Pulp Heroes: KI-GOR - TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, Chapter 3

NovelTIGRESS OF T'WANBI

Chapter 3
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?

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