Pulp Heroes: KI-GOR - TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, Chapter 4
TIGRESS OF T'WANBI
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.