Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 3 Larra’s Mongolian Adventure Chapter 9 Hondo An especially powerful and painful contraction pulled Larra’s thought back to the present. “Oh God, that hurt!” “The baby is coming!” said one of the midwives excitedly, “Push! Push!” Larra clenched her teeth on the leather strap and pushed as hard as she could. The pain mounted to excruciating levels. Her chest heaved and her back arched as she fought hard to keep from screaming. Suddenly, there was a release from the pain, and a feeling of incredible relief and a wondrous sensation of pleasure as the endorphins kicked in. She heard a baby give its first cry, and then her daughter was placed on her belly. She cradled it in her arms and held its sucking mouth to her milk-engorged breast. She was a mother for the second time. One of the midwives signaled to Tabin. He had been close by all the time, but unable to help her. He crawled up to her, keeping low. The Japanese were very close and Larra was hidden from view only by a low screen of willows. Jia Li also appeared. The young Chinese girl had been with them since her rescue from her Russian “allies” eight months ago. Larra smiled up at her lover and father of her child. “It is a girl,” she said. “We will have to think of a suitable name.” Tabin smiled. He said nothing, but kissed Larra gently on the forehead. Jia Li took Larra’s hand, and gave it a gentle squeeze. The two women had become very close in the last few months. Larra suddenly, felt very tired. She snuggled down into the sheepskin robes that had been laid on the ground during her labor. Nursing her child, she slept. Tabin watched the approaching Japanese column intently. He saw no sign that the Japanese had spotted his position, but they were maneuvering closer all the time. Sooner or later he and his followers would be found by accident if nothing else. It was obvious that he had to act. He whispered orders to one of his men. Keeping low the man scrambled away. A minute later he made his way to Larra’s side. “Tabin says for you to get ready to leave. He will create a diversion that will draw the Japanese off. Then you must try to get through their lines.” Larra nodded. The time had come for her and Tabin to part. They had discussed this eventuality a few days before Larra had given birth. There were a number of reasons for the decision. First and foremost was the safety of Larra and the baby. Tabin had decided to throw his lot in with the Chinese communists. He was not exactly sure what sort of reception he would receive from them due to his war with their Russian compatriots, but he had no choice. There was no safe place for him in Mongolia and he could not fight the Japanese alone. The journey to the headquarters of the Chinese communists would be long and dangerous. It was a chance he did not want Larra to take. A second reason was one that Larra had brought up. Although she loved Tabin deeply, she had other obligations. She wanted terribly to stay with the father of her daughter. But she had not come to China to fight against the Japanese, who she still regarded as her ancestors. In addition, she had a young son that she had not seen for a year. She wanted to get back to him before he forgot who she was. And then there was the matter of Amy and Katie. They were probably still waiting patiently or impatiently for her back in Kyoto. She had an obligation to her female companions that she had left in training under the stewardship of Lord Takeda. All of these factors influenced her decision. Thirdly, she had finished what she had come to China to achieve. She had found the tomb of the Great Khan. And in the months following her release from the Russian camp, she had thoroughly catalogued the part of the tomb that was accessible. She did not attempt to enter the flooded chambers where the body of the Great Khan might lie, but there had been lots of work for her to do in the outer chamber. She had filled several notebooks with records of her observations and had taken numerous photographs with a German camera that she had found in Ivanov’s saddlebags. And so the decision was made to separate. She would leave as soon as she felt able to travel. Jia Li would travel with her. The young Chinese woman had failed in her mission to establish a liaison with the Russians in Mongolia, and had actually interfered with their operations to the extent that she had been responsible for a number of them being killed. She was not looking forward to returning to the headquarters of the Eighth Route Army. In addition, she had become very attached to Larra. She preferred to be a part of this strange white woman’s world. A world that she knew very little about, but was curious to discover. Larra and Tabin parted without tears. They were accompanied by a Mongol guide who knew the safest way to the closest Japanese garrison. It would be up to Larra to negotiate herself past the Japanese and get out of China. The guide left them about five miles from the nearest Japanese pickets. The Japanese patrolled by air as well as on the ground, so Larra, Jia Li and their guide traveled quite a bit by night. In this way they were able to move quite close to the Japanese without being observed. Larra knew that it was very unlikely that she could get right through the Japanese lines without being detected. But in fact, she did not want to avoid the Japanese. She had been given a safe conduct pass by Lord Takeda. Even though that had been lost when she had been detained by Major Fujima the mere mention of Lord Takeda’s name carried great weight with most Japanese officers. All that she had to do was avoid coming into contact with Fujima or his superior officer, Colonel Hondo. Unfortunately, she was not quite sure where Colonel Hondo’s jurisdiction started and ended. She would just have to hope that the first Japanese she encountered would be willing to listen to her. Larra looked down at her sleeping daughter. She carried her in a sling slung across her breast. Mongol women usually carried their children on their backs, but Larra preferred to be able to see her daughter at all times. She was a beautiful child, strong and healthy with a thick shock of fine black hair. She and Tabin had decided to call her Lin Yao, choosing a Chinese name rather than Mongolian, seeing as how she had been born in China. The name meant “Beautiful Jade Treasure.” It seemed appropriate to both Tabin and Larra, reflecting as it did the baby’s unusual green eyes. A major concern for Larra was, of course, for the safety of her daughter. It would not do if Larra fell into hostile hands while she had the child with her. It was all the more important that she be cautious in her contact with the Japanese. While she had been considering all this, she and Jia Li had been riding closer and closer to a farming village. There appeared to be a small Japanese garrison attached to the village. This might be as good a place as any to attempt contact with members of the Japanese army that might be friendly to Lord Takeda. Slowly they rode into the village. They immediately attracted the attention of a number of Japanese soldiers who were lounging about a machine gun post. Dressed as they were in their Mongol clothing, the soldiers rushed at them, rifles at the ready. They did not appear overly friendly. Larra greeted them in fluent Japanese. A look of stunned surprise came over their faces. They had not expected this. “Take us to your commanding officer,” Larra ordered. “We require the assistance of the Japanese authorities.” Larra had learned that when dealing with the average Japanese conscript, it was best to act in a superior manner. Japanese enlisted men were considered the lowest of the low by their officers. Larra reckoned that if she acted like an officer she might get more respect. It seemed to work. One of the soldiers ran off quickly. The others milled about them, looking somewhat bemused but non-threatening. A minute later the soldier returned. Trailing behind him was a young monocled officer. Larra greeted him pleasantly. “Konichiwa, Lieutenant. We are travelers in need of your assistance. I hope that you may be of service to us.” The young Lieutenant also seemed somewhat taken aback. Larra was dressed in the clothing of a Russian soldier and Jia Li dressed like any Chinese peasant. Their attire did not seem to match the language Larra was speaking, or her direct and confident manner. Larra a felt that it was important to maintain the initiative in the encounter. The young officer did not reply, but simply stood looking at them, twisting his monocle she continued to address him. Dismounting from her horse, she bowed slightly, fully cognizant of the fact that women were expected to bow more deeply to men than men were to women. “We were captured by bandits some months ago and have only just been able to escape,” Larra continued. “We need help to get back to Japan. I entered Manchuria on a mission from Lord Takeda.” The last comment was intended to have a profound impact. There were few Japanese officers who did not know of Lord Takeda. If the young officer believed her, he was most likely to cooperate. Provided of course, that he does not regard Lord Takeda as his hereditary enemy, thought Larra. At the mention of Lord Takeda’s name the officer’s eyes widened. He returned Larra’s bow, seemingly recognizing her status by bowing more deeply to her than she had to him. “Please accompany me into my headquarters, I will attempt to contact the Japanese high command immediately.” He turned on his heel and marched toward the largest building in the village, a rather dilapidated two-story structure covered with yellow plaster. Larra turned and nodded to Jia Li. Carrying her child, Larra followed in the young officer’s footsteps. Jia Li trailed behind. The rest of the soldiers fell in behind the two women. Larra found this a little unsettling. The young officer had been a little too abrupt. It was not good manners to walk off without introducing oneself, but that was exactly what he had done. Still, she had committed herself by riding into the village in the first place, now she would just have to play it by ear and hope that things worked out. Just before the door to the building the officer stopped. In a low tone he directed his voice toward the open door of the building. He was about twenty paces ahead of them and Larra could not hear what he was saying. Several soldiers began to file out of the open doorway. Their rifles were held at the ready. Larra and Jia Li both stopped dead in their tracks. Automatically their heads swiveled around to see what was happening behind them. Larra’s heart skipped a beat when she saw that the soldiers who had been trailing them had their weapons trained on her and Jia Li. She turned back to the young officer, who she saw had drawn his pistol and was once again approaching them. Jia Li went into a defensive stance, although what kung fu would do against a well-placed bullet was hard to imagine. Larra remained outwardly calm, although her heart was beating like a trip-hammer. “What is the meaning of this, Lieutenant?” Her voice was filled with outrage and indignation. Perhaps she could bluff her way out of the situation. “It is a rather simple meaning, Miss Court,” replied the officer coolly. “You are under arrest. We have been watching for you since your amazing escape about ten months ago.” “But I am not an enemy of Japan, my mother was Japanese. My father was a friend of Lord Takeda, whose support I have.” “Lord Takeda’s support is of no influence here. He is known by the followers of Colonel Hondo to be suspect in his loyalties, having maintained friendships with too many foreign influences.” Larra signaled to Jia Li to drop her defensive stance. The young woman was quite aggressive and likely to get herself killed. Also Larra did not want any bullets flying around while she still held her infant daughter. She and Jia Li were caught like flies in a web. Only diplomacy was likely to get her out of this predicament. “Lord Takeda will be most displeased when he hears of this. He has great influence at the Japanese court.” The officer laughed. He seemed to be enjoying this repartee. “Apparently your isolation in the wilds of China has prevented news of Lord Takeda’s downfall from reaching your ears. He is no longer has any influence over the emperor and has been confined to his estate.” Larra realized that she had no more cards to play, but perhaps she could do something for Jia Li. “If it is me that you want then please release my servant. She is only an ignorant peasant girl and knows nothing of Japanese politics.” The officer laughed again. “I hardly think that she is only a simple Chinese peasant. That martial arts stance she affected looked very professional. But we have talked enough. It is my duty to place you and your companion under arrest. Please realize that any resistance will be fatal. He turned to his men. “Escort them to the hole.” Larra signaled to Jia Li to remain calm. There was little that they could do when surrounded by a dozen armed men, all of whom had their weapons trained on them. A pair of soldiers took hold of Larra’s arms. Two more seized Jia Li. They were propelled toward a small shack off to the side of the main building. As she approached Larra noticed that the door of the building was heavily reinforced and that the windows had iron bars. Just before the door to the building the two women and their escorts stopped. The soldiers escorting them gave them a quick search, removing Larra’s knife and revolver. Jia Li was also relieved of her weapons. Then the door to the “hole” was opened and they were thrust inside. Inside, Larra saw that their prison was well named. It was a filthy hovel, devoid of any furnishings. There was not even a blanket for warmth. In a corner was a stinking bucket, still dripping with human refuse from its last use. As they entered, rats scattered into holes in the walls. Depressed, Larra cleared a space in the straw that littered the floor and sat down. She had led herself and Jia Li into a trap. Jia Li seemed to sense her emotions. She placed her hand on Larra’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Do not worry, Larra, we will get out of this.” Larra smiled up at the girl. She was a wonderful companion. Perhaps if they kept their heads they could find a way out of their dilemma. In the meantime they would just have to wait. Outside a Japanese guard peered in through the barred window. It was still dark when the guards came for them the next morning. Jia Li and Larra had not had much sleep. They had spent much of the night keeping the rats and other vermin away from one another and the baby. So it was that they were wide awake when the door was unlocked and flung open. Two men entered, while outside the cell another man shone the light of an electric torch through the cell window. The Japanese were taking no chances. Larra heard the clank of chains. One of the soldiers pushed Jia Li to her knees. For a second the young girl resisted, but then thought better of it. The muzzle of a rifle was pointed directly at her from the cell window. There was a further clanking sound as an iron collar was placed about Jia Li’s neck. It was followed by the click of a padlock being snapped into place. Next it was Larra’s turn. She made no resistance as the heavy metal band was clamped about her throat and the padlock snicked shut. Then both women were marched to the door and out into the night air. It was as dark outside as it had been in the cell, but Larra could make out the lights of a truck about fifty feet away. As they were propelled in the direction of the truck, both women realized that the iron collars around their necks were connected by a length of heavy chain. This would make any flight doubly difficult. Reaching the trucks they were marched up a ramp at the back and pushed onto a wooden bench that ran the length of the back of the vehicle. Soldiers piled in alongside them and onto a bench facing them. They were to have a full escort to whatever their destination was. With a grinding of gears the truck lurched off into the night. Soon choking clouds of dust enveloped the passengers in the back of the vehicle. As best she could, Larra tried to shelter her sleeping baby from the dust, holding her close to her bosom. For several hours the truck ran on, throwing up the suffocating clouds of dust as it went. Both Larra and Jia Li were now suffering the effects of dehydration and hunger. They had not had any food or drink for about a day. Although the Japanese soldiers had water bottles and occasionally drank from them, they did not offer any to their captives. Larra became concerned about her daughter. Without water she knew it was only a matter of time until her breast milk began to dry up. Already, the baby was having to suck longer to get the same amount of nourishment. Larra prayed silently for the journey to end. Eventually the road ended in a larger town. The truck pulled up in front of an imposing building. It looked to have been some sort of palace or temple in the past, but now seemed to be used by the Japanese for their purposes. Larra and Jia Li were pushed unceremoniously from the truck. Forced to jump from the back, Larra almost stumbled, burdened as she was by her daughter, and handicapped by the chain around her neck. The two captives were herded into the interior of the building. They entered a spacious hall. Directly before them was a large desk. An officer sitting behind the desk looked up as they were driven in his direction. Larra stifled a gasp. It was Major Fujima! Fujima smiled falsely as his eyes focused on the two chained women. “Welcome back Miss Court. Welcome also to your friend.” He glanced at Jia Li whose face remained blank, as she understood no Japanese. “Our question and answer session was interrupted last time,” he said turning back to Larra. “This time I hope to be able to finish my interrogation. But I see that you are tired by your journey. You will need to be strong for the upcoming session.” Turning to the guards he ordered them to take Larra and Jia Li to a holding cell and bring them food and water. The he said something else that froze Larra’s blood. “Give your child to one of the guards. We will care for it while you are being interrogated.” The guard next to Larra reached out to take the child from Larra’s arms. Larra clutched the baby tightly, but then relented once the guard began to pull on the child. Any resistance would only harm her baby. In complete despair, Larra allowed herself to be led away, while her baby remained in the arms of the guard. As she left Fujima called after her: “Do not worry, the child will be well cared for.” Larra and Jia Li were marched down a long hallway. Eventually they came to a section of the building that was being utilized as a jail. The two women were escorted to a cell. As promised, food and water was brought to them. Larra ate and drank, despite the complete loss of her appetite. As Fujima had said; she would need her strength. Larra gauged the length of the chain joining her to Jia Li. It was about ten feet long. While moving she and Jia Li had carried part of it in their hands. It was long enough, Larra estimated to give them limited freedom of movement. A plan was forming in her brain. The next morning found Larra and Jia Li somewhat refreshed. The cell had not been especially comfortable, but it was clean and contained warm blankets. In addition they had been brought enough food and water to satisfy them. The loss of her daughter still preyed on Larra’s mind, but at least now she might be able to make an escape attempt without the danger that a stray shot would kill her baby. The guards came for the two women bright and early. There were six soldiers to escort the two chained females to the interrogation room. Since Larra and Jia Li had given no indication of resistance, the six armed men were expecting very little trouble form their seemingly helpless prisoners. After all, what could two chained women do against six guards? Larra and Jia Li were hardly out of the cell before they struck. It was critical that they overcome the guards before they were able to sound the alarm. Overconfidence on the part of the guards played into their hands. Without thinking they placed the two women in their midst. Three guards led and three guards trailed them as they were escorted down the corridor. Larra was in front with Jia Li following. As previously planned Jia Li struck hard at the guards that were following her. With a speed that was impossible for the untrained eye to follow, Jia Li pivoted on her right leg and struck three times in rapid succession. The edge of her foot caught each of the guards just below his jaw, viciously snapping their heads back. Two of them were unconscious before they hit the floor. The third need some more help and Jia Li obliged, striking the falling man three more times on the way down. As Jia Li dealt with the rear guard, Larra struck at the backs of the guards in front of her. She too used her powerful legs, using a front thrust kick to hammer the kidney area of each of the men in front of her. With incredible speed, she was able to deliver a succession of six blows in just a few seconds. The heavy blows paralyzed the men in front of her, and they collapsed without a sound. Incredibly in less than five seconds the two women had taken out six trained soldiers. Larra and Jia Li looked around them. They were free of their escort, but still chained together. However, they had overcome the first obstacle in their planned escape. Now they had to find a way out of the prison and somehow rescue Larra’s daughter. That task seemed almost impossible, but they had to try. They searched the guards for keys to the padlocks that held the iron collars in place about their necks, but had no success. They would have to remain chained together for the moment. “We have spent enough time here,” whispered Larra. “We had better get moving.” Jia Li nodded. They were probably already overdue at the interrogation room. It would only be a matter of time until someone came looking for them. Moving quickly but quietly they moved down the cell corridor toward the exit door. As they did so they passed cells occupied by other inmates. Larra wondered briefly if she should try to release them too, but that thought was swiftly laid to rest when one of the other prisoners spotted them and began to shout loudly in Japanese. Larra was stunned and chagrined. She should have realized that most of the other prisoners in the cell block would be Japanese soldiers guilty of minor crimes. They might have committed some minor transgression, but were still loyal to Japan. Of course they would sound the alarm. By now all of the other prisoners were creating an unholy din. It was impossible that they would not be heard. Larra and Jia Li dashed down the cell corridor as quickly as they could. They had to get out of the cell block before they were trapped by other Japanese coming to see what all the noise was about. They were too late. Before they even reached the door it burst open. The two unarmed women found themselves looking down the barrels of a dozen or more rifles. Resignedly, Larra and Jia Li slowly raised their hands. Their freedom had been extremely short lived. One of the soldiers ran past them to the heap of bodies that Larra and Jia Li had left down the corridor. The two women made no attempt to stop him. Caught in the narrow corridor they had no chance to escape. Any sudden move on their part and they would be shot down like fish in a rain barrel. A scream of rage came from the soldier who had reached the bodies of his fallen comrades. In a few seconds he came charging back. He was almost incoherent with anger, but he shied away from the two women as he passed them. Picking up his rifle from where he had left it, he flicked off the safety and took deadly aim at Larra’s breast. Larra calmly watched as the man’s finger slowly tightened on the trigger and waited for the bullet to come. From behind the soldier a sword blade flashed. Slowly the soldier crumpled to the floor. As he did so, his severed head toppled from his shoulders and rolled to Larra’s feet. The blade of his katana still dripping blood, Fujima stepped into the space once occupied by the dead soldier. “No one,” he said quietly, “gave any orders to shoot anyone.” Stooping, he carefully wiped the blood from the blade, using the dead soldier’s shirt for the purpose. Approaching Larra he took in the chaotic scene in the corridor at a glance. He looked long and hard at Larra and Jia Li. There was a faint hint of respect in his eyes. “Escort these two to the interrogation room,” he barked. “And keep your eyes on them. And get someone to clean up this mess,” he said, gesturing to the body strewn corridor. Larra and Jia Li were hustled out of the cell block and into the interrogation room. It was only a few feet past the cell block door. “We like the inmates to be able to hear the screams of those we question,” explained Fujima cheerfully. Larra noticed that there was another officer waiting in the center of the room. Since he wore a colonel’s insignia Larra concluded that she was probably facing Colonel Hondo, the man responsible for many of her woes. Keeping their rifles trained on the two women, Larra and Jia Li were brought before the officer. He fixed the two women with an icy gaze. “Sooo…” Colonel Hondo said slowly, “you like to fight. Good! We will give you a chance to show your skills.” Larra gazed back. “Where is my child?” she said steadily. “Surely the Japanese army does not make war on nursing infants.” Hondo gave a mirthless smile. For several moments he did not reply. Then he snapped out an order: “Bring the white slut’s child.” Hondo directed his gaze to Larra’s chest. “I see that you need the child as much as it needs you.” Larra looked down. A large wet patch was spreading down her front. She reddened. It was more than a day since she had nursed Lin Yao, and her swollen breasts were leaking milk. She suddenly realized how much her engorged breasts were hurting. Larra heard Lin Yao long before she saw her. Since the infant had not nursed in over 24 hours her cries were hardly surprising. Eventually she saw her daughter. She was swathed in a blanket and being carried by a Manchu serving girl. Almost too eagerly, if such an emotion was possible, Larra clasped the child to her breast. Within a few seconds she had loosed the front of her quilted jacket and was nursing her baby. She paid no attention to the ogling of the assembled Japanese, most of whom had never seen breasts as large as hers. “Remove the chain from the Chinese bitch and chain this one to the wall,” ordered Hondo. “Major Fujima you take over.” Larra found herself being led to the wall of the room. A number of rings were fastened into its surface and the end of Larra’s chain was padlocked to one of them. There was enough slack in the chain to enable her to sit down, but Larra remained standing. She wanted to see what they were going to do to Jia Li. As soon as Jia Li’s collar had been removed she had been seized by four Japanese soldiers. They immediately locked a short light chain to her ankles. It would enable her to move her feet enough to walk or run, but she would be unable to launch one of her deadly kicks. Fujima approached her. Through a translator he spoke to her. “We are going play a game to test your skills. These are the rules of the game. You will face several opponents, but they will come at you one at a time. If you win you survive to fight another day. If the soldier wins he can do anything he wants with you.” Jia Li blanched. A tight knot of fear formed deep in her stomach. She was being presented with a no win situation. If she lost she would be raped. If she successfully fought off her opponents she would simply face another until eventually she lost, and then she would still be raped. But she also knew that she had no option. She would have to fight. However, the Japanese had handicapped her by taking away her ability to kick. She would have only her hands and arms as weapons. Fujima had backed away from her. The soldiers in the room formed a ring about her. Her test was to begin.