogs!"
"Five impis!" It was the Arab woman, with a voice full of scorn. "Five thousand men to beat off a border raid! What a joke on the mighty Karamzili! Why, that would be like sending out an elephant to destroy a cockroach!"
Dingazi looked at the woman, startled.
"What do you know of impis, O Veiled Woman?" he demanded.
"Who does not know of Dingazi's impis!" she retorted. "The fame of the Karamzili war-might knows no bounds! For many moons have I crossed back and forth through your domains with my father and brothers, and nowhere else have I seen the equal of a Karamzili maps."
Dingazi sent her away with a pleased smile. "Who would have thought," he observed, "that an Arab woman would notice such things? I am glad I talked to her. It was quite true what she said. If I sent five impis, we would be a laughingstock."
The old king turned to a guard. "Bring Lotoko in here," he commanded. Then to Ki-Gor he said, "Lotoko commanded my armies when I originally conquered that northern territory. I will send him up with half an impi to capture this impudent Julebba."
Ki-Gor was silent while Lotoko came in and received his orders and instructions from the king. The jungle man was much less satisfied than Dingazi to accept the opinion of the Arab woman over that of her father and brothers. For one thing, Ki-Gor wondered why there should be a difference of opinion among the Arabs at all. They had presumably seen the same things and had the same opportunity to form an opinion. Yet the Arab men thought Julebba had a formidable force, and the woman thought she had not. It was very confusing.
Another thing bothered Ki-Gor, too. As his mind went back to the message from the mysterious Julebba, he realized that in a strict sense, it was not an ultimatum, Julebba had made specific demands, but she had laid no time-limit on the satisfaction of those demands. Furthermore, and this seemed very important to Ki-Gor, she had made no provision at all for Dingazi's answering the ultimatum! Was that an oversight? Ki-Gor wondered. Or was it intentional? In other words, could it be that the message was not really intended to be answered, but was designed only to terrorize an aging monarch?
Ki-Gor was roused from his thoughts by Dingazi.
"Accept my gratitude, O Friend," the king said, "for coming so promptly to read the writing on the parchment. I thought it looked like English, therefore I sent for you as soon as I received it. I hope now that you and your woman will visit with me for many days."
As a matter of courtesy, Ki-Gor accepted the invitation. But even as he did so, he knew that before the day was over he would probably volunteer his services and go northward with Lotoko's punitive expedition.
For Ki-Gor was discovering within himself an overpowering curiosity concerning Queen Julebba.
Early the next morning, Helene took her place with Ki-Gor beside Lotoko at the head of five hundred kilted Karamzili who were to march north to deal with, the mysterious Julebba. There was still a glint in Helene's eye, and Ki-Gor's face wore a look of resignation. Helene had flatly refused to be left behind at Dutawayo as Ki-Gor had proposed, while he went away with the column. But it had taken some time to convince him that she could take care of herself perfectly well on the expedition.
"You know I can, Ki-Gor," she had argued. "I've learned so much since that day when my plane cracked up in the middle of the jungle. If you hadn't come along and protected me, I wouldn't have lived the day out, probably. But that was a long time ago, Ki-Gor, and I'm no longer a spoiled darling of Society."
Ki-Gor had not been able to dispute that. From the very beginning Helen had been an apt pupil in the jungle lore in which Ki-Gor schooled her. She could keep pace with Ki-Gor's long tireless strides along the elephant trails; she could travel the tree-route; she could read spoors, and stalk small game, and she could even handle a light spear well.
"It isn't that you would be in the way," Ki-Gor had said, finally, "but I don't think this expedition is going to be so easy as Dingazi does. There is something very peculiar about these raiders, and the way they work. I smell danger up there in the north, somehow."
"Well, then, that settles it," Helene had said firmly. "You can't deny me the right to share any and all danger with you. I always have shared it, and I always will."
And so Helene went north with Ki-Gor and the Karamzili expedition.
LOTOKO expected to arrive on the frontier in three days' time. But even before the end of the first days' march, the expedition began to run into evidences that the raiders were perhaps more powerful than they had originally been estimated. Just before sundown, the force marched into a good-sized village and found its inhabitants in a ferment. They were all making preparations for immediate evacuation and flight toward Dutawayo.
The village headman informed Lotoko that the mysterious invaders were already far into Karamzililand, striking secretly and swiftly at night, burning and slaying, and leaving hardly any survivors. The headman said the invaders had hundreds of men, perhaps thousands. There were horsemen, terrifying creatures in turbans and with their faces swathed in cloth. There were elephants, too, trained to war, and even hundreds of apes who climbed over village stockades with lighted torches.
When Lotoko asked the headman how he had learned these things, the man answered that the information had come from some people from the next village. Lotoko looked thoughtful. He knew that there was no way of keeping this news from spreading through the ranks of his little force.
The next day the expedition went through two more villages and even more discouraging reports about the size and ferocity of Queen Julebba's raiders. In fact, if the stories were true, the enemy could hardly be called raiders-they must be an army of invasion. Lotoko called Ki-Gor and Helene to one side.
"I don't like this," Lotoko confessed. "Dingazi did not give me enough men to fight an army of that size."
"You have heard only rumors," Ki-Gor pointed out. "You still don't know the actual size of the enemy."
"No, but the rumors all point in the same direction," Lotoko said gloomily. "We Karamzili are brave. But the bravest of men don't like to be sacrificed because of someone's mistake."
"Then send a messenger back to Dutawayo for more men," Ki-Gor suggested. "But remember one thing-not one person who has talked about the size of the enemy force has seen it. Every report you have heard has been at second hand."
Just at that moment, there was a great hullabaloo among the warriors, and presently several of them dragged a strange black up to Lotoko. Here, the warriors said, was a man who had actually seen the enemy and could give first-hand information. Lotoko began to question him.
At first, the man seemed too frightened to talk, but gradually he grew more confident and readily gave information. The story he had to tell was even more discouraging than the rumors they had heard from the villagers.
There were, the man said, at least two thousand in Queen Julebba's army. There were spearmen, bowmen, and horsemen. Yes, there were elephants, too, he said, and trained apes. And what was more, the army was perfectly led and fought like demons. In fact, the man added shivering, there could be no doubt that this Queen Julebba was a strong ju-ju herself and could infect her troops with that, quality.
All during this questioning, Ki-Gor was studying the man. He was not at all the physical type of Karamzililand. He was blacker, shorter-legged, more powerfully built. Ki-Gor had seen his type in Nigeria, far to the northwest. The man had said that he came from one of the border villages that was destroyed, and was-as far as he knew-the only survivor. He had climbed a tree, he said, and had lain unseen while the ferocious invaders ravaged and slaughtered. After they had razed the village, they were gone as suddenly as they came, and after a long time, he came down from his tree and fled southward warning the other villagers on his way.
It would have been a plausible story, even to Ki-Gor, if it had not been for his race. But the jungle man kept wondering what a Nigerian would be doing in a Karamzili village. And the more Lotoko questioned the man, the more Ki-Gor suspected that he was not quite what he pretended to be. His information was too complete, too detailed.
After Lotoko had finished with the man, he ordered his release, and turned to Ki-Gor with an apprehensive face.
"This is very bad," he admitted. "I cannot turn back. It would lower the prestige of the Karamzili tradition. Besides, Dingazi would probably have me killed. And yet, to go forward against such superior forces is not wise. To be sure, we would probably give a good account of ourselves-"
"One moment, Lotoko," Ki-Gor said. "I wouldn't believe everything that fellow said if I were you."
"Why-what do you mean?" Lotoko demanded.
"I'm going to follow him," Ki-Gor said. "I want to see where he goes and what he does. I might even decide to have a talk with him."
"What for?" Lotoko said, wonderingly.
"He is just a simple villager with good powers of observation-"
"Maybe he isn't just a simple villager," Ki-Gor said. "At any rate, I'm going to find out. When you order the march resumed, I'll stay behind, I'll rejoin you sometime tomorrow."
It took Ki-Gor several minutes to persuade Helene to go ahead with Lotoko and the column, but she agreed when he pointed out that he would be gone only a day and a night.
When the force moved off behind Lotoko and Helene, Ki-Gor stayed behind-inconspicuous in the foliage beside the trail. Then he drifted back to the last village the column passed through. The Nigerian was just leaving it on his way southward. Ki-Gor skirted the village unseen and picked up his trail.
The man seemed to be in considerable of a hurry, and at first Ki-Gor found some difficulty in keeping up with him and still keeping out of sight. After a while, though, the man's very haste convinced Ki-Gor that he did not suspect he was being followed. So without troubling much to stay hidden, Ki-Gor maintained a steady pace about three hundred yards behind the Nigerian.
In this way Ki-Gor followed his man nearly four miles. Then the trail temporarily deserted the jungle for the short grass of the veldt. Ki-Gor could see ahead of him a considerable distance. His Nigerian was nowhere in sight.
What had happened to him? Ki-Gor asked himself. Had the man suddenly decided that he was being followed-and dropped down beside the trail to let Ki-Gor pass him? Or had the Nigerian simply left the trail and gone away in another direction?
Ki-Gor searched the dust of the trail, and clearly saw the man's spoor. He continued his tireless, ground-covering gait, but kept his eyes fixed on the Nigerian's footprints. If it seemed that the Nigerian had stepped off the trail to let him pass, Ki-Gor intended to go on past him and do the same thing himself farther along.
But then it occurred to Ki-Gor that the Nigerian might read the tail of footprints just as well as he did. So the jungle man suddenly and completely changed his tactics. Just as the Nigerian's footprints swerved off the trail, Ki-Gor halted abruptly and called out in an injured tone.
"Hai, Brother!" he said, "What is the trouble? Are you hurt? Or are you avoiding me? For the past four miles I have been trying to catch up with you, so that we could keep journey together. But you have traveled a mighty pace."
There was no answer to this overture, but Ki-Gor could see the tops of the twofoot grass quiver about twenty feet away.
"Hai, Brother!" Ki-Gor said in a louder voice. "Why do you hide from me? I am not your enemy. I am no man's enemy. And I ask nothing of you except your company for as long as you intend to travel this path."
There was another long silence. Suddenly, the Nigerian sprang out of the grass and came toward Ki-Gor. His hands were empty, and he wore an exceedingly sheepish expression on his wide face.
"I-I-er-thought you were following me," the man said. "I didn't know what your intentions were. Nowadays, you can't be too careful. Anyway, I saw you with the Karamzili warriors."
"Yes," Ki-Gor said amiably, "I came back to carry the warning to the villages between here and Dutawayo. Down here about a mile, the trail branches. I thought I would take one branch and you the other."
"It is good," the Nigerian said, relief spreading over his features. "The people must be warned. You will help. It is good."
Ki-Gor noticed that the man's Swahili was not very good. He was half tempted to say something in Haussa, or some other northwestern language, and observe the effect on the man. But he decided against ft. He was after bigger game than this one Nigerian.
The Nigerian was not especially disposed to talk-perhaps he realized his Swahili would not stand up under close observation-and after a while Ki-Gor gave up any attempt at a continued conversation. When they arrived at the fork in the trail, the Nigerian brightened.
"I will take the road to the left," he announced. "Fare thee well."
"Go in peace," Ki-Gor smiled and swung off down the right hand path. He was well satisfied to be taking this branch. It turned and went straight back into forest country, whereas the left fork continued over the open rolling veld.
As soon as he was out of sight of the Nigerian, he began to consider his next move. Although he doubted the Nigerian's talents for stalking, he had to allow for the possibility that the man would follow his trail for a while to make sure he had gone. He moved along at a swift pace for a half a mile-until he was well within the woods. All the way he stayed consistently on one side of the trail close to the grass and underbrush.
When he thought he had traveled a safe distance, he simply stepped off the path. He went straight to the nearest large tree and climbed into the lower branches. Then, traveling the tree-route, he back-trailed some four hundred yards. It was as well that he took care to go silently. For he caught sight of the Nigerian standing in the middle of the trail indecisively. The man was looking down at the ground and then up the trail.
Finally, the Nigerian decided, apparently, that Ki-Gor had really gone on to the next village. He turned around and began to lope away in the direction in which he had come.
Ki-Gor gave him a fair headstart, and then set off to follow him. But this time, Ki-Gor was going to keep himself well out of sight.
Three hours later, just before sundown, Ki-Gor watched his Nigerian cautiously enter a narrow, wooded kloof at the base of a range of low hills. Scarcely had the man entered the wall of trees before he stopped and began to talk out loud, in the Kanuri dialect of northeastern Nigeria. But Ki-Gor quickly realized that the man was talking to someone who was hidden nearby.
"I do not see you," the Nigerian said. "Do you see me? It is Yako, the Spearman."
There was a moment's silence, then a voice from somewhere answered.
"Pass, Yako the Spearman," the voice said, and Ki-Gor could nowhere see the owner of the voice.
Yako, went on into the kloof, but Ki-Gor stayed where he was. It would be unwise to follow until he had located the unseen watchman. Darkness would come within an hour, and Ki-Gor decided to wait for it, rather than blunder into trouble.
In a very short time, another figure entered the woods, announced himself, and was permitted to pass. Then two men came along together. After that, there was a space of fifteen minutes or so when nothing happened. Then Ki-Gor felt a slight vibration of the ground. It slowly increased, and after a while, he could make out the sound of horses' hooves.
At first, Ki-Gor thought it was a single horse at a gallop. Then, in the gathering dusk, he perceived that there were several horses coming into the kloof at a slow walk. They were in single file, and Ki-Gor blinked incredulously when he saw that it was the group of Arab traders he had seen in Dingazi's house at Dutawayo.
The leader of the file was the veiled woman.
As she came to the place where Yako the Spearman had been challenged, she reined in her horse. Dropping the reins, then, she lifted the skirts of the long outer garment, and drew it up over her shoulders and head. A moment later, the garment was lying across the pommel, and the daughter of the Arab trader sat her horse bareheaded and unveiled.
Ki-Gor stared in amazement. She was without doubt one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen in his life.
She tilted her firm, exquisitely modeled chin upward, and flashed huge black eyes up toward the trees.
"Do you see me, O Watchman?" she demanded, in the deep thrilling voice Ki-Gor had already heard in Dutawayo.
"I see you, O Queen!" the hidden watchman declaimed. "Pass, Mighty Conqueror, Spotless Virgin, Gracious Queen! Your devoted army awaits your coming, O Julebba!"
Ki-Gor just did suppress an involuntary gasp of amazement. Julebba! The daughter of the Arab trader! What magnificent audacity!
As she moved away under the trees followed by the three Arabs and the half dozen or so black spearmen that formed the guard, Ki-Gor pondered the extraordinary situation.
Who this astounding young woman was, and what had brought her down from the north to make unprovoked war on such a formidable nation as the Karamzili-all that was beside the point. The most important fact was that she was at war with Dingazi, and that she was carrying on that war with the most unbelievable originality and daring. Just how big her army was Ki-Gor did not yet know-he intended to see it that night-but it could not be so very large to be contained in a comparatively small mountain kloof. But, however large the army was, she was supplementing its striking force with two other tremendous weapons. They were Terror and Confusion.
She had annihilated border villages, taking care that there were no survivors to tell of the deeds. The only persons who told the Karamzili of the invaders were her own men whom she had sent throughout the northern areas with tall stories of the invaders. That these agents had succeeded in spreading terror and confusion among the Karamzili Ki-Gor had already seen. Even Lotoko was worried before he had so much as laid an eye on Julebba's army.
Then as a brilliant cap to the climax, she had disguised herself as an Arab woman and coolly gone before Dingazi to confuse the old king completely as to the nature and strength of her forces. Ki-Gor had to shake his head admiringly when he recollected that she had herself persuaded Dingazi to send not five impis but only one-tenth of that force-five hundred men, instead of five thousand.
Ki-Gor guessed the fate that Julebba planned for Lotoko's little force. She would probably try to destroy it without a trace, and by the very mystery of its disappearance throw all the Karamzili into such a state of terror that they would no longer have the will to fight.
His course of action became clear. He must get past that hidden watchman, go into the kloof, find out as much as he could about Julebba's army, and then hasten off to rejoin Lotoko and Helene.
The first problem, that of getting past the watchman, he decided to leave until dusk had faded out entirely. If the watchman could not see him, he could not challenge him. To be sure, it might be possible to crawl off to one side and slip into the kloof through the tangle of undergrowth. But the entrance to the ravine was very narrow, and he would not really be far enough away from the path at any event. So, he settled himself to wait for another twenty minutes or so.
But, just at that moment, Ki-Gor heard a scraping sound. He fixed his eyes on the tree in which he suspected the watchman was concealed. There, coming slowly down the trunk, was a huge black. Puzzled, Ki-Gor watched the man descend to the ground. He was carrying something in one hand-just what it was, there was not enough light to see. But from the man's subsequent actions, Ki-Gor got a very good idea of what it was.
It was fine rope or string of some kind, and the man was stretching it across the path, securing both ends at the base of two trees on either side. It was a neat trap for any stranger who might creep along in the dark and try to enter the kloof unseen.
In view of this complication, Ki-Gor decided to wait no longer, but to take direct action. Knowing the string was there, he might successfully locate it and step across it without disturbing it. But then again he might not. Furthermore, he might have to leave the kloof in a hurry, in which case it would be better not to have a string stretched across, the path.
Very seldom did Ki-Gor kill a man in cold blood, but he knew he would have to do that to this guard. It would not do to allow him a chance to cry out and bring down Julebba's entire army on him.
The guard was bending over now, tying one of the strings, his back to Ki-Gor. The jungle man gathered his legs under him. Then he shot up and forward as if his great body were released from a bowstring. He covered the ground between him and the watchman in three heartbeats.
The watchman gave a little cry of alarm and half-turned. By that time, Ki-Gor was upon him. His left arm went around the man's neck, bending him backward. His right hand closed over the watchman's mouth, stifling his outcry to a gurgling groan. Ki-Gor thought of the hundreds of innocent Karamzili villagers that Julebba's men had slaughtered-and tightened his hold.
Suddenly there was a wild yell from above. An ugly shock of alarm went through Ki-Gor. At the same moment, the man in his arms bounced-as if something had hit him. Ki-Gor looked down over the man's shoulder and saw a long arrow sticking into the black chest. The watchman went limp. In the meantime, the yelling continued from the tree above.
Ki-Gor cursed himself for not thinking of the possibility that there were two watchmen. A second arrow whizzed past his ear. Something had to be done about that second watchman, and right away. Shifting his grip, Ki-Gor lifted the limp man in his arms, using him as a shield, and staggered forward toward the base of the tree from which he had come. Still another arrow smacked into the ground beside him, and the watcher in the tree continued to bawl out.
With a sudden, quick movement, Ki-Gor flung the body of the first watchman on the ground. Simultaneously, he rolled away in the other direction. An arrow smacked into the inert body of the first watchman. But Ki-Gor was climbing the trunk of the tree, now, snaking up like a monkey before the archer could notch a new arrow and aim.
He just made it to the lowest limb when the bowman shot again. But Ki-Gor swung his body under the limb a fraction of a second before the arrow sang past him. The jungle man knew he was in a desperate position, but his very danger spurred him to more furious action. Almost automatically, his right leg swung over the bough and his body followed through. Hardly had he gained his feet, before he was leaping up the trunk to the next limb above.
Not until that moment did Ki-Gor see that the bowman was sitting astride that limb. There was an arrow already notched in the man's hands-an arrow that was meant for Ki-Gor's up-lifted throat. But before that arrow could be released, Ki-Gor's right hand had closed over a black ankle. Swiftly, relentlessly, he had jerked downward. Down fell bow and arrow as the black strove desperately to save himself. But the iron grip on his ankle never relaxed, and hauled him down inexorably, until he was hanging legs down from the bough. But now Ki-Gor was hanging by his hands, too, and he gathered his legs up under him and shot them forward. His feet hit the bowman's chest like twin batteringrams.
The black gasped and groaned. His fingers relaxed their hold, and he dropped. It was nearly thirty feet to the ground, and he hit with a sickening thud and lay still.
Ki-Gor lost no time in getting down the tree. The bowman had undoubtedly been heard down in the kloof, and there would probably be very little time to escape. Ki-Gor hit the ground running and sped toward the spot where he had left his own bow, quiver and assegai. As he paused to scoop them up, he heard the drumming of horses' hooves. The pursuit had begun!
Ki-Gor hesitated a bare second while he made up his mind which was the most promising avenue of escape. His first impulse had been simply to run away out to the veld, and trust to the darkness to swallow him up. But then he realized that he would not get far before the horsemen would overtake him. Furthermore, if he did somehow escape from them, he still would not have the information about this strange army that he wanted to take to Lotoko.
He whirled around with sudden decision and ran back toward the kloof. Thirty seconds later, a score of horsemen pounded down the path and reined in, shouting, around the bodies of the two watchmen. But Ki-Gor was already traveling the tree route thirty feet above and to one side of the path-toward the interior of the kloof. Burdened with his war-gear as he was, and traveling in almost, pitch darkness, his progress was necessarily slow. But taking infinite care to avoid discovery, he worked his way to the edge of a small clearing in the middle of the kloof, and eventually stared down at a sight which Dingazi, King of the Karamzili would have given a great deal to see.
The first objects that caught Ki-Gor's eye in the torch-lighted scene below, were the elephants. There were four of them, splendid bulls. They were uniform-almost as big as Marmo-and they were evidently well trained. They stood in a row on one side of the clearing, a score or so of black boys squatting on the ground in front of them. The dress of the blacks showed them to be Balubas from the elephant-country of the Belgian Congo.
Next, Ki-Gor's eyes traveled to the center of the clearing, to a pile of rocks on which had been placed a high-backed, wooden throne. On that throne sat Julebba, a picture of barbaric splendor. Her beautiful head was lifted proudly high, the night-black hair falling straight and shining to her shoulders. An ivory necklace fell from the splendid column' of her throat toward the jeweled breastplates which crowned her high tawny bosom. Below them her torso gleamed bare down to the narrow golden girdle, and her beautifully molded thighs were boldly outlined under the sheer white ankle-length skirt.
Completing the barbaric picture, she wore wide bands of dull gold on each tipper arm, and her right hand gripped an efficient-looking, light spear.
There was a subdued murmur of many voices filling the clearing, but Julebba, sat detached, aloof. It was as if she were waiting for something to happen, or someone to arrive. Perhaps, Ki-Gor shrewdly guessed, she was awaiting news about the disturbance at the entrance of the kloof.
Looking beyond her, he perceived that not all of her horsemen had ridden away down the path. There were still some twenty drawn up in a row behind her throne, and strange and fearsome they looked to Ki-Gor. He had never seen any such horsemen in his life. They looked a little bit like some Arabs he had seen, in that they wore turbans. But the turbans were a different shape from those worn by the traders and slaverunners of the East Coast. Furthermore, men of Julebba's had covered their faces, so that only narrow slits were left for them to see through.
To the left of Julebba's throne were massed about fifty rugged blacks armed with heavy spears. They were very likely fellow-Nigerians of Yako's. And on the other side of the throne, there were another fifty blacks-from the Ubangi country by their looks-and they were armed with longbows.
Ki-Gor counted the men in the clearing once again, remembering that there were probably about twenty horsemen absent. Then he marveled. Could this, he asked himself, he all of the dreaded army of invasion? The mysterious force that had ravaged and burned the northern border of Karamzililand, struck terror in the hearts of one of the stoutest-hearted races of Africa-could this be it? Less than a hundred and fifty men plus four elephants and their Baluba boys! It was truly unbelievable!
No wonder Julebba, in her Arab disguise, had persuaded Dingazi to send only five hundred men after her! She could not have successfully attacked one impi-much less five impis! As it was, Ki-Gor wondered how this handful could beat Lotoko's five hundred stout warriors. He began to understand why Julebba had so carefully laid her groundwork of confusion and terror, and spread the stories of great numbers of horsemen, spearmen, bowmen, elephants-and trained apes. Where, Ki-Gor suddenly asked himself, were the trained apes?
JUST then a horseman galloped into the clearing from the path. The quiet hubbub ceased, and Julebba turned her head inquiringly. The horseman was not veiled, and Ki-Gor recognized the Arab who had posed as Julebba's father at Dingazi's court. The Arab reined in before the throne and spoke briefly to the queen. The language he used sounded like Arabic, which Ki-Gor did not understand, but as he held up two fingers, Ki-Gor guessed he was reporting two casualties at the entrance to the kloof. Julebba then asked some questions, to which the Arab seemed to reply negatively.
Ki-Gor began to get an uneasy hunch that it was time for him to think of leaving the scene. Just how he would get away he was not sure, although there was a possibility that he might be able to scale one of the steep sides of the kloof. It would be dangerous enough, for both sides were nearly perpendicular and consisted of rough, shaly rock. But dangerous or not, Ki-Gor decided to swing himself to the nearest bank and explore it.
But a new development in the clearing below caught his interest. He decided to stay a few more minutes and watch. It was a decision he very soon regretted.
The rest of the veiled horsemen were returning down the path, their horses at a walk. An angry murmur went over the Ubangi bowmen squatting beside the path, and Ki-Gor very quickly saw what caused it. The first two horsemen each bore one of the two sentinels that Ki-Gor had felled.
Julebba stood up suddenly, eyes flashing. She shouted a brief order in the Haussa dialect, and a half dozen of the Ubangi ran to the foot of her throne. The horsemen drew up beside them, whereupon the Ubangi lifted the two bodies gently down to the ground. Julebba swung around and shouted:
I "The doctor! Where is the fat doctor?"
An indistinct figure rose up from the shadows near the elephants, and waddled toward the throne. Ki-Gor recognized him, and nearly fell out of his treetop with astonishment.
It was Hurree Das, the Hindu.
It was the very man Ki-Gor and Helene were talking about when Dingazi's messenger came to them. How Hurree Das came to be in Queen Julebba's army, Ki-Gor had not the faintest idea. The Hindu was a curious, and very droll character who by his own admission was a rascal. Ki-Gor had first encountered him among a gang of notorious slave-dealers. The Hindu had been a partner in the gang and shared in the profits which he earned as medical adviser. Yet when Ki-Gor had lain a prisoner of the gang, Hurree Das had saved him from a dreadful tortured death, even at the risk of his own life.
And now once again Hurree Das had come into Ki-Gor's life-and once again he was associated with a murderous gang. Only this time, the gang dignified itself with the title of "army," the chief a self-styled "queen."
Ki-Gor leaned forward fascinated as Hurree Das knelt down beside the bodies on the ground. He had not changed at all. There was the same plump, soft figure in the long, black coat, the flimsy white cloth draped around his fat legs, the round black pillbox cap on his back curls.
"Well?" demanded Julebba, "What do you say, Doctor?"
Again Ki-Gor's mouth opened in wonderment-for Julebba had spoken in English! Then he remembered that her "ultimatum" to Dingazi had been written in English. Who was Julebba?
Now, Hurree Das was straightening up. "Beg to inform Your Majesty," he said in his sing-song tenor voice, "that both patients are indubitably dead. One has neck-other has arrow through left ventricle of heart. It is Ubangi arrow fired at close range. Would venture guess that two sentinels were in disagreement over some private matter and did each other in-so to speak."
"Silence!" Julebba exclaimed in a terrible voice. "They were killed in line of duty while defending their Queen!"
"Ah, yes! No doubt, no doubt!" Hurree Das replied hastily. "Fearful act of aggression by conscienceless Karamzili, no doubt!"
"Exactly!" Julebba said sternly.
She lifted her head then and began speaking to her army in Haussa. It was lucky for Ki-Gor that she did-or so he thought-because he suddenly discovered that he had gone too far out on his bough in his desire to watch the proceedings below. It had bent downward and he had begun to slip along it.
He caught himself just in time and carefully dragged himself back nearer the trunk. If the men below had not fixed their attention on their queen they might possibly have noticed the slight rustle and sway of the leafy branch. As Julebba's voice rose oratorically, Ki-Gor searched the up-lifted faces below and was reassured.
"This very moment we are tracking down the murderers!" Julebba was shouting. "And tomorrow you will all taste the sweet wine of vengeance!"
There was a concerted rasping snarl of response from the army and Julebba raised her voice over it.
She spoke: "In a few moments we will depart on our appointed assignments! The spearmen will hurry to make contact with Lotoko's force and will lead it toward the trap which the rest of us will have set. And when the hated Karamzili have been maneuvered into position for the kill-"
Julebba paused dramatically and a tense silence hung over the kloof. In spite of himself, Ki-Gor was spellbound by her voice. He knew that he should be taking the opportunity to steal away, but the situation gripped him so that he lingered on, telling himself that he might learn more specifically the battle plans of the invaders.
Almost in the next second, however, Ki-Gor felt a terrific, burning intuition that something was very wrong. Was it something he heard? Or smelled?
It was both!
There was a faint rustle right in the tree behind him. At the same time, he caught a whiff of a heavy animal scent. He whipped his head around and stared into the murk of the tree. Then his blood ran cold, as a shrill chattering broke the silence over the kloof. He saw the dark form crouched against the trunk of the tree, saw other forms clamber near. Dark as it was in the tree, Ki-Gor knew they were large apes.
The other apes picked up the loud awful chattering and Ki-Gor knew that they had tracked him through the trees. The sudden bedlam below in the clearing confirmed it. Julebba was screaming and the Nigerians' scampered toward the foot of the tree bearing torches aloft.
Ki-Gor swung himself around with a bitter snarl and faced the ape. It was too late to bother about staying concealed now. He would be lucky if he escaped at all. He sprang to his feet and stood balanced precariously atop the limb. Then he leaped toward the trunk of the tree. The ape rose upward with a harsh squeal. Ki-Gor's assegai was poised. He lunged with it, and impaled the ape through its hairy throat. The creature gave a horrible halfhuman cry, and Ki-Gor sprang over it and seized the next branch above him.
Just as he drew up his legs, he felt each ankle gripped by a horny paw. He kicked out frantically. There was a snarling grunt, and one ankle came free. But the other leg was held fast, and in a splitsecond the horny paws had him around the knee. Ferocious tusks slashed at his calf. There was nothing to do but let go the branch above and drop down to throttle the creature.
Ki-Gor dropped fighting. But even Ki-Gor could not land on the limb below and fight and keep his balance. He teetered for an awful moment and felt himself going. He shot a hand toward the vines growing up the tree-trunk, but there was another ape, snapping and clawing. His hand clutched thin air and he felt himself falling.
In the brief moment of consciousness left to him, he gauged the next limb far below him. He wondered whether his body would fall across it. If that happened, it would break his back. He twisted his body. But the ape was still clinging to one leg snarling and biting, and he could not straighten himself out.
Then there was a crash and Ki-Gor knew no more.
When he came to, Hurree Das was bathing his face with water. Julebba stood behind him, bending slightly and looking down, her beautiful face distorted with ferocity.
"Aha!" Hurree Das murmured. "Eyes opening with returning consciousness. We meet again under most unfortunate auspices, Ki-Gor! Most dreadfully sorry, but what can do?"
"Silence, Doctor!" Julebba commanded, "Stand away."
Hurree Das hurriedly removed himself from Ki-Gor's side. Julebba came forward a step and stared down malignantly.
"Who are you?" she demanded, "and why do you come spying where you have no business and killing those with whom you have no quarrel?"
Ki-Gor raised himself on his elbows without replying. How he had survived the fall he did not know. He must have twisted enough to have struck the bough below with his head instead of his body. He had then probably dropped limp to the ground. And because he had been limp he had broken no bones.
"Answer me!" Julebba cried savagely. "Answer me, strange White Giant! Who are you?"
Ki-Gor looked up coolly.
"You have seen me before," he replied slowly and insolently. "I do not sneak around in disguise."
"A-a-a-!" Julebba screamed. Her right hand lifted and a dagger glinted. Ki-Gor grinned up at her contemptuously. The hand with the dagger in it did not descend. Julebba stood with it upraised, an incredulous expression creeping into her lambent eyes.
"No one," she said in a voice suddenly lowered, "no one insults me and lives long."
"And Ki-Gor," said the jungle man coolly, "fears no man-or woman."
With that, he very deliberately sat upright, and equally deliberately gathered his legs under him and stood up. He swayed dizzily and took the weight off his right leg which pained fearsomely where the ape had bitten him. But he managed another nonchalant grin, his eyes boring straight into Julebba's.
"Ki-Gor!" she whispered, and although she was tall she had to look up at Ki-Gor now. "Yes, that is what Dingazi called you. He called you 'White Lord of the Jungle' and said your kingdom lay in the direction of the Four Winds."
Her right hand holding the dagger dropped to her side, and she stepped back.
"Why have you come here?" she said in a tone that was more reproachful than angry. "Why have you killed two of my bowmen and three of my apes? You have no quarrel with me."
"I am Dingazi's friend," Ki-Gor said sternly, and added, "Besides I don't like women who make war."
"Oh, don't you?" Julebba glowered. "Men make war. Why shouldn't women?"
"Because women make a treacherous, cruel kind of war," Ki-Gor replied, "full of tricks and deceits. They use innocent people to carry out their designs. The most terrible kind of war is the kind a woman makes-or that a man makes who is, like a woman, himself."
A gust of anger swept over Julebba. She stamped her foot and tossed her black locks.
"Why am I standing here listening to a stupid hulk of a man while he insults me?" she said. "You should be on your knees, begging for mercy! You apparently don't realize who I am. I am Queen Julebba, don't you understand? Julebba, descendant of Hannibal! If I make war like a woman then I make war better even than Hannibal did! With this tiny army I will shatter Dongazi's mighty hosts! And then I'll be Queen Julebba of Karamzililand!
"And after I've trained the Karamzili to fight my kind of war-there will be no army, no nation, in Africa, that can withstand me! Why, these spearmen-" she gestured toward the Nigerians--"and these bowmen and the horsemen-they will be the officers in my all-conquering army of Karamzili! And you-you, who call yourself White Lord of the jungle-standing there smiling at me! I'll make you smile at me! I'll have you torn into shreds. I'll have every bone in that huge stupid body of yours broken and crushed! Then, let us see whether you will smile at me!"
"Who," said Ki-Gor promptly, "will tear me to shreds? Your spearmen? Big men from Bornu, they are, but it will take all fifty of them to conquer me. And I promise you that if they attack me, I will barehanded kill ten of the fifty! Can you afford to lose one-fifth of your spearmen?"
Julebba stared at him in speechless amazement.
"Or perhaps you will set your apes on me," Ki-Gor went on vigorously. "I don't know how many you have left, but remember-I killed three of them even though they came upon me unawares. Or your bowmen-there are about fifty of them-line them up with arrows notched. Let me have my bow-and in a fair fight I promise you I will kill twenty of them before I die! Why, even your elephants-" Ki-Gor leaned forward, eyes blazing--"I have one elephant who is so big that he would only need to flap his ears-and your four would turn tail and run from him!"
Ki-Gor drew himself up scornfully.
"Do your worst, Queen Julebba!" he said coldly. "You cannot frighten Ki-Gor. What a shame it is that a woman so beautiful as you should make war. You were meant for better, pleasanter things than tricks, and deceits, and disguises, and the slaughtering of innocent people. Perhaps you will have a change of heart after you have met Lotoko's force. They are five hundred against your hundred and fifty, and they are thirsty for vengeance."
Ki-Gor folded his arms as an indication that he had finished speaking. His blue eyes were fixed on Julebba's smoldering black ones. There was a long pause while the jungle man waited to see the effect of his boldness. It was the only possible tack for him to take. His position was so desperate that only the most desperate device could even postpone a lingering death. He had, therefore, deliberately, insulted Julebba, hoping thereby to shock her into an indecisive frame of mind.
Abruptly, Julebba spoke.
"You talk just like a man," she said calmly. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted in bitter lines. "According to all men, beautiful women exist only to make love to. But I have another purpose-and that is to show men how wrong they are. If I am beautiful, it doesn't mean anything to me. I want to rule-to direct-to wield power. I want to show all men that there is a woman who can do anything they can and do it better. I want to show them that a woman can even make war better than men! I will show you, Ki-Gor! Tomorrow, or the day after, you will see for yourself how an army led by a woman will trap and annihilate a force over three times its size!"
Ki-Gor's face did not betray by so much as the twitch of a muscle the relief that was spreading through him.
"I will decide what to do about you," Julebba said, "after I have attended to this other business. And now," she added mockingly, "I know you are big and strong-but please be quiet and not kill any of my men while they tie you up. I will really have to do that, I'm afraid. I really can't spare half my cavalry just to guard you."
She swung away toward her throne issuing a string of orders. One of the veiled horsemen dismounted and held a long knife at Ki-Gor's throat while two Nigerians pinned his arms to his sides and then went around and around him with strong rope until he was thoroughly trussed from his shoulders to his hips. Then he was rudely thrown to the ground, and an elephant-boy armed with a wicked-looking curved knife was apparently assigned to guard him, the horsemen and the two Nigerians rejoining their own groups.
With the postponement of his fate, Ki-Gor felt a prodigious physical letdown. His whole body ached from his fall, and his right leg began to hurt cruelly where the ape had bitten him. Bruised and ailing though he was, he nevertheless began to consider ways and means of escaping his bonds and his guard so that he could find Lotoko and warn him of the trap Julebba boasted of setting for him. The outlook for that escape was not promising, because the army was evidently getting ready to move from the kloof very soon. Then Ki-Gor glanced down at his right leg when some torches came near him, and by their flickering light he saw that he had been badly bitten, and that the wounds ought to be attended to quickly to prevent blood-poisoning.
To his great relief, Hurree Das appeared beside him carrying a little black bag.
"Once again it devolves on Doctor Hurree Das," the Hindu said humorously, "to preserve you for postponed execution. Well-on the other occasion, you lived to fool your would-be executioners. Here is hoping your luck keeps up! I say, old fellow!" he said, staring at Ki-Gor's leg, "that is a nasty wound! Very nasty, indeed! It will require some prolonged and delicate treatment to insure against septicemia. Ticklish job working around tendons of calf. My dear fellow, I am afraid it will hurt like fury! I think possibly small intravenous injection is indicated." He frowned.
Still muttering, the Hindu reached into his bag and brought forth a curious metal object the like of which Ki-Gor had never seen. It was cylindrical and came to a sharp point at one end. The Hindu brought forth two small bottles, and proceeded to dip the pointed end of his cylinder into first one and then the other bottle. Then he poised the point of the instrument over Ki-Gor's arm.
"Shall now proceed to prick you with my hypo," he said. "Please do not jump or you will break end off bally thing. Ready?"
"What is it?" Ki-Gor asked uneasily, although he trusted the plump doctor.
"Purpose of easing pain in leg. Steady on, old fellow." Then Hurree Das's practiced hand jabbed downward, while Ki-Gor wondered. How something applied to one's arm could help the pain in one's leg was hard to understand. Hurree Das muttered solicitously, pulled the needlelike point of the instrument from Ki-Gor's arm, and then busied himself with other instruments which he brought out of his bag. Presently he got up and waddled off to one of the campfires, and Ki-Gor turned his attention to the scene around him.
Evidently, the army was preparing to leave the kloof very soon. There was a constant subdued bustle and movement, both of men and animals. After considerable shifting around, the Nigerian spearmen came over in a body and lined up in front of Julebba's throne. Ki-Gor twisted his head around far enough to see that Julebba was standing up. Her right hand swung up over her head and the torchlight glinted on a short broad-bladed sword.
"Soldiers of the Ever-Victorious Army!" she chanted. "The Sword of Hannibal is raised up against your enemies!"
The waving, flickering flames seemed to distort Julebba's passionate face and her eyes seemed huger and blacker.
"To you men of Bornu," she went on, and now her face, her head, her whole body seemed to wave with the torchlight. "To you is the honor of making the first approach-"
Julebba was speaking to these men in Kanuri, and Ki-Gor knew Kanuri as well as any African tongue. Yet he found it hard to follow her words. Her voice seemed at once muffled and yet clear and metallic as a bell-seemed close in his ear and at the same time too far away for him to hear aright.
And now the slim tense figure in front of the throne seemed to dance around jerkily. Ki-Gor blinked his eyes hard and then found it hard to open them again. He heard the Nigerians roaring but it sounded fantastic and unreal. The whole scene began to fade out. Then Hurree Das's voice sounded conversationally from a great distance.
"Ah! How is patient doing? Resting easy, I trust?"
Ki-Gor tried to answer but his tongue and lips felt so thick that all he could produce was an inarticulate mumble. It alarmed him for a moment, and he forced his eyes open. But all he could see were dancing figures and leaping flames, and then enormous weights gathered on his eyelids and forced them shut again.
There followed now a period of wildly improbable happenings. Scores of beautiful women with cruel red mouths hovered over him. They had blue-black hair that seemed to writhe about their necks. After a while, Ki-Gor could see why the blue-black locks writhed-they were tiny blue-black snakes, and each little snake had a cruel red mouth. Then there came a man who was half man and half horse, and his face was swathed in red bandages. And this creature stood over Ki-Gor with a Pygmy poisoned arrow and kept digging it into the calf of Ki-Gor's leg. Ki-Gor struggled to get at the horrible creature, but a python was coiled around his chest pinning his arms to his sides and he could not get his hands free.
But suddenly it was not a python coiled around him but an elephant's trunk. Ki-Gor could not see very well but he thought it was Marmo and he talked to him. Marmo answered him-which was very strange, because Marmo had never answered him before. Stranger still, Marino spoke in two voices. One of them was familiar-it sounded like Hurree Das. The other voice was a woman's voice, deep and thrilling. Ki-Gor thought it was a great joke that Marmo should talk with the voice of a woman and he told Marmo that. Where upon Marmo answered him using both voices at once.
Finally, Marmo seemed to be ashamed of his woman's voice because he did not use it any more, and there was only the voice of Hurree Das droning on in flowery English. Then something about that voice made Ki-Gor suspicious and he opened his eyes.
To his astonishment, he was lying stretched out under a tree beside a great rock. It was broad daylight but quite cool indicating that it was still early morning. There was no sign of Marmo, but Hurree Das was sitting cross-legged beside him.
"Where are we?" Ki-Gor demanded. "What is this place?"
"Most likely it is first balcony seats for watching impending hostilities," Hurree Das replied. "Ah, my friend! You have been dreaming quite considerable time. Most delicious morphine jag you have been enjoying, don't you know? How does injured leg feel to you?"
It did not feel bad. It ached and smarted somewhat but Ki-Gor was accustomed to that sort of pain. He lifted his right leg experimentally, and saw that it was well bandaged below the knee.
Now Ki-Gor really began to take stock of his surroundings. He and Hurree Das were apparently on the steep side of a hill overlooking a wide stretch of veldt. Low branches from the tree above swept downward providing an effective screen, so that they could see without being observed by anyone below on the veldt.
As Ki-Gor stared down, waiting for a complete return of consciousness, he noticed a curious and significant conformation of the line where veldt met the wooded base of the hills, just below him the veldt jutted inward into the hills in the form of a wedge several hundred yards long at its deepest apex. The hills sloped steeply down on all sides and extended out like the arms of a chair to form a base for the wedge about a quarter of a mile across. Ki-Gor stirred uneasily, his mind going back to Julebba's words to her army, "We will set a trap-" Was this where the trap was to be laid?
He stirred again, and suddenly realized he was lying on his arms. He struggled to free them and discovered that his wrists were securely manacled behind his back. And manacled they surely were-not merely fastened with rope-he could feel the metal bands on each wrist, now, and a stout chain pressing into his back.
He turned his head and looked at Hurree Das. The Hindu was apparently sorting out and inspecting the instruments in his bag.
"Hurree Das," Ki-Gor murmured, "are we alone?"
"Oah, by no means positively not," the Hindu replied without looking at Ki-Gor. "There is a nasty looking customer squatting behind your head with homicidal weapon held in position ready for malice aforethought."
Ki-Gor thought that over and then said, "The elephant boy?"
"Yess," Hurree Das replied with a smirk. "Toomai of the Elephants. That is joke. His name not really Toomai, he being African blackfellow. Toomai was name of character in story by Mistah Rudyard Kipling, don't you know! Hence joke!"
After a pause, Ki-Gor said, "There are times, Hurree Das, when I don't understand everything you say."
"Oah! How can you saying so!" Hurree Das said indignantly. "Please to know I was graduated cum laude from Bombay University, everybody commenting on most extensive vocabulary."
Ki-Gor had only the vaguest idea of what a university was, but he had more important things to think about at that moment. For one thing, he wondered exactly what status Hurree Das enjoyed in Queen Julebba's army.
"When," Ki-Gor said carefully, "did you join Queen Julebba?"
"Less than a fortnight past," the Hindu replied.
"On upper reaches of Ubangi River. I was making extensive tour for purpose of botanical research when contact was made by pure happenstance."
The doctor picked up a tiny knife and stared at it critically. Ki-Gor frowned. He still had not found out what he wanted. Was Hurree Das going to help him, or not?
"If Julebba should-" Ki-Gor began, then decided to rephrase his question. "I mean, what reward did Julebba promise you to come with her?"
"Oah, no positive proposition was propounded. My decision to join her army as Army Medical Corps was based on purely negative considerations. Her Majesty graciously informed me I could enlist with her and stay in good health. Alternatively, I could refuse and be tortured to death. I have, like most Hindu people, constitutional aversion to torture, so I accepted offer of service."
"Ah!" Ki-Gor sighed, "I'm glad to hear that."
"Heavens!" Hurree Das ejaculated, looking at him sharply. "You did not for one instant think I was willing tool of this blood-thirsty monarch? Oah Heavens, no! People can say truly that Hurree Das is great rascal, that he is always and forever looking out for Number One, that he is not above violating certain ordinances for personal profit, that he is in short-monumental rogue! But there is not slightest justification for supposing Hurree Das would be voluntary accomplice in such systematic mass-murder as this Julebba is engaged in! No person who has taken Hippocratic oath could ever be that!"
By now Ki-Gor was grinning. "Good," he approved. "As a matter of fact, the only person I ever heard call Hurree Das as rascal was-Hurree Das, himself!"
"Possibly," the Hindu shrugged. He added dryly, "Although you should sometime meet some of Civil Authorities in city of Nairobi, Kenya Colony, which place I one time evacuated in great hurry."
"Yes, but now listen, Hurree Das, you must help me to escape. I don't know just how, yet, but I'll work out a way."
There was a long pause. Ki-Gor glanced sharply at the Hindu. Hurree Das was looking mournful.
"Oah dearie me!" he said at length with a heavy sigh. "Much as I would like to do all in my power to help you-I am afraid it is entirely out of question and impossible."
"For simple reason that if my complicity should be discovered, this amiable queen, this Julebba, would have me tortured and killed. I do not mind in the least being killed-that is merely one more step toward achieving Ultimate Nirvana-but I hate like deuce being tortured. It hurts so, don't you know, old fellow!"
Ki-Gor gazed off glumly toward the veldt. For a moment, he had high hopes only to have them speedily dashed to the ground. In time he might be able to persuade the Hindu to change his mind. But escape from such a ruthless captor as Julebba could only succeed by the most resolute and daring methods. A timid and half-hearted partner might prove to be worse than no partner at all.
"I am filled with shame," said Hurree Das contritely, "to disappoint in such a manner. But what can do? And please to remember this blackfellow behind you is also guarding me."
"You mean Julebba doesn't trust you?" Ki-Gor said.
"Most certainly not," Hurree Das said emphatically. "And if you somehow got away-even if I did not help you in any way, shape, or manner-Julebba would most likely accuse me of aiding and abetting such escape. And with dire consequences to yours truly, Hurree Das, M.D."
"Oh, but you wouldn't be around," Ki-Gor said quickly. "If I got away I would take you with me."
"Clah, not understanding that part-so sorry," the Hindu said. "That might change aspect of things-hist-!" he broke off and stared up the hill behind him. "Ah! someone is coming! Might possibly be Her Majesty coming to make sickcall."
There was a considerable rustling in the undergrowth up the hill, a rustling which swiftly became louder and nearer. Presently, one of the giant chimpanzees could be seen, swinging along on his knuckles using his long hairy arms like crutches. Close behind him and flanking him slightly came two more of the beasts. They came downhill in an aimless meandering fashion, but still in the general direction of Ki-Gor. Then Julebba appeared and behind her were four more of the apes.
There was nothing meandering about Julebba. She came directly and purposefully toward Ki-Gor. He struggled up to a sitting position and watched her coming.
She was dressed in the costume of the night before and carried the light spear.
As she drew closer, Ki-Gor had to admit that she was fully as beautiful by daylight as she had been under the torches. Her flawless, cream-colored skin gleamed in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the foliage and her tall magnificent figure moved with sinuous majesty through the undergrowth.
Both Hurree Das and the Baluba boy stood up long before she came up to them, but Ki-Gor stayed as he was, in a sitting position. But when she stood beside him she seemed not to notice anything wrong about that. She said nothing for a long moment, but looked down at Ki-Gor with burning eyes that traveled from his yellow hair the length of his great bronzed body down to his feet.
"It will not be long now," she said finally, "before you will see your Karamzili friends slaughtered like sheep."
Ki-Gor glanced up in surprise. Her opening gun had been milder than he expected. Moreover it had been directed at the Karamzili and not at him personally.
"I have just received word," she continued, "that my spearmen have already seen Lotoko's force and have been seen by him. My spearmen are retreating, of course"-she smiled vindictively-"and in this direction. They will be in sight in two hours."
"Where is the rest of your army?" Ki-Gor asked bluntly.
"They are already at their battle stations."
Ki-Gor looked down at the wedge-shaped tract of veldt below him, and then at the wooded slopes that reached out like arms on either side.
"I don't see them," he said briefly.
"You won't," Julebba said, "and neither, will Lotoko-until it is too late."
Ki-Gor smiled. "You are just fooling yourself, Queen Julebba," he said. "If you have five hundred men you would still have a hard time beating five hundred Karamzili. Next to the Masai, the Karamzili are the finest fighting men in Africa, just because you hide a few elephants and horsemen and bowmen, don't think they will prevail long against such overwhelming odds."
"I will bet you," Julebba, said coldly, "that not a single Karamzili escapes!"
"How can I bet-what can I bet?" Ki-Gor queried.
"Your life," the queen said.
"My life?" Ki-Gor said frowning. "Spoken just like a woman. My life, just now, is not mine to bet. You can have me killed whenever you feel like it. In fact, you have already promised to kill me after the battle."
"Well, perhaps I've changed my mind!" Julebba snapped. "Perhaps I shan't have you killed. That is my decision to make, and I shall do exactly what I please!"
Ki-Gor was beginning to feel a little bewildered.
"It might help your fate a little," Julebba went on accusingly, "if your attitude toward me were less insolent."
She swung around and faced Hurree Das.
"Have you treated his leg properly?" she demanded. "Will it heal soon?"
"Oah, yess!" Hurree Das stammered. "Indeed, I have done everything possible to prevent infection, oah yes, indeed!"
"Very well," Julebba said. "Your post is down below ready to treat the wounded as soon as the battle begins. You had better go down immediately and make your arrangements."
"Yes, Madame!" Hurree Das cried. "I am going now. I am hurrying like anything!"
His plump body went crashing through the undergrowth toward the foot of the slope. Julebba turned back to Ki-Gor.
"I will see you after the battle," she announced. "After you have seen how a great general does what you say is impossible-maybe-maybe you will be more humble."
With that she turned and stalked away across the slope, the seven apes shambling after her. Ki-Gor studied her diminishing figure until she was out of sight.
What an extraordinary woman! What had caused the comparative mellowing of her attitude toward him?
Ki-Gor put that line of thought away for a while, and concentrated on figuring a means of immediate escape. Although he hardly dared admit it even to himself, he was a little impressed by Julebba's confidence over the outcome of the impending battle. It seemed inconceivable that her tiny force could defeat, much less annihilate the Karamzili half an impi, and yet-if Lotoko's men were taken completely by surprise--
Ki-Gor looked around at his guard. If he was going to escape he had to do it soon, so that he could get to Lotoko and warn him of Julebba's trap. Helene, after all, was with Lotoko, and if there was the slightest chance of Helene being endangered, he must get away and prevent the battle from taking place.
Escape should not be too difficult to accomplish now. His only bonds were the ones on his wrists. His powerful legs were free, and he had used them as effective weapons many times before during his adventurous life. To be sure his right leg was wounded-how badly, he was not sure. He rolled over on his stomach with a groan and spoke to the guard.
"Oh, I'm stiff, brother," he said. "I must stand up a moment and stretch. You need not be alarmed. You are armed and I am chained."
"Why should I be alarmed, O White Giant?" the elephant boy said surlily. "As you say-I am armed and you are chained."
Ki-Gor lay on his stomach and looked at the Baluba.
"Are you not homesick?" he said, "being so far from your country?"
"Nay, why should I be?" the Baluba growled.
"What are you getting from this warlike adventuring and risking of your life?"
"There will be rewards," the elephant boy said.
"They are promises only," Ki-Gor pointed out, "and promises are cheap."
"Promises are better than nothing," the Baluba retorted.
"Are they-I wonder," Ki-Gor said reflectively. "Down to the south where I live, there is a wonderful place for a man like you. There is a fine village set on fertile soil near a river with pure, clean water that is teeming with fish. The men in the village are kind and gentle, the women are handsome and strong and hard-working."
"Why do you tell me this, White Giant?" the guard said.
"If you came with me," Ki-Gor said simply, "you could live in that place. You could have ten goats and twenty cows and twenty wives."
"Wah!" the Baluba spat on the ground. "You yourself just said that promises are cheap. And even your promises don't approach the ones our Queen makes. Why, after we have conquered Karamzililand, I am to be chief of a whole village! I will have fifty cows and fifty wives!"
Ki-Gor fell silent. Evidently, the elephant boy would be hard to bribe on the basis of mere promises. Perhaps, it would be better after all to attack the man. He arched his back with a groan and twisted his head with a futile gesture.
"I would like to get up on my feet," he complained, "but with my wrists chained behind my back like this, I can't do it alone. Would you help me up?"
"Help yourself," the Baluba grunted. "Roll over on your back and draw your legs up under you."
"Ah, yes, maybe I can do it that way," Ki-Gor said, hiding his disappointment. If the Baluba had done what he asked and come and bent over him, it would have been easy. Now, something else had to be figured out.
He rolled over on his back, as the Baluba had suggested, drew his legs under him and staggered upward. He stood swaying and gasping for a moment. He was considerably weaker than he had realized. He covertly tested his right leg, resting his full weight on it. The pain that shot through his calf was fearful. It was not very encouraging.
However, Ki-Gor decided that whether his leg pained or not, it would hold him up while he swung his left leg in a prodigious kick. He took a step forward uphill toward the guard.
His heart beat a little quicker as he noticed that the Baluba was not even looking at him, but was staring off at something in the distance.
"Hai!" the Baluba exclaimed. "Here they come, I think! They made quick time!"
"Here who come?" Ki-Gor said.
"Our spearmen," the Baluba said, still looking off toward the veldt. "No doubt the Karamzili are in hot pursuit! Wah! They'll walk into the trap like elephants into a pit!"
In spite of himself, Ki-Gor looked over his shoulder. Far off on the veldt, there was a dust cloud rising slowly into the air. Shading his phenomenally keen eyes, Ki-Gor could just make out black specks under the dust cloud. He turned his head back quickly.
"Can you see any of them yet?" he asked the Baluba. The elephant boy shook his head and squinted his eyes toward the horizon. If ever there was a guard vulnerable to attack, it was this one now. Ki-Gor shifted his weight to his right leg, and swept the Baluba with one all-embracing glance. The man seemed to be oblivious of all danger, his right hand carrying the curved sword hanging loosely at his side.
One tremendous kick into the man's stomach would knock his breath out, knock him down-might even knock him unconscious. If he were still conscious, Ki-Gor would kick the sword out of his hand, and swiftly kneel on the man's throat. A swift, resolute attack would prevent the man from making a sound to summon help.
Ki-Gor dug the toes of his aching right leg into the ground to give him a sure purchase. The muscles of his left leg tensed-then his ears caught the sound of rustling undergrowth behind him. He shot a glance over his shoulder-and his heart died within him.
Julebba, accompanied by her seven apes, was coming rapidly toward him.
To attack the Baluba now would be worse than futile. With his hands, chained behind him, he could not possibly fight off so many giant chimpanzees, and besides Julebba would scream for help.
The Baluba boy stepped around him waving his sword in a salute, and Ki-Gor sadly watched Julebba hasten toward them.
"They are coming!" she cried exultantly, "Do you see?"
Ki-Gor nodded wearily, and she smiled triumphantly up into his face.
"In a short time, now," she said, "the fun begins. This, you see, is our first test. Up to now we have only met frontier guards-small groups. But here, finally, we are going to meet a real force. Not a big one, but they outnumber us more than three to one. And you will see! Not one of them will escape!"
Ki-Gor looked off anxiously at the dust cloud. If Julebba, by any mad chance, were right, what would happen to Helene? He wondered whether he should mention the fact that Helene was with Lotoko. Then he dismissed the idea in disgust. Julebba couldn't be right! It was ridiculous.
"You still won't believe me, will you?" Julebba said, eyes narrowed in a derisive smile. "Let me tell you something you don't know-or have forgotten. Those Karamzili are beaten now-already-before they even reach us here. Why? Because they are so completely confused about my strength. They have been told we are few in numbers, and they have been told we number thousands. They don't know which stories to believe. Now, finally, they have caught sight of us-the spearmen. There are only fifty of them. No doubt, Lotoko thinks that is all there are. Think of the shock it will be to him and to his men when-thinking they have penned up a handful of men in this place below-when suddenly they are assaulted on three sides by new forces. They have underestimated us for so long, that when the attack comes, they will overestimate us. It will be a terrible shock."
Ki-Gor knew that there was a great deal in what she said. But Julebba had not finished. She pointed out on to the veldt where Ki-Gor, by now, could make out running black figures quite distinctly.
"They have been running a long time now," she said. "My spearmen retreating and the Karamzili pursuing. They are all going to be out of breath and tired. But only a part of my force' will be tired. The rest will burst forth fresh on the Karamzili."
Ki-Gor essayed an indulgent smile, although he did not feel like smiling.
"You have figured everything very closely, haven't you?" he said. "But have you figured out a way to make Lotoko send his entire army into that little wedge of veldt? He is too good a general to do that. He will send fifty or more men in to chase your fifty. The rest he will hold in readiness."
"Don't fear," Julebba said calmly. "He will send every man he has into the wedge. For one thing, he won't suspect a trap. For another, he will be over-anxious. This is the first time he has seen the mysterious invaders of Queen Julebba-he will strain every nerve to kill or capture them."
"Well," Ki-Gor shrugged. "We'll see what happens soon enough."
His face was blank as he gazed out on to the veldt, but his mind was in a turmoil. This extraordinary women by his side had apparently not overlooked a thing. Her imagination and ability to read human nature, and moreover, her skillful and daring application of that faculty to military problems-was frightening. By now, Ki-Gor was getting genuinely worried that Lotoko and the Karamzili might actually meet the fate that Julebba was so confidently predicting for them. And Helene was with Lotoko!
If there was ever a time that he needed to be free, it was now. And yet, he knew in his heart that escape was completely impossible, as long as he was surrounded by those powerful apes trained to do the bidding of the strange sand beautiful woman who stood next to him.
And now the three Arabs came through the undergrowth toward them, the old Arab who had posed as Julebba's father, and the two younger ones who were supposed to be her brothers. From the conversation that followed Ki-Gor gathered that they each commanded a unit of the little army.
The old Arab spoke in Arabic but Julebba for some reason answered in English.
"No," she said, "Take no prisoners. Wait a minute, though-there should be one man saved. We will release him later to take the news to Dingazi that we have an enormous army. It will seem enormous when we first burst out on them. So do this-take one prisoner as soon as possible and put his eyes out immediately. We'll let him go then and he can tell of his impressions of the Ever-Victorious Army."
She switched back to Arabic then and Ki-Gor could not understand what she said next. But he knew now that he had to tell her about Helene and plead for her life in advance. It would be risky enough to have Helene a captive to this bloodthirsty woman, but it was better than having her killed outright.
The Arabs seemed to have finished the talk with Julebba and were backing away. Ki-Gor took a deep breath and was about to speak to Julebba, when all three Arabs suddenly jumped on him. Manacled as he was, and taken completely by surprise, Ki-Gor could not put up an effective resistance.
But the assault was quickly over, and the Arabs had jumped away from Ki-Gor's thrashing legs before he realized what it was all about. Then the purpose of the attack was demonstrated by the thick, evil-smelling turban cloth that was bound tightly around Ki-Gor's mouth.
"Just in case," Julebba told him calmly, "you tried to shout out to your Karamzili friends and warn them of the ambush."
Ki-Gor's heart sank. He had held that idea in the back of his mind as a last desperate resort. But this woman thought of everything.
"Ah! You look so fierce!" Julebba mocked him. "If your head were covered as well, you would look like one of my Tuareg horsemen."
So the veiled cavalrymen were Tuaregs, Ki-Gor thought dully. He had heard of Tuaregs and knew that they lived on the great deserts far to the north, but he had never seen any before. How they happened to be so far south out of their element was no greater a mystery than was Julebba herself.
But now Julebba's Nigerian spearmen were panting into the wedge, Lotoko's Karamzili shouting triumphantly scarcely three hundred yards behind them. Ki-Gor's eyes strained for a glimpse of Helene somewhere in the black mass of Karamzili, but they were too far away as yet. He still hoped against hope that Lotoko would use common prudence about sending his entire force into the ambush.
But just at that moment, the Nigerian spearmen did some very fine acting. Half way into the wedge, they stopped and looked around them in great agitation as if they had just noticed that they were hemmed in. Then they pretended to decide on a last stand. They closed their ranks and faced the Karamzili with shouts of defiance.
Apparently, Lotoko could not resist that bait. The entire half-impi ranged itself into the solid phalanx which was the basis of Karamzili infantry tactics, and marched resolutely into the wedge.
Ki-Gor groaned behind his gag. Julebba had predicted accurately.
FROM then on the action proceeded like a bad dream exactly as Julebba had planned it. The spearmen, once again acting, fell back right into the tip of the wedge drawing the unsuspecting Karamzili in with them. At the psychological moment-when the Karamzili were all well into the wedge-but still a hundred yards away from the decoying spearmen-Julebba struck.
From the woods on both sides of the Karamzili phalanx there suddenly came a shower of arrows. They were great archers, those men from the Ubangi. Half a dozen volleys poured into the vulnerable Karamzili before they realized what was happening and swung their long shields about to protect them from the unexpected arrow attack on their flanks. By that time, nearly three hundred arrows had poured into the serried masses at point-blank range, and while not every arrow had killed a man, the death toll was fearful.
But the Karamzili wheeled bravely and charged the deadly woods. They were still in overwhelming numbers and apparently with unbroken morale. But now Julebba played her second card-the elephants.
They erupted suddenly from the woods-again on both sides-two on each flank. Each elephant carried on its back a large shallow howdah loaded with fifty-pound rocks. The Baluba boys hurled these rocks down on the defenseless heads of the Karamzili. Behind the elephants, the Ubangi archers streamed out keeping up an incessant shower of fearsome arrows.
As the Karamzili recoiled at the flanks, the Nigerian spearman hurled themselves on the original front rank. The elephants bored bloody pathways through Lotoko's kilted warriors cutting the phalanx in half.
In a very short time the Karamzili were no longer an impi-they were merely a crowd of demoralized individuals. Panic swept through the shattered ranks. With one accord, the Karamzili broke and ran.
Safety seemed to beckon from the open veldt, away from the cramped slaughter of the wedge, and the Karamzili fled with screams of terror away from the wooded slopes.
But now Julebba climaxed her ambush. The Tuaregs poured out of the leafy screen at the apex of the wedge. With curved swords raised high they galloped around the Nigerian spearmen and fell on the doomed Karamzili. Before Ki-Gor's horrified eyes, Julebba, proceeded to demonstrate the truth of the military theory that cavalry is never so dangerous and effective as when it is unleashed in pursuit of an already beaten enemy.
The battle had been so fast and so furious that not until this moment did Ki-Gor's searching eyes finally locate his wife. As the rear ranks dissolved into flight, he saw a tiny white figure left behind. Ki-Gor wondered whether Julebba saw it, too, but he did not dare turn his head to look, for fear he would lose sight of Helene.
Apparently, Helene had not lost her head like the Karamzili. She moved not out toward the veldt but toward the wooded side of the wedge. Ki-Gor, knowing that all of Julebba's men were out in the open now, and that therefore the woods were the safest place, held his breath while Helene threaded her way through the fugitive blacks.
She all but made it.
With sickening horror Ki-Gor saw a single Tuareg horseman bearing down on her when she was only a few yards from the line of trees. In the next few seconds Ki-Gor thanked the fates for providing his wife with a keen mind, an athletic body, and undaunted courage. She apparently heard or saw the Tuareg galloping down on her, and instead of losing her head, she swerved and came to a standstill facing the oncoming horseman. Ki-Gor could just make out the light spear in her hands. She stood perfectly still until the horse seemed to be almost on top of her. Then she sprang to one side and the horse pounded past her. The Tuareg rider, evidently astonished that she had not perished under the hoofs of his steed, reined in sharply and swung the horse around. He must have been further astonished when he found that his prey instead of running away had pursued him. Helene had run swiftly after him, her spear poised in her right hand. While the Tuareg was reining the horse around, Helene reached out and hauled at his left stirrups away, from his sword-hand.
Ki-Gor could hardly believe his eyes as Helene thrust upward twice with her frail spear. But the Tuareg's head jerked backward as if the second thrust might have caught him in the throat. At the same moment, the horse reared up high in the air. The Tuareg brought his sword around and slashed downward wildly. Then, suddenly, he seemed to be sliding back down on to the horse's crupper-apparently he had lost the reins. A split-second later, the Tuareg was down on the ground prostrate, and Helene was hanging on for dear life to the bridle of, the plunging horse.
Julebba, sitting beside Ki-Gor, gave an angry cry.
"That is a white man down there!" she exclaimed. "He has killed one of my Tuaregs!"
She leaped to her feet shouting imprecations. But Ki-Gor did not look at her. He was watching Helene-who had been a fearless rider long before she came to Africa-mount the Tuareg's horse and ride hell-for-leather out toward the veldt and safety.
Julebba screamed at the Baluba boy and sent him scampering down to the field of battle carrying orders from her that the Tuaregs should pursue and capture the mysterious "white man" at all costs. But by the time the Tuareg leader received the orders, Helene was far away and out of sight on the veldt.
Julebba whirled around at Ki-Gor. "Who was that white man?" she demanded. Then she realized that Ki-Gor could not answer her with the great gag tied around his mouth. She whipped out her dagger, knelt down and cut the bandage away. Ki-Gor thus received a few precious seconds to decide on his answer.
"Who was that white man who was with Lotoko?" Julebba repeated grimly.
"It was a woman," Ki-Gor said, guessing that she would probably find that out anyway later. Then he added, "The woman is my wife."
"Your wife!" Julebba screamed. Then she remembered. "Of course!" she said slowly. "The red-headed woman in the leopard skin outfit that was with you at Dutawayo. Well-as soon as we catch her"-Julebba's eyes flashed-"you will no longer have a wife."
"Why?" Ki-Gor said sharply. "Why should you kill a woman who has done you no harm?"
"She killed one of my precious Tuaregs!" Julebba replied hotly. "That's why!"
"You don't know yet that he is dead," Ki-Gor said, and his face was dangerously bleak.
"Well, then, I have a better reason for killing the woman!" Julebba shouted. "No woman shall have you for a husband but me-Julebba, the Conqueror!"
Ki-Gor stared at her aghast. Before he could organize his whirling thoughts enough to make some answer, she spoke with a beckoning sweep of her arm.
"Come! We will speak of this matter later. Now, we will go down the hill. There is much to be done."
Ringed by the giant chimpanzees, Ki-Gor followed Julebba's sinuous figure down the slope. Judging from the rapidly diminishing sounds from the field, the battle was nearly over. And when Ki-Gor reached the foot of the hill, he saw that that was so. A few Tuaregs were still hunting down and killing the last survivors of Lotoko's five hundred stalwart kilted warriors. But groups of Nigerians and Ubangi archers were already searching the field for their own wounded.
Hurree Das had a rough dressing station set up and was hard at work patching up the wounded as they walked or were carried to him. The casualties were preposterously small, considering the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. There were twenty-one wounded in all-seven of them severely-and the dead numbered exactly five. Three Nigerians, one Baluba, and the Tuareg who had ridden down upon Helene. Her spear had caught him in the throat, severing his jugular.
As Ki-Gor looked out over the shambles he marveled that such a holocaust could have been contrived by a beautiful young woman. For a moment, he wondered whether she really was the brain that conceived this brilliant strategy . . . or whether she was a figurehead behind which someone else worked-someone like the old Arab, perhaps. But Ki-Gor's doubts in this direction were soon dispelled by Julebba's own actions.
While the vultures slowly wheeled downward out of the sky, Julebba organized her victory. Her orders were given to and carried out by the three Arabs, and she issued them in Arabic, so Ki-Gor did not understand her words. But he saw how swiftly the Nigerians went among the dead Karamzili gathering up their weapons, and bow another party went around stripping the blue-and-white kilts and feather headdresses off dozens of Lotoko's lately fallen men. The purpose of that latter action Ki-Gor did not quite understand, but he had no doubt Julebba had an excellent one in mind. Then the Baluba boys carried the severely wounded on to the howdahs of the elephants, the Ubangi bowmen were assembled and dispatched up over the hills in a body, and finally the Tuaregs gathered around to form an escort for Julebba herself.
Ki-Gor's manacles were removed, to his great surprise, and he was given a horse to ride beside Julebba. Any sudden hopes of escape that rose in his heart swiftly died, however, as he saw that he would be completely ringed about by Tuaregs. And as the cavalcade moved off, Ki-Gor no longer had the slightest doubt that Julebba herself was the guiding genius of her "Ever-Victorious Army."
The route of the cavalcade led out of the wedge on to the veldt, then turned leftward and bore along the base of the range of hills. They traveled at a moderate pace for about four hours, and Ki-Gor was not surprised when their destination turned out to be the hidden kloof of the night before. Evidently this was the secret rendezvous of the army. What did surprise Ki-Gor was the fact that the Ubangi archers had arrived at the kloof ahead of them. Evidently there was another route into the ravine over the hills-a route too rough for horses and elephants but passable for agile men on foot.
Ki-Gor's mind had been furiously busy during that four-hour ride, and although he arrived at no definite course of action, he had considered a host of ideas, some of which might crystallize into concrete plans with more thought. For one thing, he became interested in the two younger Arabs who rode on either side for the entire distance.
He had not been able to place them in Julebba's scheme of things. They looked enough alike to be brothers, and they looked enough like the old Arab to be his sons. But they did not resemble Julebba, they being typically Arab, swarthy and hook-nosed. Julebba was comparatively pale and her nose was straight and exquisitely beautiful by any standards except possibly those of the Guinea Coast.
Who were the Arabs, then? Ki-Gor asked himself. But then, he sighed, who was Julebba?
He had tried to converse with the young Arabs during the ride, using Swahili. But they had both answered his overtures with such rude grunts and ferocious looks that Ki-Gor did not pursue the attempt. He did not quite understand that enmity. It went beyond the fact of his being a prisoner of war-there was something directly personal in it.
Beyond the clearing in the middle of the kloof, there were three tents hidden away among the trees. The largest and most ornate of these tents was, of course, Julebba's. The other two were alike in size and appearance and were used by the Arabs. About an hour after the arrival in the kloof, the two young Arabs escorted Ki-Gor to the large new tent.
"Sit down," Julebba said. "We are going to talk personally. My Arabs will remain to insure your good behavior, but we will talk English so that they cannot understand what we say."
She flashed a brilliant smile and Ki-Gor tried to keep the bewilderment out of his face. What an unpredictable woman!
"First of all," she said, "you are truly a white man, aren't you? You couldn't possibly be anything else, in spite of the way you are dressed. When did you come to Africa?"
Her tone was one matter-of-fact friendliness. Ki-Gor used the same tone and described his origin, the death of his missionary father in the jungle, and his own self-upbringing.
"Magnificent!" she exclaimed softly when he had finished. "What a husband you will make me! I may even let you be king, instead of just a consort."
Ki-Gor eyed her and said bluntly, "Who are you?"
She smiled indulgently at him and then said, "It is a long story. My father was a white man. He captured and trained wild animals for European circuses, and he spent most of his life in Africa. My mother was a circus performer from Malta, originally. And while the Maltese are considered Europeans, they are actually descended from the ancient Carthaginians. That is why, I say I am a descendant of Hannibal.
"When I was young my mother died, and I lived a tawdry, degrading life traveling with my father in little circuses. Then he took me to Africa with him and I began to live. I had done a lot of reading as a child, and was particularly interested in the life and military campaigns of Hannibal. The first time I saw a tribe of Tuaregs, I thought how irresistible they would be if they were properly led in warfare.
"How I became their leader is not important, but I did it with the help of Mohammed, here"-she indicated the old Arab-"who had been a friend of my father's. I led them down from their desert home and headed southward, skirmishing on the way and learning my art of war. I recruited among a few of the tribes I fought with. The army you see is the result-small, but of marvelous quality.
"By this time, I decided I would not only be a general, but I would be a queen. And rather than spend years carving out a kingdom for myself, I decided to look for an already established realm, and take it over. Karamzililand answered my problem. It is a mighty nation to conquer, but conquered it can be, and I am well on my way to doing it. When Dingazi receives the news of the fate of Lotoko's force, he will be so terrified that his fine army will be useless-he being unable to direct it. Within two weeks-maybe much less-I will be Queen of Karamzilililand."
Ki-Gor kept his face grave and his eyes on Julebba throughout this remarkable recital. But his thoughts were racing, and he was ready for her next gun.
"I thought there could be no greater happiness than being Queen of Karamzililand," she went on, "until I saw you, Ki-Gor. And when that happened, I could look into the future and I could see-that I would be a very lonesome queen, indeed, without you at my side."
Her great eyes seemed to devour him as she said the words. He remained silent, principally because he was not at all sure what he ought to say.
"Well!" she exclaimed. "What have you to say?"
"What can I say?" he said soberly, "Except that I cannot be your husband because I am already married."
"Forget the red-headed woman!" Julebba snapped. "She is as good as dead, already. As soon as my Tuaregs catch her-and they will not fail-I will have her quickly put away. Then you will no longer have a wife and will be free to marry me."
"But suppose," Ki-Gor said gently, "that I don't want my wife to be killed?"
"Ki-Gor, do not make me jealous of the red-headed woman!" she cried wrathfully, "Or-instead of putting her out of the way mercifully, I will have my apes perform the execution!"
An icy chill traveled up Ki-Gor's back, and he had to remind himself that Helene had not been captured yet. But if she were. . . .
"What is the matter with you, Ki-Gor!" Julebba cried in exasperation. "Am I not beautiful? Am I not three times as beautiful as that sunburned savage? Will you not be the husband of a mighty queen if-"
"Wait a minute, O Julebba!" Ki-Gor said diplomatically. "You have given me no chance to say how tempting your offer is-how flattering. And if I were single, I would have a far different answer to make-"
"Then I will make you single!" Julebba shrieked. She suddenly quieted down and gazed calculatingly at Ki-Gor. "Suppose "' she said at length, "I sent her away-suppose I did not kill her-"
Hope surged through Ki-Gor, then, only to be dashed away with Julebba's next words.
"No," she said abruptly, "that wouldn't do. You are still in love with her, I can see that, If she were sent away safe, you would marry me, but you would run away the first chance you got-run away to her. No. The woman must die."
"If she dies," Ki-Gor said stonily, "then guard yourself, Julebba. Because I will surely kill you."
"Oh! You beast!" Julebba screamed, springing to her feet. The three Arabs also sprang up, but she waved them back and stepped over to Ki-Gor. Before he realized what was happening, she had knelt beside him and kissed him full on the mouth. Then she drew back, face contorted with rage, and slapped him hard on the face.
"Go away!" she raged. "Go and think-think hard on what you should do! You will spend the night with Ahmed and Ali. And if you have an idea of escaping"-she flashed a cruel smile-"you may as well forget it. Both of your guards are already furiously jealous of you and would like nothing better than an excuse to kill you. Especially, Ahmed, the older one, because Ahmed would like very much to have the position you are refusing."
As Ki-Gor left Julebba's tent and walked slowly away, he felt two knife points in his back. But he felt no fear of the two Arab brothers. And Julebba's parting shot had the reverse effect on him than she intended, because it crystallized one of the ideas which had been in his head vaguely for the past two hours.
Just after the evening meal, Hurree Das came to Ahmed's tent to change the dressing on Ki-Gor's leg and inspect the wound. The Hindu, for once, was quiet, had very little to say. Whether that was because he was very tired from his work on the wounded, or whether he was terrified of the beetle-browed Ahmed who sat in the tent glaring-Ki-Gor could not say. He peered at the bites on Ki-Gor's leg and murmured:
"Remarkable healing job going on, old fellow. Don't know how you are doing it."
Ki-Gor bent over and looked at his leg and spoke casually-for Ahmed's benefit-as if he were commenting on the wound. "The needle that you used to put me to sleep with-is it in your bag?"
"Yes," Hurree Das replied, "but, gracious! why do you ask?"
"Then, when you leave," Ki-Gor said, "leave the bag behind, as if by accident."
"Oh lordy! What is your intention?"
"I have to escape," Ki-Gor said, still keeping his voice matter-of-fact so that nothing in his tone would arouse the suspicions of Ahmed-who did not understand English.
"Oh! Fearful risk for poor Hindu doctor with no possible pretensions to heroism."
"Nobody will know you had anything to do with me. You simply forget to take your bag with you when you go. I'll do the rest. If you come back very early in the morning, you can be the one who discovers that I have gone and give the alarm."
"Oh! Dearie me!" Hurree Das moaned. "Am frightened like the devil-but I cannot refuse you."
With flying fingers, the Hindu put on a fresh bandage. When he had finished, he tossed the surgical scissors into the bag and stood up.
"Happens to be full load already in syringe," he said in English to Ki-Gor. Then he turned to Ahmed, said a polite goodnight in Swahili, and turned and half, ran out of the tent.
"What was all that talk about, Nasrani?" Ahmed demanded in Swahili.
"We were talking about my leg," Ki-Gor replied.
"The Hindu looked frightened," said Ahmed, suspiciously.
"He was," Ki-Gor agreed. "The leg is not healing rapidly, and he is afraid Queen Julebba will blame him and punish him."
"Wah!" Ahmed said bitterly.
"She is young, your queen," Ki-Gor carried on smoothly. "She has girlish whims."
The Arab glowered at Ki-Gor without answering.
"This whim concerning me, for instance," Ki-Gor went on serenely. "Who am I to have the honor of marrying her? I merit no such wonderful fate."
"If she wants you, she will have you," Ahmed said bitterly.
"It is not right," Ki-Gor said shaking his head. "There is one person who should marry the queen-one person who has earned that right-"
"Who?" snapped Ahmed, leaning forward and whipping a dagger from his girdle. "Who do you think has the right, dog of a Nasrani! Speak! Or by the!"
"Nay! Cool down!" Ki-Gor said goodnaturedly. "The person I speak of is none other than yourself!"
Ahmed glared in silence for a moment. Then he said ominously, "Do you mock me, Nasrani?"
"I do not," Ki-Gor said calmly. "Does she not look with favor upon you, O Ahmed?"
"She did," Ahmed admitted, "but never enough. And now since she has seen you-"
"Wait," Ki-Gor said. "Have you ever tried a love-philter?"
"Aye, a many of them," Ahmed growled, "but they did not help."
"What were they-the kind you drink?"
"What other kind is there?" Ahmed said.
"There is a philter I know of," Ki-Gor said, lowering his voice, "and it never fails. You do not drink it, but instead, you inject it in your veins through a hollow needle."
"I do not believe you," Ahmed said, then added. "Where is such a philter and such a hollow needle?"
"There happens to be one within arm's reach of you," Ki-Gor said. "It is in the bag the Hindu left behind."
Ahmed shot a glance at Hurree Das's bag lying near Ki-Gor.
"Is this a trick to get me within reach of you?" Ahmed demanded.
"Nay, it is no trick-I'll push it over toward you."
A moment later, Ahmed held the hypodermic syringe gingerly in his hands. Ki-Gor explained how it worked.
"How do I know it is not a deadly poison?" Ahmed demanded.
"Would a hakim, a doctor, carry deadly poison in his bag?" Ki-Gor said patiently, and Ahmed was silenced.
"By injecting the philter into your blood," Ki-Gor explained, "you will become so desirable to her that you will be irresistible. She will come to you, possibly, in your dreams. With some persons though, it works more slowly and takes several days to make its effect."
Ahmed put the needlepoint in the crook of his elbow, experimentally, moved it until he felt the vein underneath as Ki-Gor had directed him. Then he threw a terrible look at Ki-Gor.
"There is something wrong here," he accused. "Why should you give her up-a queen, beautiful and mighty-"
"I cannot marry her myself," Ki-Gor explained patiently. "I am already married, and we Christians are only, allowed one wife."
Ahmed stared long and hard at Ki-Gor. Finally he snarled, "Absurd religion!" and pressed the needle into his arm.
A little more than an hour later, Ki-Gor lifted the back flap of the tent and went searching through the pitch-black woods for the back way out of the kloof.
TWENTY hours later, Ki-Gor limped up a little hill, exhausted from lack of sleep and food, and racked with the pain in his right leg. He had not stopped once since he left the kloof in which Julebba's army was hidden. He had pressed ever onward toward Dutawayo, unable to rest until he knew that Helene had not been captured by Julebba's Tuaregs. He had come now about half the distance to Dutawayo, and had seen no sign of her, although he had kept to the route taken by Lotoko's ill-fated expedition. But, he told himself, that was possibly good news, and meant that she had safely gone all the way to Dutawayo.
He had nearly reached the crest of the little ridge he was climbing, when he thought he heard voices in the distance. He stopped a moment to listen, and now if he heard one voice he heard hundreds. He hurried to the top of the hill and stared in amazement.
At a distance of about a half a mile in front of him, there stretched an immense long line of twinkling campfires. There could be nothing less than an army camped there, and a big one. And the only big army in Karamzililand would be a Karamzili army. Ki-Gor ran down the hill, regardless of his aching right leg.
He was recognized at the first campfire and greeted. It seemed to him that the warriors were very quiet, if not actually depressed and fearful.
"Have you seen aught of my wife, the Red Headed One?" he asked immediately.
"We did not see her," was the answer, "but we heard that she rode into the camp early this morning on a horse."
Ki-Gor's heart sang a joyful cadence.
"I must find her quickly," he shouted. "Where would she be?"
"Most likely with King Dingazi," they answered.
"Dingazi!" Ki-Gor exclaimed. "Is he here, then?"
Quickly, he sought out the royal tent, and was immediately received. Relieved and happy as he was at the news about Helene's safety, he was a little shocked by the appearance of Dingazi. The old king looked ten years older, his great shoulders bowed with discouragement, and fear lurking in his bloodshot eyes.
"I did not expect to see you away from Dutawayo," Ki-Gor said.
Dingazi shook his head. "The very day Lotoko left, villagers came to Dutawayo from all sides running away from the great army of invaders. I collected ten impis as fast as I could, but there were delays. And I could not reach Lotoko in time to save him-or try to save him," the old man amended. Then he said, "You heard about what happened to him?"
Ki-Gor said, "I was there when it happened, and saw the whole thing."
"You saw it!" Dingazi cried. "Ah, thank the gods for something. Tell me what happened!"
"Yes," Ki-Gor agreed, "but first of all, where is my wife? I expected to see her with you."
Dingazi raised his head slowly. "When did you see her last?" he demanded.
"During the battle," Ki-Gor said. "She killed a Tuareg and fled on his horse. I didn't know until tonight that she had escaped them."
"She escaped them," Dingazi said. "She came here this morning, thinking you would be with me. When she found you were not, she cried out that you must be a prisoner of Julebba's and she rode away again immediately to look for you."
Ki-Gor felt a great weariness go over him. If she had only stayed! They would now both be safe with this great host of Karamzili. As it was, who knew where she might be? She might even have fallen into the hands of the Tuaregs.
"I was a prisoner of Julebba's," Ki-Gor said with a sigh.
"Hah!" Dingazi exclaimed. "Tell me about her and her monstrous ju-ju army! Ai-ee! I don't know what to do! What will become of my poor people!"
"What do you mean monstrous ju-ju army?" Ki-Gor demanded.
"I asked Helene about the massacre," Dingazi said, "but she said she was in the rear ranks and did not see much until our men were already badly cut up. She said it was an ambush, but she could estimate the number of the enemy. Fortunately, tonight another survivor arrived-one of the impi. He was blinded at the beginning of the fight, but he was in the front rank. He said it was fearful the way the ju-jus poured out of the ambush by the many thousands-horses, elephants, everything!"
"Now, wait a minute, Dingazi," Ki-Gor said soberly. "I spent a day and a night as a prisoner of those jujus,' and I can tell you to a man how many they are, and how, they fight. Listen!"
When Ki-Gor finished his account of Julebba, and her army, and her tactics, and how they prevailed over Lotoko, Dingazi leaned back pop-eyed.
"I-I can't believe it!" he gasped. "A hundred and fifty men did that!"
"And one woman," Ki-Gor added. "And she doesn't need men to fight with, Dingazi-she uses ideas. Her greatest weapon is fear, just think how skillfully she has used that weapon. Here you are with ten thousand of the best fighting men in Africa, and you were afraid to do battle with one hundred and fifty."
"No longer am I afraid," Dingazi said grimly. "The impis will start at dawn. I will send for my commanders now-I want you to tell them how to find this kloof if you can."
"I can," said Ki-Gor. "I can draw a map of those hills by now and they cannot go wrong. But let-your commanders hurry, because I must go as soon as possible to try and find Helene."
"But you can't find her until daylight," Dingazi expostulated. "And then she is on foot. The horse she came on is still here. You can take that. But now you should rest a little and eat a little before you start."
The horse changed matters somewhat and Ki-Gor decided to take Dingazi's suggestion. Food was brought, and while Ki-Gor ate, he discussed with Dingazi and his commanders various plans of action, plans which depended on whether or not Helene was a captive of Queen Julebba. In the meantime, Dingazi had finally convinced himself of the importance of the psychological element in this bizarre crisis. He had sent runners throughout the immense camp repeating Ki-Gor's story, and very soon the depressed and fearful Karamzili left their forebodings behind, and the drums began to beat out loud victory dances.
And when Ki-Gor would have fallen over dead asleep, Dingazi asked him to make a special visit to a certain unit, the five hundred men of the Blue-and-White Impi. The other five hundred of this impi had perished with Lotoko. Ki-Gor told them briefly the story of the ambush, and when he finished a roar came from the warriors and they demanded the right to strike the first avenging blow.
Now, finally, Ki-Gor was allowed to sleep. Three hours sufficed to recoup his strength, however, and he woke up of his own accord with the first rays of a full moon. Dingazi had ordered the horse made ready, and weapons were provided. There were a bow and quiver of arrows, two throwing sticks, and a fine Karamzili assegai.
The camp was still wide-awake as Ki-Gor threaded his way between the campfires. One wide section was empty, the fires down to smoldering embers, indicating that at least one impi had moved out and was padding northward through the moonlight.
Although there was a full seven hours before dawn, Ki-Gor pushed the horse along as fast as he dared. He wanted to get back as soon as possible to the big veldt near the hills in which Julebba lay hiding. He reasoned that if Helene were safe back in the jungle, he could do no harm by getting between her and the secret base of Julebba's army. And if she were captured he might still be in time to intercept her as she was being taken to the kloof.
He had been riding for nearly four hours when he got a scare, reining in the Tuareg horse sharply. He was just leaving the trail when he realized that the dark figures on the trail ahead were the rear guard of one of Dingazi's impis on the march. He walked his horse with the commander of the unit for some distance, and finally, coming to an open run of several hundred moonlit yards, he kicked the horse forward and left the impi behind.
The sun was well on its way to the zenith by the time Ki-Gor came within view of the range of hills which was his ultimate destination. The horse was tired and so was Ki-Gor but he was well content. Two hours before he had caught a glimpse of two horsemen in the distance. They were going disconsolately in the same direction he was. There could be no doubt that they were Tuaregs, and Helene was not with them. He had chuckled to himself, Helene had learned well the ways of the jungle. She was as smart, and resourceful as a Pygmy.
Seeing the Tuaregs empty-handed had almost convinced Ki-Gor that Helene had evaded capture. And unless she had rashly gone up into the range of hills, she should be perfectly safe by now. She might have returned to Dingazi to see whether he-Ki-Gor-had come in. Or she might have caught sight of some of the Karamzili advance guard, who would have told her that he was free.
But just to make doubly sure, Ki-Gor decided to patrol that part of the veldt for a couple of hours before returning to Dingazi, himself. In case Julebba decided to move her little army, Ki-Gor would be there to see and report it.
He dismounted to reduce his visibility and led the horse forward until he was about a mile away from the entrance to kloof. If Julebba's men came out in any numbers he could see them, and he himself would only be a speck on the veldt, He sat down for a while in the shadow of the horse and gazed at the peaceful hills in front of him. Presently, the sun had climbed so high that there was no more shadow except right under the horse's belly. Ki-Gor stood up and glanced behind him.
He grunted with surprise and swiftly mounted the horse. There was a party of men a quarter of a mile away from him out on the veldt, and they were coming straight toward him. He watched them carefully for a moment, then rode toward them. They were spearmen in the gaily-striped kilts of the Blue-and-White Impi.
He had gone hardly a hundred feet toward them, when he gave a glad cry and set his horse at a gallop. Walking in front of the company was Helene!
Just as he had surmised-he told himself exultantly-she had caught sight of them and been told that he was safe. They had made wonderful time, he thought to himself, those men of the Blue-and-White Impi. He tried to remember whether they had still been in the camp when he left there.
Now he was riding full tilt at them, waving his arm gaily at Helene. But she did an odd thing. She held up both arms straight over her head and then gestured toward him with a sort of pushing motion of her hands. It was as if she were telling him to go away. Then he heard her voice.
"No, Ki-Gor!" she shouted. "No!"
The men in the blue-and-white striped kilts on each side of her put black hands over her face. Ki-Gor reined in the galloping horse and the cold sweat started out all over his body.
The men were Julebba's Nigerians dressed in dead men's kilts!
They yelled and brandished their spears as Ki-Gor swung the horse out of spear range to consider the situation. Helene had been fooled by the striped kilts just as he had been just now. She had come out of her safe hiding place and walked right into the arms of the Nigerians, thinking they were Karamzili. But now, what was to be done?
Ki-Gor rode around the party seething. The entire company of Nigerians was there-at least forty-five men. Could he, single-handed, rescue Helene from them? The only way that could be done would be to kill nearly every one of them. How could he do that? Ki-Gor considered his weapons. He had a tremendous advantage with the horse-and with the Karamzili bow. His arrows could outrange their spears. He could circle them on the horse and pick them off one by one with his arrows from a safe distance.
He glanced down at the quiver lashed to the saddle and groaned. The quiver was full, but still there were barely twenty arrows in it. Suppose that every arrow killed a man, there would still be twenty-five stalwart spearmen left after he had shot them all. He had two throwing sticks-they could account for two more. Still, twenty-three men would be left. And twenty-three spearmen of the caliber of these Nigerians would be too many for him to handle-too many, that is, for him to take a prisoner from.
Another thought struck him. While he was attacking them with arrows, what would be happening to Helene? The chances were that the Nigerians would simply kill her in reprisal for their own dead.
No, he regretfully decided, he could not Helene take from them by force. One other tactic suggested itself, but it had only a remote chance of succeeding. That was to ride down on them hard, depending on the weight and momentum of the horse to carry him through to Helene. He would sweep her up on to the saddle and cut his way out. It was a desperate resort, but he decided to try it.
He rode warily around the company, picking the spot to charge. They had dragged Helene into the middle of the group. Possibly they anticipated the very move he was about to make. With a muttered imprecation, Ki-Gor bent low over the horse's neck and banged his heels against the horse's ribs.
Like a bullet the beast shot forward at the shouting mass of Nigerians. But as the horse thundered down on them, they galvanized into action, and flung themselves into a set formation. A dozen men knelt, forming a front rank, and they held their spear butts to the ground, points leaning forward at an angle. Another dozen stood behind in a second rank, and their spears paralleled the front ranks. It was an impregnable defense-the classical maneuver of spear-armed infantry against attacking cavalry, and as old as organized warfare.
Ki-Gor groaned and hauled the head of the speeding horse around. Derisive shouts followed him as he sheered away. He might have known, he told himself, that Julebba would train her men in that formation.
He dragged the horse to a stop and dismounted with a heart of stone. Knowing Julebba's vindictive jealousy and hatred of Helene, he dare not let her be carried into the kloof without him. As long as he could not rescue her by himself, or get help for some time to come-he would go in with her. He would be a helpless prisoner, too, but he would be there to plead, cajole, or threaten Julebba against harming Helene.
"Hai! Brothers!" he called out in Kanuri, holding up his hands so that the Nigerians could see that they were empty. "I will not resist. You had better not kill me, though, because your queen wants me alive."
They came forward warily, but as soon as they were convinced Ki-Gor was playing no trick, the scowls left their faces. They tied his arms without resentment, and even seemed pleased with him for speaking such fluent Kanuri. They chaffed him good-naturedly for being beaten and captured, and boasted of their queen's cleverness in dressing them in the uniform of, the enemy. Most important of all, they let him go straight to his wife.
"Oh, darling!" Helene cried, throwing her arms about his neck, "I guess I ruined everything! I thought maybe you'd fallen into their hands. You didn't come back to Lotoko and me, and you weren't at Dingazi's camp-so I felt I just had to go out and look for you!"
"I know, I know," Ki-Gor said gently. "I was captured, but I got away all right."
"Oh, and now you're captured again!" Helene wailed, "and it's all my stupidity! Why don't I ever learn to trust you to get out of your own difficulties!"
"I wish you had trusted me this time," Ki-Gor said ruefully. "But then, you can't be blamed for thinking these men were Karamzili. I was fooled by their dress, too."
"Come on, Brother," one of the Nigerians said. "We have to get along. You can walk with your woman, if you want. But no tricks, now. We will be watching you. One false move and you're a dead man."
"There is nothing I can do, Brother," Ki-Gor replied good-naturedly, as he and Helene fell into stride. "And speaking of dead men, that's what you'll all be when the Karamzili catch you in those kilts."
"First they have to catch us," the Nigerians laughed. "We will have killed many of them, and be away before they get over their surprise."
"But there is a day of reckoning coming for you," Ki-Gor said. "Did you know there was a great army coming after you? Not just five hundred this time, but thousands upon thousands!"
"Aye, we heard they were coming," the leader of the Nigerians said carelessly. "But they stopped a day's journey away. They were afraid to come farther. It is a rich joke-they think we are ruled by a ju-ju. All we have to do is to make faces at them and they will break and run. We will be in Dutawayo; in three days, you'll see."
Ki-Gor smiled to himself. Evidently the Nigerians had seen none of the Karamzili advance-guard that had been streaming northward from the encampment during the night.
Helene tugged at his arm. "Tell me what's been happening to you," she begged. "How were you captured, and how did you escape?"
Briefly, Ki-Gor outlined his adventures from the time he left her with Lotoko's column until he rejoined her as a captive of the Nigerians.
"And now," he concluded, "we are in a desperate spot. Julebba has sworn she is going to kill you, and I have told her that if she kills you, I will kill her. She doesn't seem to be moved by ordinary considerations-I don't know how to appeal to her to do even the things that are in her interest to do."
"Well, I don't know," Helene said. "I think you handled her pretty well when you were first captured. You said she was on the point of having you killed on the spot."
"I don't think I had much to do with changing her mind, though," Ki-Gor said wearily. "She just seemed to develop a sudden-sudden-love, no, love isn't the word-she doesn't love me-"
"Infatuation," Helene supplied.
"Infatuation, then," Ki-Gor said. "Although, I think it was really that she suddenly realized that I was white. And she, being a white woman, decided that she should have a white husband." He smiled at her.
"My dear," Helene said dryly, "if she'd been coal-black, she would still have wanted you. Don't be so modest. Any girl would want you."
"Well, anyway, that's the situation," Ki-Gor said ignoring his wife's remark. "I don't know just what we're going to do. Wait and see, I suppose. By the time we are taken in front of her, she may have changed her mind about killing you, who knows? But sooner or later, the Karamzili are coming. They will surround the kloof and they'll force their way in, no matter how many of them are killed. Dingazi promised me that. But how soon they can get there, I don't know. We may both be dead before they go, or we may be killed as soon as the attack begins."
Helene walked silently for a few seconds, eyes on the ground. Then she looked up at Ki-Gor.
"Darling, I wouldn't be honest," she said, "if I didn't admit that I've got a dreadful sinking feeling in the stomach. I've faced death before, but I don't ever recall walking in to it-"
"I had to tell you," Ki-Gor said defensively. "You couldn't go in without a little warning-"
"Oh, I don't mean that, darling," Helene responded quickly. "Of course you had to tell me. All I wanted to say was this-it's been nice knowing you, darling-and-and-if we've got to die now, thank God we're together!"
She smiled at her mate, then looked away quickly before he could see the tears roll out of her blue eyes. Characteristically, Ki-Gor scowled ferociously.
"We're not dead, yet, Helene," he growled. "Not yet!"
As Helene looked back at him, she noticed that he was limping slightly.
"Darling!" she cried, "is your leg hurting you terribly?"
"No," he replied calmly, "it doesn't hurt very much. But I want our enemies to think I can hardly walk."
By the time the little company entered the kloof, Ki-Gor was limping so heavily that he had to be supported on each side by a derisive Nigerian.
There was tremendous excitement in the clearing within the kloof when the Nigerians swaggered in with their two prisoners. Their arrival evidently cut short, some ceremony or spectacle of some sort. Julebba was on her throne, her seven apes squatting about on the rocks which formed its pedestal. On the ground in front of her stood Mohammed and his two sons. In front of them a tall thick stake had been driven into the ground, and leaning up against that stake, his wrists lashed to it high above his head, was Hurree Das.
The Hindu's body was bare except for the voluminous dhoti that draped over his legs from his plump waist, and his lemoncolored back was striped with red welts. Evidently, Hurree Das was being punished for something. However, the punishment had not been too severe, because the skin of the back had not been broken.
Julebba shouted some commands. Hurree Das was freed and staggered away to one side, and the Nigerians paraded before the throne with their prisoners.
Julebba's huge eyes rested in silence for a moment, first on Helene and then on Ki-Gor. Finally, her red mouth curved in a cruel smile.
"Greetings, Ki-Gor," she said, her deep voice ironic. "This should show you how useless it is to try to run away from us. You are recaptured' and brought back even before we have finished punishing the stupid dolt who was responsible for your escape."
"If you mean that Hurree Das helped me," Ki-Gor said-he certainly owed this to the Hindu-"you are wrong. He just forgot his bag."
"Oh, I know he didn't intentionally help you," Julebba said contemptuously. "He wouldn't dare. But if he hadn't forgotten his bag, you wouldn't have escaped. But, let's get to more important matters. How far away did you get, Ki-Gor? Did you see your friend Dingazi?"
Ki-Gor hesitated a second, frantically trying to decide what to answer. Finally he said, "Yes."
Julebba's answer was a hearty laugh. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I don't believe you. You didn't have time." She turned to the leader of the Nigerians. "Where did you catch him?" she asked in Kanuri.
Ki-Gor held his breath as the man told her. By a miracle, the Nigerian forgot to mention the horse.
"Very funny, Ki-Gor," Julebba said. "What did you tell Dingazi and what did he tell you?"
"He told me," Ki-Gor said carefully, "that he would surround this place with ten thousand men."
Julebba laughed again. "A pretty bluff, Ki-Gor," she said. "Only I happen to know that Dingazi, after coming half the distance from Dutawayo with an army, stopped dead. Because he and his men were too terrified to come any farther. By now they are probably flying back to Dutawayo. Your bluff won't work, Ki-Gor. You should learn from me never to bluff unless you have some means of backing it up. Now, here is what I propose to do with you. You have refused my heart and hand which I offered you. That hurt me for a moment, but I got over it, I am completely indifferent to you, now. So much so that I wouldn't even trouble myself to kill you in revenge. From now on, I am completely uninterested in you or this redheaded woman whom you seem to be so attached to. You could go your way this minute-if I did not see in you an instrument. I can use you to make a swift and final conquest of the Karamzili. Dingazi is afraid, but he still has thousands of soldiers. He must make them swear fealty to me. To get him to do that, I must have him personally in my power. Dingazi must come here to me. And, you, Ki-Gor, must bring him!"
Again Ki-Gor had to admire the woman's ruthless cunning, her reckless daring. He guessed what was coming next.
"So," Julebba went on, "I am going to turn you loose. You will find Dingazi and you will bring him back to me. You will bring him back alone-he must have no soldiers with him. How you will accomplish that, I don't know. That is your problem. But you are clever, you will find a way. Because your little wife is going to remain here as a hostage. She will be perfectly safe-remember, I have no personal feelings one way or another toward you, now-she will be perfectly safe until you come back with Dingazi alone. If you betray me, if you attempt to rescue her by force-she will be dead long before you can fight your way in here."
"If I fight my way in here," Ki-Gor said evenly, "and find her dead-you will not live long."
"We will not be here, my friend," Julebba said. "You forget there is a back way out of this kloof-a route you have never traveled."
Ki-Gor decided to let her continue to believe that.
"Well then," he said, "suppose I can bring Dingazi here, and you get what you want from him-then what happens to my wife and me?"
"You go free, of course," Julebba said calmly. "I might even make you some sort of reward for your services."
Ki-Gor sank his chin in his collarbone, as if considering the offer. Actually, he was delighted with it. Anything that would gain time was to his advantage, time to allow the Karamzili to surround the kloof in such force that Julebba could not escape. When he could show her that, he could bargain with her. Her life to be spared, if Helene was set free unharmed.
"All right," he said, finally. "I haven't much choice. But to find Dingazi and bring him back will take time-four or five days perhaps. More, perhaps, because I am very lame."
"I will give you three days," Julebba said. "I will lend you a horse. You will start immediately. Ahmed and Ali will ride with you a short distance to see that you go in the right direction. But if I know you right, and I think I do, you will not try any tricks. You are too much in love with your wife."
Helene's face was bloodless as she watched the Nigerians take the ropes off Ki-Gor, and as he came to her and put his arms around her in farewell.
"Ki-Gor!" she whispered in his ear, "What on earth are you going to do now?"
"Don't be afraid," he murmured, "This is good for us-gives us the time we need."
"But-do you think when you come back-you'll-you'll find me alive?"
A cold finger touched Ki-Gor's heart. "Yes," he said. "As long as you are more useful to her alive, you will stay alive."
He was sure that was true, but he nevertheless felt an unpleasant uneasiness as he mounted the horse that was brought up, then.
"Good-bye," he said looking down at Helene, "and be brave." Then he looked up at the throne and said, "Good-bye, O Queen, keep your promises and I'll keep mine. I'll see you in three days-maybe sooner."
He rode in silence out of the kloof, Ahmed on his left side, and Ali on his right. Not until the trio had issued out on to the veldt did anyone speak. Then Ahmed said through clenched teeth, "Do not think for a moment, dog of a Nasrani, that I forgive you your trickery! Do not think that Ahmed ben Mohammed forgives the lying son of a pig who gulled him, with soft words of a philter-!"
Ki-Gor looked at the hateful mask which was Ahmed's face. What was this all about? Were these two Arabs going to try and kill him?
"Oh, do not fear for your miserable life, Nasrani!" Ahmed snarled. "You are safe enough-for the moment. Our beloved queen has ordered it so, and so it shall be. Otherwise I would never be riding with you in peace like this. If I could have my way, you would be on the ground, my knee on your chest, my knife at your throat-"
"Nay, calm yourself, my brother!" exclaimed Ali, on the other side of Ki-Gor. "There is plenty of time for your revenge."
"Aye, there is," Ahmed grumbled, "but it wears hard on a man's pride to delay collecting-"
"You can wait," Ali said soothingly. "After all, there is a terrible revenge already taking pl-"
"Silence! You fool!" Ahmed shouted. And Ki-Gor's blood froze.
"I-I-mean," young Ali stammered.
"You have said enough!" Ahmed stormed.
By sheer will power, Ki-Gor kept his face composed, as if he had not understood Ali, at all. But the two Arabs stared at him with embarrassment and suspicion. Ki-Gor assumed a mildly puzzled frown.
"What do you mean?" he said finally, as if he had not the remotest idea of Ali's involuntary revelation. "What revenge?"
Now Ahmed had a story ready. "Revenge on you, Nasrani! Your friend the Hindu hakim is just about now being thrown to the apes!"
Ki-Gor stared incredulously, then laughed out loud. "My friend!" he shouted, then laughed again. "What typical Muslim stupidity! The Hindu is no friend of mine! Why he couldn't even heal my wound properly!"
He laughed some more to cover up the furious workings of his brain. The covert, malicious smile on Ahmed's thin face was unnecessary confirmation of that which he was already convinced of. That somebody was being thrown to the apes, but that that somebody was not Hurree Das.
It was Helene!
"Wow!" Ki-Gor yelled, reining in his horse. "My leg! I hope the apes do a good job on that fool of a hakim I Here, I have to stop a moment and rest this leg."
Then he acted.
He drew his bandaged right leg up double, putting his foot on the saddle. Then, before Ahmed realized what was happening, he had disengaged his other foot from the stirrup and sprung from the horse. He went through the air like a panther, hit Ahmed shoulder-high, and in the same breath wrenched the scimitar out of his right hand. His momentum carried him across the back of Ahmed's horse. He landed lightly on the ground on his feet beside the screaming Arab who was hanging head down out of the saddle.
One ruthless blow of the scimitar nearly decapitated Ahmed. The frightened horse plunged away dragging its bloody burden. Ki-Gor, not wasting a motion, bounded straight at the shrieking younger brother. And even though Ali had some warning, he was helpless against the murderous assault by the jungle man.
It was the matter of a moment to strip Ali's bloody robe and headdress off and hastily throw them over himself. Then still grasping the scimitar, he caught the nearest horse and started back for the kloof at full gallop.
Would he be in time? The agonizing question asked itself over and over again in his tortured brain as the horse pounded over the two miles that separated him from the kloof. Gradually, his mind cleared a little, and he asked himself what he would do if he were in time. A sweeping glance of the horizon showed no evidence of the Karamzili being near enough. It was still early to expect them, he admitted with an inward groan. And yet the impis had been on their way since midnight, and they were burning for revenge, hastening to the kill. There was the remote possibility that the advance guard had circled northward to come down the back way into the kloof. But that was a hope Ki-Gor hardly dared to entertain. For a while at least, he was on his own. He would have to save Helene-if she still lived-singlehanded.
He blamed himself endlessly for falling into Julebba's trap so easily. He should have been instantly suspicious, he told himself, of her airy renouncement of interest in him. It was out of character. He should have known that she would wreak a terrible revenge on Helene the moment he had gone.
He was nearing the entrance to the kloof now, and he still had no concrete plan of action. But the vague impulse which had prompted him to put on the Arab burnoose and turban suddenly pointed to an impromptu course of action. As he thundered toward the narrow leafy gateway, he began shouting in Haussa to the unseen Ubangi sentinels in the trees.
"The Karamzili!" he yelled, as if panicstricken. "All is lost! The Karamzili are coming! Thousands upon thousands of them! All is lost! Save yourselves!"
Without slackening pace, he plunged down the path toward the clearing still shouting his warning of a fictitious enemy at his heels. As he burst into the clearing, a fearsome, bloodstained apparition, he saw that he was barely in time.
Helene was tied to the stake in front of the throne, tied by her wrists above her head, the way Hurree Das had been. But she was facing outward, her back to the stake, and staring with horror and loathing at the two black apes who stood in front of her. The other five hairy creatures were crouched on the rock pedestal below Julebba's throne. By their attitudes, they expected soon to join their fellows around the stake, around that fair, tender body. . . .
When Ki-Gor first appeared, Julebba and her men were too shocked and astounded to move. The clearing was a small one, and the galloping horse carried Ki-Gor across it to Helene in a few seconds. The chimpanzees nearest Helene dodged chattering away from the horse's flying hoof s. Ki-Gor sprang from the horse's back, his bloodstained burns flying. He hit the ground just behind one of the scrambling apes. Down flashed the scimitar on the flat, brutish head. Ki-Gor snarled with pure unleashed rage as he felt ft blade bite into the hard skull-felt it snap off at the hilt under the terrific impact of the blow. He flung useless hilt aside and whirled to meet next brute.
Through a red haze he saw the other five shambling down toward him, he Julebba's piercing shriek, heard the confused babble of her army. Instinctively, he shucked off the loose burns and the headdress. The nearest ape was charging him now. Ki-Gor flung the burnoose fun at him, then leaped after the burnoose. The ape struggled in the folds of the robe-struggled only a few seconds, though. Ki-Gor leaped over him, launching a furious kick as he did so, and the ape collapsed quivering.
Through a red haze Ki-Gor saw five huge chimpanzees scuttling toward him, jaws a-slaver. Without hesitation, he swept down upon the nearest one, seized an arm and a leg, and swept the chattering, snapping beast high in the air over his head. Then he flung him squarely at the next nearest ape. Like a cat that tosses a mouse in the air and then runs after it, Ki-Gor was on the ape again. Seizing a limp black arm, he danced backward, raising the squealing beast off the ground. Then he began to whirl the heavy, black body around his head by that one arm.
Ki-Gor roared his defiance and hardly realized he did it. Three chimpanzees charged him in a body now, and the broken half-dead carcass that was whirling over Ki-Gor's head went crashing into them. He pounced on one of them, lifted it by its short legs, dashed its brains out on thepedestal of Julebba's throne.
All this time, there had been a mounting roar in the kloof, but Ki-Gor had had eyes only for apes. He whirled now, looking for the next one to tackle. Just as he did, something prodigiously heavy hit him on the back of a shoulder. He stumbled forward, nearly fell down, with a biting, clawing brute trying to reach his throat. Ki-Gor jabbed his right fist back over his left shoulder, caught the brute just under the round black ear. Then, seizing a hairy wrist, he hauled the stunned ape off his shoulder, and hurled him to the ground.
One more ape remained on its feet. He been knocked down when Ki-Gor threw the body of one of his fellows at him. He stood now ten feet from Ki-Gor chattering with terror. The jungle man took one step toward him, and the ape wheeled and ran away like the wind.
Ki-Gor shook the red haze out of his head and looked around him. An extraordinary silence hung over the clearing. He saw that his mad combats had carried him far to one side away from the throne and the stake that Helene was still tied to. Standing a safe distance away a mixed mob of Balubas, Nigerians, and Ubangi archers gazed at him in awestricken silence.
The silence was broken by Julebba.
"Cowards!" she screamed. "Craven wretches! Catch that man and kill him!"
Ki-Gor looked back at her. Beyond her, far beyond her, by the tents among the trees, something moved.
"It is too late, O Julebba!" he cried. "Your murderous career is over!"
But Julebba did not even bear him. She was climbing down from the throne, mouthing imprecations, and brandishing her royal spear. Still screaming, she leaped to the ground and sped straight toward the helpless figure of Helene tied to the stake. Ki-Gor was a split-second late divining her intention. And when he started running, he was afraid he would be too late to prevent the mad queen from running Helene through with the spear.
Then from nowhere appeared the paunchy figure of Hurree Das. He was still naked to his loincloth, and his round face shook with terror. But he stood squarely in Julebba's path. In his right hand a metal cylinder gleamed.
Julebba tried to swerve around the Hindu. But he shot out a pudgy hand, seized her accurately by one elbow. There was a quick struggle, then Julebba flung away, screaming and holding her elbow.
Ki-Gor reached Helene's side, looked back at the advancing mob of Julebba's men-and prepared to die. Then he threw a glance over his shoulder to the other end of the clearing where the tents stood among the trees.
"Hurree Das!" Ki-Gor shouted, "come over to me quickly and get out of the way! The Karamzili are here!"
Like a horde of dark avenging angels, the kilted warriors of Dingazi poured into the clearing from the back way. Without a shout or any clamor of any kind, they padded down silently for the kill. The Ever-Victorious Army recoiled, then broke and ran for the narrow path leading out of the kloof. They well knew the revenge the Karamzili would take. But they did not know that there were more kilted warriors waiting impatiently for them.
The Karamzili slew quietly and purposefully. They were a mighty fighting race, and they were avenging the blow to their pride as well as the death of their comrades who had marched with Lotoko. And here the tables were exactly turned. Here, the Ever-Victorious Army was demoralized, showing that the best discipline in the world can be cracked by shock and surprise. A few of the Nigerians attempted to organize a defense, but they were too few and were soon swept away in the tidal wave of blood. The Tuaregs rode around in a panic until they were swallowed up in the black mass of Karamzili. The Balubas and the bowmen from the Ubangi fled in all directions.
Less than a half-hour after the first kilted warrior had entered the kloof, the last of Julebba's men was hunted out of a tree and dispatched. Julebba was dead, too, but she had died from the deadly poison in Hurree Das' hypodermic needle.
The plump doctor was still trembling three hours later. Dingazi had just arrived with his main army, disgusted because they had not been in time to participate in the triumph of the advance guard. But a camp was promptly set up out on the veldt, and a victory feast was promised as soon as some food could be brought up.
"Oh, dearie me!" said Hurree Das. "Am not at all positive I can eat any food for some time to come!"
"By the time the food is ready," Ki-Gor smiled, "I think you'll be hungry."
"Oh, but you don't seem to realize!" the Hindu said. "This is positively first time I ever intentionally killed anybody.
"Any doctor may 'lose a patient,' don't you know? But, here I simply walked up to a poor woman and did her in!"
"I wouldn't call her a poor woman," Helene said with a reminiscent shiver.
"No, no," the Hindu said. "That, I'm granting you, is most horrible inaccuracy. More correctly let us denominate homicidal maniac. No, what is so remarkable is simply that I, Hurree Das, a Gujerati Brahmin, should be elected as Instrument of Fate. I-whose ancestors were vegetarian and who never killed so much as a chicken in four thousand years!"
"Incidentally," said Helene, "what was the poison you used in the syringe?"
"Vegetable poison distilled from plant of Genus Strychnos," said the doctor. "Same like Pygmies use on their arrows-exactly same."
"For heaven's sake!" Helene exclaimed. "That is extraordinary!"
"How so, dear lady?" Hurree Das inquired.
"Why, before Ki-Gor and I had ever heard of Julebba-or even knew that Dingazi was in trouble, we were talking about coming up to pay you a visit."
"Delighted, I'm sure," said Hurree Das. "What was occasion of such conversation?"
"I had just missed being hit accidentally by one of the Pygmy's arrows. I was simply terrified, because if I had been hit, I wouldn't have known what to use for an antidote. What is the antidote, Hurree Das?"
"Absolutely and positively no antidote," Hurree Das said cheerfully. "It is most marvelous poison."
"Ki-Gor!" Helene looked around her brows at her huge mate. "Do you think you can make the Pygmies stop using poisoned arrows around us?"
Ki-Gor sighed and nodded. He did not relish the idea. Ngeeso had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, and Ki-Gor would rather battle the Ever-Victorious Army single-handed than have a battle of words with Ngeeso, who was three feet, eleven inches tall.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia