Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 1 Larra’s African Adventure Chapter 8 The Chase Larra moved off rapidly down the trail. She was hampered somewhat by the fact that she was wearing the sandals of the dead warrior. She had cut them down quite a bit, but they still flip-flopped on her feet. Still, it was better that walking barefoot. She estimated that she still had a few hours left before daylight. After that she could expect immediate pursuit. She would have the advantage of a few hours head start, but she also knew that her progress would be slow because she was not familiar with the terrain. She could also expect the black warriors to flood the direction she was most likely to flee. And she was certain that they would be expert trackers. Her best chance was to put as much distance between herself and the black village as possible before the pursuit began. An hour later and Larra was past the village. However, the smell of smoke from early morning fires drifted to her on the morning breeze. She knew that it would not be long before her absence was discovered. Food and water were going to be problems. She had none with her and foraging for food would really slow her down. Going without water would bring her to a quick end. But, she had little choice. Sneaking into the village to stock up was simply not an option; it would almost certainly lead to her capture. Her best strategy was to go as far and fast as she could and hope that she could find what she needed along the way. She kept going steadily for three hours. After the stress and ordeal she had been through only her superb conditioning enabled her to keep going that long. With the tropical heat now approaching 80 degrees it was time to find a source of water. With some luck she might also stumble upon something she could eat as well. The trail she had been moving along was on fairly high ground. She reasoned that if she moved downhill she might find some water at the bottom. The knowledge that this delay would allow any pursuers to gain on her did not matter. Without water she would collapse and escape would be impossible. Ten minutes of gradual descent brought her to a languid pool surrounded by dense foliage. She went down on her belly and drank deeply from the shallow pond. After drinking as much as she could she immersed her body in the shallow water, luxuriating in its coolness. That would keep her going for another couple of hours. Food was another matter. There did not appear to be any that she could see. “I’m probably surrounded by all sorts of edible plants,” she thought, “but I’m too stupid to recognize any of them as food.” She started back uphill to the main trail. She understood that travelling along such a well-worn route was not the smartest thing to do, but if she deviated from the trail she was quite sure that she would get lost, and that would be even more disastrous. Distracted as she was by the fear of pursuit, Larra was not oblivious to the wonders of the rainforest. The gigantic trees and the other flora that abounded everywhere never ceased to give her a feeling of awe. Walking along the forest floor was like being in some enormous green cathedral that went on forever. Lianas and other forms of vegetation festooned many of the great trees. Among the upper branches a huge variety of arboreal animals cavorted. Colorful birds shrieked and cackled, and monkeys leaped through the upper branches. Larra noticed that some of the monkeys seemed to be feasting on ripe fruit. Somewhere in those high branches was something that she might be able to eat, but it was far beyond her reach. “Perhaps,” she thought, in a flash of inspiration, “if I can’t reach the food I can get the food brought to me.” Larra bent quickly and picked up a rock from the ground. Throwing as hard as she could, she hurled the stone high into the branches in the general direction of the cavorting monkeys. She picked up another rock and repeated the action. And then another. By this time she had the monkeys’ attention. One of the primates tore off a small branch and hurled it Larra’s direction. This seemed to inspire the others and soon Larra was being showered with all sorts of vegetation. Included in the bombardment was a good deal of ripe fruit. Chuckling, Larra gathered up what she could and moved away from the onslaught. The monkeys followed her for a short distance and then seemed to lose interest. Larra examined her haul. Most of the fruit was a mystery to her, but she had seen some of it being sold in the native market in Kampala, as well as being eaten in the African village where she had been held captive. She discarded the fruit she did not recognize and consumed the rest. There was more than enough to satisfy her appetite for the moment. She was a bit sticky when she finished, but there was no time to go back to the pond and wash up. She had to get on with her escape. She had no way of telling how close her pursuers might be, but she hypothesized that they were probably gaining on her. What she needed was some way to slow them down. She smiled; she had an idea. Seven black warriors trotted down the forest trail. The signs of their quarry were getting fresher. None of the fit young men had any difficulty maintaining a fairly rapid pace. A lifetime in the forest had made each of them into superb trackers. A bent piece of vegetation here, a broken twig there, a slight indentation in the ground, were all obvious signs of the passage of their prey. She was not far ahead now. They quickened their pace in anticipation. Kabaka led the pursuit. His slim build and long legs gave him a speed advantage over the others. Soon he would catch up with the White Witch and then she would pay. He had been especially angered when he and the others had come across the body of Rukidi with his testicles and throat smashed. He would catch her and vengeance would be his! Just ahead a thicket of bamboo invaded the trail. He slowed. It appeared that the White Witch had gone into the dense vegetation for some reason instead of staying on the trail. He plunged in the way she had gone. Two paces into the bamboo his feet kicked away a few strands of bamboo leaves that had been twisted into a primitive rope. This released a bamboo stalk that had been bent over close to the ground. It tangled in his feet and Kabaka stumbled and fell face first into a dozen sharpened bamboo stakes. Following immediately behind Kabaka, Lulaklenzi saw him fall. His friend’s screams froze him in his tracks. Before him Kabaka was writhing in agony, his body pierced by several pointed bamboo stakes. Three of them had gone right though him. Kabaka struggled to free himself from the horrible trap and then shuddered and went limp. Lulaklenzi and the rest of the hunting party stared open-mouthed for an entire minute, before they moved forward and pulled their dead comrade off the bamboo spikes. Superstitious fear and doubt plagued their minds. What kind of woman were they trying to catch? The White Witch! She had killed again! Lulaklenzi spoke first. “I think we should turn back. This White Witch has strong magic. If we follow her we will die.” Chui, the chief’s eldest son spoke next. “Lulaklenzi speaks like and old woman. The White Witch set a simple trap and Kabaka fell into it. He was so eager to be first that he forgot proper caution.” Chui was an impressive man. He stood six feet, eight inches and weighed over 260 pounds. When he spoke other members of the tribe listened. Lulaklenzi felt shamed. He had panicked like a young girl. Chui was right. Kabaka had been foolish. Lulaklenzi held his tongue. He would not be shamed again. “We will continue, and we will catch the White Witch.” Chui stated, his deep voice booming. “She cannot be far ahead. If we pursue quickly, she will not have a chance to set more traps.” This made sense and the remaining warriors followed Chui in pursuit. Lulaklenzi, not so confident this time, brought up the rear. Farther up the trail Larra heard Kabaka’s agonized screams. “Good God!” she thought. Her pursuers were closer than she had imagined! She redoubled her pace, and found that she was now in a more open area, travelling between a jumbled formation of large stone boulders. She moved among the huge stones. This would take her off the main trail, but the harder ground would make her more difficult to track. Also, if all went well perhaps she could stage a little surprise for her hunters. Larra scrambled up among the boulders. The ground sloped considerably here so she soon found that she was several feet higher than the trail. Climbing atop a particularly large boulder, she lay down on her belly and waited. Within a few minutes several black warriors trotted down the trail, their eyes on the ground. Larra saw that although they were following her trail, they were making very good time. Fortunately, they appeared intent on tracking her. Not one of them looked up. She counted six of them altogether. Five of them were bunched fairly close together and were led by a massive black warrior. The sixth appeared to be holding back. As the party moved past her the last man fell farther and farther behind. Larra saw her chance. An attack from behind would probably prove very unnerving for her pursuers, provided she could execute it properly. As the last man passed Larra descended from her perch and moved in behind her trackers. Now she was following them! Larra removed her sandals. She needed to be sure of foot and didn’t want to her ill-fitting footwear to impede her progress. She moved without a sound, closing in on the black warrior at the end of the line. Within a minute she was close enough to strike. The last warrior seemed a little slower than the rest. By the time Larra caught up with him he was a good 100 yards behind the others. Larra smiled grimly. No doubt her little trap had demoralized this man. Now he was to pay a high price for his laggard pace. She was now within six feet of her prey, moving as he moved, all the time closing slightly. She had to execute her attack with precision and without a sound. She closed the remaining distant in two long strides and struck hard with her nunchuka, swinging the deadly weapon in a swift arc. The lighting blow struck the black warrior at the point where his neck met the base of his skull. The was a sickening “thwack!” and the man dropped noiselessly, sprawling in a heap at her feet. Following through on her attack, Larra drove the point of her shortened spear deep into the warrior’s throat. Blood spurted from the gaping wound and his body convulsed as his lifeblood was drained from him. Larra watched the young man die. Slowly she collapsed to her knees. She had never done anything like this before, and was overwhelmed by her own level of violence. It was one thing to defend herself against an attacker in open combat, but quite another to deliberately stalk and assassinate her victim. She thought back to the other men she had killed in the last few days. “No, they were different,” she muttered. In those deaths she had been defending herself. Even the man she had lured into a trap had been killed because he was trying to capture her. But this last one… She felt a little weak. She could have just let him go, but she had hunted him like a wild animal. She felt sick to her stomach. Her body was bathed in a cold sweat. She remained kneeling for a full minute before she snapped out of her reverie. In a short while the other blacks would realize that they had missed her and come back. They would find the body, and they would find her if she did not high tail it out of there. Quickly she crossed to the fallen warrior’s body. She retrieved his knife and a gourd containing water. Now she would no longer have to continually hunt for water while she tried to escape. After putting her sandals back on she scrambled back up into the rocks. She reasoned that once the other blacks turned back they would move back down the path to where they last had traces of her trail. If she kept above them and moved through the concealing boulders she would be able to pass them undetected and get ahead of them again. She was also counting on several minutes of discussion and a much more conservative pursuit once they found the body of their dead comrade. Chui was very angry. Somehow the White Witch had given them the slip. She must have turned off the trail somewhere. He barked out an order. And the five of them headed back. Five? Where was Lulaklenzi? Five minutes back down the trail and the question was answered. For several minutes Chui and his four companions stood in shock around their dead comrade. There was much whispered discussion, as if they feared that the killer of their tribesman might be listening. Most of the discussion centered on the theme of turning back. “We cannot continue, Chui,” stammered the oldest member of the group. “She is a sorceress. She will kill us all.” “No!” exclaimed Chui. “She is not a sorceress. She is a White woman. We can catch her.” “But you call her White Witch,” came the reply. “You know she has special powers. She will put a curse on us.” “We will put a curse on ourselves if we do not catch her. The tribe will call us old women. We will be laughed at. I am going to catch her. There is a way.” The other blacks looked at him. What did he have in mind? “The bridge,” he explained. If she is going this way, she must cross the bridge. We do not have to catch her. She will come to us.” With that Chui strode determinedly down the trail. Over his shoulder he shouted: “Go back if you wish, but I am a man, and I will catch her.” With that he broke into a trot and soon disappeared around a bend in the trail. The remaining warriors looked at one another and then without saying a word, they followed Chui, running hard to keep up. Larra kept to the high ground for about an hour. She guessed that by now she should be far enough ahead of her black pursuers to return to the trail. She had become quite thirsty and took a small drink of water. Better to conserve what she had until she was sure that she could refill the gourd. The sun was almost directly overhead and the heat was becoming oppressive. She really should find a place to rest until it cooled off a little, but that would mean chancing an encounter with her black hunters. Better to keep moving rather than risk capture. She returned to the forest path and moved down it at a steady pace. Fortunately, most of the walking was downhill, but by now the forest heat was almost overwhelming. Larra’s brief costume was soaked with her perspiration. “The humidity must be close to 100%,” she thought. She found herself sipping almost continually at her water gourd. Eventually she finished off her meager supply. Once again lack of water was a serious problem. She knew that if she became dehydrated she would be in severe difficulty. The trail, however, kept on going downhill, so sooner or later there should be water. Larra was now strolling through a particularly thick stand of forest. Here the foliage was so dense that at first she could not see in the dim light. Gradually, however, her eyes adjusted and she could find her way without difficulty. The transpiration of the thousands of plants dropped the air temperature considerably. This made for much more comfortable walking. Up ahead she could see a lighter section of the forest. It was like moving toward the end of a tunnel. She emerged into the light. The forest seemed to end quite suddenly and Larra saw with a start the reason why. Before her yawned a deep chasm. Approaching the edge she saw the sides of the canyon were almost vertical. Without proper equipment there was no way that she could climb down into it. The trail now ran paralleled to the canyon. Larra looked back. Retracing her steps did not seem to make any sense. Best to keep following the trail and see where it led. She did not have long to wait. Fives minutes farther on the path veered toward the canyon and ended at the beginning of a rope bridge. There was the way across. It was at that point that five black warriors emerged from hiding only a few feet away. This time it was Larra’s turn to fall into a trap!