The Exotic Misadventures of Lora vonGehöft Lora’s African Adventure Story by L’Espion [email protected] Chapter 6 Escape A week after overhearing the king and Abasi Lora was ready. She had used the seven days to properly reconnoitre the village. The fact that she was allowed to move freely to any part of it while engaged in her daily routine made it easy to determine the various comings and goings of everyone in the village, from the time they got up in the morning to the hour they retired for the night. She also learned where the guards were posted and most interestingly the fact that the King’s hut was not guarded at all, the main duty of the sentries being to watch for incursions of wild beast such as leopards. It would still not be easy to sneak into the King’s hut; he had at least a dozen or so wives, and there was no telling if they would be all asleep. However, she had no choice; the glory of the Third Reich depended upon her and she had given her sacred oath to serve the Führer. She needed some way of getting into the hut without being discovered and getting out again and then finding her way out of the village. Each separate action was fraught with danger and she would have only one chance. If she was caught she would never get another chance; Abasi would almost certainly see to that. She would probably be killed if not worse. She needed a diversion, but what sort? The solution to the question turned out to be so incredibly simple she was amazed she had not thought of it immediately. What more perfect distraction could there be in a village of huts with roofs of thatched grass than setting fire to one of the buildings? Or perhaps two or three fires just to makes sure. Her decision made, she prepared for her escape. Her food preparation chores made it easy to set aside several days’ food supply. She hoped that her boots, trousers, and other gear might be in the King’s hut as well. Attempting to escape barefoot through the African wilderness would certainly slow her down. Now, the only problem was to spend the night alone. Fortunately, she had a ready-made solution to that as well; she had discovered that when her time of the month arrived Abasi was certain to leave her alone. In fact the warriors of the Leopard Tribe seemed to be positively terrified of the menstrual cycle. Not only would he not touch her, but she he would not even enter her hut or eat food prepared by her. All she had to do was feign menstrual cramps and he would not come near her for a week. It worked as well as she had hoped. “You’ve come into your moon rather soon,” Abasi said, but her made no move to touch her. “I know, Master,” Lora replied, her head bowed. “But the cramps are very bad; worse than usual. And I am bleeding.” She held up a handful of the moss the women of the tribe used to staunch their menstrual flow. It was dark with the colour of blood. Abasi backed away quickly. “Stay in your hut. Ashra will bring you food and water.” Lora kept her head bowed, her face not betraying her satisfaction. “Yes, Master.” It was amazing how effective the juice of a few red berries could be. She retreated to the hut and waited until Ashra brought her food and water. Then she settled back to wait until dark. The tropical night came soon enough, but Lora waited until all activity had completely died down before making her move. Gathering up her food supply she crept from the hut, keeping to the shadows in the sleeping village. The only light came from a few flickering torches on the palisade. The sentries were near the cattle pens chatting with one another and possibly speculating on the fairly low possibility of a lion attack. She could hear their soft muttering as she crept from the tent. Her first goal was to obtain some fire and so she went to where the cooking cooking-pot hung over the dead embers of the day’s fire. There were always a few hot coals buried beneath the ashes and she extracted several of these, wrapping them in pieces of banana leaf for transport. Creeping to the part of the camp farthest from the King’s tent she set the ashes on the ground, gathered some tinder around them and blew softly. Within seconds she was rewarded with a small flame. She thrust a small branch she had previously prepared into the flames. Torches were rare in the village, but what she had would do. She had wound grease-soaked fabric around the top of the branch and after smoldering for a few seconds it began to burn with an orange flame. Quickly she thrust the flames into the eaves of the hut she was standing next to and then as it caught she dashed to the next hut and the next. Within a few seconds she had three of the thatched roofs burning nicely. Thrusting the torch into the thatch of the last hut she left it there and quickly crept away. And then she waited. It was over a minute before anyone noticed anything wrong and then the inhabitants of the first hut burst from the doorway with shouts of alarm. Lora felt a strange sense of relief as she saw them. Even if they are nothing but a bunch of blackamoor savages they don’t deserve to burn to death. Except Abasi and his four wives, of course. Those she would take pleasure in roasting over a slow fire. The alarm quickly spread as she had hoped it would. Within seconds everyone in the village was aroused and running toward the three burning huts. For a minute or so there was complete confusion, just as Lora had hoped and then someone shouted for water. The problem was that the only water in the village had to be brought laboriously up from the nearby stream, a task Lora could knew well. That meant opening the gates and running down the rough track to the place where the women filled their water jars. It was a distance of several hundred meters and it took several minutes before the first jar had been filled and brought back to the fire. By that time all three huts were burning so fiercely that all that could be done was to splash water on nearby huts to keep them from burning at well. The complete confusion gave Lora the chance she needed. She darted through the darkness to the King’s hut. As she had guessed the King had awakened, but he had gone no further than the entrance to his compound where he stood watching the confusion with two of his wives. He caught sight of her almost immediately. “What are you doing here, lakweit? Why are you not carrying water for the fire?” “Just this,” Lora answered. She brought up the crude knife she normally used to cut vegetables and thrust it into the King’s throat and then drew it sideways across the jugular vein. The King’s fat neck was so thick that she wasn’t sure she had stabbed deeply enough, but a few seconds later the King made a gurgling sound, clutched at his throat and then fell forward, his feet kicking up and down. It was a gruesome sight, but Lora had become inured to blood by now, as it was a daily practice to bleed two or three of the cattle and catch their blood in a bowl to be mixed with their milk. One of her jobs had been to catch the blood as is spurted from the vein and then plug up the wound with clay. The two wives stared in horror and then set up the most unholy screaming and wailing as Lora pushed her fingers into the folds of fat at the back of the dead King’s neck and ripped free the Ring of Solomon. She tucked it into the belt pouch and then grabbed the single torch that always burned outside the King’s compound. She dashed into the hut, ignoring the two screaming wives and hoping that their shouts would be lost in the general uproar. Inside the smoking torch gave her just enough light to survey the few furnishings. There was a crude table, several chairs, some sort of altar, a large bed, and a few shelves. On one of them she spied her clothing and gun belt, and leaning against the wall next to them was her rifle. There was no time to waste, but she ripped off her simple skirt and put on her trousers and boots. I’m not going into the jungle dressed like a savage. It did not occur to her, that smeared with the dead King’s blood, and brandishing a bloody knife she appeared very much like the savages she scorned. Strapping the gun belt around her waist she grabbed up her skirt, and tucked it into her belt. If nothing else it would help to keep the insects away and shelter her nude torso from the sun. She headed for the doorway of the hut, but as she left she tossed the torch onto the bed. Filled with straw it would soon have the King’s hut in flames and add to the general confusion. As she left the hut she was confronted by the King’s wives - all of them. Apparently the two who had run screaming from the compound had brought back the rest, and with them were several warriors. She hadn’t bothered to check to see if her rifle was loaded, but knew that it hadn’t been fired since it had been taken from her. Bringing it to her shoulder she fired into the mob in front of her. The heavy bullet tore through several of the wives and one of the warriors, leaving them screaming and writhing on the ground. She fired again and added two more victims. The rest needed no further warning. They took to their heels shouting in alarm. But by that time Lora was running full speed toward the village gate. As she approached the gate she slung the rifle over her arms. There was not a proper gate as might be expected in a more civilized village. Instead the opening was crammed with thorn bushes that featured ten centimetre spikes. Each one had to be dragged out of the way in order to get by them. However, it was a job she had helped with before and she managed to pull the bushes aside with only a few minor puncture wounds. Before she dashed into the forest outside the village, however, she grabbed one more torch and applied it to the thorn bushes. The dry brush burst into flame, blocking the gate with a wall of fire. It would not burn for long, but it would give her enough time to get far enough away that she might escape pursuit. She kept the torch, using it to light her way as she fled down the trail she had travelled when she had been brought to the village. It was very dark and the trail she took was full of shadows, however, she managed to make her way with only a few stumbles. There seemed to be no immediate pursuit and she congratulated herself on the diversions she had created. Unfortunately, things had not gone quite as planned. She had hoped to get the ring and escape from the village without anyone knowing she was gone. In retrospect that probably would have been impossible, but now everyone in the village would know what she had done and almost certainly someone as vengeful as Abasi would soon be in hot pursuit, although if she was lucky they probably would not follow until dawn. As it turned out she was right about any pursuit waiting until morning. The rising sun found her tired but exultant and several kilometers from the village. Thanks to the torch she had experienced no difficulty in following the trail and was almost back to where she had been taken prisoner. She did not fool herself. She was still deep in the wilderness and several days’ walk from anyone who might be inclined to help her. In addition, the adrenaline burst that had fueled her escape was long gone, leaving her in need of rest. However, rest was something she could not afford. Almost certainly Abasi would come after her and she needed to be as far away from the village as possible before nightfall. She pressed on, hoping that in the darkness she was on the right trail. Dawn found her several kilometers from the village and on what she seemed to remember as the right trail. Despite her improved conditioning she was beginning to tire, but she dared not stop for long. She opened her packet of food and swallowed a handful of millet, and ate a few pieces of fruit. It seemed to help but she knew could not keep up her current pace forever. Sooner or later she would have to stop to rest and she knew from experience that the black warriors who would chase after her could move much more quickly than she could. Her pursuers were far more experienced than her in the way of the wild. She needed to do something to slow them down and the only thing she could think of was to leave the trail and hope that she could still find her way. Perhaps if I move into the forest for a time and then back to the trail it will throw them off. She had no idea if that would work, but it seemed her only choice. She walked on another hundred meters before she found a suitable place. A large tree had fallen to one side of the trail, leaving a tangle of roots exposed. It offered the perfect way to enter the forest and leave no footprints. Using the roots as handholds she climbed to the trunk and then made her way along it until she reached the end. The tree had been enormous; at least sixty or seventy meters tall and she was able to get quite far into the forest before having to drop to the forest floor once more. She had noted that her boots left very distinct footprints in the soft forest soil so as she moved away from the tree she tried to step on broken branches to further hide any sign of her trail and then she headed a little deeper into the forest before turning to parallel the trail. She quickly found that this was not as easy as she would have hoped. As soon as she was out of sight of the trail the forest closed in around her. Giant trees fully shaded the forest floor and hid the sky. She had only gone a few steps before she had completely lost her sense of direction. Not good. This is absolutely not good. There is little point in escaping the savages if I become so totally lost I can’t find my way back to civilization. Or at least what passed for civilization in barbaric Africa. She stumbled back toward the direction of the trail, tripping over roots, and snagging herself on thorns and saw-edged leaves. It took her several minutes of pushing through the thick vegetation before she realized that she had completely missed the original trail. Verdammt! How can I be lost already? I must be only a few meters from the trail. She changed direction, trying to determine the location of the trail by peering upward through the forest canopy and attempting to get a fix on the sun. I has to be this way. She pushed through a thick stand of trees, vines, and shrubbery, tangling the remains of the skirt she had draped over her shoulders as protection against insects, but failed to find the elusive trail. At that point she almost panicked, forcing herself through the thick foliage without any attempt to determine direction. Exhaustion and the heat and humidity finally stopped her. She stood panting, sweat streaming down her body, and dozens of flies flitting about her eager to drink her sweat. It’s simple. I’ll just retrace my steps. Aware of the fact that Abasi and his warriors might already be hot on her trail, she moved back the way she had come, following the path of crushed vegetation. She realized as she did so that she was leaving a trail even a novice could follow. The tree trunk trick might slow her pursuers up a little, but they would have little difficulty figuring out what she had done. Disheartened she moved back to the main trail and continued her flight. She had wasted at least two hours floundering about in the forest; and that was two hours she was certain she did not have. The fear of pursuit had her on the verge of breaking into a run, but she knew that all that would do was so completely exhaust her that she would be finished for the day. She had no choice but to keep up a steady pace and hope that any pursuit was still far behind her. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. She was pushing up a steep hill when she happened to glance back the way she had come. By pure chance a gap in the vegetation revealed a gleaming black body and behind him was still another. At the same instant the warrior looked her way. “There she is,” he shouted triumphantly. “We have the white witch.” Lora broke into a run, but quickly realized that in her exhausted condition she was not going to outrun Abasi and his warriors. There was nothing for it but to leave the trail and plunge into the forest. Without further thought she turned off the trail and into the thick vegetation, running as fast as her legs would move. She now had no idea where she was going. She ran wherever the forest took her, dodging around large trees, skirting patches of thorn bush and pushing through thick vines and undergrowth. Her headlong panicked flight almost took her over the edge of a cliff. She saw it just in time and came to a gasping halt. Staggering forward, she pushed through a stand of bamboo and scrambled to the edge of the ravine and peered into its depths. It appeared she had come as far as she could go. The edge of the ravine dropped away sharply for twenty or thirty meters; too far to jump without danger of injury, especially as it was thick with vegetation that could hide all sorts of hazards. And after that it plunged into a deep canyon that disappeared into distant depths. But behind her she could hear the excited shouts of Abasi and his warriors as they closed in on her. Going back that way meant certain death or perhaps even worse. It appeared that she had run out of options, but then fate took a hand. With a loud crunch the earth beneath her feet gave way, taking her and the clump of bamboo surrounding her straight down the steep slope. “Schiese!” she shouted, grabbing at a thick stalk of bamboo next to her. She expected to be thrown off the descending clump of earth and vegetation. But that did not happen. Instead she found herself riding it down like some sort of organic elevator. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, but all she could do was hold on and hope that somehow everything would turn out for the best. Unfortunately, the laws of physics were not quite that kind to her. The large clump of earth accelerated and began to come apart; large chunks breaking off as it gained speed and leaving her on a smaller and smaller island of safety. “Gott im Himmel,” she screamed as her earthen vehicle suddenly reached the end of the slope and shot into empty space. Clinging like an insect to the thick stalk of bamboo, she dropped into a vast chasm some several hundred meters deep, her feet actually higher than her head. It was a position that gave her an excellent view of the ribbon of water at the bottom of the canyon. She screamed again and then she hit the water. The fall should have killed her. She was saved by the fact that the clump of earth she was riding struck the water first, absorbing much of the impact, while the bamboo shaft she was desperately clinging to bent like a spring, greatly reducing her speed. Even so her arms were almost torn from their sockets. Unable to maintain her grip she plunged into the river. Immediately she was swept along in the current, the weight of the heavy rifle dragging her down. She threw out her arms, reaching for something that she had seen from the corner of her eye and caught hold of the bamboo stalk she had clung to on the way down the slope. It was a thick as the trunk of a small tree and amazingly buoyant and it saved her life. Holding on with both hands she was swept along by the rushing stream with ever increasing speed. Ever increasing speed? Why was that happening? Downstream there was a low rumble and it needed little imagination to determine what was happening. Desperately she forced her bruised and exhausted body into action, attempting to fight her way to the shore, but she was moving downstream much faster than she was creeping toward the shore. The rumbling sound grew louder and louder until it eclipsed all other sound. Still clinging to the bamboo shaft she was swept over the edge of the falls. She seemed to fall forever, although it could not have been more than a few seconds before she struck the deep pool beneath the falls. She lost her grip on the bamboo and she plunged deep beneath the surface. Weighed down by the heavy rifle she was taken almost to the bottom of the pool before she managed to extricate herself. Suddenly more buoyant the flow of the water actually swept her toward the surface and then pushed her downstream away from the falls. Lora was almost finished, barely able to stay afloat she could hardly believe her luck when her feet touched bottom. Purely by accident the flow of the water had taken her into the shallows near the shore. She stumbled forward, heading for a log-covered sandy beach. She was halfway there when several of the logs sprouted legs and turned toward her. Gott im Himmel! Could things get any worse? She fumbled for her pistol and somehow got it out, as the closest crocodile slid into the water. She snapped the safety off and fired in one motion. She sent three slugs into the reptile, sending it into a writhing frenzy. Its convulsions distracted the other crocodile and she was able to stumble free of the water. I can’t stay here. She staggered across the beach to a jumble of rocks close to the face of the falls. With her strength failing her she managed to clamber up a couple of meters two a small rock shelf. She could go no farther, collapsing full length. She lay on the sun-warmed rock letting it dry her clothes. The events of the day had not gone well. She had lost her food, her rifle, and her way. She had no idea where she was and the only thing to be thankful for was that she had probably lost Abasi, although she couldn’t be sure of that. However, she still had her pistol and two extra clips. That was not nearly as good as the rifle, but it did offer her some protection, and the possibility of shooting some unsuspecting forest creature. If she could do that she would have some food. At least she might not starve right away. Her thoughts slowly faded away as sleep overtook her. She awoke to darkness and the raucous calls of African wildlife. Swarms of biting insects were swarming about her and she realized that the repellent the members of the Leopard Tribe used to ward off insects had been washed off during her time in the water. She hated the stuff, which consisted of some sort of the juice of foul smelling leaves that had been mixed with cow fat. But bad as it smelled, it did keep the insects away. Fortunately she had taken some with her and had not lost it in the river. She quickly smeared it over her bare arms and torso, relieving most of the torment. Then she folded her arms about herself and waited for morning. She awoke again at dawn realizing that she dozed off once again. She was stiff from lying on the rock shelf, and very hungry. She forced herself into a sitting position, gritting her teeth against the pain. She did not seem to have done any permanent damage to her body, but she had certainly pulled a few muscles and she sported numerous bruises. It was obvious that if she was to continue her escape she was going have to find something to eat. There was also the problem of finding her way to safety. She might have managed to escape Abasi, but she had also gotten herself totally lost. Her plunge into the river had completely disoriented her and she wasn’t even sure she could find her way back to the trail. Then it came to her that a simpler way of getting back to Lake Tanganyika might be to simply follow the river. If she could build some sort of raft she might be able to float all the way to the lake; it would certainly be easier than walking. Also, it was just possible that Abasi might not think of looking for her in the river. First things first, however. She needed food before she did anything else. She stood up on the stone shelf. Her clothes, what there was of them, were still damp, but they would probably dry in the sun before long. Looking about, her first thought was that there might be something she could eat in the trees. She didn’t know much about rainforest fruits and nuts, but there might be something she could recognize. It was unfortunate that she did not have anything to make a fishing line or a hook. Still, one of the activities she had enjoyed most in the Deutscher Madel had been fishing, and improvisation was one of the attributes she had attempted to encourage in herself and the girls in her squad. There were plenty of large insects around for use as bait, and her time among the Leopard Tribe had cured her of her irrational fear of most of them, although spiders and scorpions still gave her the shivers. Perhaps she could twist some sort of fish line out of.... Vas ist das? She was right above the beach where she had staggered out of the water and lying half-in, half-out of the water was the crocodile she had shot. Judging from the position of its body and the fact that it had clearly been chewed on it was probably dead. However, she bounced a couple of rocks off it just to make sure. That still left several other crocodiles on the beach, but a few more well-placed rocks sent the rest sliding into the water with rather bad-tempered grunts. Thanks to the steady flow of the river the water was clear enough to be sure that they had swum well away from the bank. She clambered down to the crocodile’s body. As she had already determined its fellows had been working on it. However, she knew from her experience with the Leopard Tribe that contrary to their image in popular fiction, crocodiles did not tear their prey apart, but rather waited for it to rot so that the carcass could be more easily dismembered. For the most part the carcass was intact with only minor tooth marks where it had been attacked by the other crocodiles. It was much more meat than she could consume or carry with her, but it would satisfy her hunger. Using her knife she cut through the underside of the thick tail and removed a sizable chunk of flesh. Then she took it back to her rock ledge and set about gathering sticks of firewood. She had no matches to light it and the water would probably have ruined them in any case, but she knew how to start a fire without them. One of the mistakes she had made in the Leopard Tribe had been to let the ashes of the cooking fire burn out. She had been given a thorough beating by Ashra and then forced to rekindle it by rubbing two sticks together. It had taken her several hours before she mastered it, and Ashra had beaten her every time she failed. She had a fire started this time in just a few minutes. Spitting the meat on a stick she had sharpened with her knife she thrust it into the flames. She had never eaten crocodile before, but she was not about to be fastidious given some of the strange foods the Leopard Tribe had forced on her; besides, her insides felt so hollow she resembled a drum. Almost drooling in anticipation, she forced herself to wait as the meat sizzled on her little fire. She might be half-starved, but she was not about to bolt down half-cooked food no matter how hungry she was. She fed a fed more sticks into the flame to speed up the process and then when the outer portion of the meat was cooked to her satisfaction she began to saw off pieces while the rest continued to cook. Hardly waiting for the meat to cool, she stuffed it into her mouth, burning her tongue in the process, but savouring the juices that dripped down her throat. Not bad. It does taste like chicken. She slowed her eating process, but continued to slice off bits of meat as it cooked. If she stayed by the crocodile she had enough food for a week, but she couldn’t stay where she was. Her trip down the river and over the falls might have thrown Abasi off her trail or it might not, but she wasn’t about to try to live in the heart of Africa like some Edgar Rice Burroughs character. Burroughs was one of her favourite authors, except for the two books where the soldiers of the Fatherland had been depicted as the villainous enemy. The rest, however, had thrilled her with their strange tales of adventure and the clear message of the superiority of the White man over the black Untermenschen. I’m like Jane, she thought. Except that I’m not American, an inferior mongrel race if ever there was one. She finished her meal and found that there was still quite a bit of the meat left over. In her haste she had spitted enough food for several people. She continued to let it cook, however. Uncooked it would soon begin to spoil and she would have enough food for later and a bit to take with her on her journey. She got to her feet. Time to start building her raft. It wasn’t hard to find building materials. There was a stand of bamboo nearby, and in spite of the fact that her only tool was her knife she soon had cut enough lengths to build a raft. She had cut relatively thin sections of the plant to make the work easier. She planned to make two layers which would be more than enough to support her weight, given how buoyant the bamboo was. Tying the lengths together took a bit more time. First, she had to braid plants fibres together to make a crude rope, another skill she had acquired in the Leopard Tribe. It was actually strange how much she had learned from the Black Untermenschen, considering how primitive their savage culture was. By the time night had fallen her task was finished. She had constructed a light but sturdy raft, some two meters wide and three meters long and had a long bamboo pole for pushing it and guiding it around rocks. She also had enough meat cooked to last another day. After that she would have to see if she could find something else to eat. But who knew, by then she might be close to the lake. If she could make it to the primitive village where the lake steamer had docked she would be safe and well on her way home. As she sat by her small fire she took out the chain and the ring she had taken from the King. Holding it close to the flames she studied it. It certainly looked old, and from its weight was almost certainly solid gold. She put it on her finger and found that it fit only loosely, indicating that it had been made for a man. There was some sort of image carved into the bezel, but she couldn’t make out what it was, along with faint scratches that might have been some sort of writing. It would need a magnifying glass to determine what they were. She would leave that up to the Reichsführer and his team of archeological experts. Perhaps I will be allowed to participate in the research. It would be a great honour to work with a man as accomplished as Hermann Wirth. With that pleasant thought in her mind she managed to drift off to sleep on the crude bed of bamboo leaves she had put together. Once again she awoke before dawn, and once again she was stiff from the previous days’ exertions and the crude bed she had slept on. However, she stood up and stretched, working out some of the kinks. She still had nothing to cover her torso, however, she had set aside enough of her rope to make a sort of cape out of the bamboo leaves. Draping this over herself, she scattered the crocodiles as she had done on the previous day and pushed her crude raft into the river. Using the pole she pushed off and was immediately seized by the current. It swept the raft downstream with almost no effort on her part. This is so much better than walking. Why didn’t we use the river instead of taking that primitive trail? A low and all too familiar rumble answered her question. Sheisse! How many waterfalls did the river have? The raft was swept around a bend in the river to reveal white water and a number of large boulders thrusting above the surface. Lora could do nothing but stand helplessly as the raft was caught up in the current and thrust into the boiling water. Incredibly, the rushing water somehow swept the raft past the boulders without touching any of them, but Lora was thrown off her feet and almost pitched into the river. Lying full-length on the raft she gripped the bamboo lattices with all her strength and somehow rode to the safety of smoother water. She even managed to retrieve her pole by paddling the raft over to it with her hands. The river now ran smoothly between high, forest-covered banks. Using her pole she kept it in midstream and let the current do the work. Three more times she encountered stretches of white water, but as on the first occasion she managed to ride through them without being pitched overboard or slamming into a large boulder. She even managed to use the pole to push herself away from obvious danger. Each trip through the rapids was terrifying, but much more terrifying was the fear of once again being captured. By late afternoon she was many kilometers downstream of where she had started and she put into a small beach where she anchored the raft. She would have to spend another night in the forest, but she was incredibly exhilarated. She had survived one days’ travel on the river and was now much closer to safety and there was no sign of Abasi. She ate some more of the crocodile meat and actually slept on the raft, believing it safer than sleeping on the beach. After an exhausting day of poling the raft around obstacles she went to sleep almost immediately and woke as usual just before dawn. For breakfast she finished off the crocodile meat and once again set off down river. She encountered two more stretches of rough water before finally entering a section of the river where it broadened out into a wide stream several hundred meters across. She took this as a good sign, believing that she must be close to the huge lake where her disastrous journey into the wilderness had begun. The river was now so deep that she could no longer travel far from the bank and she stuck to the shallows, using her pole to keep the raft away from the river banks. She also encountered another hazard. In most places crocodiles lined the banks, but in one or two stretches they were almost entirely absent and it didn’t take her long before she discovered why. Huge brown beasts splashed in the shallows and she was forced to push the raft to deeper water to avoid the feeding hippopotami. Fortunately, none of the giant animals seemed to find her more than mildly interesting and the raft was allowed to float past them unmolested. She was now in water too deep for the pole to touch bottom and she had to allow the current to carry her along without any guidance. She still wasn’t too far from shore and so she was not too concerned, especially as the current seemed to be edging her slowly toward the bank. In any case it turned out that being forced into deeper water worked in her favour, as a few minutes after passing the hippopotami she came across a herd of elephants. The massive beasts saw her almost before she saw them and immediately set up a challenge. However, none of them did more than move a few steps toward her, avoiding the deeper water as she slowly drifted past them. However, it was a tense few minutes for Lora, leaving her sweating from more than just the tropical heat. By now the river had slowed down noticeably. It seemed that she was barely crawling and she watched carefully for any signs of humanity. But she saw nothing, not even a native canoe, and so as evening approached she put into shore once more. She had no food so she kept her eyes open for something she could shoot. Another crocodile would do, but the beach she was moving toward was vacant. She should probably have wondered at this, but it wasn’t until she had reached the shore that she discovered why. Her heart froze as several dark-skinned figures emerged from the trees along the shore. And prominent among them was the unmistakable figure of Abasi.