Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the Trail of the Ape Men: Part II

Buck Burke brought up the rear of the party as they trekked through the savannah. The native Red Panther walked in front, his eyes scanning right and left following the spoor of the quarry. Normally Buck would like to be alongside up front. Even after all his time spent in Africa, he felt he could always learn something new by those who spent their entire lives in the wilderness. However, following the trail of a gorilla army and their slaves, it wasn’t a hard trail to follow, even after several days had passed. Off to either side of the group. Eric the lion and Marga the panther-woman paced them, unseen in the tall grasses. He smiled thinking about Eric. If he hadn’t seen… heard for himself, he wouldn’t have believed it. He had heard the rumors concerning the Jungle King and his talking lion but figured it was probably a trick of some sorts. Natives tended to be very superstitious and many (witch doctors and white men included) could not resist playing on that. He had once or twice himself to get out of a jam or grease some palms. He had seen many wonders and things not easily explained, but also enough fakery that he learned to be skeptical while maintaining an open mind.

It wasn’t long before they came across a dead body along the trail that they followed. It was a native. He had a few wounds that seemed left over from whatever battle that led to his capture. Others were more recent, criss-crossing scars across his back from a whip, heavily blistered feet, and bruises about his face and torso.

“He was forced to walk until he dropped,” said Buck. “And, they didn’t slow, just kicked and beat him where fell and left him there to die.”

The Red Panther shook his head, “Kahigi was always a cruel one, even before he became this White Ape god.”

The Congo Raider said, “I fear he had good teachers. He experienced first hand the cruelty that many whites inflicted on their porters and he thinks nothing of inflicting it on others weaker than himself. It was this cruel streak and desire for power that kept him from being chosen as the Red Panther by the tribal elders. He would have led the unified tribes to acts of massacre and genocide if possible to seek more power and avenge himself on the whites.”

“And, now he seeks another way. Through conquest,” said the White Panther. He thought of Lee Granger’s goals and grand experiment. In some ways, the Jungle King and the White Ape sought the same thing, a strong Africa that the whites would have to respect. But, the White Ape sought it through conquering and placing all under his rule. Establishing peace through dictatorship and subjugation.

It wasn’t the only dead body they came across. Some were old, others were mere children. If the wounded and the weak died, it seemed not to matter to the White Ape. He had enough slaves that he could afford to lose a few along the way. Nor was it just slaves. They came across the body of one of the ape warriors as well. He had been badly wounded in battle and it appeared that he finally succumbed to those wounds. Like the others, he was left where he fell, with a war club in his hand and crude chest-plate made of leather, bones and reeds. The others continued on past the battle but Buck paused and let his gaze linger a bit. The ape had been a powerful beast when it was alive. He showed old cuts and scars, from fighting for females guessed Buck.

“So strange to see it dressed for battle,” he thought. “Gorillas are normally fairly peaceful. I guess that’s the price of intelligence. With it comes desire and greed beyond immediate wants and needs. And, the capacity for war to get them.”

Realizing he lingered too long and was getting left behind, he hurried to catch up.

It was late in the second day, near the foot of the mountains that Eric came out of the grasses in front of them and barred their way. Buck tightened his grip on his rifle at the sudden appearance of the lion but quickly recognized the almost human movements and tilt of the head that indicated the lion’s intelligent demeanor.

“They have stopped and make camp not too far ahead of us,” he said. It was then that Marga came upon the group from the other side. “The cat speaks true,” she said.

The White Panther nodded. “We are close to the Troglodytes who make their home in caves in these hills. They must prepare for the attack if the cave-dwellers do not throw in with the White Ape. You said that they have in the past, made their attacks in the early hours before dawn. So, first they’ll make their offer and then tonight, they will feast and dance and make sacrifices to their gods to prepare for that attack. So, we too must prepare.”

It had been a subject of conversation, what to do at this point. This valley between the mountains with their cliffs and caves would make a good location for a fortified base of operations. The chief problem was the Troglodytes that already resided in the caves. They were some type of early man, close to appearance and build of the apes themselves. Peaceful but untrusting of others, they would rain boulders, spears and stone axes on any trespassers that got near. It would be a bloody battle and cost the White Ape’s army many lives and leave his forces sorely depleted. But, it would cost many of the captured slaves their lives and all of the otherwise peaceful cave-dwellers that didn’t throw in with the White Ape. And, once they gained those hills, they had the high ground. The question then was whether to attack before or during their attack on the hills. After much back and forth, ‘before’ was decided. During, and part of the apes would have the high ground and they’d have to fight two enemies as the Troglodytes would see no difference between them and their assailants.

Sounds of much fan-fare came to them, horns and pipes and drums raising a din among shouts and grunts. The small group crept through the tall grasses and they saw a contingent of the army separate from the others. With tall banners they came closer to the caves. Kahigi dressed as the White Ape in the skins of the mighty white gorilla lead the procession with a large club in his hand. The procession came to a stop and the noise increased even louder as the White Ape jumped up and down and gesticulated in some grotesque mimicry of the gorilla. The cave dwellers ventured out of their caves, many carrying crude axes and spears. They started yelling and gesturing in return. An older man with skins across his shoulders cautiously ventured closer, flanked by two warriors. He barked some command to his people and they quieted down and shuffled about warily.

“Leave,” the chief cried in a local dialect. “You do not belong. Our caves. Our women. Our food.”

“Great chief,” said the White Ape in the same dialect. “I offer you the chance to join my tribe. Be one with biggest, most powerful tribe. I bring slaves, many young hunters. More women to share with you and your sons. You only need to make me chief.”

The chief looked from side to side, digesting the words and then started jumping up and down.

“I be chief,” he bellowed! “I have many sons. Many hunters. Many wives. Leave or I make you wives of my dogs!” To accentuate this last remark he picked up some rocks and began throwing them towards the White Ape’s group though the stones stood no chance to reach them. The rest of the Troglodytes followed suit and began yelling and screaming in their native tongue and picking up rocks and throwing them towards the trespassers.

The White Ape smiled cruelly and said, “You will regret this decision ugly man.” He motioned to his party and withdrew back to the main group.”

Buck nodded to himself. War it was, then. Tonight, they’d attack. Five men, a woman and a lion against an army of gorillas and natives. And, he was the only one with a gun.

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