Pulp Heroes: KI-GOR - TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, Chapter 2
TIGRESS OF T'WANBI
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.