Pulp Heroes: KI-GOR - TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, Chapter 5
TIGRESS OF T'WANBI
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.