TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 1 Larra’s African Adventure By L’Espion [email protected] Chapter 10 The Prisoner Exquisite pain forced Larra back to consciousness. It took her a few seconds to realize where she was and what was happening. She found herself being half dragged and half carried by two black warriors through the rainforest. Her thigh throbbed in extreme agony, as did her arms, which had been cruelly trussed up behind her back. Her wrists had been painfully lashed together with rawhide strips and then pulled up and roped in place by a cord that encircled her body just above her naked breasts. The effect was to pull her bound wrists up as high as possible, causing extreme pain in her arms and thrusting her quivering breasts forward. She found that her wounded thigh had been crudely bandaged using the cloth strips she had been wearing over her sumptuous breasts. Her leg had been bound tightly enough to stop the wound from bleeding, but each time her foot touched the ground excruciating pain lanced through her thigh, forcing tormented gasps from her lips. Her captors seemed oblivious to her suffering. Each black warrior had hooked one arm through each of hers, so that she was almost but not quite lifted off the ground. Because her injured left leg could not support any weight, she was forced to use her right leg to support her weight whenever one of her black escorts let her drop. Soon the exhausted young woman was unable to stand at all, and the blacks dragged her along, both her legs trailing on the ground. Larra fainted, welcoming the wave of darkness that washed over her. Larra awoke in the darkness of the hut that she had fled so long ago. Or was it long ago? It really could not have been more than two or three days. She felt hot. Her injured leg felt like it was on fire. Her entire body was burning up. She tried to sit up but was too weak to move. The slight effort she had made sent waves of pain shooting through her damaged thigh. A moan escaped her parched lips. Immediately, she found herself being gently restrained by an almost naked black woman. The woman pushed her softly but firmly back down and then held her with one hand while bathing her brow with a damp cloth. Larra discovered that she was no longer bound, but she was in too much pain and far too weak to take advantage of the situation. “Water,” she begged weakly. Unconsciously, she was speaking in English, but the black women seemed to understand and held a water-filled gourd to her lips. Larra drank greedily, and then fell back, exhausted by even this small effort. For the next few days, Larra drifted in and out of consciousness, her body wracked by a raging fever, and her injured thigh swollen to twice its normal size. Eventually, her strong constitution pulled her through the ordeal. The fever subsided, the swelling went down, and she found herself weak but slowly recovering her strength. Having survived a close brush with death, she was a little alarmed at what had happened to her normally athletic body. The wound on her thigh was still slightly inflamed, but the edges of the injury had been neatly stitched together, apparently by using the pincers of savage African ants as sutures. The technique seemed to have worked. It appeared that when the wound was fully healed there would only be a tiny scar to mark where the spear had penetrated. The rest of her body seemed to have wasted away; her smooth belly shrunk to tiny proportions; her ribs clearly showing; and her hipbones jutting out from under her normally firm flesh. “I look like a skeleton,” she thought. “I wonder what my face looks like.” Her captors were quick to notice her recovery and took precautions. A collar was placed around her neck and the collar was chained to the center pole of the hut. Her hands were left free, but her ankles were loosely connected by a rawhide rope. Two armed warriors guarded her; so that she was always within easy striking distance of their razor sharp spears. For the next four weeks Larra remained confined in the hut. Despite the fact that she was not allowed to exercise, she was well cared for, being given food and water at regular intervals. She was provided with a modest African dress and was able to cover her nudity. The garment provided was not exactly conducive to easy movement, but it made her feel better about her situation. It consisted of a single piece of cloth that she wound around her body. It concealed most of her charms, but not her curves. Seeing that escape was not possible in her weakened condition, Larra bided her time. She was quite concerned over her inability to exercise, fearing that her martial arts skills would deteriorate without practice, but all the time she was regaining her strength and was soon back to her fighting weight. She used the time to learn something of the language of her captors. Her natural ability with languages (She already spoke seven, including Japanese and Mandarin) enabled her to master much of the African dialect fairly quickly. This feat seemed to amaze and please the African women who attended her, and Larra was able to learn a good deal about the people who had taken her prisoner. She also modified her simple dress, cutting her robe into two pieces to facilitate easier movement. She covered her stunning breasts with one piece of fabric, cutting it so that it held them tightly enough to give her freedom of movement. She tied the piece of cloth behind her neck and back, creating a sort of primitive bikini, years ahead of its time. The other piece she draped over the smooth curve of her hips, but she cut it up the side to enable her legs to move unhindered. Her midriff was left bare, as were her smooth muscular arms. She learned (as was all too obvious) that she had stumbled upon a fierce warrior people who called themselves the Maasi. The Maasi regarded themselves as guardians of the sacred stone that Larra had stumbled upon and resented any intrusions into their territory. Interlopers, like Larra and her safari were considered dangerous enemies to be attacked and killed or taken prisoner. Slavery was considered by the Maasi to be an abomination. Prisoners were never enslaved, but instead were sacrificed to the numerous gods and spirits that inhabited Maasi mythology. This sacrifice involved a brutal ceremony in which the hapless victim was first disemboweled to let the spirit leave the body. The victim’s limbs were then systematically removed by hacking them from the body, starting with the arms and ending with the legs. If the sacrifice was still alive its suffering was finally ended by having its head chopped off. The various body parts of the victim were then placed about the village to be picked clean by insects and scavenging birds. There had been some discussion as to whether or not the Weupe Mchawi or “White Witch” should meet the accustomed fate. Some of the tribal elders had argued that she should be made a part of the king’s household, believing that such a powerful woman would provide offspring who would have very strong magic. But in the end, it was decided that so formidable a witch would be too dangerous to let live. Her magic had already killed five Maasi warriors. So potent a magician could not be allowed to live. For the well-being of the tribe she must be sacrificed. She also learned that Chui, the powerful warrior whose spear had pierced her thigh, was most upset at this decision. As the king’s son, he had argued that Larra should be added to his household if the king did not want her. But in the end, he had been overruled. Larra filed away all of this information. Sooner or later it might come in useful. In the meantime, she bided her time, listening to gossip between her attendants and the lively banter between her guards. Whenever possible she engaged anyone who would cooperate in conversation, seeking still more information that might help her in some way. Slowly but surely, a plan was taking shape in her mind. As Larra’s days of recovery stretched into weeks, her guards became more casual about their duty. Instead of watching her closely they tended to gather near the door of the hut, engaging in conversation, and watching the life of the village outside. Mostly, they appeared very bored. At night, instead of standing guard, they often lay down in the doorway and slept. Their only precaution was to securely bind Larra to the center post by her hands and feet. Larra had often struggled to escape from the bonds, but they tied her so well that she had never been able to loosen the knots before morning. If she were to escape, she would need some help. During the day and early evening, Larra was often alone with her female attendants, especially with a young girl whose name translated as “Butterfly.” Larra had learned much from the young woman about Maasi society. She seemed kind and considerate, but Larra noticed, that Butterfly, never looked directly at her, choosing to avert her face whenever Larra spoke to her. Apparently, Larra’s magic was considered so great that even looking at her was considered risky. In the fifth week of her imprisonment Larra attempted her plan. Addressing Butterfly, she asked: “Why do you not look at me?” “I fear that you will put a curse on me, mistress,” the young woman answered. “There is already a curse on you,” replied Larra quietly. The young woman’s dark skin actually seemed to lighten and a look of terrible fear crossed her face. “Do not worry,” said Larra quickly, “I can discover the curse and remove it.” They were speaking quietly. Larra knew that she must not alert the guards. “Do not tell anyone of this conversation,” said Larra, “or I will not be able to help you.” “What must I do?” asked the frightened girl. Larra saw that she was actually trembling. “You must bring me three things,” replied Larra. She had learned that the Maasi regarded the number three as especially significant. “I need the foot of a chicken, twelve thorns from an acacia bush, and a cup of bull’s blood. These things must be brought to me at the first sighting of the Moon.” Larra had no special use for these items, but she knew that if the girl brought them, then it would be a sign that Larra could expect her complete cooperation. That evening, after Larra had been brought her evening meal, Butterfly returned. “Sit in front of me so that the guards do not see,” Larra instructed. Larra took the items Butterfly had brought. Ritualistically she arranged the thorns in a circle. In the center of the circle she placed the chicken foot. Then she poured the cup of blood over her hands and reached out to take Butterfly’s hands in hers. Then chanting in a low voice, she spoke in English. “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.” As she finished, Larra rolled her eyes as far up into her head as she could, and held her breath. Her breath control was excellent. She did not breathe again for a full two minutes. As the end of that time she shook her head and came out of her “trance.” Larra could tell from the terrified look on Butterfly’s face that her performance had been impressive. She then took Butterfly’s head in her hands, pulling the girl’s face very close to her own. “You have been cursed by a rival,” she whispered. “If the curse is not removed you will die before the moon is full.” Here the girl began to whimper and Larra had to place her bloody finger on the girl’s lips to keep her quiet. “I can remove the curse, but you must help me by bringing me what I need.” The girl became very attentive and Larra continued. “I need a small sharp knife that has been dipped in the milk of a cow that has just calved. I also need a bat’s wing and the head of a rat.” Larra knew that bats and rats were frequent items in the Maasi diet. “These must be brought to me next morning.” The girl nodded her understanding. “Go now,” finished Larra, “and get me what I need.” The next morning, very early, Butterfly returned. Hidden in the folds of her simple robe were the items Larra had requested. Butterfly’s first duty was to untie Larra from the post. Larra had not slept well. She had been tied particularly tightly that night and had some difficulty getting comfortable. Larra took the requested items and carefully hid them where they would not be found when the guards came to tie her that night. Larra passed the day as she usually did. The tether around her neck permitted very little movement. She tried to move around a little to keep from cramping up. She relied upon tai chi exercises to keep her as fit as possible. But proper exercise was impossible, especially as her guards regarded any real movement as menacing. She hoped that if any opportunity came for escape that she would not be too out of shape to pull it off. Eventually night came and her guards came to tie her once more. She hoped that the ropes would not be as tight as the previous night, when her circulation had been cut off and it had taken her several minutes before she could move in the morning. Her wrists were marked by the ropes that bound her each night. The marks stayed with her throughout the day. She did not resist their efforts. It would have been futile in any case. Outside the hut were dozens of black warriors. She might beat down two or three, but eventually she would be overwhelmed and likely killed or worse. Her wrists were first bound tightly behind her back. Then her ankles were bound and pulled up and tied to her wrists. Ropes were next tightly wound about her arms and across and between her breasts. Finally, the neck tether was pulled tight so that her neck was pulled next to the center post. The men then left her and took up their positions in the doorway. She could hear them conversing in low tones. If they followed their usual pattern they would doze off in an hour or so. In the meantime there was nothing Larra could do except wait. Darkness fell. Although the tropical night was not really cool, the temperature dropped low enough that the men in the doorway wrapped their robes around themselves. Larra shivered in her brief covering. It had been like this every night of her imprisonment. From the doorway came a low snoring. This was soon followed by a second almost identical sound. Her guards were asleep and making enough noise to mask any noise she might make. She squirmed around attempting to move her bound wrists to the spot where she had hidden the small knife. She had buried it just under the straw that she lay on. She hoped that it was within reach. She had tried to place it exactly where her bound hands could find it. “Ah,” she gasped. She had it. With some manipulation, she was able to bring the blade against the ropes that bound her wrists. Luckily, the knife was very sharp. Butterfly had chosen well. It took her a few minutes, but one by one she felt the knife cutting through the strands. Finally, with a slight snap the last strand parted. Her wrists now free, she was able to cut through the remainder of her bonds in only a few seconds. Rising slowly, she crept across the hut to the door. The two snoring guards were sprawled across it. Moving ever so carefully, Larra stepped across them. For the first time in five weeks she was outside the hut. She felt like running through the village shrieking at the top of her lungs. But she controlled her impulses. She was not free yet. There were still the village dogs to navigate around and she had to find some way over the stockade. One of the sleeping warriors’ spears was leaning against the doorway of the hut. Larra picked it up and then moved toward the next hut. Keeping to the shadows whenever she could, she crept from hut to hut, moving slowly and silently. No dogs barked and finally she reached the stockade. The stockade consisted of vertical tree trunks sunk into the ground and lashed together in the middle and at the top. It stood about ten feet high. Larra saw that it would not be much of a barrier to her escape. Between each tree trunk was a slight gap. She pushed the spear through the gap to the other side, and then grasping the tree trunk she shinnied up, using the ropes halfway up and near the top to help her. Reaching the top she swung over and hung by her fingertips. She then let go and dropped the remaining four feet to the ground. Picking up the spear she moved off quickly into the rainforest. Once again she was on the loose. And once again she did not have the faintest idea as to which way to proceed. The best she could do was move in a direction that she thought was taking her away from the village. Larra trotted through the forest as quickly as her shoeless feet and her level of fitness would allow. She was not in prime condition. Her long confinement had weakened her and she could not move as speedily as she once had. Fortunately, she had happened on a trail almost right away. That was a blessing. Thrashing about in the rainforest at night would have placed her in a severe predicament. She continued moving down the trail for the rest of the night. By morning (she hoped) she would be far enough away that pursuit would not be immediate. As it got lighter she tried to get her bearings, using the glow of the dawn as her compass. She wanted to move east. As the sun rose she tried to take branches in the trail that headed her in that direction. She was free. Whether she remained that way would depend on her ability and a good deal of luck.