Pulp Heroes: KI-GOR - TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, Chapter 6
TIGRESS OF T'WANBI
He had nearly reached the crest of the little ridge he was climbing, when he thought he heard voices in the distance. He stopped a moment to listen, and now if he heard one voice he heard hundreds. He hurried to the top of the hill and stared in amazement.
At a distance of about a half a mile in front of him, there stretched an immense long line of twinkling campfires. There could be nothing less than an army camped there, and a big one. And the only big army in Karamzililand would be a Karamzili army. Ki-Gor ran down the hill, regardless of his aching right leg.
He was recognized at the first campfire and greeted. It seemed to him that the warriors were very quiet, if not actually depressed and fearful.
"Have you seen aught of my wife, the Red Headed One?" he asked immediately.
"We did not see her," was the answer, "but we heard that she rode into the camp early this morning on a horse."
Ki-Gor's heart sang a joyful cadence.
"I must find her quickly," he shouted. "Where would she be?"
"Most likely with King Dingazi," they answered.
"Dingazi!" Ki-Gor exclaimed. "Is he here, then?"
Quickly, he sought out the royal tent, and was immediately received. Relieved and happy as he was at the news about Helene's safety, he was a little shocked by the appearance of Dingazi. The old king looked ten years older, his great shoulders bowed with discouragement, and fear lurking in his bloodshot eyes.
"I did not expect to see you away from Dutawayo," Ki-Gor said.
Dingazi shook his head. "The very day Lotoko left, villagers came to Dutawayo from all sides running away from the great army of invaders. I collected ten impis as fast as I could, but there were delays. And I could not reach Lotoko in time to save him-or try to save him," the old man amended. Then he said, "You heard about what happened to him?"
Ki-Gor said, "I was there when it happened, and saw the whole thing."
"You saw it!" Dingazi cried. "Ah, thank the gods for something. Tell me what happened!"
"Yes," Ki-Gor agreed, "but first of all, where is my wife? I expected to see her with you."
Dingazi raised his head slowly. "When did you see her last?" he demanded.
"During the battle," Ki-Gor said. "She killed a Tuareg and fled on his horse. I didn't know until tonight that she had escaped them."
"She escaped them," Dingazi said. "She came here this morning, thinking you would be with me. When she found you were not, she cried out that you must be a prisoner of Julebba's and she rode away again immediately to look for you."
Ki-Gor felt a great weariness go over him. If she had only stayed! They would now both be safe with this great host of Karamzili. As it was, who knew where she might be? She might even have fallen into the hands of the Tuaregs.
"I was a prisoner of Julebba's," Ki-Gor said with a sigh.
"Hah!" Dingazi exclaimed. "Tell me about her and her monstrous ju-ju army! Ai-ee! I don't know what to do! What will become of my poor people!"
"What do you mean monstrous ju-ju army?" Ki-Gor demanded.
"I asked Helene about the massacre," Dingazi said, "but she said she was in the rear ranks and did not see much until our men were already badly cut up. She said it was an ambush, but she could estimate the number of the enemy. Fortunately, tonight another survivor arrived-one of the impi. He was blinded at the beginning of the fight, but he was in the front rank. He said it was fearful the way the ju-jus poured out of the ambush by the many thousands-horses, elephants, everything!"
"Now, wait a minute, Dingazi," Ki-Gor said soberly. "I spent a day and a night as a prisoner of those jujus,' and I can tell you to a man how many they are, and how, they fight. Listen!"
When Ki-Gor finished his account of Julebba, and her army, and her tactics, and how they prevailed over Lotoko, Dingazi leaned back pop-eyed.
"I-I can't believe it!" he gasped. "A hundred and fifty men did that!"
"And one woman," Ki-Gor added. "And she doesn't need men to fight with, Dingazi-she uses ideas. Her greatest weapon is fear, just think how skillfully she has used that weapon. Here you are with ten thousand of the best fighting men in Africa, and you were afraid to do battle with one hundred and fifty."
"No longer am I afraid," Dingazi said grimly. "The impis will start at dawn. I will send for my commanders now-I want you to tell them how to find this kloof if you can."
"I can," said Ki-Gor. "I can draw a map of those hills by now and they cannot go wrong. But let-your commanders hurry, because I must go as soon as possible to try and find Helene."
"But you can't find her until daylight," Dingazi expostulated. "And then she is on foot. The horse she came on is still here. You can take that. But now you should rest a little and eat a little before you start."
The horse changed matters somewhat and Ki-Gor decided to take Dingazi's suggestion. Food was brought, and while Ki-Gor ate, he discussed with Dingazi and his commanders various plans of action, plans which depended on whether or not Helene was a captive of Queen Julebba. In the meantime, Dingazi had finally convinced himself of the importance of the psychological element in this bizarre crisis. He had sent runners throughout the immense camp repeating Ki-Gor's story, and very soon the depressed and fearful Karamzili left their forebodings behind, and the drums began to beat out loud victory dances.
And when Ki-Gor would have fallen over dead asleep, Dingazi asked him to make a special visit to a certain unit, the five hundred men of the Blue-and-White Impi. The other five hundred of this impi had perished with Lotoko. Ki-Gor told them briefly the story of the ambush, and when he finished a roar came from the warriors and they demanded the right to strike the first avenging blow.
Now, finally, Ki-Gor was allowed to sleep. Three hours sufficed to recoup his strength, however, and he woke up of his own accord with the first rays of a full moon. Dingazi had ordered the horse made ready, and weapons were provided. There were a bow and quiver of arrows, two throwing sticks, and a fine Karamzili assegai.
The camp was still wide-awake as Ki-Gor threaded his way between the campfires. One wide section was empty, the fires down to smoldering embers, indicating that at least one impi had moved out and was padding northward through the moonlight.
Although there was a full seven hours before dawn, Ki-Gor pushed the horse along as fast as he dared. He wanted to get back as soon as possible to the big veldt near the hills in which Julebba lay hiding. He reasoned that if Helene were safe back in the jungle, he could do no harm by getting between her and the secret base of Julebba's army. And if she were captured he might still be in time to intercept her as she was being taken to the kloof.
He had been riding for nearly four hours when he got a scare, reining in the Tuareg horse sharply. He was just leaving the trail when he realized that the dark figures on the trail ahead were the rear guard of one of Dingazi's impis on the march. He walked his horse with the commander of the unit for some distance, and finally, coming to an open run of several hundred moonlit yards, he kicked the horse forward and left the impi behind.
The sun was well on its way to the zenith by the time Ki-Gor came within view of the range of hills which was his ultimate destination. The horse was tired and so was Ki-Gor but he was well content. Two hours before he had caught a glimpse of two horsemen in the distance. They were going disconsolately in the same direction he was. There could be no doubt that they were Tuaregs, and Helene was not with them. He had chuckled to himself, Helene had learned well the ways of the jungle. She was as smart, and resourceful as a Pygmy.
Seeing the Tuaregs empty-handed had almost convinced Ki-Gor that Helene had evaded capture. And unless she had rashly gone up into the range of hills, she should be perfectly safe by now. She might have returned to Dingazi to see whether he-Ki-Gor-had come in. Or she might have caught sight of some of the Karamzili advance guard, who would have told her that he was free.
But just to make doubly sure, Ki-Gor decided to patrol that part of the veldt for a couple of hours before returning to Dingazi, himself. In case Julebba decided to move her little army, Ki-Gor would be there to see and report it.
He dismounted to reduce his visibility and led the horse forward until he was about a mile away from the entrance to kloof. If Julebba's men came out in any numbers he could see them, and he himself would only be a speck on the veldt, He sat down for a while in the shadow of the horse and gazed at the peaceful hills in front of him. Presently, the sun had climbed so high that there was no more shadow except right under the horse's belly. Ki-Gor stood up and glanced behind him.
He grunted with surprise and swiftly mounted the horse. There was a party of men a quarter of a mile away from him out on the veldt, and they were coming straight toward him. He watched them carefully for a moment, then rode toward them. They were spearmen in the gaily-striped kilts of the Blue-and-White Impi.
He had gone hardly a hundred feet toward them, when he gave a glad cry and set his horse at a gallop. Walking in front of the company was Helene!
Just as he had surmised-he told himself exultantly-she had caught sight of them and been told that he was safe. They had made wonderful time, he thought to himself, those men of the Blue-and-White Impi. He tried to remember whether they had still been in the camp when he left there.
Now he was riding full tilt at them, waving his arm gaily at Helene. But she did an odd thing. She held up both arms straight over her head and then gestured toward him with a sort of pushing motion of her hands. It was as if she were telling him to go away. Then he heard her voice.
"No, Ki-Gor!" she shouted. "No!"
The men in the blue-and-white striped kilts on each side of her put black hands over her face. Ki-Gor reined in the galloping horse and the cold sweat started out all over his body.
The men were Julebba's Nigerians dressed in dead men's kilts!
They yelled and brandished their spears as Ki-Gor swung the horse out of spear range to consider the situation. Helene had been fooled by the striped kilts just as he had been just now. She had come out of her safe hiding place and walked right into the arms of the Nigerians, thinking they were Karamzili. But now, what was to be done?
Ki-Gor rode around the party seething. The entire company of Nigerians was there-at least forty-five men. Could he, single-handed, rescue Helene from them? The only way that could be done would be to kill nearly every one of them. How could he do that? Ki-Gor considered his weapons. He had a tremendous advantage with the horse-and with the Karamzili bow. His arrows could outrange their spears. He could circle them on the horse and pick them off one by one with his arrows from a safe distance.
He glanced down at the quiver lashed to the saddle and groaned. The quiver was full, but still there were barely twenty arrows in it. Suppose that every arrow killed a man, there would still be twenty-five stalwart spearmen left after he had shot them all. He had two throwing sticks-they could account for two more. Still, twenty-three men would be left. And twenty-three spearmen of the caliber of these Nigerians would be too many for him to handle-too many, that is, for him to take a prisoner from.
Another thought struck him. While he was attacking them with arrows, what would be happening to Helene? The chances were that the Nigerians would simply kill her in reprisal for their own dead.
No, he regretfully decided, he could not Helene take from them by force. One other tactic suggested itself, but it had only a remote chance of succeeding. That was to ride down on them hard, depending on the weight and momentum of the horse to carry him through to Helene. He would sweep her up on to the saddle and cut his way out. It was a desperate resort, but he decided to try it.
He rode warily around the company, picking the spot to charge. They had dragged Helene into the middle of the group. Possibly they anticipated the very move he was about to make. With a muttered imprecation, Ki-Gor bent low over the horse's neck and banged his heels against the horse's ribs.
Like a bullet the beast shot forward at the shouting mass of Nigerians. But as the horse thundered down on them, they galvanized into action, and flung themselves into a set formation. A dozen men knelt, forming a front rank, and they held their spear butts to the ground, points leaning forward at an angle. Another dozen stood behind in a second rank, and their spears paralleled the front ranks. It was an impregnable defense-the classical maneuver of spear-armed infantry against attacking cavalry, and as old as organized warfare.
Ki-Gor groaned and hauled the head of the speeding horse around. Derisive shouts followed him as he sheered away. He might have known, he told himself, that Julebba would train her men in that formation.
He dragged the horse to a stop and dismounted with a heart of stone. Knowing Julebba's vindictive jealousy and hatred of Helene, he dare not let her be carried into the kloof without him. As long as he could not rescue her by himself, or get help for some time to come-he would go in with her. He would be a helpless prisoner, too, but he would be there to plead, cajole, or threaten Julebba against harming Helene.
"Hai! Brothers!" he called out in Kanuri, holding up his hands so that the Nigerians could see that they were empty. "I will not resist. You had better not kill me, though, because your queen wants me alive."
They came forward warily, but as soon as they were convinced Ki-Gor was playing no trick, the scowls left their faces. They tied his arms without resentment, and even seemed pleased with him for speaking such fluent Kanuri. They chaffed him good-naturedly for being beaten and captured, and boasted of their queen's cleverness in dressing them in the uniform of, the enemy. Most important of all, they let him go straight to his wife.
"Oh, darling!" Helene cried, throwing her arms about his neck, "I guess I ruined everything! I thought maybe you'd fallen into their hands. You didn't come back to Lotoko and me, and you weren't at Dingazi's camp-so I felt I just had to go out and look for you!"
"I know, I know," Ki-Gor said gently. "I was captured, but I got away all right."
"Oh, and now you're captured again!" Helene wailed, "and it's all my stupidity! Why don't I ever learn to trust you to get out of your own difficulties!"
"I wish you had trusted me this time," Ki-Gor said ruefully. "But then, you can't be blamed for thinking these men were Karamzili. I was fooled by their dress, too."
"Come on, Brother," one of the Nigerians said. "We have to get along. You can walk with your woman, if you want. But no tricks, now. We will be watching you. One false move and you're a dead man."
"There is nothing I can do, Brother," Ki-Gor replied good-naturedly, as he and Helene fell into stride. "And speaking of dead men, that's what you'll all be when the Karamzili catch you in those kilts."
"First they have to catch us," the Nigerians laughed. "We will have killed many of them, and be away before they get over their surprise."
"But there is a day of reckoning coming for you," Ki-Gor said. "Did you know there was a great army coming after you? Not just five hundred this time, but thousands upon thousands!"
"Aye, we heard they were coming," the leader of the Nigerians said carelessly. "But they stopped a day's journey away. They were afraid to come farther. It is a rich joke-they think we are ruled by a ju-ju. All we have to do is to make faces at them and they will break and run. We will be in Dutawayo; in three days, you'll see."
Ki-Gor smiled to himself. Evidently the Nigerians had seen none of the Karamzili advance-guard that had been streaming northward from the encampment during the night.
Helene tugged at his arm. "Tell me what's been happening to you," she begged. "How were you captured, and how did you escape?"
Briefly, Ki-Gor outlined his adventures from the time he left her with Lotoko's column until he rejoined her as a captive of the Nigerians.
"And now," he concluded, "we are in a desperate spot. Julebba has sworn she is going to kill you, and I have told her that if she kills you, I will kill her. She doesn't seem to be moved by ordinary considerations-I don't know how to appeal to her to do even the things that are in her interest to do."
"Well, I don't know," Helene said. "I think you handled her pretty well when you were first captured. You said she was on the point of having you killed on the spot."
"I don't think I had much to do with changing her mind, though," Ki-Gor said wearily. "She just seemed to develop a sudden-sudden-love, no, love isn't the word-she doesn't love me-"
"Infatuation," Helene supplied.
"Infatuation, then," Ki-Gor said. "Although, I think it was really that she suddenly realized that I was white. And she, being a white woman, decided that she should have a white husband." He smiled at her.
"My dear," Helene said dryly, "if she'd been coal-black, she would still have wanted you. Don't be so modest. Any girl would want you."
"Well, anyway, that's the situation," Ki-Gor said ignoring his wife's remark. "I don't know just what we're going to do. Wait and see, I suppose. By the time we are taken in front of her, she may have changed her mind about killing you, who knows? But sooner or later, the Karamzili are coming. They will surround the kloof and they'll force their way in, no matter how many of them are killed. Dingazi promised me that. But how soon they can get there, I don't know. We may both be dead before they go, or we may be killed as soon as the attack begins."
Helene walked silently for a few seconds, eyes on the ground. Then she looked up at Ki-Gor.
"Darling, I wouldn't be honest," she said, "if I didn't admit that I've got a dreadful sinking feeling in the stomach. I've faced death before, but I don't ever recall walking in to it-"
"I had to tell you," Ki-Gor said defensively. "You couldn't go in without a little warning-"
"Oh, I don't mean that, darling," Helene responded quickly. "Of course you had to tell me. All I wanted to say was this-it's been nice knowing you, darling-and-and-if we've got to die now, thank God we're together!"
She smiled at her mate, then looked away quickly before he could see the tears roll out of her blue eyes. Characteristically, Ki-Gor scowled ferociously.
"We're not dead, yet, Helene," he growled. "Not yet!"
As Helene looked back at him, she noticed that he was limping slightly.
"Darling!" she cried, "is your leg hurting you terribly?"
"No," he replied calmly, "it doesn't hurt very much. But I want our enemies to think I can hardly walk."
By the time the little company entered the kloof, Ki-Gor was limping so heavily that he had to be supported on each side by a derisive Nigerian.
There was tremendous excitement in the clearing within the kloof when the Nigerians swaggered in with their two prisoners. Their arrival evidently cut short, some ceremony or spectacle of some sort. Julebba was on her throne, her seven apes squatting about on the rocks which formed its pedestal. On the ground in front of her stood Mohammed and his two sons. In front of them a tall thick stake had been driven into the ground, and leaning up against that stake, his wrists lashed to it high above his head, was Hurree Das.
The Hindu's body was bare except for the voluminous dhoti that draped over his legs from his plump waist, and his lemoncolored back was striped with red welts. Evidently, Hurree Das was being punished for something. However, the punishment had not been too severe, because the skin of the back had not been broken.
Julebba shouted some commands. Hurree Das was freed and staggered away to one side, and the Nigerians paraded before the throne with their prisoners.
Julebba's huge eyes rested in silence for a moment, first on Helene and then on Ki-Gor. Finally, her red mouth curved in a cruel smile.
"Greetings, Ki-Gor," she said, her deep voice ironic. "This should show you how useless it is to try to run away from us. You are recaptured' and brought back even before we have finished punishing the stupid dolt who was responsible for your escape."
"If you mean that Hurree Das helped me," Ki-Gor said-he certainly owed this to the Hindu-"you are wrong. He just forgot his bag."
"Oh, I know he didn't intentionally help you," Julebba said contemptuously. "He wouldn't dare. But if he hadn't forgotten his bag, you wouldn't have escaped. But, let's get to more important matters. How far away did you get, Ki-Gor? Did you see your friend Dingazi?"
Ki-Gor hesitated a second, frantically trying to decide what to answer. Finally he said, "Yes."
Julebba's answer was a hearty laugh. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I don't believe you. You didn't have time." She turned to the leader of the Nigerians. "Where did you catch him?" she asked in Kanuri.
Ki-Gor held his breath as the man told her. By a miracle, the Nigerian forgot to mention the horse.
"Very funny, Ki-Gor," Julebba said. "What did you tell Dingazi and what did he tell you?"
"He told me," Ki-Gor said carefully, "that he would surround this place with ten thousand men."
Julebba laughed again. "A pretty bluff, Ki-Gor," she said. "Only I happen to know that Dingazi, after coming half the distance from Dutawayo with an army, stopped dead. Because he and his men were too terrified to come any farther. By now they are probably flying back to Dutawayo. Your bluff won't work, Ki-Gor. You should learn from me never to bluff unless you have some means of backing it up. Now, here is what I propose to do with you. You have refused my heart and hand which I offered you. That hurt me for a moment, but I got over it, I am completely indifferent to you, now. So much so that I wouldn't even trouble myself to kill you in revenge. From now on, I am completely uninterested in you or this redheaded woman whom you seem to be so attached to. You could go your way this minute-if I did not see in you an instrument. I can use you to make a swift and final conquest of the Karamzili. Dingazi is afraid, but he still has thousands of soldiers. He must make them swear fealty to me. To get him to do that, I must have him personally in my power. Dingazi must come here to me. And, you, Ki-Gor, must bring him!"
Again Ki-Gor had to admire the woman's ruthless cunning, her reckless daring. He guessed what was coming next.
"So," Julebba went on, "I am going to turn you loose. You will find Dingazi and you will bring him back to me. You will bring him back alone-he must have no soldiers with him. How you will accomplish that, I don't know. That is your problem. But you are clever, you will find a way. Because your little wife is going to remain here as a hostage. She will be perfectly safe-remember, I have no personal feelings one way or another toward you, now-she will be perfectly safe until you come back with Dingazi alone. If you betray me, if you attempt to rescue her by force-she will be dead long before you can fight your way in here."
"If I fight my way in here," Ki-Gor said evenly, "and find her dead-you will not live long."
"We will not be here, my friend," Julebba said. "You forget there is a back way out of this kloof-a route you have never traveled."
Ki-Gor decided to let her continue to believe that.
"Well then," he said, "suppose I can bring Dingazi here, and you get what you want from him-then what happens to my wife and me?"
"You go free, of course," Julebba said calmly. "I might even make you some sort of reward for your services."
Ki-Gor sank his chin in his collarbone, as if considering the offer. Actually, he was delighted with it. Anything that would gain time was to his advantage, time to allow the Karamzili to surround the kloof in such force that Julebba could not escape. When he could show her that, he could bargain with her. Her life to be spared, if Helene was set free unharmed.
"All right," he said, finally. "I haven't much choice. But to find Dingazi and bring him back will take time-four or five days perhaps. More, perhaps, because I am very lame."
"I will give you three days," Julebba said. "I will lend you a horse. You will start immediately. Ahmed and Ali will ride with you a short distance to see that you go in the right direction. But if I know you right, and I think I do, you will not try any tricks. You are too much in love with your wife."
Helene's face was bloodless as she watched the Nigerians take the ropes off Ki-Gor, and as he came to her and put his arms around her in farewell.
"Ki-Gor!" she whispered in his ear, "What on earth are you going to do now?"
"Don't be afraid," he murmured, "This is good for us-gives us the time we need."
"But-do you think when you come back-you'll-you'll find me alive?"
A cold finger touched Ki-Gor's heart. "Yes," he said. "As long as you are more useful to her alive, you will stay alive."
He was sure that was true, but he nevertheless felt an unpleasant uneasiness as he mounted the horse that was brought up, then.
"Good-bye," he said looking down at Helene, "and be brave." Then he looked up at the throne and said, "Good-bye, O Queen, keep your promises and I'll keep mine. I'll see you in three days-maybe sooner."
He rode in silence out of the kloof, Ahmed on his left side, and Ali on his right. Not until the trio had issued out on to the veldt did anyone speak. Then Ahmed said through clenched teeth, "Do not think for a moment, dog of a Nasrani, that I forgive you your trickery! Do not think that Ahmed ben Mohammed forgives the lying son of a pig who gulled him, with soft words of a philter-!"
Ki-Gor looked at the hateful mask which was Ahmed's face. What was this all about? Were these two Arabs going to try and kill him?
"Oh, do not fear for your miserable life, Nasrani!" Ahmed snarled. "You are safe enough-for the moment. Our beloved queen has ordered it so, and so it shall be. Otherwise I would never be riding with you in peace like this. If I could have my way, you would be on the ground, my knee on your chest, my knife at your throat-"
"Nay, calm yourself, my brother!" exclaimed Ali, on the other side of Ki-Gor. "There is plenty of time for your revenge."
"Aye, there is," Ahmed grumbled, "but it wears hard on a man's pride to delay collecting-"
"You can wait," Ali said soothingly. "After all, there is a terrible revenge already taking pl-"
"Silence! You fool!" Ahmed shouted. And Ki-Gor's blood froze.
"I-I-mean," young Ali stammered.
"You have said enough!" Ahmed stormed.
By sheer will power, Ki-Gor kept his face composed, as if he had not understood Ali, at all. But the two Arabs stared at him with embarrassment and suspicion. Ki-Gor assumed a mildly puzzled frown.
"What do you mean?" he said finally, as if he had not the remotest idea of Ali's involuntary revelation. "What revenge?"
Now Ahmed had a story ready. "Revenge on you, Nasrani! Your friend the Hindu hakim is just about now being thrown to the apes!"
Ki-Gor stared incredulously, then laughed out loud. "My friend!" he shouted, then laughed again. "What typical Muslim stupidity! The Hindu is no friend of mine! Why he couldn't even heal my wound properly!"
He laughed some more to cover up the furious workings of his brain. The covert, malicious smile on Ahmed's thin face was unnecessary confirmation of that which he was already convinced of. That somebody was being thrown to the apes, but that that somebody was not Hurree Das.
It was Helene!
"Wow!" Ki-Gor yelled, reining in his horse. "My leg! I hope the apes do a good job on that fool of a hakim I Here, I have to stop a moment and rest this leg."
Then he acted.
He drew his bandaged right leg up double, putting his foot on the saddle. Then, before Ahmed realized what was happening, he had disengaged his other foot from the stirrup and sprung from the horse. He went through the air like a panther, hit Ahmed shoulder-high, and in the same breath wrenched the scimitar out of his right hand. His momentum carried him across the back of Ahmed's horse. He landed lightly on the ground on his feet beside the screaming Arab who was hanging head down out of the saddle.
One ruthless blow of the scimitar nearly decapitated Ahmed. The frightened horse plunged away dragging its bloody burden. Ki-Gor, not wasting a motion, bounded straight at the shrieking younger brother. And even though Ali had some warning, he was helpless against the murderous assault by the jungle man.
It was the matter of a moment to strip Ali's bloody robe and headdress off and hastily throw them over himself. Then still grasping the scimitar, he caught the nearest horse and started back for the kloof at full gallop.
Would he be in time? The agonizing question asked itself over and over again in his tortured brain as the horse pounded over the two miles that separated him from the kloof. Gradually, his mind cleared a little, and he asked himself what he would do if he were in time. A sweeping glance of the horizon showed no evidence of the Karamzili being near enough. It was still early to expect them, he admitted with an inward groan. And yet the impis had been on their way since midnight, and they were burning for revenge, hastening to the kill. There was the remote possibility that the advance guard had circled northward to come down the back way into the kloof. But that was a hope Ki-Gor hardly dared to entertain. For a while at least, he was on his own. He would have to save Helene-if she still lived-singlehanded.
He blamed himself endlessly for falling into Julebba's trap so easily. He should have been instantly suspicious, he told himself, of her airy renouncement of interest in him. It was out of character. He should have known that she would wreak a terrible revenge on Helene the moment he had gone.
He was nearing the entrance to the kloof now, and he still had no concrete plan of action. But the vague impulse which had prompted him to put on the Arab burnoose and turban suddenly pointed to an impromptu course of action. As he thundered toward the narrow leafy gateway, he began shouting in Haussa to the unseen Ubangi sentinels in the trees.
"The Karamzili!" he yelled, as if panicstricken. "All is lost! The Karamzili are coming! Thousands upon thousands of them! All is lost! Save yourselves!"
Without slackening pace, he plunged down the path toward the clearing still shouting his warning of a fictitious enemy at his heels. As he burst into the clearing, a fearsome, bloodstained apparition, he saw that he was barely in time.
Helene was tied to the stake in front of the throne, tied by her wrists above her head, the way Hurree Das had been. But she was facing outward, her back to the stake, and staring with horror and loathing at the two black apes who stood in front of her. The other five hairy creatures were crouched on the rock pedestal below Julebba's throne. By their attitudes, they expected soon to join their fellows around the stake, around that fair, tender body. . . .
When Ki-Gor first appeared, Julebba and her men were too shocked and astounded to move. The clearing was a small one, and the galloping horse carried Ki-Gor across it to Helene in a few seconds. The chimpanzees nearest Helene dodged chattering away from the horse's flying hoof s. Ki-Gor sprang from the horse's back, his bloodstained burns flying. He hit the ground just behind one of the scrambling apes. Down flashed the scimitar on the flat, brutish head. Ki-Gor snarled with pure unleashed rage as he felt ft blade bite into the hard skull-felt it snap off at the hilt under the terrific impact of the blow. He flung useless hilt aside and whirled to meet next brute.
Through a red haze he saw the other five shambling down toward him, he Julebba's piercing shriek, heard the confused babble of her army. Instinctively, he shucked off the loose burns and the headdress. The nearest ape was charging him now. Ki-Gor flung the burnoose fun at him, then leaped after the burnoose. The ape struggled in the folds of the robe-struggled only a few seconds, though. Ki-Gor leaped over him, launching a furious kick as he did so, and the ape collapsed quivering.
Through a red haze Ki-Gor saw five huge chimpanzees scuttling toward him, jaws a-slaver. Without hesitation, he swept down upon the nearest one, seized an arm and a leg, and swept the chattering, snapping beast high in the air over his head. Then he flung him squarely at the next nearest ape. Like a cat that tosses a mouse in the air and then runs after it, Ki-Gor was on the ape again. Seizing a limp black arm, he danced backward, raising the squealing beast off the ground. Then he began to whirl the heavy, black body around his head by that one arm.
Ki-Gor roared his defiance and hardly realized he did it. Three chimpanzees charged him in a body now, and the broken half-dead carcass that was whirling over Ki-Gor's head went crashing into them. He pounced on one of them, lifted it by its short legs, dashed its brains out on thepedestal of Julebba's throne.
All this time, there had been a mounting roar in the kloof, but Ki-Gor had had eyes only for apes. He whirled now, looking for the next one to tackle. Just as he did, something prodigiously heavy hit him on the back of a shoulder. He stumbled forward, nearly fell down, with a biting, clawing brute trying to reach his throat. Ki-Gor jabbed his right fist back over his left shoulder, caught the brute just under the round black ear. Then, seizing a hairy wrist, he hauled the stunned ape off his shoulder, and hurled him to the ground.
One more ape remained on its feet. He been knocked down when Ki-Gor threw the body of one of his fellows at him. He stood now ten feet from Ki-Gor chattering with terror. The jungle man took one step toward him, and the ape wheeled and ran away like the wind.
Ki-Gor shook the red haze out of his head and looked around him. An extraordinary silence hung over the clearing. He saw that his mad combats had carried him far to one side away from the throne and the stake that Helene was still tied to. Standing a safe distance away a mixed mob of Balubas, Nigerians, and Ubangi archers gazed at him in awestricken silence.
The silence was broken by Julebba.
"Cowards!" she screamed. "Craven wretches! Catch that man and kill him!"
Ki-Gor looked back at her. Beyond her, far beyond her, by the tents among the trees, something moved.
"It is too late, O Julebba!" he cried. "Your murderous career is over!"
But Julebba did not even bear him. She was climbing down from the throne, mouthing imprecations, and brandishing her royal spear. Still screaming, she leaped to the ground and sped straight toward the helpless figure of Helene tied to the stake. Ki-Gor was a split-second late divining her intention. And when he started running, he was afraid he would be too late to prevent the mad queen from running Helene through with the spear.
Then from nowhere appeared the paunchy figure of Hurree Das. He was still naked to his loincloth, and his round face shook with terror. But he stood squarely in Julebba's path. In his right hand a metal cylinder gleamed.
Julebba tried to swerve around the Hindu. But he shot out a pudgy hand, seized her accurately by one elbow. There was a quick struggle, then Julebba flung away, screaming and holding her elbow.
Ki-Gor reached Helene's side, looked back at the advancing mob of Julebba's men-and prepared to die. Then he threw a glance over his shoulder to the other end of the clearing where the tents stood among the trees.
"Hurree Das!" Ki-Gor shouted, "come over to me quickly and get out of the way! The Karamzili are here!"
Like a horde of dark avenging angels, the kilted warriors of Dingazi poured into the clearing from the back way. Without a shout or any clamor of any kind, they padded down silently for the kill. The Ever-Victorious Army recoiled, then broke and ran for the narrow path leading out of the kloof. They well knew the revenge the Karamzili would take. But they did not know that there were more kilted warriors waiting impatiently for them.
The Karamzili slew quietly and purposefully. They were a mighty fighting race, and they were avenging the blow to their pride as well as the death of their comrades who had marched with Lotoko. And here the tables were exactly turned. Here, the Ever-Victorious Army was demoralized, showing that the best discipline in the world can be cracked by shock and surprise. A few of the Nigerians attempted to organize a defense, but they were too few and were soon swept away in the tidal wave of blood. The Tuaregs rode around in a panic until they were swallowed up in the black mass of Karamzili. The Balubas and the bowmen from the Ubangi fled in all directions.
Less than a half-hour after the first kilted warrior had entered the kloof, the last of Julebba's men was hunted out of a tree and dispatched. Julebba was dead, too, but she had died from the deadly poison in Hurree Das' hypodermic needle.
The plump doctor was still trembling three hours later. Dingazi had just arrived with his main army, disgusted because they had not been in time to participate in the triumph of the advance guard. But a camp was promptly set up out on the veldt, and a victory feast was promised as soon as some food could be brought up.
"Oh, dearie me!" said Hurree Das. "Am not at all positive I can eat any food for some time to come!"
"By the time the food is ready," Ki-Gor smiled, "I think you'll be hungry."
"Oh, but you don't seem to realize!" the Hindu said. "This is positively first time I ever intentionally killed anybody.
"Any doctor may 'lose a patient,' don't you know? But, here I simply walked up to a poor woman and did her in!"
"I wouldn't call her a poor woman," Helene said with a reminiscent shiver.
"No, no," the Hindu said. "That, I'm granting you, is most horrible inaccuracy. More correctly let us denominate homicidal maniac. No, what is so remarkable is simply that I, Hurree Das, a Gujerati Brahmin, should be elected as Instrument of Fate. I-whose ancestors were vegetarian and who never killed so much as a chicken in four thousand years!"
"Incidentally," said Helene, "what was the poison you used in the syringe?"
"Vegetable poison distilled from plant of Genus Strychnos," said the doctor. "Same like Pygmies use on their arrows-exactly same."
"For heaven's sake!" Helene exclaimed. "That is extraordinary!"
"How so, dear lady?" Hurree Das inquired.
"Why, before Ki-Gor and I had ever heard of Julebba-or even knew that Dingazi was in trouble, we were talking about coming up to pay you a visit."
"Delighted, I'm sure," said Hurree Das. "What was occasion of such conversation?"
"I had just missed being hit accidentally by one of the Pygmy's arrows. I was simply terrified, because if I had been hit, I wouldn't have known what to use for an antidote. What is the antidote, Hurree Das?"
"Absolutely and positively no antidote," Hurree Das said cheerfully. "It is most marvelous poison."
"Ki-Gor!" Helene looked around her brows at her huge mate. "Do you think you can make the Pygmies stop using poisoned arrows around us?"
Ki-Gor sighed and nodded. He did not relish the idea. Ngeeso had a quick wit and a sharp tongue, and Ki-Gor would rather battle the Ever-Victorious Army single-handed than have a battle of words with Ngeeso, who was three feet, eleven inches tall.