Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 3 Larra’s Mongolian Adventure Chapter 5 Jia Li Jia Li dark eyes alertly swept the landscape. The beautiful Manchu girl had been warned that there were Mongol bandits in the area and she was wary of any ambush. Although only nineteen she was on a mission from comrade Mao. It was an undertaking of some importance. For years the Chinese communists had been fighting a one-sided war against the Chinese Nationalists and the Japanese. The Russian presence in Mongolia promised some help if only the local Russian commander could be convinced to supply some much-needed weapons and equipment to his Chinese compatriots. Unfortunately, so far the Russians had been happy to lend only moral support. They had promised help, but their actions had not lived up to their words. It was hoped that the communication Jia Li was carrying would change that. She turned her head away from the relentless wind of the Asian steppes, tossing her long black braid over her shoulder. Only nineteen she held her position due to her remarkable physical and mental abilities. She stood about five-foot eight-inches, tall not only by Chinese standards but those of Europe as well. Years of strenuous exercise had given her a lithe strong body. Her 125 pounds was distributed on a delightful perfectly proportioned physique, and her high cheekboned face was so exquisitely sculptured that it seemed matchless. She was the type of woman who made men’s hearts ache just to look at her. But Jia Li’s qualities were more than just physical. She had been born into a wealthy middle class family and trained by her father and uncle in the ancient Chinese art of kung fu. She had proven so proficient at the time-honored art that she had surpassed her masters by the age of sixteen. In addition, she could do something that most of the peasant soldiers of the communist army could not do. She could read and write. That, coupled with a coolness in battle, a fierce determination to succeed at any task, and a relentless hatred of the people who had killed her family had resulted in her being given duties that seemed beyond her tender years. War had swept her out of her home at the age of seventeen. The Japanese had come, pillaging and destroying everything in their path. Nothing and no one was safe from their depredations. Enemy soldiers who surrendered to them were routinely tortured and executed. Woman were raped and enslaved. Children were butchered or left to starve in the wake of the swathe of destruction that the Japanese cut through China. She had barely escaped with her life. The day the Japanese burned down her father’s house she had been at school. The Japanese had arrived so quickly that no one in her village had any warning of their attack. She had rushed home to find her home already in flames and the bodies of her father, mother, brothers and sisters strewn about the exterior. Japanese soldiers seemed to be everywhere, killing everything in sight. She had fled through the burning city with the bullets of Japanese soldiers whistling around her ears; and she had kept running until she fell in with a group of soldiers from the Eighth Route Army. Unable to properly mourn her family, she took her vengeance on the ravishers of her family and homeland. Her fierceness in battle and the high casualty rate among her comrades had earned her the right to command. Ahead of her she saw the man riding the point position stop and turn his mount toward a low hill that loomed a few hundred feet to one side. Then the man wheeled his horse and rode rapidly back toward her. She raised her hand, bringing the entire column to a halt. The advance rider thundered up in a cloud of dust. “Smoke,” he said. “There is smoke up ahead.” Jia Li shouted out commands, readying her men for combat. This was the territory where the notorious Mongol bandit, Tabin, was known to roam. They may have stumbled onto one of his camps. Jia Li was not looking for a confrontation with any bandits, especially as Tabin’s forces had struck most frequently against the Japanese, but it was best to be prepared for the worst. Weapons at the ready, the troop of thirty armed men and one woman rode on. The area they were riding through was broken by rocky outcrops, providing some cover, but which could also conceal a potential enemy. As they neared the hill Jia Li observed that the plume of smoke seemed to be coming from the side of a rocky hill, probably from a concealed cave. With a wave of her arm she signaled her men to dismount and approach on foot. Followed by her troop she crept silently up the slope, her rifle at the ready. Directly ahead of her was a thick grove of willow and aspen, now devoid of their leaves due to the cold winter weather. The smoke seemed to be coming from directly behind the grove, from the side of the hill itself. Jia Li’s motioned for her men to spread out. It seemed most mysterious. Why were there no guards? For that matter who had created the fire? There did not seem to be anyone else about. Crouching low Jia Li motioned her men to follow, and advanced into the stand of aspen. The ground suddenly fell away, revealing a dark deep cave. The smoke issued from deep within the cave. Cautiously she peered in. The darkness of the cave at first made it impossible to discern anything other than the faint glow of the smoldering fire, but gradually her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Immediately after the entrance the cave descended steeply for about 100 feet and then leveled off. Far back in the cave Jia Li detected the gleam of water. But immediately in front of her she saw a peculiar sight. It was the naked bodies of a man and a woman, lying on a bed of leaves before the smoldering embers of a fire. They did not appear to have any possessions except a camera that was lying on the ground beside them and they were either unconscious or in a very deep sleep. Jia Li approached the sleeping couple, her rifle at the ready. With a start the sleeping woman opened her eyes. Jia Li saw that despite the grime that covered her body, she was incredibly beautiful, perhaps the most attractive woman she had ever seen. She had Caucasian features mixed with a hint of the orient. The man was a huge Mongol, standing well over six feet. He was now awake as well. They leapt to their feet and stood facing Jia Li and her men. They made no attempt to escape, not that there was anywhere for them to go; nor did they attempt to cover their nakedness. Neither spoke. It was as if they were waiting for Jia Li to introduce herself. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” said Jia Li, addressing her questions to the man. To her surprise, it was the tall dark-haired woman who answered. “I am Larra Court. This is my Mongol guide. We were on an archeological expedition and had a mishap. We lost all our gear including our clothes.” Jia Li arched her elegant eyebrows. The woman spoke perfect Mandarin. There was something about her demeanor that commanded respect despite her apparent naked helplessness. Jia Li stepped forward cautiously. “You lost your gear and your clothes? Please explain.” “It’s a bit of a long story,” the woman replied. “Do you have time to hear it?’ “Not now,” Jia Li replied, “But you can tell me about it while we ride. She turned to her men. “Give them some clothes and then tie them up. They will come with us.” Larra’s gut twisted. She was staring down the muzzles of twenty rifles. Captured again, but there was nothing she could do about it; the odds against her were overwhelming, and she had no wish to endanger Tabin in any melee. She cursed herself for not being more alert. She and Tabin had not taken even the most basic precautions. Of course they had both been exhausted from their escape from the watery grave, but there had been no need for them to devote so much of their time to sexual passion. It was a very rude awakening. She had been having the most wonderful dream. In it she and Tabin were lying together in a warm cabin before a blazing fire. That dream was shattered when she saw herself confronted by several armed men, and the very determined looking Chinese girl. In a flash the memories of her circumstances swept through her mind: the escape from the tomb; the swim to safety through frigid waters; and making love with Tabin in a warm pile of leaves. After that she remembered using her survival talents to make a fire. She had plucked a few strands of her long dark-brown hair from her head and twisted them to make a thin but strong thread. Then taking the thread and a small willow stick she had made a bow that she used as a fire drill. Within ten minutes she had a fire going and soon had a roaring blaze, fed by the large supply of dead wood that had fallen into the cave from the grove of willow and aspen that grew at the entrance. Tabin had been most impressed. He and Larra had made love again before the roaring fire. Then they had fallen asleep. Well, she was wide-awake now. She was glad that Tabin had let her do the talking. She not only spoke much better Chinese than did Tabin, but she wanted to keep his identity a secret. Larra guessed that the girl had not recognized Tabin. Considering Tabin’s reputation as the most feared bandit in Mongolia, it was best that he remain anonymous. The clothes they were given were typical quilted jackets and pants, along with a pair of fur-lined boots. Although quite ill-fitting, they were glad of the warmth. They were much less pleased about being tied up. Their hands were tied behind their backs. The men applying the ropes did a very good job, lashing their wrists together and then tying their arms just above the elbows and looping the rope around their torsos. In Larra’s case the rope was crisscrossed between her prominent breasts. There was little likelihood of wriggling out of their bonds without some time and effort. They were then led out of the cave. The communists had brought a few extra horses with them. Larra and Tabin had to be helped onto their mounts. Then their escorts took the reins in their hands and led them off in the middle of a column of about thirty men. The young woman rode beside Larra. “Tell me your story,” she said. Larra outlined her adventure in the tomb of Genghis Khan, leaving out enough detail that it would not be possible to locate the tomb entrance the way that she had. She allowed the young Chinese woman to believe that the entrance to the tomb was though the lake in the cave. Larra knew that it would be next to impossible to gain entrance to the tomb that way without some sort of diving outfit. And it was unlikely that any diving gear would be found in Mongolia. The young woman had introduced herself as Jia Li. “That’s a pretty name,” thought Larra. It meant “beautiful and good.” Perhaps the girl’s name was a portent of their possible relationship. It was important that she establish some sort of rapport with the young woman. She turned the conversation to other subjects. She felt that the young woman might be amenable to helping her if she could just gain her confidence. And so Larra told her a great deal about her adventurous life and in return learned something about the pretty nineteen-year-old. Jia Li listened attentively to the tall Caucasian. She was a bit shocked to learn that Larra was one-quarter Japanese, but was impressed by her intelligence and beauty. She was without a doubt a stunningly attractive woman. Even trussed up, dirty, and wearing ill fitting clothes, Larra was spectacularly beautiful. But even more, Jia Li was attracted to Larra by the incredible aura of confidence and strength that the tall woman exuded. She wove some sort of magic spell about her that made her almost irresistible. They traveled for several days across the bleak Mongolian landscape. Each night, Larra and Tabin were untied so that they could eat and attend to various body functions, but they were always under heavy guard. And once night fell they were tied up again and watched all night. There was no chance to escape. Jia Li’s force was close to its destination now. It was a large Russian camp centred about a few large buildings the Russians had constructed. Jia Li hoped that her “guests” would turn out to be acceptable to the Russians. Although she knew little about them she had developed a bit of a bond with Larra, telling her things about her life that she had told no one else. Perhaps it was because Larra seemed so open and honest about her own life. In some ways Larra resembled Jia Li. They had both lost their parents while young. They were both confident young women.. And they were both dedicated to a cause; Larra to her chosen field of archeology and Jia Li to her vendetta against the Japanese. The fact that Larra was well off financially and Jia Li was a member of the Chinese Communist Party was a major difference, but that did not keep Jia Li from admiring and respecting the foreign woman. The Russian commander of the camp came out to meet them. He spoke some Chinese, but he preferred to work through an interpreter. Colonel Ivanov was an impressive man. Larra estimated that he stood about six foot five inches and weighed close to three hundred pounds. There was the ritual exchange of greetings and then Ivanov was told about Larra and Tabin. Ivanov’s eyes widened when he laid eyes on Tabin. “You have captured the Mongolian bandit,” he said. “This is most excellent comrade Jia Li. It will strongly support your request for aid. You have done me and the Mongolian people a great service.” Jia Li was secretly dismayed. She had suspected that there was something about Tabin that Larra was holding back. But she was saddened to think that he was the most feared of the Mongolian bandits. She knew that his fate was sealed. Russian guards hurried out to place Tabin under arrest. They pulled him unceremoniously off his horse and hustled him into the main building, driving him before them with kicks and punches. Then Larra was dragged from her horse. “Wait!” Jia Li interjected, “She has done nothing wrong.” “Not so,” Ivanov replied. “She is part of his bandit band, and a member of the decadent capitalist class. Surely you have learned to recognize the enemies of the people.” Jia Li knew he was correct. She had been overwhelmed by Larra’s inspiring personality. She had failed to recognize her for what she was, a ruthless exploiter of the working class. She watched silently as they dragged Larra into the building. Larra did not resist, but walked between her captors without any sign of fear. She did not look back at Jia Li. “Yes comrade Colonel, you are right. I was blind not to see that.” “Do not blame yourself comrade Jia Li. You have accomplished a great service by capturing two such dangerous criminals. Now, I must attend to my duties as commander. We will meet again tomorrow.” Jia Li turned away. She had to see to the billeting of her troops. It was late in the day. She would begin her negotiations with Colonel Ivanov tomorrow. Larra did not go quietly. “Colonel Ivanov, I am Larra Court, a British subject on an archeological expedition to Mongolia. You have no right to hold me or my servants.” Larra deliberately kept secret her relationship with Tabin, fearing that the Russian commandant might seek to use it against her. “British?” asked Ivanov. His accent was abominable and Larra could barely make out his words. “You, of course, have proof of your identity and permission from the government in Ulan Bator to enter Mongolia.” “I have none of these. My servant and I were involved in an accident and lost everything, even our clothes.” “You lost your clothes?” sneered Ivanov. “But I see you managed to you’re your camera. I am quite interested in what you have been photographing. I think you are a British spy. You are consorting with a known Mongol bandit. Tomorrow I will find out what you and your companion know.” He turned to the soldiers who were guarding Lara and Tabin. “Take them to the cells.” There was no further conversation. Larra and Tabin were escorted to a heavily barred room. It appeared that the headquarters building had only one cell. It was already crowded with several other prisoners. Without being untied both she and Tabin were herded into the cell and the door was barred behind them. The smell in the cell was almost indescribable. The stench of urine and feces assailed Larra’s nostrils. It was so crowded that there was not enough room for everyone to lie down. Their entry into the cell attracted immediate attention from the other prisoners. Most of them looked like a pretty rough lot. Probably common bandits and thugs rounded up by the Russians and awaiting some sort of people’s justice. A group of the less savory inmates gathered about Larra. “What have we here?” said a particularly dirty individual. He pushed his leering face close to Larra’s and made as if to touch her prominent breasts. That was as far as he got. Even with her hands tied, Larra was more than a match for a common thug. Her knee came up and smashed the goon’s testicles against his abdomen. He fell away from her with a cry of agony, collapsing into the arms of his companions. Almost immediately two other toughs set upon her, but with the space she had made available by her attack on the first oaf, she now had room to move her feet. The side of her left foot caught the first attacker in his throat, crushing his larynx and then before the man had even begun to fall she retracted her extended leg and struck the second man in the solar plexus. Gasping for air, the thug collapse in a writhing heap. The rest of the cell inmates backed away from her. Larra made the most of the psychological opportunity. Turning to a particularly weak-looking individual she ordered: “You! Untie me and my friend.” The man hesitated. “Do it now!” Larra intoned menacingly. Hurriedly, the man came forward and did as he was told. Within a couple of minutes she and Tabin were free of their bonds. The guards outside the cell looked in smirking. They had expected some sort of disturbance. Larra saw from their surprised faces that they were somewhat taken aback that Larra and Tabin were still in one piece. Russian was one of the few major languages that Larra did not speak and so Larra addressed them in Mongol. “We have a couple of dead men in here. Perhaps they should be removed.” The guards just looked at her. Larra turned away and tried to make herself as comfortable as she could in the cramped confines of the cell.