Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 3 Larra’s Mongolian Adventure Chapter 7 Escape and Pursuit “It is time, Larra.” Larra awoke in some confusion. She had been in a deep sleep. It took her a few seconds to orient herself. Jia Li was bending over her, shaking her gently. “Larra, it is time to go.” It was the first time that Jia Li had ever spoken her name. Larra almost laughed. Like many Chinese Jia Li had trouble with the letter “L” and so her name came out “Rarra.” Larra got up quickly as did Tabin. “I think we can go now,” said Jia Li. “All my men are mounted and ready and most of the Russians are roaring drunk. Their officers are trying to control them, but some of the officers are drunk as well.” Jia Li thrust a pistol into Larra’s hands and gave one to Tabin as well. “I am trusting you not to use this unless threatened. I also want your word that you will come with me without being forced.” Larra felt that she could trust this girl. “You have my word, but I cannot speak for Tabin. She turned her violet eyes on her lover. Without a word he nodded his assent. What was good enough for Larra was good enough for him. Jia Li led the way out of the building into the yard. Everywhere Larra looked there were drunken Russian soldiers. Some staggered about, others sat in groups drinking and singing. No one made a move to stop them. They mounted up and rode in a group from the Russian camp. Some friendly Russian souls waved at them in a most amiable fashion as they rode off. Larra couldn’t help thinking how easy it would have been to kill them all, but she knew that Jia Li could not do that to her ally. She had already taken a big enough risk getting Larra and Tabin out of the camp. “We had best move as quickly as possible,” said Jia Li. “It is likely that we will be followed when they discover that you have escaped.” Larra agreed. The more distance they put between themselves and the Russians the better. But it would not be easy. There were numerous Russian garrisons scattered around southern Mongolia. All of them would be on the lookout once their escape was discovered. They had smashed the radio in the Russian headquarters before leaving, but they could not disable the telegraph line beyond breaking it near the base. It would be relatively easy for the Russians to repair that once they found the break. They might even have another radio somewhere in the base that Jia Li did not know about. Larra was also worried about the risk the young girl had taken in rescuing her. The Russian and Chinese communists were supposed to be allies. Jia Li’s superior might not take kindly to the fact that she had helped two “enemies of the people” escape. There was no telling what type of punishment they might inflict. Larra discussed her fears with Jia Li as they rode. The Chinese girl refused to comment on the danger to her. “That is my concern,” she said. “I will deal with it when the time comes. In any case, I have no intention of releasing you. I am taking you to the headquarters of the Eighth Route Army. Your fate will be determined there.” “So that was it,” Larra thought. She should not have been surprised. Jia Li seemed like a very dedicated woman, full of youthful enthusiasm for the communist cause. It was logical that she should take Larra to her communist superiors, and Larra had given her word to go where Jia Li took her. There was no escape. She could not dishonor her pledge. They rode most of the day, but could not always travel in a straight line. On numerous occasions they had to avoid Russian patrols. And in one instance they had to go to ground for over an hour while a Russian plane circled over their position. Jia Li was sure that they had not been seen, but there was no absolute certainty that they had not been observed. They camped that night without a fire. It was judged too risky, and so they ate cold rations and curled up in their sleeping gear for warmth. Larra and Tabin slept together. They did not engage in any lovemaking; it would have been quite improper in such close proximity to their rescuers. Larra used the opportunity to absolve Tabin of his pledge, but he would have nothing of it. “I am committed to you body and soul,” he said, kissing her gently on the forehead. There was no way that Larra could change his mind. He would take his chances with her. The next day the same plane that had circled over them yesterday returned. This time it kept them pinned for another hour. It seemed possible that it may have spotted them the previous day after all. “If the plane has spotted us, we may as well move off,” said Jia Li. “It can keep us pinned down most of the day if we let it, and that will give any pursuers a chance to find us.” Just in case, they remained in hiding until the plane flew off. But an hour’s march later the plane returned. It was too much of a coincidence. This time they made no effort to hide from it, but tried to make as good time as possible. The plane dogged them for the next hour and then flew off again. It was apparent that its fuel supply was only sufficient to keep it in the air for a short time. As soon as it flew out of sight Jia Li ordered a change of direction. This would further slow their progress away from any pursuers, but it might throw the plane off their trail. As long as they could be observed from the air it was unlikely that they would be able to escape. They headed off into a ravine. If the plane returned in an hour or so it might miss them in the deep defile. The ploy seemed to work. They saw no more of the plane that day. The next night was spent in the same way as the first. They again ate uncooked rations for supper and settled down for another cold night. The next morning they were awake and on the move before daybreak. Jia Li felt that they had to make up some time. Avoiding the plane may have allowed the Russians to close in on them. They resumed heading for the Chinese border and rode as fast as they could without exhausting the horses. Soon, however, there came a sign of trouble. One of the outriders detected a cloud of dust on the horizon. It appeared to be many horsemen coming their way. They turned away from the supposed enemy, but it was not long before another cloud of dust was spotted directly ahead of them. It appeared that the Russians had them boxed in. Jia Li called her men together. “We seemed to be surrounded. Our only chance will be to make a break for it. Ride right at the enemy. If we can break their line we may escape.” There was no other plan. They simply spurred their horses toward the horsemen that were blocking their path. They would either shoot their way through or die trying. They attacked in a concentrated mass, but remained under control, trotting their horses until they were within rifle shot of the enemy. Then all hell seemed to break loose. Bullets came from every direction. Larra fired back, using her pistol. It necessitated riding right at the Russians in order to close the range, but it proved effective. Once within pistol range Larra’s aim proved deadly. She hit several of the Russian horsemen while riding low to avoid those who were shooting at her. Her daring tactic of riding straight at the enemy drew considerable fire, but that enabled the Chinese horsemen to shoot at the Russians without fear of being fired upon. The party of Russians was about equal in number to the Chinese and so both groups were about equally matched in firepower. It came down to individual marksmanship from the back of a moving horse. Here Tabin came into his own. He had been given a rifle at the last minute. His aim was deadly and he scored with almost every shot. Within a few minutes of the encounter, a dozen Russian saddles were empty and the rest of the Russians were riding for their lives. It had been an amazingly easy victory. Larra herself had scored about four times and so their triumph had been due to the two reluctant members of the Chinese contingent. However, the clash had slowed their progress and exhausted their mounts. The other group of Russians was closing in, and it numbered at least a hundred men. Their only chance was to make a run for it, firing as they retreated. Riding their winded horses as fast as they dared, they dashed off in several directions. Larra and Tabin found themselves riding together along with the main body of the Chinese. Jia Li was in a smaller group that was slightly behind them. In this encounter too, Tabin’s accuracy proved deadly. He was able to ride with his hands free, guiding the horse with only his knees. This left his arms free to fire shot after shot at their pursuers, and each shot brought down a Russian horse. The Russians seemed discouraged by this display of accuracy and began to hang back. With their fresher horses they should have been able to easily close the distance, but each time a Russian horseman got up the courage to close the gap, Tabin shot him from the saddle or put a bullet through his mount. Gradually the gap between pursuers and pursued widened until the Russians finally gave up the chase altogether. Larra and her Chinese escort had escaped. They rode on for another quarter hour, pushing their horses to the limit, before they finally halted in a rocky area that looked easy to defend. It was then that they noticed that Jia Li was not with them.