Tarzan and the Leopard Men

Chapter 11

Battle

Edgar Rice Burroughs


INTO THE CAMP of the sleeping Utengas dropped Muzimo and The Spirit of Nyamwegi an hour after midnight. No sentry had seen them pass, a fact which did not at all surprise the sentries, who knew that spirits pass through the forest unseen at all times if they choose to do so.

Orando, being a good soldier, had just made the rounds of his sentry posts and was still awake when Muzimo located him. “What news have you brought me, O Muzimo?” demanded the son of Lobongo. “What word of the enemy?”

“We have been to his village,” replied Muzimo, “The Spirit of Nyamwegi, Lupingu, and I.”

“And where is Lupingu?”

“He remained there after carrying a message to Gato Mgungu.”

“You gave the traitor his liberty!” exclaimed Orando.

“It will do him little good. He was dead when he entered the village of Gato Mgungu.”

“How then could he carry a message to the chief?”

“He carried a message of terror that the Leopard Men understood. He told them that traitors do not go unpunished. He told them that the power of Orando is great.”

“And what did the Leopard Men do?”

“They fled to their temple to consult the high priest and the Leopard God. We followed them there; but they did not learn much from the high priest or the Leopard God, for they all got very drunk upon beer—all except the Leopard, and he cannot talk when the high priest cannot talk. I came to tell you that their village is now almost deserted except for the women, the children, and a few warriors. This would be a good time to attack it, or to lie in ambush near it awaiting the return of the warriors from the temple. They will be sick, and men do not fight so well when they are sick.”

“Now is a good time,” agreed Orando, clapping his palms together to awaken the sleepers near him.

“In the temple of the Leopard God I saw one whom you know well,” remarked Muzimo as the sleepy headmen aroused their warriors. “He is a priest of the Leopard God.”

“I know no Leopard Men,” replied Orando.

“You knew Lupingu, although you did not know that he was a Leopard Man,” Muzimo reminded him; “and you know Sobito. It was he whom I saw behind the mask of a priest. He is a Leopard Man.”

Orando was silent for a moment. “You are sure?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“When he went to consult the spirits and the demons, and was gone from the village of Tumbai for many days, he was with the Leopard Men instead,” said Orando. “Sobito is a traitor. He shall die.”

“Yes,” agreed Muzimo, “Sobito shall die. He should have been killed long ago.”

Along the winding forest trail Muzimo guided the warriors of Orando toward the village of Gato Mgungu. They moved as rapidly as the darkness and the narrow trail would permit, and at length he halted them at the edge of the field of manioc that lies between the forest and the village. After that they crept silently down toward the river when Muzimo had ascertained that the Leopard Men had not returned from the temple. There they waited, hiding among the bushes that grew on either side of the landing place, while Muzimo departed to scout down the river.

He was gone but a short time when he returned with word that he had counted twenty-nine canoes paddling up stream toward the village. “Though thirty canoes went down river to the temple,” he explained to Orando, “these must be the Leopard Men returning.”

Orando crept silently among his warriors, issuing instructions, exhorting them to bravery. The canoes were approaching. They could hear the paddles now, dipping, dipping, dipping. The Utengas waited—tensed, eager. The first canoe touched the bank and its warriors leaped out. Before they had drawn their heavy craft out on the shore the second canoe shot in. Still the Utengas awaited the sign of their leader. Now the canoes were grounding in rapid succession. A line of warriors was stringing out toward the village gate. Twenty canoes had been drawn up on the shore when Orando gave the signal, a savage battle cry that was taken up by ninety howling warriors as spears and arrows showered into the ranks of the Leopard Men.

The charging Utengas broke through the straggling line of the enemy. The Leopard Men, taken wholly by surprise, thought only of flight. Those who had been cut off at the river sought to launch their canoes and escape; those who had not yet landed turned their craft down stream. The remainder tried toward the village, closely pursued by the Utengas. At the closed gates, which the defenders feared to open, the fighting was fierce; at the river it was little better than a slaughter as the warriors of Orando cut down the terrified Leopard Men struggling to launch their canoes.

When it was too late the warriors left to guard the village opened the gates with the intention of making a sortie against the Utengas. Already the last of their companions had been killed or had fled, and when the gates swung open a howling band of Utengas swarmed through.

The victory was complete. No living soul was left within the palisaded village of Gato Mgungu when the blood-spattered warriors of Orando put the torch to its thatched huts.

From down the river the escaping Leopard Men saw the light of the flames billowing upward above the trees that lined the bank, saw their reflection on the surface of the broad river behind them, and knew the proportions of the defeat that had overwhelmed them. Gato Mgungu, squatting in the bottom of his canoe, saw the flames from his burning village, saw in them, perhaps the waning of his savage, ruthless power. Bobolo saw them and, reading the same story, knew that Gato Mgungu need no longer be feared. Of all that band of fleeing warriors Bobolo was the least depressed.

By the light of the burning village Orando took stock of his losses, mustering his men and searching out the dead and wounded. From a tree beyond the manioc field a little monkey screamed and chattered. It was The Spirit of Nyamwegi calling to Muzimo, but Muzimo did not answer. Among the dead and wounded Orando found him like mortal clay stretched out upon his back from a blow upon the head.

The son of the chief was surprised and grieved; his followers were shocked. They had been certain that Muzimo was of the spirit world and therefore immune from death. Suddenly they realized that they had won the battle without his aid. He was a fraud. Filled with blood lust, they would have vented their chagrin through spear thrusts into his lifeless body; but Orando stopped them.

“Spirits do not always remain in the same form,” he reminded them. “Perhaps he has entered another body or, unseen, is watching us from above. If that is so he will avenge any harm that you do this body he has quitted.” In the light of their knowledge this seemed quite possible to the Utengas; so they desisted from their proposed mutilation and viewed the body with renewed awe. “Furthermore,” continued Orando, “man or ghost, he was loyal to me; and those of you who saw him fight know that he fought bravely and well.” “That is so,” agreed a warrior.

“Tarzan! Tarzan!” shrieked The Spirit of Nyamwegi from the tree at the edge of the manioc field. “Tarzan of the Apes, Nkima is afraid!”

 

The white man paddled the stolen canoe down the sluggish stream toward the great river depending upon the strong current for aid to carry him and the girl to safety. Kali Bwana sat silent in the bottom of the craft. She had torn the barbaric headdress from her brow and the horrid necklace of human teeth from her throat, but she retained the bracelets and anklets, although why it might have been difficult for her to explain. Perhaps it was because, regardless of her plight and all that she had passed through, she was still a woman—a beautiful woman. That is something which one does not easily forget.

Old Timer felt almost certain of success. The Leopard Men who had preceded him down the stream must have been returning to their village; there was no reason to expect that they would return immediately. There was no canoe at the temple; therefore there could be no pursuit, for Bobolo had assured him that there were no trails through the forest leading to the temple of the Leopard Men. He was almost jubilant as the canoe moved slowly into the mouth of the stream and he saw the dark current of the river stretching before him.

Then he heard the splash of paddles, and his heart seemed to leap into his throat. Throwing every ounce of his muscle and weight into the effort, he turned the prow of the canoe toward the right bank, hoping to hide in the dense shadows, undiscovered, until the other craft had passed. It was very dark, so dark that he had reason to believe that his plan would succeed.

Suddenly the oncoming canoe loomed out of the darkness. It was only a darker blur against the darkness of the night. Old Timer held his breath. The girl crouched low behind a gunwale lest her blonde hair and white skin might be visible to the occupants of the other boat even in the darkness that engulfed all other objects. The canoe passed on up the stream.

The broad river lay just ahead now; there, there would be less danger of detection. Old Timer dipped his paddle and started the canoe again upon its interrupted voyage. As the current caught it, it moved more rapidly. They were out upon the river! A dark object loomed ahead of them. It seemed to rise up out of the water directly in front of their craft. Old Timer plied his paddle in an effort to alter the course of the canoe, but too late. There was a jarring thud as it struck the object in its path, which the man had already recognized as a canoe filled with warriors.

Almost simultaneously another canoe pulled up beside him. There was a babel of angry questions and commands. Old Timer recognized the voice of Bobolo. Warriors leaped into the canoe and seized him, fists struck him, powerful fingers dragged him down. He was overpowered and bound.

Again he heard the voice of Bobolo. “Hurry! We are being pursued. The Utengas are coming!”

Brawny hands grasped the paddles. Old Timer felt the canoe shoot forward, and a moment later it was being driven frantically up the smaller river toward the temple. The heart of the white man went cold with dread. He had had the girl upon the threshold of escape. Such an opportunity would never come again. Now she was doomed. He did not think of his own fate. He thought only of the girl. He searched through the darkness with his eyes, but he could not find her; then he spoke to her. He wanted to comfort her. A new emotion had suddenly taken possession of him. He thought only of her safety and comfort. He did not think of himself at all.

He called again, but she did not answer. “Be quiet!” growled a warrior near him.

“Where is the girl?” demanded the white man.

“Be quiet,” insisted the warrior. “There is no girl here.”

As the canoe in which Bobolo rode swung alongside that in which the girl and the white man were attempting to escape, it had brought the chief close to the former, so close that even in the darkness of the night he had seen her white skin and her blonde hair. Instantly he had recognized his opportunity and seized it. Reaching over the gunwales of the two canoes he had dragged her into his own; then he had voiced the false alarm that he knew would send the other canoes off in a panic.

The warriors with him were all his own men. His village lay on the left bank of the river farther down. A low-voiced command sent the canoe out into the main current of the river, and willing hands sped it upon its course.

The girl, who had passed through so much, who had seen escape almost assured, was stunned by the sudden turn of events that had robbed her of the only creature to whom she might look for aid and crushed hope from her breast.

To Old Timer, bound and helpless, the return journey to the temple was only a dull agony of vain regrets. It made little difference to him now what they did to him. He knew that they would kill him. He hoped that the end would come speedily, but he knew enough about the methods of cannibals to be almost certain that death would be slow and horrible.

As they dragged him into the temple he saw the floor strewn with the bodies of the drunken priests and priestesses. The noise of the entrance aroused Imigeg, the high priest. He rubbed his eyes sleepily and then rose unsteadily to his feet.

“What has happened?” he demanded.

Gato Mgungu strode into the room at the moment, his canoe having followed closely upon that in which Old Timer had been brought back. “Enough has happened,” be snapped. “While you were all drunk this white man escaped. The Utengas have killed my warriors and burned my village. What is the matter with your medicine, Imigeg? It is no good.”

The high priest looked about him, a dazed expression in his watery eyes. “Where is the white priestess?” he cried. “Did she escape?”

“I saw only the white man,” replied Gato Mgungu.

“The white priestess was there, too,” volunteered a warrior. “Bobolo took her into his canoe.”

“Then she should be along soon,” offered Gato Mgungu. “Bobolo’s canoe cannot have been far behind mine.”

“She shall not escape again,” said Imigeg, “nor shall the man. Bind him well, and put him in the small room at the rear of the temple.”

“Kill him!” cried Gato Mgungu. “Then he cannot run away again.”

“We shall kill him later,” replied Imigeg, who had not relished Gato Mgungu’s irreverent tone or his carping criticism and desired to reassert his authority.

“Kill him now,” insisted the chief, “or he will get away from you again; and if he does, the white men will come with their soldiers and kill you and burn the temple.”

“I am high priest,” replied Imigeg haughtily. “I take orders from no one but the Leopard God. I shall question him. What he says I shall do.” He turned toward the sleeping leopard and prodded it with a sharp-pointed pole. The great cat leaped to its feet, its face convulsed by a horrid snarl. “The white man escaped,” explained Imigeg to the leopard. “He has been captured again. Shall he die tonight?”

“No,” replied the leopard. “Tie him securely and place him in the small room at the rear of the temple; I am not hungry.”

“Gato Mgungu says to kill him now,” continued Imigeg.

“Tell Gato Mgungu that I speak only through Imigeg, the high priest. I do not speak through Gato Mgungu. Because Gato Mgungu had evil in his mind I have caused his warriors to be slain and his village to be destroyed. If he thinks evil again he shall be destroyed that the children of the Leopard God may eat. I have spoken.”

“The Leopard God has spoken,” said Imigeg.

Gato Mgungu was deeply impressed and thoroughly frightened. “Shall I take the prisoner to the back of the temple and see that he is safely bound?” he asked.

“Yes,” replied Imigeg, “take him, and see to it that you bind him so that he cannot escape.”


Tarzan and the Leopard Men - Contents    |     Chapter 12 - The Sacrifice


Back    |    Words Home    |    Edgar Rice Burroughs Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback