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Wilbur Smith

Birds Of Prey 2

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Written by Administrator

Posted on 15.04.11


The auction block was a temporary structure that at other times was
used as a gibbet on which the corpses of executed criminals were placed
on public view.  The four men were lined up on the platform and Doctor
Soar mounted the platform with them and addressed the crowd.  "I have
examined all of the four slaves being offered for sale today," he
stated, lowering his head to peer over the tops of his wire-framed
eye-glasses.  "I can give the assurance that all of them are in good
health.  Their eyes and teeth are sound and they are hale in limb and
body."

The crowd was in a festive mood.  They clapped at the doctor's
announcement, and gave him an ironical cheer as he climbed down from
the block and hurried back towards the castle gates.  Jacobus Hop
stepped forward and held up a hand for silence.  Then he read from the
proclamation of the sale, the crowd jeering and imitating him every
time he stuttered.  "By order of His Excellency the Governor of this
colony of the honourable Dutch East India Company, I am authorized to
offer for sale, to the highest bidder, four Negro slaves-" He broke off
and removed his Hat respectfully as the Governor's open carriage came
down the avenue from the residence, passing through the gardens and
wheeling out onto the open Parade behind the six glossy greys.  Lord
Cumbrae and the Governor's wife sat side by side on the open leather
seats facing forward, and Colonel Schreuder sat opposite them.

The crowd opened to let the carriage come to the foot of the block,
where Fredricus, the coloured coachman, called the team to a halt and
wound down the hand brake.  None of the passengers dismounted.

Katinka lolled elegantly on the leather seat, twirling her parasol, and
chatting gaily to the two men.

On the platform Hop was thrown into confusion by the arrival of these
exalted visitors, and stood flushing, stammering and blinking in the
sunlight until Schreuder called out impatiently, "Get on with it,
fellow!  We didn't come here to watch you goggle and gape."

Hop replaced his Hat and bowed first at Schreuder then at Katinka.

He raised his voice.  "The first lot is the slave Aboli.  He is about
thirty years of age and is believed to be a member of the Qwanda tribe
from the east coast of Africa.  As you are aware, the Qwanda Negroes
are much appreciated as field slaves and herdsmen.  He could also be
trained into an excellent wagon driver or coachman."  He paused to mop
his sweaty face and gather his tripping tongue, then he went on, "Aboli
is said to be a skilled hunter and fisherman.  He would bring in a good
income to his owner from any of these occupations."

"Mijnheer Hop, are you hiding anything from us?"  Katinka called out,
and Hop was once more thrown into disarray by the question.  His
stammer became so agonized that he could hardly get the words out.

"Revered lady, greatly esteemed lady," he spread his hands helplessly,
"I assure you-" "Would you offer for sale a bull wearing clothes?"
Katinka demanded.  "Do you expect us to bid for something that we
cannot see?"

As he caught her meaning, Hop's face cleared and he turned to Aboli.
"Disrobe!"  he ordered loudly, to bolster his courage while facing this
huge wild savage.  For a moment Aboli stared at him unmoving then
contemptuously slipped the knot of his loincloth and let it fall to the
planks under his feet.

Naked and magnificent, he stared over their heads at the table-topped
mountain.  There was a hissing intake of breath from the crowd below.
One of the women squealed and another giggled nervously, but none
turned away their eyes.

"Hoots!"  Cumbrae broke the pregnant pause with a chuckle.  "The buyer
will be getting full measure.  There is no makeweight in that load of
blood-sausage.  I'll start the bidding at five hundred guilders!"

"And a hundred more!"  Katinka called out.

The Buzzard glanced at her and spoke softly from the corner of his
mouth.  "I did not know you were intending to bid, madam."

"I will have this one at any price, my lord," she warned him sweetly,
"for he amuses me."

"I would never stand in the way of a beautiful lady."  The Buzzard
bowed.  "But you will not bid against me for the other three, will
you?"

"Tis a bargain, my lord."  Katinka smiled.  "This one is mine, and you
may have the others."

Cumbrae folded his arms across his chest and shook his head when Hop
looked to him to increase the bid.  "Too rich a price for my
digestion," he said, and Hop looked in vain for a buyer in the rest of
the crowd.  None was foolhardy enough to go up against the Governor's
wife.

Recently they had been given a glimpse of his excellency's temper in
open court.

"The slave Aboli is sold to Mevrouw van de Velde for the sum of six
hundred guilders!"  Hop sang out, and bowed towards the carriage.  "Do
you wish the chains struck off, Mevrouw?"

Katinka laughed.  "And have him bolt for the mountains?  No, Mijnheer,
these soldiers will escort him up to the slave quarters at the
residence."  She glanced across at Schreuder who gave an order to a
detachment of green-jackets waiting under their corporal at the edge of
the crowd.  They elbowed their way forward, dragged Aboli down from the
block and led him away up the avenue towards the residence.

Katinka watched him go.  Then she tapped the Buzzard on the shoulder
with one finger.  "Thank you, my lord."

"The next lot is the slave Jiri," Hop told them, reading from his
notes.  "He is, as you see, another fine strong specimen-" "Five
hundred guilders!"  growled the Buzzard, and glared at the other
buyers, as if daring them to bid at their peril.  But without the
Governor's wife to compete against, the burghers of the colony were
bolder.

"And one hundred," sang out a merchant of the town.  "And a hundred
more!"  called a wagoner in a jacket of leopard skins  The bidding went
quickly to fifteen hundred guilders with only the wagoner and the
Buzzard in the race.

"Damn and blast the clod!"  Cumbrae muttered, and turned his head to
catch the eye of his boatswain who, with three of his seamen, hovered
beside the rear wheel of the carriage.  Sam Bowles nodded and his eyes
gleamed.  With his men backing him he sidled through the press until he
stood close behind the wagoner.

"Sixteen hundred guilders," roared the Buzzard, "and be damned to
ye!"

The wagoner opened his mouth to push upwards and felt something prick
him under the ribs.  He glanced down at the knife in Sam Bowles's
gnarled fist, closed his mouth and blanched white as baleen.

"The bid is against you, Mijnheer Tromp!"  Hop called to him, but the
wagoner scurried away across the Parade back towards the town.

Kimatti and Matesi were both knocked down to the Buzzard for well under
a thousand guilders each.  The other prospective buyers in the crowd
had seen the little drama between Sam and the wagoner and none showed
any further interest in bidding against Cumbrae.

All three slaves were dragged away by Sam Bowles's shore party towards
the beach.  When Matesi struggled to escape a shrewd crack over his
scalp with a marlin spike quieted him and, with his mates, he was
shoved into the longboat and rowed out to where the Gull lay anchored
at the edge of the shoals.

"A successful expedition for both of us, my lord."  Katinka smiled at
the Buzzard.  "To celebrate our acquisitions, I hope you will be able
to dine with us at the residence this evening."

"Nothing would have given me greater pleasure, but alas, madam, I was
lingering only for the sale and the chance of picking up a few prime
seamen.  Now my ship lies ready in the bay, and the wind and the tide
bid me away."

"We shall miss you, my lord.  Your company has been most diverting.  I
hope you will call on us and remain a while longer when next you round
the Cape of Good Hope."

"There is no power on this earth, no storm, ill wind or enemy which
could prevent me doing so," said Cumbrae and kissed her hand.
Cornelius Schreuder glowered.  he could not stand to see another man
lay a finger on this woman who had come to rule his existence.

As the Buzzard's feet touched the deck of the Gull he shouted to the
helm, "Geordie, my Alod, prepare to weigh anchor and get under way."

Then he singled out Sam Bowles.  "I want the three Negroes on the
quarterdeck, and swiftly."  As they were ranged before him, he looked
them over carefully.  "Does any one of you three heathen beauties speak
God's own language?"  he asked, and they stared at him blankly.  "So
it's only your benighted lingo, is it?"  He shook his head sadly.
"That makes my life much harder."

"Begging your pardon," Sam Bowles tugged obsequiously at his Monmouth
cap, "I know them well, all three of them.  We was shipmates together,
we was.  They're playing you for a patsy.  They all three speak good
English."

Cumbrae grinned at them, with murder in his eyes.  "You belong to me
now, my lovelies, from the tops of your woolly heads to the pink soles
of your great flat feet.  If you want to keep your black hides in one
piece, you'll not play games with me again, do you hear me?"  And with
a swipe of his huge hairy fist he sent Jiri crashing to the deck.
"When I talk, to you you'll answer clear and loud in sweet English
words. We're going back to Elephant Lagoon and, for the sake of your
health, you're going to show me where Captain Franky hid his treasure.
Do you hear me?"

Jiri scrambled back onto his feet.  "Yes, Captain Lardy, sir!  We hear
you.  You are our father."

"I'd rather have lopped off my own spigot with a blunt spade than
fathered the likes of one of you with it!"  The Buzzard grinned at
them.  "Now get ye up to the main yard to clap some canvas on her."
And he sent Jiri on his way with a flying kick in the backside.  atinka
sat in sunlight, in a protected corner of the terrace out of the wind,
with Cornelius Schreuder beside her.  At the serving table Sukeena
poured the wine with her own hands, and carried the two glasses to the
luncheon table with its decorations of fruit and flowers from Slow
John's gardens.  She placed a tall glass with a spiral stem in front of
Katinka, who reached out and caressed her arm lightly.

"Have you sent for the new slave?"  she asked with a purr in her
voice.

"Aboli is being bathed and fitted with a uniform, as you ordered,
mistress," Sukeena answered softly, as if unaware of the other woman's
touch.  However, Schreuder had seen it, and it amused Katinka to watch
him frown with jealousy.

She raised her glass to him and smiled over the rim.  "Shall we drink
to a swift voyage for Lord Cumbrae?"  "Indeed."  He lifted his glass.
"A short swift voyage to the bottom of the ocean for him and all his
countrymen."

"My dear Colonel," she smiled, "how droll.  But, softly now, here comes
my latest plaything."

Two green-jackets from the castle escorted Aboli onto the terrace.

He was dressed in a pair of tight-fitting black trousers and a white
cotton shirt cut full to encompass his broad chest and massive arms.
He stood silently before her.

Katinka switched into English.  "In future you will bow when you enter
my presence and you will address me as mistress, and if you forget I
will ask Slow John to remind you.  Do you know who Slow John is?"

"Yes, mistress," Aboli rumbled, without looking at her.  "Oh, good!  I
thought you might be tiresome, and that I would have to have you broken
and tamed.  This makes things easier for both of us."  She took a sip
of the wine, then looked him over slowly with her head on one side.  "I
bought you on a whim, and I have not decided what I shall do with you.
However, Governor Kleinhans is taking his coachman home with him when
he sails.  I will need a new coachman."  She turned to Colonel
Schreuder.  "I have heard these Negroes are good with animals.  Is that
your experience also, Colonel?"

"Indeed, Mevrouw.  Being animals themselves they seem to have a rapport
with all wild and domestic beasts."  Schreuder nodded, and studied
Aboli unhurriedly.  "He is a fine physical specimen but, of course, one
does not look for intelligence in them.  I congratulate you on your
purchase."

"Later, I may breed him with Sukeena," Katinka.  mused.  The slave girl
went still, but her back was turned so that they could not see her
face.  "It might be diverting to see how the black blood mingles with
the gold."

"A most interesting mixture."  Schreuder nodded.  "But are you not
worried that he may escape?  I saw him fight on the deck of the
Standvastigheid and he is a truculent savage.  A leg iron might be
suitable costume for him, at least until he has been broken in."

"I do not think I need go to such pains," Katinka said.  "I was able to
observe him at length during my captivity.  Like a faithful dog, he is
devoted to the pirate Courtney and even more so to his brat.

I believe he would never try to escape while either of them is alive in
the castle dungeons.  Of course, he will be locked in the slave
quarters at night with the others, but during working hours he will be
allowed to move around freely to attend to his duties."

"I am sure you know best, Mevrouw.  But I for one would never trust
such a creature," Schreuder warned her.

Katinka turned back to Sukeena.  "I have arranged with Governor
Kleinhans that Fredricus is to teach Aboli his duties as coachman and
driver.  The Standvastigheid will not sail for another ten days.  That
should be ample time.  See to it immediately."

Sukeena made the gracious oriental obeisance.  "As Mistress commands,
she said, and beckoned for Aboli to follow her.

She walked ahead of him down the pathway to the stables where Fredricus
had drawn up the coach and Aboli was reminded of the posture and
carriage of the young virgins of his own tribe.  As little girls they
were trained by their mothers, carrying the water gourds balanced on
their heads.  Their backs grew straight and they seemed to glide over
the ground, as this girl did.

"Your brother, Althuda, sends you his heart.  He says that you are his
tiger orchid still."

Sukeena stopped so abruptly that, walking behind her, Aboli almost
collided with her.  She seemed like a startled sugar bird perched on a
pro tea bloom on the point of flight.  When she moved on again he saw
that she was trembling.

"You have seen my brother?"  she asked, without turning her head to
look at him.

"I never saw his face, but we spoke through the door of his cell.  He
said that your mother's name was Ashreth and that the jade brooch you
wear was given to your mother by your father on the day of your birth.
He said that if I told you these things, you would know that I was his
friend."

"If he trusted you, then I also trust you.  I, too, shall be your
friend, Aboli," she agreed.

"And I shall be yours,"Aboli said softly.

"Oh, do tell me, how is Althuda?  Is he well?"  she pleaded.  "Have
they hurt him badly?  Have they given him to Slow John?"

"Althuda is puzzled.  They have not yet condemned him.  He has been in
the dungeon four long months and they have not hurt him."

"I give all thanks to Allah!"  Sukeena turned and smiled at him, her
face lovely as the tiger orchid to which Althuda had likened her.  "I
had some influence with Governor Kleinhans.  I was able to persuade him
to delay judgement on my brother.  But now that he is going I do not
know what will happen with the new one.  My poor Althuda, so young and
brave.  If they give him to Slow John my heart will die with him, as
slowly and as painfully."

"There is one I love as you love your brother," Aboli rumbled softly.
"The two share the same dungeon."

"I think I know the one of whom you speak.  Did I not see him on the
day they brought all of you ashore in chains and marched you across the
Parade?  Is he straight and proud as a young prince?"

"That is the one.  Like your brother, he deserves to be free."

Again Sukeena's feet checked, but then she glided onwards.  "What are
you saying, Aboli, my friend?"

"You and I together.  We can work to set them free."  "Is it possible?"
she whispered.

"Althuda was free once.  He broke his jesses and soared away like a
falcon."  Aboli looked up at the aching blue African sky.  "With our
help he could be free again, and Gundwane with him."

They had come to the stableyard and Fredricus roused himself on the
seat of the carriage.  He looked down at Aboli and his lips curled back
to show teeth discoloured brown by chewing tobacco.  "How can a black
ape learn to drive my coach and my six darlings?"  he asked the empty
air.

"Fredricus is an enemy.  Trust him not."  Sukeena's lips barely moved
as she gave Aboli the warning.  "Trust nobody in this household until
we can speak again."  the house slaves, as well as most of the
furniture in the residence, Katinka had purchased from Kleinhans all
the horses in his string and the contents of the tack room.  She had
written him an order on her bankers in Amsterdam.  It was for a large
sum, but she knew that her father would make good any shortfall.

The most beautiful of all the horses was a bay mare, a superb animal
with strong graceful legs and a beautifully shaped head.  Katinka was
an expert horsewoman, but she had no feeling or love for the creature
beneath her and her slim, pale hands were strong and cruel.  She rode
with a Spanish curb that bruised the mare's mouth savagely, and her use
of the whip was wanton.  When she had ruined a mount she could always
sell it and buy another.

Despite these faults, she was fearless and had a dashing seat.  When
the mare danced under her and threw her head against the agony of the
whip and the curb, Katinka sat easily and looked marvellously elegant.
Now she was pushing the mare to the full extent of her pace and
endurance, flying at the steep path, using the whip when she faltered
or when it seemed as though she would refuse to jump a fallen tree that
blocked the pathway.

The horse was lathered, soaked with sweat as though she had plunged
through a river.  The froth that streamed from her gaping mouth was
tinged pink with blood from the edged steel of the curb.  It splattered
back onto Katinka's boots and skirt, and she laughed wildly with
excitement as they galloped out onto the saddle of the mountain.  She
looked- back over her shoulder.  Schreuder was fifty lengths or more
behind her.  he had come by another route to meet her in secret.  His
black gelding was labouring heavily under his weight, and though
Schreuder used the whip freely his mount could not hold the mare.

Katinka did not stop at the saddle but, with the whip and -the tiny
needle-sharp spur under her riding habit, goaded the mare onward and
sent her plunging straight down the far slope.  Here a fall would be
disastrous, for the footing was treacherous and the mare was blown.
The danger excited Katinka.  She revelled in the feel of the powerful
body beneath her, and of the saddle leather pounding against her
sweating thighs and buttocks.

They came slithering off the scree slope and burst out into the open
meadow beside the stream.  She raced parallel with the stream for half
a league, but when she reached a hidden grove of silver leaf trees she
reined in the mare in a dozen lunges from full gallop to a wrenching
halt.

She unhooked her leg from over the horn of the sidesaddle and in a
swirl of skirts and laced under linen dropped lightly to earth.  She
landed like a cat, and while the mare blew like the bellows of a smithy
and reeled on her feet with exhaustion, Katinka.  stood, both fists
clenched on her hips, and watched Schreuder come down the slope after
her.

He reached the meadow and galloped to where she stood.  There, he
jumped from the gelding's back.  His face was dark with rage.  "That
was madness, Mevrouw," he shouted.  "If you had fallen!"

"But I never fall, Colonel."  She laughed in his face.  "Not unless you
can make me."  She reached up suddenly and threw both arms around his
neck.  Like a lamprey she fastened on his lips, sucking so powerfully
that she drew his tongue into her own mouth.  As his arms tightened
around her she bit his lower lip hard enough to start his blood, and
tasted the metallic salt on her own tongue.  When he roared with pain,
she broke from his embrace and, lifting the skirts of her habit, ran
lightly along the bank of the stream.

"Sweet Mary, you'll pay dearly for that, you little devil!"  He wiped
his mouth, and when he saw the smear of blood on his palm, he raced
after her.

These last days, Katinka had toyed with him, driving him to the
frontiers of sanity, promising and then revoking, teasing and then
dismissing, cold as the north wind one moment then hot as the tropical
sun at noonday.  He was dizzy and confused with lust and longing, but
his desire had infected her.  Tormenting him, she had driven herself as
far and as hard.  She wanted him now almost as much as he wanted her.
She wanted to feel him deep inside her body, she had to have him quench
the fires she had ignited in her womb.  The time had come when she
could delay no longer.

He caught up with her and she turned at bay.  With her back against one
of the silver leaf trees, she faced him like a hind cornered by the
hounds.  She saw the blind rage turn his eyes opaque as marble.  His
face was swollen and encarnadined, his lips drawn back to expose his
clenched teeth.

With a thrill of real terror she realized that this rage into which she
had driven him was a kind of madness over which he had no control.  She
knew that she was in danger of her life and, knowing that, her own lust
broke its banks like a mighty river in full spate.

She threw herself at him and with both hands ripped at the fastenings
of his breeches.  "You want to kill me, don't you?"

"You bitch," he choked, and reached for her throat.  "You slut.  I can
stand no more.  I will make you-" She pulled him out through the
opening in his clothes, hard and thick, swollen furious red and so hot
he seemed to sear her fingers.  "Kill- me with this, then.  Thrust it
into me so deeply that you pierce my heart."  She leaned back against
the rough bark of the silver leaf and planted her feet wide apart.  He
swept her skirts up high, and with both hands she guided him into
herself.  As he lunged and bucked furiously against her, the tree
against which she leaned shook as though a gale of wind had struck it.
The silver leaves rained down over them glinting like newly minted
coins as they spun and swirled in the sunlight.  As she reached her
climax Katinka screamed so that the echoes rang along the yellow cliffs
high above them.  atinka came down from the mountain like a fury,
riding on the wings of the north-west gale that had sprung so suddenly
out of the sunny winter sky.  Her hair had broken free of her bonnet
and streamed out like a brilliant banner, snapping and tangling in the
wind.  The mare ran as though pursued by lions.  When she reached the
upper vineyards, Katinka put her to the high stone wall, over which she
soared like a falcon.

She galloped through the gardens down to the stableyard.  Slow John
turned to watch her go by.  The green things he had nurtured were
uprooted, torn and scattered beneath the mare's flying hoofs.  When she
had passed, Slow John stooped and picked up a shredded stem.  He lifted
it to his mouth and bit into it softly, tasting the sweet sap.  He felt
no resentment.  The plants he grew were meant to be cut and destroyed,
just as man is born to die.  To Slow John, only the manner of the dying
was significant.

He stared after the mare and her rider and felt the same reverence and
awe that always overcame him at the moment when he released one of his
little sparrows from this mortal existence.  He thought of all the
condemned souls who died under his hands as his little sparrows.  The
first time he had set his eyes on Katinka van de Velde he had fallen
completely under her spell.  He felt that he had waited all his life
for this woman.  He had recognized in her those mystical qualities that
dictated his own existence but, compared to her, he knew that he was a
thing crawling in primeval slime.

She was a cruel and untouchable goddess, and he worshipped her.  It was
as though these torn plants he held in his hands were a sacrifice to
that goddess.  As though he had laid them on her attar and she had
accepted them.  He was moved almost to the point of tears by her
condescension.  He blinked those strange yellow eyes and for once they
mirrored his emotion.  "Command me," he breathed.  "There is nothing
that I would not do for you."

Katinka spurred the mare at full gallop up the driveway to the front
doors of the residence, and flung herself from its back before it had
come fully to rest.  She did not even glance at Aboli as he sprang down
from the terrace, gathered up the reins and led the mare away to the
stableyard.

He spoke gently to the horse in the language of the forests.  "She has
made you bleed, little one, but Aboli will heal your hurt."  In the
yard he unbuckled the girth and dried the mare's steaming sweat with
the cloth, walking her in slow circles, then watering her before he led
her to her stall.

"See where her whip and spurs have cut you.  She is a witch," he
whispered, as he anointed the torn and bruised corners of the horse's
mouth with salve.  "But Aboli is here now to protect and cherish
you."

Katinka strode through the rooms of the residence, singing softly to
herself, her face lit with the afterglow of her loving.  In her
bedchamber she shouted for Zelda then, without waiting for the old
woman to arrive, she stripped off her clothing and dropped it in a heap
in the middle of the floor.  The winter air through the shutters was
cold on her body, which was damp with sweat and the juices of her
passion.  Her pale pink nipples rose in haloes of gooseflesh and she
shouted again, "Zelda, where are you?"  When the maid came scurrying
into the chamber she rounded on her, "Sweet Jesus, where have you been,
you lazy old baggage?  Close those shutters!  Is my bath ready, or have
you been dozing off again in front of the fire?"  But her words lacked
their usual venom and when she lay back in the steaming, perfumed
waters of her ceramic bathtub, which had been carted up from the cabin
in the stern of the galleon, she was smiling warmly and secretly to
herself.

Zelda hovered around the tub, lifting the thick strands of her
mistress's hair out of the scented foam and pinning them atop her head,
soaping her shoulders with a cloth.

"Don't fuss so!  Leave me be for a while!"  Katinka ordered
imperiously.  Zelda dropped the cloth and backed out of the bathroom.

Katinka lay for a while, humming softly to herself and lifting her feet
one at a time above the foam to inspect her delicate ankles and pink
toes.  Then a movement in the steam-clouded mirror caught her attention
and she sat up straight and stared incredulously.  Quickly she stood up
and stepped out of the tub, slipped a towel around her shoulders to
soak up the drops of water that ran down her body and crept to the door
of her bedroom.

What she had seen in the mirror was Zelda gathering up her soiled
clothing from where she had dropped it on the tiles.  The old woman
stood now with Katinka's under linen in her hands examining the stains
upon it.  As Katinka watched, she lifted the cloth to her face and
sniffed at it like an old bitch scenting the entrance to a rabbit
warren.

"You like the smell of a man's ripe cream, do you?"  Katinka asked
coldly.

At the sound of her voice Zelda spun about to face her.  She hid the
clothing behind her back and her cheeks went pale as ash as she
stammered incoherently.

"You dried-up old cow, when did you last have a sniff of it?"  Katinka
asked.

She dropped the towel and glided across the floor, slim and sinuous as
an erect female cobra and her gaze as icy and venomous.  Her riding
whip lay where she had dropped it and she scooped it up as she
passed.

Zelda backed away in front of her.  "Mistress," Zelda whined, "I was
worried only that your pretty things might be spoiled."

"You were snuffling it up like a fat old sow with a truffle," Katinka
told her, and her whip arm flashed out.  The lash caught Zelda in the
mouth.  She squealed and fell back on the bed.

Katinka stood over her, naked, and plied the whip across her back and
arms and legs, swinging with all her strength, so that the layers of
fat wobbled and shook on the maid's limbs as the lash bit into them.

"This is a pleasure too long denied, Katinka screamed, her own fury
increasing as the old woman howled and wriggled on the bed.  "I have
grown weary of your thieving ways and your gluttony.  Now you revolt me
with this prurient trespass into intimate areas of my life, you
sneaking, spying, whining old baggage."

"Mistress, you are killing me."

"Good so!  But if you live you will be on board the Standvastigheid
when she sails for Holland next week.  I can abide you around me no
longer.  I will send you back in the meanest cabin without a penny of
pension.  You can eke out the rest of your days in the poorhouse."
Katinka was panting wildly now, raining her blows on Zelda's head and
shoulders.

"Please, mistress, you would not be so cruel to your old Zelda, who
wet-nursed you as a baby."

"The thought of having sucked on those great fat tits makes me want to
puke."  Katinka lashed out at them, and Zelda whimpered.  and covered
her chest with both arms.  When you leave I will have your baggage
searched so that you take with you nothing that you have stolen from
me.  There will be not a single guilder in your purse, I shall see to
that.  You thieving, lying crone."

The threat transformed Zelda from a pathetic wriggling fawning creature
into a woman possessed.  Her arm shot out and her plump fist seized
Katinka's wrist as she was about to strike again.  Zelda held onto her
with a strength that shocked her mistress and she glared into Katinka's
face with a terrible hatred.

"No!"  she said.  "You will not take everything I have from me.  You
will not beggar me.  I have served you twenty-four years and you will
not cast me off now.  I will sail on the galleon, yes, and nothing will
give me greater joy than to see the last of your poisonous beauty.

But when I go I will take with me all I own and on top of that I will
have in my purse the thousand gold guilders you will give to me as my
pension."

Katinka was stunned out of her rage, and stared in disbelief at her.
"You rave like a lunatic.  A thousand guilders?  More likely a thousand
cuts with the whip."

She tried to pull her arm free, but Zelda hung on with a mad strength.
"A lunatic you say!  But what will his excellency do when I bring him
proof of how you have been rutting with the Colonel?"

Katinka froze at the threat then slowly lowered her whip arm.  Her mind
was racing, and a hundred mysteries unravelled as she stared into
Zelda's eyes.  She had trusted this old bitch without question, never
doubting her complete loyalty, never even thinking about it.  Now she
knew how her husband always seemed to have intimate knowledge of her
lovers and her behaviour that should have been secret.

She thought quickly now, her impassive expression masking the outrage
she felt at this betrayal.  It mattered little if her husband learned
of this new adventure with Cornelius Schreuder.  It would simply be an
annoyance, for Katinka had not yet tired of the colonel.  The
consequences would, of course, be more serious for her new lover.

Looking back, she realized just how vindictive Petrus van de Velde had
been.  all her lovers had suffered some grievous harm once her husband
knew about them.  How he knew had always been a mystery to Katinka
until this moment.  She must have been naive, but it had never occurred
to her that Zelda had been the serpent in her bosom.

"Zelda, I have wronged you," Katinka said softly.  "I should not have
treated you so harshly."  She reached down and stroked the angry weal
on the maid's chubby cheek.  "You have been kind and faithful to me all
these years and it is time you went to a happy retirement.  I spoke in
anger.  I would never dream of denying you that which you deserve. When
you sail on the galleon you will have not a thousand but two thousand
guilders in your purse, and my love and gratitude will go with you."

Zelda licked her bruised lips and grinned with malicious triumph.  "You
are so kind and good to me, my sweet mistress."

"Of course, you will say nothing to my husband, about my little
indiscretions with Colonel Schreuder, will you?"

"I love you much too much ever to do you harm, and my heart will break
on the day that I have to leave you."

Slow John knelt in the flower bed at the end of the terrace, his
pruning knife in his powerful hands.  As a shadow fell over him, he
looked up and rose to his feet.  "He lifted his Hat and held it across
his chest respectfully.  "Good morrow, mistress," he said, in his deep
melodious voice.

"Pray continue with your task.  I love to watch you work."

He sank to his knees again and the blade of the sharp little knife
flickered in his hands.  Katinka sat on a bench close at hand and
watched him in silence for a while.

"I admire your skills," she said at last, and though he did not raise
his head he knew that she referred not only to his dexterity with the
pruning knife.  "I have dire need of those skills, Slow John.  There
would be a purse of a hundred guilders as your reward.  Will you do
something for me?"

"Mevrouw, there is nothing I would not do for you."  He lifted his head
at last and stared at her with those pale yellow eyes.  "I would not
flinch from laying down my life if you asked it of me.  I do not ask
for payment.  The knowledge that I do your bidding is all the reward I
could ever want."

The winter nights had turned cold and squalls of rain roared down off
the mountain to *-batter the panes of the windows and howl like jackals
around the eaves of the thatched roof.

Zelda pulled her nightdress over her ample frame.  All the weight she
had lost on the voyage from the east had come back to settle on her
paunch and thighs.  Since moving into the residence she had fed well at
her corner in the kitchen, wolfing down the luscious scraps as they
were carried through from the high table in the main dining hall,
washing them down from her tankard filled with the dregs from the wine
glasses of the gentry, Rhine and red wine mixed with gin and
schnapps.

Her belly filled with good food and drink, she made ready for bed.

First, she checked that the window casements in her small room were
sealed against the draught.  She stuffed wads of rags into the cracks
and drew the curtains across them.  She slid the copper warming pan
under the covers of her bed and held it there until she smelt the linen
begin to singe.  Then she blew out the candle and crept under the thick
woollen blankets.

Snuffling and sighing, she settled into the softness and warmth, and
her last thoughts were of the purse of golden coins tucked under her
mattress.  She fell asleep, smiling.

An hour after midnight, when all the house was silent and sleeping,
Slow John listened at the door of Zelda's room.  When he heard her
snores rattling louder than the wind at the casement, he eased open the
door noiselessly and slipped through it with the brazier of glowing
charcoal..  He listened for a minute, but the rhythm of the old \
woman's breathing was regular and unbroken.  He closed the door softly
and moved silently down the passage to the door at the end.

In the dawn Sukeena came to wake Katinka an hour before her appointed
time.  When she had helped her dress in a warm robe, she led her to the
servants" quarters where a silent, frightened knot of slaves was
gathered outside Zelda's door.  They stood aside for Katinka to enter
and Sukeena whispered, "I know how much she meant to you, mistress.  My
heart breaks for you."

"Thank you, Sukeena, Katinka answered sadly, and glanced quickly around
the tiny room.  The brazier had been removed.  Slow John had been
thorough and reliable.

"She looks so peaceful and what a lovely colour she has."  Sukeena
stood beside the bed.  "Almost as if she were alive still."

Katinka came to stand beside her.  The noxious fumes from the brazier
had rouged the old woman's cheeks.  In death she was more handsome than
she had ever been in life.  "Leave me alone with her for a while,
please, Sukeena," she said quietly.  "I wish to say a prayer for her.
She was so dear to me."

As she knelt beside the bed Sukeena closed the door softly behind her.
Katinka slid her hand under the mattress and drew out the purse.  She
could tell by its weight that none of the coins was missing.  She
slipped the purse into the pocket of her gown, clasped her hands in
front of her and closed her eyes so tightly that the long golden lashes
intermeshed.

"Go to hell, you old bitch she murmured.

Slow John came at last.  Many long days and tormented nights they had
waited for him, so long that Sir Francis Courtney had begun to imagine
that he would never come.

Each evening, when darkness brought an end to the work on the castle
walls, the prisoner teams came shuffling in, out of the night.  Winter
was tightening its grip on the Cape and they were often soaked by the
driving rain and chilled to the bone.

Every evening, as he passed the iron-studded door of his father's cell,
Hal called, "What cheer, Father?"

The reply, in a voice hoarse and choked with the phlegm of his illness,
was always the same.  "Better today, Hal.  And with you?"

"The work was easy.  We are all in good heart."

Then Althuda would call from the next-door cell, "The surgeon came this
morning.  He says that Sir Francis is well enough to be questioned by
Slow John."  Or on another occasion, "The fever is worse, Sir Francis
has been coughing all day."

As soon as the prisoners were locked into the lower dungeon they would
gulp down their one meal of the day, scraping out the bowls with their
fingers, and then drop like dead men on the damp straw.

In the darkness before dawn Manseet would rattle on the bars of the
cell.  "Up!  Up, you lazy bastards, before Barnard sends in his dogs to
rouse you."

They would struggle to their feet, and file out again into the rain and
the wind.  There, Barnard waited to greet them, with his two huge black
boar hounds growling and lunging against the leashes.  Some of the
seamen had found pieces of sacking or canvas with which to wrap their
bare feet or cover their heads, but even these rags were still wet from
the previous day.  Most, though, were bare foot and half-naked in the
winter gales.

Then Slow John came.  He came at midday.  The men on the high
scaffolding fell silent and all work stopped.  Even Hugo Barnard stood
aside as he passed through the gates of the castle.  In his sombre
clothing, and with the wide-brimmed Hat pulled low over his eyes, he
looked like a preacher on his way to the pulpit.

Slow John stopped at the entrance to the dungeons, and Sergeant Manseer
came running across the yard, jangling his keys.  He opened the low
door, stood aside for Slow John, then followed him through.  The door
closed behind the pair and the watchers roused themselves, as though
they had awakened from a nightmare and resumed their tasks.  But while
Slow John was within a deep, brooding silence hung over the walls.  No
man cursed or spoke, even Hugo Barnard was subdued, and at every chance
their heads turned to look down at the closed iron door.  low John went
down the staircase, Manseer lighting the treads with a lantern, and
stopped outside the door of Sir Francis's cell.  The sergeant drew back
the latch on the peephole and Slow John stepped up to it.  There was a
beam of light from the high window of the cell.  Sir Francis sat on the
stone shelf that served as his bunk, lifted his head and stared back
into Slow John's yellow eyes.

Sir Francis's face was that of a sun-bleached skull, so pale as to seem
luminous in the poor light, the long tresses of his hair dead black and
his eyes dark cavities.  "I have been expecting you," he said, and
coughed until his mouth filled with phlegm.  He spat it into the straw
that covered the floor.

Slow John made no reply.  His eyes, gleaming through the peep-hole,
were fastened on Sir Francis's face.  The minutes dragged by.  Sir
Francis was overwhelmed with a wild desire to scream at him, "Do what
you have to do.  Say what you have to say.  I am ready for you."  But
he forced himself to remain silent and stared back at Slow John.

At last Slow John stepped away from the peep-hole and nodded at
Manseer.  He slammed the shutter closed and scurried back up the
staircase to open the iron door for the executioner.  Slow John crossed
the courtyard with every eye upon him.  When he went out through the
gate men breathed again and there was" once more the shouting of orders
and the answering murmur of curse and complaint from the walls.

"Was that Slow John?"  Althuda called softly from the cell alongside
that of Sir Francis.

"He said nothing.  He did nothing," Sir Francis whispered hoarsely.

"It is the way he has," Althuda said.  "I have been here long enough to
see him play the same game many times.  He will wear you down so that
in the end you will want to tell him all he wants to know before he
even touches you.  That is why they named him Slow John."

"Sweet Jesus, it half unmans me.  Has he ever come to stare at you,
Althuda?"

"Not yet."

"How have you been so fortunate?"

"I know not.  I know only that one day he will come for me also.  Like
you, I know how it feels to wait."

Three days before the Standvastigheid was due to sail for Holland,
Sukeena left the kitchens IT of the residence with her conical sun hat
of woven grass on her dainty little head and her bag on her arm.  Her
departure caused no surprise among the other members of the household
for it was her custom to go out several times a week along the slopes
of the mountain to collect herbs and roots.  Her skills and knowledge
of the healing plants were famous throughout the colony.

From the veranda of the residence Kleinhans watched her and the knife
blade of agony twisted in his guts.  It felt as if an open wound were
bleeding deep within him and often his stools were black with clotted
blood.  How, ever, it was not only the dyspepsia that was devouring
him.  He knew that once the galleon sailed, with him aboard her, he
would never again look upon Sukeena's beauty.  Now that the time for
this parting drew near he could not sleep at night, and even milk and
bland boiled rice turned to acid in his stomach.

Mevrouw van de Velde, his hostess since she had taken over the
residence, had been kind to him.  She had even sent Sukeena out this
morning to gather the special herbs that, when seeped and distilled
with the slave girl's skillsi were the only medicine that could
alleviate his agony for even a short while long enough at least to
allow him to catch a few hours of fitful sleep.  At Katinka's orders
Sukeena would prepare enough of this brew to tide him over the long
voyage northwards.  He prayed that, once he reached Holland, the
physicians there would be able to cure this dreadful affliction.

Sukeena moved quietly through the scrub that covered the slopes of the
mountain.  Once or twice she looked back but nobody had followed her.
She went on, stopping only to cut a green twig from one of the
flowering bushes.  As she walked she stripped the leaves from it and,
with her knife, trimmed the end into a fork.

All around her the wild blossom grew in splendid profusion, even now
that winter was upon them, a hundred different species were on show.
Some were as large as ripe artichoke heads, some as tiny as her little
fingernail, all of them lovely beyond an artist's imagination or the
powers of his palette to depict.  She knew them all.

Meandering seemingly without direction, in reality she was moving
gradually and circuitously towards a deep ravine that split the face of
the table-topped mountain.

With one more careful look around she darted suddenly down the steep,
heavily bushed slope.  There was a stream at the bottom, tumbling
through a series of merry waterfalls and dreaming pools.  As she
approached one, she moved more slowly and softly.  Tucked into a rocky
crevice beside the dark waters was a small clay bowl.  She had placed
it there on her last visit.  From the ledge above she looked down and
saw that the milky white fluid, with which she had filled it, had been
drunk.  Only a few opalescent drops remained in the bottom.

Daintily she climbed cautiously into a position from which she could
look deeper into the crack in the rock.  Her breath caught as she saw
in the shadows the soft gleam of ophidian scales.  She opened the lid
of the basket, took the forked stick in her right hand and moved
closer.  The serpent was coiled beside the bowl.  It was not large, as
slender as her forefinger.  Its colour was a deep glowing bronze, each
scale a tiny marvel.  As she drew closer it raised its head an inch and
watched her with black beady eyes.  But it made no attempt to escape,
sliding back into the depths of the crevice, as it had the first time
she had discovered it.

It was lazy and somnolent, lulled by the milky concoction she had fed
it.  After a moment it lowered its head again and seemed to sleep.
Sukeena was not tempted into any sudden or rash move.  Well she knew
that, from the bony needles in its upper jaw, the little reptile could
dispense death in one of its most horrible and agonizing
manifestations.  She reached out gently with the twig and again the
snake raised its head.  She froze, the fork held only inches above its
slim neck.  Slowly the little reptile drooped back to earth and, as its
head stretched out, Sukeena pinned it to the rock.  It hissed softly
and its body coiled and recoiled around the stick that held it.

Sukeena reached down and gripped it behind the head, with two fingers
locked against the hard bones of the skull.

It wrapped its long sinuous body around her wrist.  She took hold of
the tail and unwound it, then dropped the serpent into her basket.  In
the same movement she closed the lid upon it.  iring Governor Kleinhans
went aboard the galleon on the evening before she sailed.  Before the
carriage took him down to the foreshore, all the household assembled on
the front terrace of the residence to bid farewell to their former
master.  He moved slowly along the line with a word for each.  When he
reached Sukeena she made that graceful gesture, her fingertips together
touching her lips, which made his heart ache with love and longing for
her.

"Aboli has taken your luggage aboard the ship and placed all of it in
your cabin," she said softly.  "Your medicine chest is packed at the
bottom of the largest trunk, but there is a full bottle in your small
travelling case, which should last you several days."

"I shall never forget you, Sukeena,"he said.

"And I shall never forget you, master," she answered.  For one mad
moment he almost lost control of his emotions.  He was on the point of
embracing the slave girl, but then she looked up and he recoiled as he
saw the undying hatred in her eyes.

When the galleon sailed in the morning with the dawn tide, Fredricus
came to wake him and help him from his bunk.  He wrapped the thick fur
coat around his master's shoulders and Kleinhans went up on deck and
stood at the stern rail as the ship caught the north-west wind and
stood out into the Atlantic.  He waited there until the great flat
mountain sank away below the horizon and his vision was dimmed with
tears.

Over the next four days the pain in his stomach was worse than he had
ever known it.  On the fifth night he woke after midnight, the acid
scalding his intestines.  He lit the lantern and reached for the brown
bottle that would give him relief.  When he shook it, it was already
empty.

Doubled over with pain, he carried the lantern across the cabin and
knelt before the largest of his trunks.  He lifted the lid, and found
the teak medicine chest where Sukeena had told him it was.  He lifted
it out and carried it to the table top against the further bulkhead,
placing the lantern to light it so that he could fit the brass key into
the lock.

He lifted the wooden lid and started.  Laid carefully over the contents
of the chest was a sheet of paper.  He read the black print and, with
amazement, realized that it was an ancient copy of the Company gazette.
He read down the page and, as he recognized it, his stomach heaved with
nausea.  The proclamation was signed by himself It was a death warrant.
The warrant for the questioning and execution of one Robert David
Renshaw.  The Englishman who had been Sukeena's father.

"What devilry is this?  "he blurted aloud.  "The little witch has
placed it here to remind me of a deed committed long ago.  Will she
never relent?  I thought she was out of my life for ever, but she makes
me suffer still."

He reached down to seize the paper and rip it to shreds but before his
fingers touched it there was a soft, rustling sound beneath the sheet,
and then a blur of movement.

Something struck him a light blow upon the wrist and a gleaming,
sinuous body slid over the edge of the chest and dropped to the deck.
He leapt back in alarm but the thing disappeared into the shadows and
he stared after it in bewilderment.  Slowly he became aware of a slight
burning on his wrist and lifted it into the lamplight.

The veins on the inside of his wrist stood out like blue ropes under
the pale skin blotched with old man's freckles.  He looked closer at
the seat of the burning sensation, and saw two tiny drops of blood
gleaming in the lantern light like gemstones as they welled up from
twin punctures.  He tottered backwards and sat on the edge of his bunk,
gripping his wrist and staring at the ruby droplets.

Slowly.  an image from long ago formed before his eyes.  He saw two
solemn little orphans standing hand in hand before the smoking ashes of
a funeral pyre.  Then the pain swelled within him until it filled his
mind and his whole body.

There was only the pain now.  It flowed through his veins like liquid
fire and burrowed deep into his bones.  It tore apart every ligament,
sinew and nerve in his body.  He began to scream and went on screaming
until the end.

Sometimes twice a day Slow John came to the castle dungeon and stood at
the peep-hole in the door of Sir Francis's cell.  He never spoke.  He
stood there silently, with a reptilian stillness, sometimes for a few
minutes and at others for an hour.  In the end Sir Francis could not
look at him.  He turned his face to the stone wall, but still he could
feel the yellow eyes boring into his back.

It was a Sunday, the Lord's day, when Manseer and four green-jacketed
soldiers came for Sir Francis.  They said nothing, but he could tell by
their faces where they were taking him.  They could not look into his
eyes, and they wore the doleful expressions of a party of
pall-bearers.

It was a cold, gusty day as Sir Francis stepped out into the courtyard.
Although it was no longer raining, the clouds that hung low across the
face of the mountain were an ominous blue grey, the colour of an old
bruise.  The cobbles beneath his feet were shining wetly with the rain
squall that had just passed.  He tried to stop himself shivering in the
raw wind, lest his guards think it was for fear.

"God keep you safe!"  A young clear voice carried to him above the wild
wind, and he stopped and looked up.  Hal stood high on the scaffold,
his dark hair ruffled by the wind and his bare chest wet and shining
with raindrops.

Sir Francis lifted his bound hands before him, and shouted back, "In
Arcadia habito!  Remember the oath!"  Even from so far off, he could
see his son's stricken face.  Then his guards urged him on towards the
low door that led down into the basement below the castle armoury.
Manseer led him through the door and down the staircase.  At the bottom
he paused and knocked diffidently on the iron-bound door.  Without
waiting for a reply he pushed it open and led Sir Francis through.

The room beyond was well lit, a dozen wax candles flickering in their
holders in the draught from the open door.  To one side Jacobus Hop sat
at a writing table.  There was parchment and an ink pot in front of
him, and a quill in his right hand.  He looked up at Sir Francis with a
pale terrified expression.  An angry red carbuncle glowed on his cheek.
Quickly he dropped his eyes, unable to look at the prisoner.

Along the far wall stood the rack.  Its frame was of massive teak, the
bed long enough to accommodate the tallest man with his limbs stretched
out to their full extent.  There were sturdy wheels at each end, with
iron ratchets and slots into which the levers could be fitted.  On the
side wall opposite the recording clerk's desk, a brazier smouldered. On
hooks set into the wall above it hung an array of strange and terrible
tools.  The fire radiated a soothing, welcoming warmth.

Slow John stood beside the rack.  His coat and his Hal hung from a peg
behind him.  He wore a leather blacksmith's apron.

A pulley wheel was bolted into the ceiling and a rope dangled from it
with an iron hook at its end.  Slow John said nothing while his guards
led Sir Francis to the centre of the stone floor and passed the hook
through the bonds that secured his wrists.  Manseer tightened the rope
through the sheave until Sir Francis's arms were drawn at full stretch
above his head.  Although both his feet were firmly on the floor he was
helpless.  Manseer saluted Slow John, then he and his men backed out of
the room and closed the door behind them.  The panels were of solid
teak, thick enough to prevent any sound passing through.

In the silence, Hop cleared his throat noisily and read from the
transcript of the judgement passed upon Sir Francis by the Company
court.  His stutter was painful, but at the end he laid down the
document and burst out clearly, "As God is my witness, Captain
Courtney, I wish I were a hundred leagues from this place.  This is not
a duty I enjoy.  I beg of you to co-operate with this inquiry."

Sir Francis did not reply but looked back steadily into Slow John's
yellow eyes.  Hop took up the parchment once more, and his voice
quavered and broke as he read from it.  "Question the first.  is the
prisoner, Francis Courtney, aware of the whereabouts of the cargo
missing from the manifest of the Company ship, the Standvastigheid?"

"No," replied Sir Francis, still looking into the yellow eyes before
him.  "The prisoner has no knowledge of the cargo of which you
speak."

"I beg you to reconsider, sir," Hop whispered hoarsely.  "I have a
delicate disposition.  I suffer with my stomach."

For the men on the windswept scaffolding the hours passed with
agonizing slowness.  Their -eyes kept turning back towards the small,
insignificant door below the armoury steps.  There was no sound or
movement from there, until suddenly, in the middle of the cold
rainswept morning, the door burst open and Jacobus Hop scuttled out
into the courtyard.  He tottered to the officers" hitching rail and
hung onto one of the iron rings as though his legs could no longer
support him.  He seemed oblivious to everything around him as he stood
gasping for breath like a man freshly rescued from drowning.

All work on the walls came to a halt.  Even Hugo Barnard and his
overseers stood silent and subdued, gazing down at the miserable little
clerk.  With every eye upon him, Hop suddenly doubled over and vomited
over the cobbles.  He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and
looked around him wildly as though seeking an avenue of escape.

He lurched away from the hitching rail and set off at a run, across the
yard and up the staircase into the Governor's quarters.  One of the
sentries at the top of the stairs tried to restrain him but Hop
shouted, "I have to speak to his excellency," and brushed past him.

He burst unannounced into the Governor's audience chamber.  Van de
Velde sat at the head of the long, polished table.  Four burghers from
the town were seated below him, and he was laughing at something that
had just been said.

The laughter died on his fat lips as Hop stood trembling at the
threshold, his face deathly pale, his eyes filled with tears.  His
boots were flecked with vomit.

"How dare you, Hop?"  van de Velde thundered, as he dragged his bulk
out of the chair.  "How dare you burst in here like this?"

"Your excellency," Hop stammered, "I cannot do it.  I cannot go back
into that room.  Please don't insist that I do it.  Send somebody
else."

"Get back there immediately," van de Velde ordered.  "This is your last
chance, Hop.  I warn you, you will do your duty like a man or suffer
for it."

"You don't understand."  Hop was blubbering openly now.  "I can't do
it.  You have no idea what is happening in there.  I can't-" "Go!  Go
immediately, or you will receive the same treatment."

Hop backed out slowly and van de Velde shouted after him, "Shut those
doors behind you, worm."

Hop staggered back across the silent courtyard like a blind man, his
eyes filled again with tears.  At the little door he `;47/' stood and visibly
braced himself.  Then he flung himself through it and disappeared from
the view of the silent watchers.

In the middle of the afternoon the door opened again and Slow John came
out into the courtyard.  As always he was dressed in the dark suit and
tall Hat.  His face was serene and his gait slow and stately as he
passed out through the castle gates and took the avenue up through his
gardens towards the residence.

Minutes after he had gone, Hop rushed out of the armoury and across to
the main block.  He came back leading the Company surgeon, who carried
his leather bag, and disappeared down the armoury stairs.  A long time
afterwards the surgeon emerged and spoke briefly to Manseer and his
men, who were hovering at the door.

The sergeant saluted and he and his men went down the stairs.  When
they came out again Sir Francis was with them.  He could not walk
unaided, and his hands and feet were swaddled in bandages.  Red stains
had already soaked through the cloth.

"Oh, sweet Jesus, they have killed him," Hal whispered as they dragged
his father, legs dangling and head hanging, across the yard.

Almost as if he had heard the words, Sir Francis lifted his head and
looked up at him.  Then he called in a clear, high voice, "Hal,
remember your oath!"

"I love you, Father!"  Hal shouted back, choking on the words with
sorrow, and Barnard slashed his whip across his back.

"Get back to work, you bastard."

That evening as the file of convicts shuffled down the staircase past
the door of his father's cell, Hal paused and called softly, "I pray
God and all his saints to protect you, Father."

He heard his father move on the rustling mattress of straw, and then,
after a long moment, his voice.  "Thank you, my son.  God grant us both
the strength to endure the days ahead."  from behind the shutters of
her bedroom Katinka watched the tall figure of Slow John &-Fcoming up
the avenue from the Parade.  He passed out of her sight behind the
stone wall at the bottom of the lawns and she knew he was going
directly to his cottage.  She had been waiting half the day for his
return, and she was impatient.  She placed the bonnet on her head,
inspected her image in the mirror and was not satisfied.  She looped a
coil of her hair, arranged it carefully over her shoulder, then smiled
at her reflection and left the room through the small door out to the
back veranda.  She followed the paved path under the naked black vines
that covered the pergola, stripped of their last russet leaves by the
onset of the winter gales.

Slow John's cottage stood alone at the edge of the forest.  There was
no person in the colony, no matter how lowly his station, who would
live with him as a neighbour.  When she reached it Katinka found the
front door open and she went in without a knock or hesitation.  The
single room was bare as a hermit's cell.  The floors were coated with
cow dung, and the air smelled of stale smoke and the cold ashes on the
open hearth.  A simple bed, a single table and chair were the only
furniture.

As she paused in the centre of the room she heard water splashing in
the back yard and she followed the sound.

Slow John stood beside the water trough.  He was naked to the waist,
and he was scooping water from the trough with a leather bucket and
pouring it over his head.

He looked up at her, with the water trickling from his sodden hair down
his chest and arms.  His limbs were covered with the hard flat muscle
of a professional wrestler or, she thought whimsically, of a Roman
gladiator.

"You are not surprised to see me here," Katinka stated.  It was not a
question for she could see the answer in his flat gaze.

"I was expecting you.  I was expecting the Goddess Kali.  Nobody else
would dare come here," he said, and Katinka blinked at this unusual
form of address.

She sat down on the low stone wall beside the pump, and was silent for
a while.  Then she asked, "Why do you call me that?"  The death of
Zelda had forged a strange, mystic bond between them.

"In Trincomalee, on the beautiful island of Ceylon beside the sacred
Elephant Pool, stands the temple of Kali.  I went there every day that
I was in the colony.  Kali is the Hindu Goddess of death and
destruction.  I worship her."  She knew then that he was mad.  The
knowledge intrigued her, and made the fine, colourless hairs on her
forearms stand erect.

She sat for a long time in silence and watched him complete his toilet.
He squeezed the water from his hair with both hands, and then wiped
down those lean, hard limbs with a square of cloth.  He pulled on his
undershirt, then picked up the dark coat from where it hung over the
wall, shrugged into it and buttoned it to his chin.

At last he looked at her.  "You have come to hear about my little
sparrow."  With that fine melodious voice he should have been a
preacher or an operatic tenor, she thought.

"Yes,"she said.  "That is why I have come."

It was as though he had read her thoughts.  He knew exactly what she
wanted and he began to speak without hesitation.  He told her what had
taken place that day in the room below the armoury.  He omitted no
detail.  He almost sang the words, making the terrible acts he was
describing sound as noble and inevitable as the lyrics from some Greek
tragedy.  He transported her, so that she hugged her own arms and began
to rock slowly back and forth on the wall as she listened.

When he had finished speaking she sat for a long while with a rapturous
expression on her lovely face.  At last she shuddered softly and said,
"You may continue to call me Kali.  But only when we are alone.  No one
else must ever hear you speak the name."

"Thank you, Goddess."  His pale eyes glowed with an almost religious
fervour as he watched her go to the gate in the wall.

There she paused and, without looking round at him, she asked, "Why do
you call him your little sparrow?"

Slow John shrugged.  "Because from this day onwards he belongs to me.
They all belong to me and to the Goddess Kali, for ever."  Katinka gave
a small ecstatic shiver at those words, then walked on down the path
through the gardens towards the residence.  Every step of the way she
could feel his gaze upon her.

Sukeena was waiting for her when she returned to the residence.  "You
sent for me, mistress."

"Come with me, Sukeena."

She led the girl to her closet, and seated herself on the chaise-longue
in front of the shuttered window.  She gestured for Sukeena to stand
before her.  "Governor Kleinhans often discussed your skills as a
physician," Katinka said.  "Who taught you?"

"My mother was an adept.  At a very young age I would go out with her
to gather the plants and herbs.  After her death I studied with my
uncle."

"Do you know the plants here?  Are they not different from those of the
land where you were born?"

"There are some that are the same, and the others I have taught
myself."

Katinka already knew all this from Kleinhans, but she enjoyed the music
of the slave girl's voice.  "Sukeena, yesterday my mare stumbled and
almost threw me.  My leg was caught on the saddle horn, and I have an
ugly mark.  My skin bruises easily.  Do you have in your chest of
medicines one that will heal it for me?"

"Yes, mistress."

"Here!"  Katinka leaned back on the sofa, and drew her skirts high
above her knees.  Slowly and sensually she rolled down one of the white
stockings.  "Look!"  she ordered, and Sukeena sank gracefully to the
silk carpet in front of her.  Her touch was as soft upon the skin as a
butterfly alighting on a flower, and Katinka sighed.  "I can feel that
you have healing hands."

Sukeena did not reply and a wave of her dark hair hid her eyes.

"How old are you?"  Katinka asked.

Sukeena's fingers stopped for an instant and then moved on to explore
the bruise that spread around the back of her mistress's knee.  "I was
born in the year of the Tiger," she said, "so on my next birthday I
will be eighteen years of age.-) "You are very beautiful, Sukeena.
But, then, you know that, don't you?"

"I do not feel beautiful, mistress.  I do not think a slave can ever
feel beautiful."

"What a droll notion."  Katinka did not hide her annoyance at this turn
in the conversation.  "Tell me, is your brother as beautiful as you
are?"

Again Sukeena's fingers trembled on her skin.  Ah!  That shaft went
home.  Katinka smiled softly in the silence, and then asked, "Did you
hear my question, Sukeena?"

"To me Althuda is the most beautiful man who has ever lived upon this
earth," Sukeena replied softly, and then regretted having said it.

She knew instinctively that it was dangerous to allow this woman to
discover those areas where she was most vulnerable, but she could not
recall the words.

"How old is Althuda?"

"He is three years older than I am."  Sukeena kept her eyes downcast.
"I need to fetch my medicines, mistress."

"I shall wait for you to return," Katinka replied.  "Be quick."

Katinka lay back against the cushions and smiled or frowned at the
vivid procession of images and words that ran through her mind.  She
felt expectant and elated, and at the same time restless and
dissatisfied.  Slow John's words sounded in her head like cathedral
bells.  They disturbed her.  She could not remain still a moment
longer.  She sprang to her feet and prowled around the closet like a
hunting leopard.  "Where is that girl?"  she demanded, and then she
glimpsed her own reflection in the long mirror and turned back to
consider it.

"Kali!"  she whispered, and smiled.  "What a marvelous name.  What a
secret and splendid name."

She saw Sukeena's image appear in the mirror behind her but she did not
turn immediately.  The girl's dark beauty was a perfect foil for her
own.  She considered their two faces together, and felt the excitement
charge her nerves and sing through her veins.

"I have the salve for your injury, mistress."  Sukeena stood close
behind her, but her eyes were fathomless.

"Thank you, my little sparrow," Katinka whispered.  I want you to
belong to me for ever, she thought.  I want you to belong to Kali.

She turned back to the sofa and Sukeena knelt before her again.  At
first the salve was cool on the skin of her leg, and then a warm glow
spread from it.  Sukeena's fingers were cunning and skilful.

"I hate to see something beautiful destroyed needlessly," Katinka
whispered.  "You say your brother is beautiful.  Do you love him very
much, Sukeena?"

When there was no reply Katinka reached down and cupped her hand under
Sukeena's chin.  She lifted her face so that she could look into her
eyes.  The agony she saw there made her pulse race.

"My poor little sparrow," she said.  I have touched the deepest place
in her soul, she exulted.  As she removed her hand she let her fingers
trail across the girl's cheek.

"This hour I have come from Slow John," she said, "but you saw me on
the path.  You were watching me, were you not?"

"Yes, mistress."

"Shall I repeat to you what Slow John told me?  Shall I tell you about
his special room at the castle, and what happens there?"  Katinka" did
not wait for the girl to reply but went on speaking quietly.  When
Sukeena's fingers stilled she broke off her narrative to order, "Do not
stop what you are doing, Sukeena You have a magical touch."

When at last she finished speaking, Sukeena was weeping without a
sound.  Her tears were slow and viscous as drops of oil squeezed from
the olive press.  They glistened against the red gold of her cheeks.
After a while Katinka asked, "How long has your brother been in the
castle?  I have heard that it is four months since he came back from
the mountains to fetch you.  Such a long time, and he has not been
tried, no sentence passed upon him."

Katinka waited, letting the moments fall, a slow drop at a time, slow
as the girl's tears.  "Governor Kleinhans was remiss, or was he
persuaded by somebody, I wonder.  But my husband is an energetic and
dedicated man.  He will not let justice be denied.  No renegade can
escape him long."

Now Sukeena was no longer making any pretence, she stared at Katinka
with stricken eyes as she went on, "He will send Althuda to the secret
room with Slow John.  Althuda will be beautiful no longer.  What a
dreadful pity.  What can we do to prevent that happening?"

"Mistress," Sukeena whispered, "your husband, he has the power.  It is
in his hands."

"My husband is a servant of the Company, a loyal and unbending servant.
He will not flinch from his duty."  "Mistress, you are so beautiful. No
man can deny you.

You can persuade him."  Sukeena slowly lowered her head and placed it
on Katinka's bare knee.  "With all my heart, with all my soul, I beg
you, mistress."

"What would you do to save your brother's life?"  Katinka asked.  "What
price would you pay, my little sparrow?"  "There is no price too high,
no sacrifice from which I would turn aside.  Everything and anything
you ask of me, mistress."

"We could never hope to set him free, Sukeena You understand that,
don't you?"  Katinka asked gently.  Nor would I ever wish that, she
thought, for while the brother is in the castle the little sparrow is
safely in my cage.

"I will not even let myself hope for that."

Sukeena lifted her head and again Katinka cupped her chin, this time
with both her hands, and she leaned forward slowly.  "Althuda shall not
die.  We will save him from Slow John, you and I," she promised, and
kissed Sukeena full on the mouth.  The girl's lips were wet with her
tears.  They tasted hot and salty, almost like blood.  Slowly Sukeena
opened her lips, like the petals of an orchid opening to the sunbird's
beak as it quests for nectar.

Althuda.  Sukeena steeled herself with the thought of her brother, as
without breaking the kiss Katinka took her hand and moved it slowly up
under her skirts until it lay on her smooth white belly.  Althuda, this
is for you, and for you alone, Sukeena told herself silently, as she
closed her eyes and her fingers crept timorously over the satiny belly,
down into the nest of fine dense golden curls at the base.

The next day dawned in a cloudless sky.  Although the air was chill the
sun was IT brilliant and the wind had dropped.  From the scaffold Hal
watched the closed door to the dungeons.  Daniel stayed close by his
side, in taking Hal's share of the work on his broad shoulders he was
shielding him from Barnard's lash.

When Slow John came through the gates and crossed the courtyard to the
armoury, with his measured undertaker's tread, Hal stared down at him
with stricken eyes.  Suddenly, as he passed below the scaffold, Hal
snatched up the heavy mason's hammer that lay on the planking at his
feet and lifted it to hurl.  it down and crush the executioner's
skull.

But Daniel's great fist closed around his wrist.  He eased the hammer
from Hal's grip, as though he were taking a toy from a child, and
placed it on top of the wall beyond his reach.

"Why did you do that?"  Hal protested.  "I could have killed the
swine."

"To no purpose," Daniel told him, with compassion.  "You cannot save
Sir Francis by killing an underling, You would sacrifice your own life
and achieve nothing by it.  They would simply send another to your
father."

Manseer brought Sir Francis up from the dungeons.  He could not walk
unaided on his broken bandaged feet, but his head was high as they
dragged him across the courtyard.

"Father!"  Hal screamed, in torment.  "I cannot let this happen."

Sir Francis looked up at him, and called in a voice just loud enough to
reach him on the high wall, "Be strong, my son.  For my sake, be
strong."  Manseer forced him down the steps below the armoury.

The day was long, longer than any that Hal had ever lived through, and
the north side of the courtyard was in deep shadow when at last Slow
John re-emerged from below the armoury.

"This time I will kill the poisonous swine," Hal blurted, but again
Daniel held him in a grip that he could not shake off as the
executioner walked slowly beneath the scaffold and out through the
castle gates.

Hop came scampering into the courtyard, his face ghastly.  He summoned
the Company surgeon and the two men disappeared once more down the
stairs.  This time the soldiers brought out Sir Francis on a litter.

"Father!"  Hal shouted down to him, but there was neither reply nor
sign of life in response.

"I have warned you often enough," Hugo Barnard bellowed at him.  He
strode out onto the boards and laid half a dozen whip strokes across
his back.  Hal made no attempt to avoid the blows, and Barnard stepped
back astonished that he showed no pain.  "Any more of your imbecile
chattering, and I will put the dogs onto you," he promised, as he
turned away.  Meanwhile, in the courtyard, the Company surgeon watched
gravely as the soldiers carried Sir Francis's unconscious form down to
his cell.  Then, accompanied by Hop, he set off for the Governor's
suite on the south side of the courtyard.

Van de Velde looked up in irritation from the papers that littered his
desk.  "Yes?  What is it, Doctor Soar?  I am a busy man.  I hope you
have not come here to waste my time."  "it is the prisoner, your
excellency."  The surgeon looked flustered and apologetic at the same
time.  Van de Velde did not allow him to continue but turned on Hop,
who stood nervously behind the doctor, twisting his Hat in his
fingers.

"Well, Hop, has the pirate succumbed yet?  Has he told us what we want
to know?"  he shouted, and Hop retreated a pace.

"He is so stubborn.  I would never have believed it possible, that any
human being-" He broke off in a long, tormented stammer.

"I hold you responsible, Hop."  Van de Velde came menacingly from
behind his desk.  He was warming to this sport of baiting the miserable
little clerk, but the surgeon intervened.

"Your excellency, I fear for the prisoner's life.  Another day of
questioning he may not survive it."

Van de Velde rounded on him now.  "That, doctor, is the main object of
this whole business.  Courtney is a man condemned to death.  He will
die, and you have my solemn word on that."  He went back to his desk
and lowered himself into the soft chair.  "Don't come here to give me
news of his imminent decease.  All I want to know from you is whether
or not he is still capable of feeling pain, and if he is capable of
speaking or at least giving some sign of understanding the question.
Well, is he, doctor?"  Van de Velde glared.

"Your excellency," the doctor removed his eye-glasses and polished the
lenses vigorously as he composed a reply.  He knew what van de Velde
wanted to hear, and he knew also that it was not politic to deny him.
"At the moment the prisoner is not cmnpos mentis."

Van de Velde scowled and cut in, "What of the executioner's vaunted
skills?  I thought he never lost a prisoner, not unintentionally
anyway."

"Sir, I am not disparaging the skills of the state executioner.  I am
sure that by tomorrow the prisoner will have recovered
consciousness."

"You mean that tomorrow he will be healthy enough to continue
questioning?"

"Yes, your excellency.  That is my opinion."

"Well, Mijnheer, I will hold you to that.  If the pirate dies before he
can be formally executed in accordance with the judgement of the court,
you will answer to me.  The populace must see justice performed.  It is
no good the man passing peacefully away in a closed room below the
walls.  We want him out there on the Parade for all to see.  I want an
example made of him, do you understand?"

"Yes, your excellency."  The doctor backed towards the door.

"You too, Hop.  Do you understand, dolt?  I want to know where he has
hidden the galleon's cargo, and then I want a good rousing execution.
For your own good, you had better deliver both those things."

"Yes, your excellency."

"I want to speak to Slow John.  Send him to me before he starts work
tomorrow morning.  I want to make certain that he fully understands his
responsibilities."

"I will bring the executioner to you myself," Hop promised.  it was
dark when Hugo Barnard stopped work on the walls and ordered the lines
of exhausted prisoners down into the courtyard.  As Hal passed his
father's cell on the way down the staircase, he called desperately to
him, "Father, can you hear me?"

When there was no reply, he hammered on the door with both his fists.
"Father, speak to me.  In the name of God, speak to me!"  For once
Manseer was indulgent.  He made no attempt to force Hal to move on down
the staircase and Hal pleaded again, "Please, Father.  It's Hal, your
son.  Do you not know me?"

"Hal," croaked a voice he did not recognize.  "Is that you, my boy?"

"Oh, God!"  Hal sank to his knees and pressed his forehead to the
panel.  "Yes, Father.  It is me."

"Be strong, my son.  It will not be for much longer, but I charge you,
if you love me, then keep the oath."

"I cannot let you suffer.  I cannot let this go on."

"Hal!"  His father's voice was suddenly powerful again.  "There is no
more suffering.  I have passed that point.  They cannot hurt me now,
except through you."

"What can I do to ease you?  Tell me, what can I do?"  Hal pleaded.

"There is only one thing you can do now.  Let me take with me the
knowledge of your strength and your fortitude.  If you fail me now, it
will all have been in vain."

Hal bit into the knuckles of his own clenched fist, drawing blood in
the vain attempt to stifle his sobs.  His father's voice came again.

"Daniel, are you there?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Help him.  Help my son to be a man."  "I give you my promise,
Captain."

Hal raised his head, and his voice was stronger.  "I do not need
anybody to help me.  I will keep my faith with you, Father.  I will not
betray your trust."

"Farewell, Hal."  Sir Francis's voice began to fade, as though he were
falling into an infinite pit.  "You are my blood and my promise of
eternal life.  Goodbye, my life."

The following morning when they carried Sir Francis up from the dungeon
Hop and Doctor AT Soar walked on either side of the litter.  They were
both worried men, for there was no sign of life in the broken figure
that lay between them.  Even when Hal defied Barnard's whip, and called
down to him from the walls, Sir Francis did not raise his head.  They
took him down the stairs to where Slow John already waited, but within
a few minutes all three came out into the sunlight, Soar, Hop and Slow
John, and stood talking quietly for a short while.  Then they walked
together across to the Governor's suite and mounted the stairs.

Van de Velde was standing by the stained-glass window, peering out at
the shipping that lay anchored off the foreshore.  Late the previous
evening, another Company galleon had come into Table Bay and he was
expecting the ship's captain to call upon him to pay his respects and
to present an order for provisions and stores.  Van de Velde turned
impatiently from the window to face the three men as they filed into
his chamber.

"Ja, Hop?"  He looked at his favourite victim.  "You have remembered my
orders, for once, hey?  You have brought the state executioner to speak
to me."  He turned to Slow John.  "So, has the pirate told you where he
has hidden the treasure?  Come on, fellow, speak up."

Slow John's expression did not change as he said softly, "I have worked
carefully not to damage the respondent beyond usefulness.  But I am
nearing the end.  Soon he will no longer hear my voice, nor be sensible
to any further persuasion."

"You have failed?"  van de Velde's voice trembled with anger.

"No, not yet," said Slow John.  "He is strong.  I would never have
believed how strong.  But there is still the rack.  I do not believe
that he will be able to withstand the rack.  No man can weather the
rack."

"You have not used it yet?"  van de Velde demanded.  "Why not?"

"To me it is the last resort.  Once they have been racked, there is
nothing left.  It is the end."

"Will it work with this one?"  van de Velde wanted to know.  "What
happens if he still resists?"

"Then there is only the scaffold and the gibbet," said Slow John.

Slowly van de Velde turned to Doctor Soar.  "What is your opinion,
doctor?"

"Your excellency, if you require an execution then it should be carried
out very soon after the man is racked."  "How soon?  "van de Velde
demanded.

"Today.  Before nightfall.  After racking, he will not last the
night."

Van de Velde turned back to Slow John.  "You have disappointed me.

I am displeased."  Slow John did not seem to hear the rebuke.  His eyes
did not even flicker as he stared back at van de Velde.  "However, we
must do what we can to make the best of this whole sorry business.  I
will order the execution for three o'clock this afternoon.  In the
meantime you are to go back and place the pirate on the rack."

"I understand, your excellency," said Slow John.

"You have failed me once.  Do not do so again.  He must be alive when
he goes to the scaffold."  Van de Velde turned to the clerk.  "Hop,
send messengers through the town.  I am declaring the rest of today to
be a holiday throughout the colony, except for the work on the castle
walls, of course.  Francis Courtney will be executed at three o'clock
this afternoon.  Every burgher in the colony must be there.  I want all
to see how we deal with a pirate.  Oh, and by the way, make certain
that Mevrouw van de Velde is informed.  She will be very angry if she
misses the sport."  two o'clock they brought Sir Francis Courtney on a
litter from the cell below the A-Aarmoury.  They had not bothered to
cover his naked body.  Even from high up on the south wall of the
castle, and with his vision blurred by his tears, Hal could see that
his father's body had been grotesquely deformed by the rack.  Every one
of the great joints in his limbs and at his shoulders and pelvis were
dislocated, swollen and bruised purple black.

An execution detail of green-jackets was drawn up in the courtyard. Led
by an officer with a drawn sword, they fell in around the litter.
Twenty men marched in front, and twenty followed behind, their muskets
at the slope.  The tap-tap tap-tap of the death drum set the pace.  The
procession snaked through the castle gates, out onto the Parade.

Daniel placed his arm around Hal's shoulder, as the boy watched,
white-faced and shivering, in the icy wind.  Hal made no move to pull
away from him.  Those seamen who had coverings for their heads removed
them, unwinding the filthy rags and standing grim and silent as the
bier passed beneath them.

"God bless you, Captain," Ned Tyler called out.  "You were as good a
man as ever hoisted sail!"  There was a hoarse and ragged cheer from
the others, and one of Hugo Barnard's huge black hounds bayed
mournfully, a strangely harrowing sound.

Out on the Parade the crowd waited around the gibbet in tense and
expectant silence.  Every living soul in the colony seemed to have
answered the summons.  Above their heads Slow John waited high on the
platform.  He wore his leather apron, and his head was covered with the
mask of his office, the mask of death.  His eyes and his mouth were all
that showed through the slits in the black cloth.

Led by the drummer the procession marched with slow and measured tread
towards him, and Slow John waited with his arms folded over his chest.
Even he turned his head as the Governor's carriage came down the avenue
through the gardens, and crossed the Parade.  Slow John bowed to the
Governor and his wife as Aboli guided the six grey horses to the foot
of the scaffold and brought the vehicle to a halt.

Slow John's yellow eyes met those of Katinka through the slits in his
black head cloth  He bowed again, this time to her directly.  She knew,
without words being spoken, that he was dedicating the sacrifice to
her, to his Goddess Kali.

"He has no reason to act so grand.  The oaf has made a botch of the job
so far," van de Velde said grumpily.  "He has killed the man without
getting a word out of him.  I don't know what your father and the other
members of the Seventeen are going to say when they hear that the cargo
is lost.  They are going to blame me, of course.  They always do."

"As always you will have me to protect you, my darling husband" she
said, and stood up in the carriage to have a better view.  The escort
stopped at the foot of the gallows and the litter with the still figure
upon it was lifted high and placed at Slow John's feet.  A low growl
went up from the watchers as the executioner knelt beside it to begin
his grisly task.

A little later when the crowd gave forth a lusty roar, made up of
excitement and horror and obscene glee, the grey horses shied and
fidgeted nervously in the traces at the sound and smell of fresh human
blood.  With an impassive face and gentle hands on the reins Aboli
checked them and brought them back under control.  Slowly he turned
away his head from the dreadful spectacle taking place before his eyes
and looked towards the unfinished walls of the castle.

He recognized the figure of Hal among the other convicts.  He stood
almost as tall as Big Daniel now, and he had the shape and set of a
fully mature man.  But he has a boy's heart still.  He should not look
upon this thing.  No man or boy should ever have to watch his father
die.  Aboli's own great heart felt that it might burst in the barrel of
his chest, but his face was still impassive beneath the cicatrice of
tattoos.  He looked back at the scaffold as Sir Francis Courtney's body
rose slowly in the air and the crowd bellowed again.  Slow John's
pressure on the rope was gentle and sure as he lifted Sir Francis from
the litter by his neck.  It required a delicate touch not to snap the
vertebrae, and end" it all too soon.  It was a matter of pride to him
that the last spark of life must not be snuffed out of that broken husk
until after the drawing out of the viscera.

Firmly Aboli turned away his eyes and looked again to the bereft and
tragic figure of Hal Courtney on the castle walls.  We should not mourn
for him, Gundwane.  He was a man and he lived the life of a man.  He
sailed every ocean, and fought as a warrior must fight.  He knew the
stars and the ways of men.  He called no man master, and turned aside
from no enemy.  No, Gundwane, we should not mourn him, you and I. He
will never die while he lives on in our hearts.

For four days Sir Francis Courtney's dismembered body remained on
public display.  Every morning as the light strengthened, Hal looked
down from the walls and saw it still hanging there.  The gulls came
from the beach in a shrieking cloud of black and white wings and
squabbled raucously over the feast.  When they had gorged, they perched
on the railing of the gibbet and whitewashed the planks with their
liquid dung.

For once Hal hated the clarity of his own eyesight, that spared him no
detail of the terrible transformation that was taking place as he
watched.  By the third day the birds had picked the flesh from his
father's skull so that it grinned at the sky with empty eye-sockets.
The burghers crossing the open Parade on their way to the castle walked
well downwind of the scaffold on which he hung, and the ladies held
sachets of dried herbs to their faces as they passed.

However, on the dawning of the fifth day when Hal looked down upon it,
the gibbet was empty.  His father's pathetic remains no longer hung
there, and the seagulls had gone back to the beach.

"Thank the merciful Lord," Ned Tyler whispered to Daniel.  "Now young
Hal can begin to heal."

"Yet it is passing strange that they have taken the corpse away so
soon."  Daniel was puzzled.  "I would not have thought that van de
Velde could be so compassionate."

Sukeena had shown him how to slip the grating on one of the small back
windows of the slave'S quarters and squeeze his great body through. The
night guard at the residence had become lax over the years, and Aboli
had little difficulty in evading the watch.  For three consecutive
nights he escaped from the slave quarters.  Sukeena had warned him that
he must return at least two hours before dawn for at that hour the
watch would rouse themselves and put on a show of vigilance to impress
the awakening household.

Once he had escaped over the walls it took Aboli less than an hour to
run through the darkness to the boundary of the colony, marked by a
hedge of bitter almond bushes planted at the order of the Governor.
Although the hedge was still scraggy and there were more gaps than
barriers in its length, it was the line over which no burgher might
pass without the Governor's permission.  On the other hand, none of the
scattered Hottentot tribes that inhabited the limitless wilderness of
plain, mountain and forest beyond were allowed to cross the hedge and
enter the colony.  On the orders of the Company, they were to be shot
or hanged if they transgressed the boundary.  The VOC was no longer
prepared to tolerate the savages" treachery, their sly thieving ways or
their drunkenness when they were able to get their hands on spirits.
The wanton whoring of their women, who would lift their short leather
skirts for a handful of beads or a trifling trinket, was a threat to
the morals of the God-fearing burghers of the colony.  Selected
tribesmen, who might be useful as soldiers and servants, were allowed
to remain in the colony but the rest had been driven out into the
wilderness where they belonged.

Each night Aboli crossed this makeshift boundary and ranged like a
silent black ghost across the flat plain whose wide expanses cut off
Table Mountain and its bastion of lesser hills from the main ranges of
the African hinterland.  The wild animals had not been driven off these
plains, for few white hunters had been allowed to leave the confines of
the colony to pursue them.  Here, Aboli heard again the wild,
heart-stopping chorus of a pride of hunting lions that he remembered
from his childhood.  The leopards sawed and coughed in the thickets,
and often he startled unseen herds of antelope, whose hoofs drummed
through the night.

Aboli needed a black bull.  Twice he had been so close as to smell the
buffalo herd in the thickets.  The scent reminded him of his father's
herds of cattle, which he had tended in his childhood, before his
circumcision.  He had heard the grunting of the great beasts and the
lowing of the weaning calves, he had followed their deeply ploughed
hoof marks and seen splashes of their wet dung still steaming in the
moonlight.  But each time as he closed with the herd, the wind had
tricked him.  They had sensed him and gone crashing away through the
brush, galloping on until the sound of their flight dwindled into
silence.  Aboli could not pursue them further, for it was past midnight
and he was still hours away from the bitter almond hedge and from his
cell in the slave quarters.

On the third night he took the chance of creeping out of the window of
the slave quarters an hour earlier than Sukeena had warned him was
wise.  One of the hounds rushed at him, but before it could alarm the
watch, Aboli calmed it with a soft whistle.  The hound recognized him
and snuffled his hand.  He stroked its head and whispered softly to it
in the language of the forests and left it whining softly and wagging
its tail as he slipped over the wall like a dark moon shadow.

During his previous hunts, he had discovered that each night the
buffalo herd left the vastness of the dense forest to drink at a
waterhole a mile or so beyond the boundary hedge.  He knew that if he
crossed it before midnight he might be able to catch them while they
were still at the water.  It was his best chance of being able to pick
out a bull and make his stalk.

From the hollow tree at the edge of the forest he retrieved the bow
that he had cut and carved from a branch of wild olive.  Sukeena had
stolen the single iron arrowhead from the collection of weapons that
Governor Kleinhans had assembled during his service in the Indies,
which now hung on the walls of the residence.  It was unlikely that it
would be missed from among the dozens of swords, shields and knives
that made up the display.

"I will return it to you," he promised Sukeena "I would not have you
suffer if it should be missed."

"Your need of it is great than my risk," she told him as she slipped
the arrowhead, wrapped in a scrap of cloth, beneath the seat of the
carriage.  "I also had a father who was denied a decent burial."

Aboli had fitted the arrowhead to a reed shaft and bound it in place
with twine and pitch.  He had fl etched it with the moulted feathers
from the hunting falcons housed in the mews behind the stables.
However, he did not have time to search for the insect grubs from which
to brew poison for the barbs, and so he must rely on this single shaft
flying true to the mark.

Now as Aboli hunted in the shadows, himself another silent gliding
shadow, he found old forgotten skills returning to him, and recalled
the instruction that he had undergone as a young boy from the elders of
his tribe.  He felt the night wind softly caress his bare chest and
flanks and was aware of its direction at all times as he circled the
waterhole until it blew straight into his face.  It brought down to him
the rich bovine stench of the prey he sought.

The wind was strong enough to shake the tall reeds and cover any sound
he might make so he could move in swiftly over the last hundred paces.
Above the soughing of the north wind and the rustle of the reeds he
heard a coughing grunt.  He froze and nocked his single arrow.

Had the lions come to the water ahead of the herd, he wondered, for
that had been a leonine sound.  He stared ahead, and heard the sound of
great hoofs plodding and sucking in the mud of the waterhole.  Above
the rippling heads of the reeds a dark shape moved, mountainous in the
moonlight.

"A bull," he breathed.  "A bull of a bull!"

The bull had finished drinking.  The crafty old beast had come ahead of
the cows and calves of the breeding herd.  His back was coated with
glistening wet mud from the wallow, and he plodded towards where Aboli
crouched, his hoofs squelching in the mud.

Aboli lost sight of the prey as he sank down among the swaying stems
and let him come on.  But he could mark him by the sound of his heavy
breathing, and by the rasping of the reeds dragging down his flanks.
The bull was very close, but still out of Aboli's sight, when suddenly
he shook his head as the reed stems tangled in his horns, and his ears
flapped against his cheeks.  If I reach out now I could touch his
snout, Aboli thought.  Every nerve in his body was drawn as tight as
the bowstring in his fingers.

The reed bank parted in front of Aboli, and the massive head came
through, the moonlight gleaming on the curved bosses of the horns.
Abruptly the bull became aware of something amiss, of danger lurking
close at hand, and he stopped and raised his huge black head.  As he
lifted his muzzle to test the air, his nose was wet and shining and
water drooled from his mouth.  He flared his nostrils into -dark pits
and snuffled the air.  Aboli could feel his breath hot upon his naked
chest and his face.

The bull turned his head, questing for the scent of man or cat, for the
hidden hunter.  Aboli stayed still as a tree stump  He was holding the
heavy bow at full draw.  The power of the olive branch and the gut
bowstring were so fierce that even the granite muscles in his arms and
shoulder bulged and trembled with the effort.  As the bull turned his
head he revealed the notch behind his ear where the neck fused with the
bone of his skull and the massive boss of his horns.  Aboli held his
aim for one heartbeat longer, then loosed the arrow.  It flashed and
whirred in the moonlight, leaping from his hand and burying half its
length in the massive black neck.

The bull reeled back.  If the arrowhead had found the gap between the
vertebrae of the spine, as Aboli had hoped, he would have dropped where
he stood but the iron point struck the spine and was deflected by bone.
It glanced aside but sliced through the great artery behind the
jawbone.  As the bull bucked and kicked to the stinging impact of the
steel, the severed artery erupted and a spout of blood flew high in the
air, black as an ostrich feather in the light of the moon..

The bull dashed past Aboli, hooking wildly with those wide curved
horns.  If Aboli had not dropped his bow and hurled himself aside, the
burnished point that hissed by, a finger's width from his navel, would
have skewered him and ripped open his bowels.

The bull charged on and reached the hard dry ground.  On his knees
Aboli strained his ears to follow his quarry's crashing rush through
the scrub.  Abruptly it came up short.  There was a long, fraught
pause, in which he could hear the animal's laboured breathing and the
patter of streaming blood falling on the leaves of the low bushes
around it.  Then he heard the bull stagger and stumble backwards,
trying to remain on his feet while the strength flowed out of his huge
body on that tide of dark blood.  The beast fell heavily so that the
earth trembled under Aboli's bare feet.

A moment later came the rasping death bellow, and thereafter an aching
quietness.  Even the night birds and the bullfrogs of the swamp had
been silenced by that dreadful sound.  It was as though all the forest
held its breath at the passing of such a mighty creature.  Then)
slowly, the night came alive once again, the frogs piped and croaked
from the reed beds a nightjar screeched and from afar an eagle owl
hooted mournfully.

Aboli skinned the bull with the knife that Sukeena had stolen for him
from the residence kitchens.  He folded the green skin and tied it with
bark rope.  It was heavy enough to tax even his strength.  He staggered
with the bundle until he could get under it and balance it on his head.
He left the naked carcass for the packs of night-prowling hyena and the
flocks of vultures, carnivorous storks, kites and crows that would find
it with the first light of morning, and set off back towards the colony
and the table-topped mountain, silhouetted against the stars. Even
under his burden he moved at the ground-eating trot of the warriors of
his tribe that was becoming so natural to him again after his
confinement for two decades in a small ship upon the seas.  He was
remembering so much long-forgotten tribal lore and wisdom, relearning
old skills, becoming once more a true son of this baked African
earth.

He climbed to the lower slopes of the mountain and left the bundled
skin in a narrow crevice in the rock cliff.  He covered it with large
boulders, for the hyenas roamed here also, attracted by the rubbish and
wastes and sewage generated by the human settlement of the colony.

When he had placed the last boulder he looked up at the sky and saw
that the curling scorpion was falling fast towards the dark horizon.
Only then he realized how swiftly the night had sped, and went bounding
back down the slope.  He reached the edge of the Company gardens just
as the first rooster crowed in the darkness.

Later that morning, as he waited on the bench with the other slaves
outside the kitchens for his breakfast bowl of gruel and thick, curdled
sour milk, Sukeena passed on her way to tend the affairs of the
household.  "I heard you return last night.  You were out too late,"
she whispered, without turning her head on the orchid stem of her
neck.

"If you are discovered, you will bring great hardship on all of us, and
our plans will come to naught."

"My task is almost finished," he rumbled softly.  "Tonight will be the
last time I need to go out."

"Have a care, Aboli.  There is much at risk," she said and glided away.
Despite her warning she had given him any help he had asked for, and
without watching her go Aboli whispered to himself, "That little one
has the heart of a lioness."

That night, when the house had settled down for the night, he slipped
through the grating.  Again the dogs were stilled by his quiet whistle,
and he had lumps of dried sausage for each of them.  When he reached
the wall below, the lawns, he looked to the stars and saw in the
eastern sky the first soft luminescence of the moonrise.  He vaulted
over it and, keeping well clear of the road, guided himself by touch
along the outside of the wall, towards the settlement.

No more than three or four dim lights were showing from the cottages
and buildings of the village.  The four ships at anchor in the bay were
all burning lanterns at their mastheads.  The castle was a dark
brooding shape against the starlight.

He waited at the edge of the Parade and tuned his ears to the sounds of
the night.  Once, as he was about to set out across the open ground, he
heard drunken laughter and snatches of singing as a party of soldiers
from the castle returned from an evening of debauchery among the rude
hovels on the waterfront, which passed as taverns in this remote
station, selling the rough raw spirit the Hottentots called dop.

One of the revellers carried a tar-dipped torch.

The flames wove uncertainly as the man stopped before the gibbet in the
middle of the Parade, and shouted an insult at the corpse that still
hung upon it.  His companions bellowed with drunken laughter at his
humour, and then reeled on, supporting each other, towards the
castle.

When they had disappeared through the gates, and when silence and
darkness fell, Aboli moved out swiftly across the Parade.  Though he
could not see more than a few paces ahead, the smell of corruption
guided him, only a dead lion smells as strongly as a rotting human
corpse.

Sir Francis Courtney's body had been beheaded and neatly quartered.
Slow John had used a butcher's cleaver to hack through the larger
bones.  Aboli brought down the head from the spike on which it had been
impaled.  He wrapped it in a clean white cloth and placed it in the
saddle-bag he carried.  Then he retrieved the other parts of the
corpse.  The dogs from the village had carried off some of the smaller
bones, but even working in darkness Aboli was able to recover what
remained.  He closed and buckled the leather flap of the bag, slung it
over his shoulder and set off again at a run towards the mountain.

Sukeena knew the mountain intimately, every ravine, cliff and crag. She
had explained to him how to find the narrow concealed entrance to the
cavern where, the previous night, he had left the raw buffalo skin. In
the light of the rising moon, he returned unerringly to it.  When he
reached the entrance he stooped and swiftly removed the boulders that
covered the buffalo skin.  Then he crawled further into the crevice and
drew aside the bushes that hung down from the cliff above to conceal
the dark throat of the cavern.

He worked deftly, with flint and steel, to light one of the candles
Sukeena had provided.  Shielding the flame with cupped hands from any
watcher below the mountain he went forward and crawled into the low
natural tunnel on hands and knees, dragging the saddle-bag behind
him.

As Sukeena had told him, the tunnel opened suddenly into a cavern high
enough for him to stand.  He held the candle above his head and saw
that the cavern would make a fitting burial place for a great chief.
There was even a natural rock shelf at the far end.  He left the saddle
bag upon it and crawled back to retrieve the buffalo skin.  Before he
entered the tunnel again he looked back over his shoulder and
reoriented himself in the direction of the moonrise.

"I shall turn his face to greet ten thousand moons and all the sunrises
of eternity!"  he said softly, and dragged the heavy skin into the
cavern and spread it on the rock floor.

He placed the candle on the rock shelf and began to unpack the bag.
First he set aside those small offerings and ceremonial items he had
brought with him.  Then he lifted out Sir Francis's covered head and
laid it in the centre of the buffalo hide.  He unwrapped it reverently,
and showed no repugnance for the thick cloying odour of decay that
slowly filled the cavern.  He assembled all the other dismembered parts
of the body and arranged them in their natural order, binding them in
place with slim strands of bark rope, until Sir Francis lay on his
side, his knees drawn up beneath his chin and his arms hugging his
legs, the foetal position of the womb and of sleep.  Then he folded the
wet buffalo hide tightly around him so that only his ravaged face was
still exposed.  He stitched the folds of the hide around him so they
would dry into an iron-hard sarcophagus.  It was a long and meticulous
task, and when the candle burnt down and guttered in a pool of its own
liquid wax he lit another from the stump and worked on.

When he had finished, he took up the turtle shell comb, another of
Sukeena's gifts, and combed out the tangled tresses that still adhered
to Sir Francis's skull, and braided them neatly.  At last he lifted the
seated body and placed it on the stone shelf.  He turned it carefully
to face the east, to gaze for ever towards the moonrise and the dawn.

For a long while he squatted below the ledge and looked upon the
ravaged head, seeing it in his mind's eye as it once was.  The face of
the vigorous young mariner who had rescued him from the slavers" hold
two decades before.

At last he rose and began to gather up the grave-goods he had brought
with him.  He laid them one at a time on the ledge before the body of
Sir Francis.  The tiny model of a ship he had carved with his own
hands.  There had not been time to lavish care upon its construction,
and it was crude and childlike.  However, the three masts had sails set
upon them, and the name carved into the stern was Lady Edwina.

"May this ship carry you over the dark oceans to the landfall where the
woman whose name she bears awaits you,"Aboli whispered.

Next he placed the knife and the bow of olive wood beside the ship.  "I
have no sword with which to arm you, but may these weapons be your
defence in the dark places."

Then he offered the food bowl and the water bottle.  "May you never
again hunger or thirst."

Lastly, the cross of wood that Aboli had fashioned and decorated with
green abalone shell, white-carved bone and small bright stones from the
river-bed.  "May the cross of your God which guided you in life, guide
you still in death," he said as he placed the cross before Sir
Francis's empty eyes.

Kneeling on the cavern floor he built a small fire and lit it from the
candle.  "May this fire warm you in the darkness of your long night.
"Then, in his own language, he sang the funeral chant and the song of
the traveller on a long journey, clapping his hands softly to keep the
time, and to show respect.  When the flames of the fire burned low he
stood and moved to the entrance of the cavern.

"Farewell, my friend," he said.  "Goodbye, MY father."

Governor van de Velde was a cautious man.  At first, he had not allowed
Aboli to drive him in the carriage.  "This is a whim of yours that I
will not deny, my dear," he told his wife, "but the fellow is a black
savage.  What does he know of horses?"

"He is really very good, better by far than old Fredricus."  Katinka
laughed.  "And he looks so splendid in the new livery I have designed
for him."

"His fancy maroon coat and breeches will be of little interest to me
when he breaks my neck," van de Velde said, but despite his misgivings
he watched the way Aboli handled the team of greys.

The first morning that Aboli drove the Governor down from the residence
to his suite in the castle, there was a stir and a murmur among the
convicts working on the walls as the carriage crossed the Parade and
approached the castle gates.  They had recognized Aboli sitting high on
the coachman's seat with the long whip in his white-gloved hands.

Hal was on the point of shouting a greeting to him, but checked himself
in time.  It was not the sting of Barnard's whip that dissuaded him,
but he realized that it would be unwise to remind his captors that
Aboli had been his shipmate.  The Dutch would expect him to regard a
black man as a slave and not as a companion.

"Nobody to greet Aboli," he whispered urgently to Daniel, sweating
beside him.  "Ignore him.  Pass it on."  The order went swiftly down
the ranks of men on the scaffold and then to those labouring in the
courtyard.  When the carriage came in through the gates to a turnout of
the honour guard and the salutes of the garrison's officers, none of
the convicts paid any attention.  They devoted them, selves to the
heavy work with block and tackle and iron bar.

Aboli sat like a carved figurehead on the coachman's seat, staring
directly ahead.  His dark eyes did not even flicker in Hal's direction.
He drew the team of greys to a halt at the foot of the staircase and
sprang down to lower the folding steps and hand out the Governor.  Once
van de Velde had waddled up the stairs and disappeared into his suite,
Aboli returned to his seat and sat upon it, unmoving, facing straight
ahead.  In a short time the gaolers and guards forgot his silent
presence, turned their attention to their duties and the castle fell
into its routine.

An hour passed and one of the horses threw its head and fidgeted.  From
the corner of his eye Hal had noticed Aboli touch the reins to agitate
the animal slightly.  Now he climbed unhurriedly down and went to its
head.  He held its leather cheek-strap and stroked its head and
murmured endearments to it.  The grey quietened immediately under his
touch, and Aboli went down on one knee and lifted first one front foot
and then the other, examining the hoofs for any injury.

Still on one knee and screened by the horse's body from the view of any
of the guards or overseers, he looked up for the first time at Hal.
Their gaze touched for an instant.  Aboli nodded almost imperceptibly
and opened his right fist to give Hal a glimpse of the tiny curl of
white paper he had in his palm, then closed his fist and stood up.  He
walked down the team of horses examining each animal and making minute
adjustments to the harness.  At last he turned aside and leaned against
the stone wall beside him, stooping to wipe the fine flouring of dust
from his boots, Hal watched him take the quill of paper and
surreptitiously stuff it into a joint in the stonework of the wall.  He
straightened and returned to the coachman's seat to await the
Governor's pleasure.  Van de Velde never showed consideration for
servant, slave or animal.  All that morning the team of greys stood
patiently in the traces with Aboli soothing them at intervals.  A
little before noon the Governor re-emerged from the Company offices and
had himself driven back to the residence for the midday meal.

In the dusk, as the convicts wearily climbed down into the courtyard,
Hal stumbled as he reached the ground and put out his hand to steady
himself.  Neatly he picked the scrap of folded paper from the joint in
the stonework where Aboli had left it.

Once in the dungeon there was just sufficient light filtering down from
the torch in its bracket at the top of the staircase for Hal to read
the message.  It was written in a fine neat hand that he did not
recognize.  Despite all his father's and Hal's own instruction, Aboli's
handwriting had never been better than large, sprawling and malformed.
It seemed that another scribe had framed these words.  A tiny nub of
charcoal was wrapped in the paper, placed there for Hal to write his
reply on the reverse of the scrap.

"The Captain buried with honour."  Hal's heart leapt as he read that.
So it was Aboli who had taken down his father's mutilated corpse from
the gibbet.  I should have known he would give my father that
respect.

There was only one more word.  "Althuda?"  Hal puzzled over this until
he understood that Aboli, or the writer, must be asking after the
welfare of the other prisoner.

"Althuda!"  he called softly.  "Are you awake?"  "Greetings, Hal.  What
cheer?"

"Somebody outside asks after you."

There was a long silence as Althuda.  considered this.  "Who asks?"

"I know not."  Hal could not explain for he was certain that the
gaolers eavesdropped on these exchanges.

Another long silence.  "I can guess," Althuda called.  "And so can you.
We have discussed her before.  Can you send a reply?  Tell her I am
alive."

Hal rubbed the charcoal on the wall to sharpen a point on it and wrote,
"Althuda well."  Even though his letters were small and cramped, there
was space for no more on the paper.

The following morning, as they were led out to begin the day's w "ark
on the scaffold, Daniel screened Hal for the moment he needed to push
the scrap of paper into the same crack from which he had retrieved
it.

In the middle of the morning Aboli drove the Governor down from the
residence and parked once more beneath the staircase.  Long after van
de Velde had disappeared into his sanctum, Aboli remained on the
coachman's seat.  At last he looked up casually at a flock of
red-winged starlings that had come down from the cliffs to perch on the
walls of the eastern bastion and give vent to their low, mournful
whistles.  From the birds his eye passed over Hal, who nodded.  Once
again Aboli dismounted and tended his horses, pausing beside the wall
to adjust the straps on his boots and, with a magician's sleight-of
hand to recover the message from the crack in the wall.  Hal breathed
easier when he saw it, for they had established their letterbox.

They did not make the mistake of trying to exchange messages every day.
Sometimes a week or more might pass before Aboli nodded at Hal, and
placed a note in the wall.  If Hal had a message, he would give the
same signal and Aboli would leave paper and charcoal for him.

The second message Hal received was in that artistic and delicate
script.  "A.  is safe.  Orchid sends her heart."

"Is the orchid the one we spoke of?"  Hal called to Althuda that night.
"She sends you her heart, and says you are safe."

"I do not know how she has achieved that, but I must believe it and be
thankful to her in this as in so many things."  There was a lift of
relief in Althuda's tone.  Hal held the scrap of paper to his nose, and
fancied that he detected the faintest perfume upon it.  He huddled on
his damp straw in a corner of the cell.  He thought about Sukeena until
sleep overcame him.  The memory of her beauty was like a candle flame
in the winter darkness of the dungeon.

Governor van de Velde was passing drunk.  He had swilled the Rhenish
with the soup and t-GMadeira with the fish and the lobster.  The red
wines of Burgundy had accompanied the mutton stew and the pigeon pie.
He had quaffed the claret with the beef, and interspersed each with
draughts of good Dutch gin.  When at last he rose from the board, he
steadied himself as he wove to his seat by the fire with a hand on his
wife's arm.  She was not usually so attentive, but all this evening she
had been in an affectionate and merry mood, laughing at his sallies
which on other occasions she would have ignored, and refilling his
glass with her own gracious hand before it was half emptied.  Come to
think of it, he could not remember when last they had dined alone, just
the two of them, like a pair of lovers.

For once, he had not been forced to put up with the company of the
rustic yokels from the settlement, or with the obsequious flattery of
ambitious Company servants or, greatest blessing of all, without the
posturing and boasting of that amorous prig Schreuder.

He fell back in the deep leather chair beside the fire and Sukeena
brought him a box of good Dutch cigars to choose from.  As she held the
burning taper for him, he peered with a lascivious eye down the front
of her costume.  The soft swell of girlish breasts, between which
nestled the exotic jade brooch, moved him so that he felt his groin
swell and engorge pleasantly.

Katinka was kneeling at the open hearth, but she regarded him so slyly
that he worried for a moment that she had seen him ogle the slave
girl's bosom.  But then she smiled and took up the poker that was
heating in the fire and plunged its glowing tip into the stone jug of
scented wine.  It boiled and fumed, and she filled a bowl with it and
brought it to him before it had time to cool.

"My beautiful wife!"  He slurred a little.  "My little darling."  He
toasted her with the steaming bowl.  He was not yet so intoxicated or
gullible that he did not realize there would be some price to pay for
this unusual kindness.  There always was.

Kneeling in front of him, Katinka looked up at Sukeena, who hovered
close at hand.  "That is all for tonight, Sukeena You may go."  She
gave the slave girl a knowing smile.

"I wish you sweet sleep and dreams of paradise, master and mistress."
Sukeena gave that graceful genuflection, and glided from the room.  She
slid the carved oriental screen door closed behind her, and knelt there
quietly with her face close to the panel.  These were her mistress's
orders.  Katinka wanted Sukeena to witness what transpired between her
and her husband.  She knew that it would tighten the knot that bound
the slave girl to her.

Now Katinka moved behind her husband's chair.  "You have had such a
difficult week," she said softly, "what with the affair of the pirate's
body being stolen from the scaffold, and now the new census and
taxation ordinances from the Seventeen.  My poor darling husband, let
me massage your shoulders for you."

She removed his wig and kissed the top of his head.  The stubble
prickled her lips, and she stood back and dug her thumbs into his heavy
shoulders.  Van de Velde sighed with pleasure, not only with the
sensation of the knots being eased from his muscles but because he
recognized this as the prelude to the infrequent dispensation of her
sexual favours.

"How much do you love me?"  she asked, and leaned over him to nibble at
his ear.

"I adore you," he blurted out.  "I worship you "You are always so kind
to me."  Her voice took on that husky quality that made his skin
tingle.  "I want to be kind to you.  I have written to my father.  I
have explained to him the circumstances of the pirate's demise and how
it was not your fault that it happened.  I shall give the letter to the
captain of the homewar&bound galleon, which is anchored in the bay at
the moment, to hand to Papa in person."

"May I see the letter before you dispatch it?"  he asked warily.  "It
would carry much weight if it could accompany my own report to the
Seventeen, which I shall send on the same ship."

"Of course you may.  I shall bring it to you before you leave for the
castle in the morning."  She brushed the top of his head with her lips
again, and slid her fingers from his shoulders down over his chest. She
unhooked the buttons of his doublet and slipped both hands into the
opening.  She took a handful of each of his pendulous dugs and kneaded
them as though they were lumps of soft bread dough.

"You are such a good little wife," he said.  "I would like to give you
a sign of my love.  What do you lack?  A jewel?  A pet?  A new slave?
Tell your old Petrus."

"I do have a little whimsy," she admitted coyly.  "There is a man in
the dungeons" "One of the pirates?  "he hazarded.  "No, a slave named
Althuda."

"Ah, yes!  I know about him.  The rebel and runaway!  I shall deal with
him this coming week.  His death warrant is already on my desk waiting
for my signature.  Shall I give him to Slow John?  Would you like to
watch?  Is that it?  You want to enjoy the sport?  How can I deny
you?"

She reached down and began to unlace the fastening of his breeches.  He
spread his legs and lay back comfortably in the chair to make the task
easier for her.

"I want you to grant Althuda a reprieve," she whispered in his ear.

He sat bolt upright.  "You are mad," he gasped.  "You are so cruel to
call me mad."  She pouted.

"But but he is a runaway.  He and his gang of thugs murdered twenty of
the soldiers who were sent to recapture him.  I could never free
him."

"I know you cannot release him.  But I want you to keep him alive.

You could set him to work on the walls of your castle."

"I cannot do it."  He shook his shaven head.  "Not even for you."

She came round from behind his chair and knelt in front of him.  Her
fingers began work again on the lacing of his breeches.  He tried to
sit up but she pushed him back and reached inside.

All the saints bear witness, the old sodomite makes it difficult for
me.  He is as soft and white as un risen dough, she thought as she
grasped him.  "Not even for your own loving wife?"  she whispered, and
looked up with swimming violet eyes, as she thought, That's a little
better, I felt the drooping lily twitch.

"I mean, rather, that it would be difficult."  He was in a quandary.

"I understand," she murmured.  "It was just as difficult for me to
compose my letter to my father.  I would hate to be forced to burn it."
She stood up and lifted her skirts as though she were about to climb
over a stile.  She was naked from the waist down and his eyes bulged
like those of a cod hauled up abruptly from deep water.  He struggled
to sit up and at the same time tried to reach for her.

I'll not have you on top of me again, you great tub of pork lard, she
thought as she smiled lovingly at him and held him down with both hands
on his shoulders.  Last time you nearly squashed the life out of me.

She straddled him as though she were mounting the mare.  "Oh, sweet
Jesus, what a mighty man you are!"  she cried, as she took him in.  The
only pleasure she received from it was the thought of Sukeena listening
at the screen door.  She closed her eyes and summoned up the image of
the slave girl's slim thighs and the treasure that lay between them.
The thought inflamed her, and she knew that her husband would feel her
flowing response and think it was for him alone.

"Katinka," he gurgled and snorted as though he was drowning, "I love
you."

"The reprieve?"  she asked.  "I cannot do it."

"Then neither can I," she said, and lifted herself onto her knees.

She had to fight to keep herself from laughing aloud as she watched his
face swell and his eyes bulge further out.  He wriggled and heaved
under her, thrusting vainly at the air.

"Please!"  he whimpered.  "Please!"

"The reprieve?"  she asked, keeping herself suspended tantalizingly
above him.

"Yes," he whinnied.  "Anything.  I will give you anything you want."

"I love you, my husband," she whispered in his ear, and sank down like
a bird settling on its nest.

Last time he lasted to a count of one hundred, she remembered.  This
time I shall try to bring him to the finishing line in under fifty.
With rocking hips she set herself to better her own record.

Manseer opened the door of Althuda's cell and roared, "Come out, you
murderous dog.  Governor's orders, you go to work on the wall." Althuda
stepped out through the iron door and Manseer glared at him. "Seems
you'll not be dancing a quadrille on the scaffold with Slow John,
more's the pity.  But don't crow too loud, you'll give us as much sport
on the castle walls.  Barnard and his hounds will see to that. You'll
not last the winter out, I'll wager a hundred guilders on it."

Hal led the file of convicts up from the lower cells, and paused on the
stone step below Althuda.  For a long moment they studied each other
keenly.  Both looked pleased at what they saw.

"If you give me a choice, then I think I prefer the cut of your
sister's jib to yours."  Hal smiled.  Althuda was smaller in stature
than his voice had suggested and all the marks of his long captivity
were plain to see.  his skin was sallow and his hair matted and
tangled.

But the body that showed through the holes in his miserable rags was
neat and strong and supple.  His gaze was frank and his countenance
comely and open.  Although his eyes were almond-shaped and his hair
straight and black, his English blood mingled well with that of his
mother's people.  There was a proud and stubborn set to his jaw.

"What cradle did you fall out of?"  he asked Hal, with a grin.  It was
obvious that he was overjoyed to come out from the shadow of the
gallows.  "I called for a man and they sent a boy."

"Come on, you murdering renegade," Barnard bellowed, as the gaoler
handed over the convicts to his charge.  "You may have escaped the
noose for the moment, but I have a few pleasures in store for you.  You
slit the throats of some of my comrades on the mountainside."  It was
clear that all the garrison bitterly resented Althuda's reprieve.  Then
Barnard turned on Hal.  "As for you, you stinking pirate, your tongue
is too loose by far.  One word out of you today and I'll kick you off
the wall, and feed the scraps to my dogs."

Barnard separated the two of them.  he sent Hal back onto the scaffold
and set Althuda to work in the gangs of convicts down in the courtyard,
unloading the masonry blocks from the ox-drawn wagons as they came down
from the quarries.

However, that evening Althuda was herded into the general cell.  Daniel
and the rest crowded around him in the darkness to hear his story told
in detail, and to ply him with all the questions that they had not been
able to shout up the staircase.  He was something new in the dreary,
monotonous round of captivity and heart-breaking labour.  Only when the
kettle of stew was brought down from the kitchens and the men hurried
to their frugal dinner did Hal have a chance to speak to him alone.

"If you escaped once before, Althuda, then there must be a chance we
can do it again."

"I was in a better state then.  I had my own fishing boat.  My master
trusted me and I had the run of the colony.  How can we escape from the
walls that surround us?  I fear it would be impossible."

"You use the words fear and impossible.  That is not a language that I
understand.  I thought perhaps I had met a man, not some faintheart."

"Keep the harsh words for our enemies, my friend."  Althuda returned
his hard stare.  "Instead of telling me what a hero you are, tell me
instead now how you receive word from the outside."  Hal's stern
expression cracked and he grinned at him.  He liked the man's spirit,
the way he could meet broadside with broadside.  He moved closer and
lowered his voice as he explained to Althuda how it was done.  Then he
handed him the latest message he had received.  Althuda took it to the
grille gate, and studied it in the torchlight that filtered down the
staircase.

"Yes" he said.  "That is my sister's hand.  I know of no other who can
pen her letters so prettily."

That evening the two composed a message for Aboli to collect, to let
him and Sukeena know that Althuda had been released from Skellum's
Den.

However, it seemed that Sukeena already knew this, for the following
day she accompanied her mistress on a visit to the castle.  She rode
beside Aboli on the driver's seat of the carriage.  At the staircase
she helped her mistress dismount.  It was strange but Hal was by now so
accustomed to Katinka's visits that he no longer felt angry and bitter
when he looked upon her angelic face.  She held his attention barely at
all, and instead he watched the slave girl.  Sukeena stood at the
bottom of the staircase and darted quick birdlike glances in every
direction as she searched for her brother's face among the gangs of
convicts.

Althuda was working in the courtyard, chipping and chiselling the tough
stone blocks into shape before they were swung up on the gantry to the
top of the unfinished walls.  His face and hair were powdered white as
a miller's with the stone dust, and his hands were bleeding from the
abrasion of tools and rough stone.  At last Sukeena picked him out, and
brother and sister stared at each other for one long ecstatic moment.

Sukeena's radiant expression was one of the most beautiful Hal had ever
looked upon.  But it was only for a fleeting instant, then Sukeena fled
up the stairs after her mistress.

A short time later they reappeared at the head of the staircase, but
Governor van de Velde was with them.  He had his wife on his arm and
Sukeena followed then demurely.  The slave girl seemed to be searching
for someone other than her brother.  When she mounted the driver's seat
of the carriage, she murmured something to Aboli.  In response, Aboli
moved only his eyes, but she followed his gaze, up to the top of the
scaffold where Hal was belaying a rope end.

Hal felt his pulse sprint as he realized that it was him she was
seeking.  They stared at each other solemnly and it seemed they were
very close, for afterwards Hal could remember every angle and plane of
her face and the graceful curve of her neck.  At last she smiled, it
was a brief, honeyed interlude, then dropped her eyes.  That night in
his cell he lay on the clammy straw and relived the moment.

Perhaps she will come again tomorrow, he thought, as sleep swept over
him like a black wave.  But she did not come again for many weeks.

They made a place on the straw for Althuda to sleep near Hal and Daniel
so that they could talk quietly in the darkness.

"How many of your men are in the mountains?"  Hal wanted to know.

"There were nineteen of us to begin with, but three were killed by the
Dutch and five others died after we escaped.  The mountains are cruel
and there are many wild beasts."

"What weapons do they have?"  Hal asked.

"They have the muskets and the swords that we captured from the Dutch,
but there is little powder, and by now it might all be used up.  My
companions have to hunt to live."

"Surely they have made other weapons?"  Hal enquired.  "They have
fashioned bows and pikes, but they lack iron points for these
weapons."

"How secure are your hiding places in the wilderness?"  Hal
persisted.

"The mountains are endless.  The gorges are a tangled labyrinth.  The
cliffs are harsh and there are no paths except those made by the
baboons."

"Do the Dutch soldiers venture into these mountains?"  "Never!  They
dare not scale even the first ravine."

These discussions filled all their evenings, as the winter gales came
ravening down from the mountain like a pride of lions roaring at the
castle walls.  The men in the dungeons lay shivering on the straw
pallets.  Sometimes it was only the talking and the hoping that kept
them from succumbing to the cold.  Even so, some of the older, weaker
convicts sickened.  their throats and chests filled with thick yellow
phlegm, their bodies burned up with fever and they died, choking and
coughing.

The flesh was burned off those who survived.  Although they became
thin, they were hardened by the cold and the labour.  Hal reached his
full growth and strength in those terrible months, until he could match
Daniel at belaying a rope or hefting the heavy hods.  His beard grew
out dense and black and the thick pigtail of his hair hung down between
his shoulder blades.  The whip marks latticed his back and flanks, and
his gaze was hard and relentless when he looked up at the mountain
tops, blue in the distance.

"How far is it to the mountains?"  he asked Althuda in the darkness of
the cell.

"Ten leagues," Althuda told him.

"So far!"  Hal whispered.  "How did you ever reach them over such a
distance, with the Dutch in pursuit?"

"I told you I was a fisherman," Althuda said.  "I went out each day to
kill seals to feed the other slaves.  My boat was small and we were
many.  It barely served to carry us across False Bay to the foot of the
mountains.  My sister Sukeena does not swim.  That is why I would not
let her chance the crossing."

"Where is that boat now?"

"The Dutch who pursued us found where we had hidden it.  They burned
it."  Each night these councils were shortlived, for they were all
being driven to the limit of their strength and endurance.  But,
gradually, Hal was able to milk from Althuda every detail that might be
of use.

"What is the spirit of the men you took with you to the mountains?"

"They are brave men and women too, for there are three girls with the
band.  Had they been less brave they would never have left the safety
of their captivity.  But they are not warriors, except one."

"Who is he, this one among them?"

"His name is Sabah.  He was a soldier until the Dutch captured him. Now
he is a soldier again."

"Could we send word to him?"

Althuda laughed bitterly.  "We could shout from the top of the castle
walls or rattle our chains.  He might hear us on his mountain top."

"If I had wanted a jester, I would have called on Daniel here to amuse
me.  His jokes would make a dog retch, but they are funnier than yours.
Answer me now, Althuda.  Is there no way to reach Sabah?"

Though his tone was light, it had an edge of steel to it, and Althuda.
thought a while before he replied.  "When I escaped I arranged with
Sukeena a hiding place beyond the bitter-almond hedge of the colony,
where we could leave messages for each other.  Sabah knew of this post,
for I showed it to him on the night I returned to fetch my sister.  It
is a long throw of the dice, but Sabah may still visit it to find a
message from me."

"I will think on these things you have told me, "Hal said, and Daniel,
lying near him in the dark cell, heard the power and authority in his
voice and shook his head.

"Tis the voice and the manner of Captain Franky he has now, Daniel
marvelled.  What the Dutchies are doing to him here might have put a
lesser man UP on the reef but, by God, all they have done to him is
filled his main sail with a strong wind.  Hal had taken over his
father's role, and the crew who had survived recognized it.  More and
more they looked to him for leadership, to give them courage to go on
and to counsel them, to settle the petty disputes that rose almost
daily between men in such bitter straits, and to keep a spark of hope
and courage burning in all their hearts.

The next evening Hal took up the council of war that exhaustion had
interrupted the night before.  "So Sukeena knows where to leave a
message for Sabah?"

"Naturally, she knows it well the hollow tree on the banks of the
Eerste River, the first river beyond the boundary hedge," Althuda
replied.

"Aboli must try to make contact with Sabah.  Is there something that is
known only to you and Sabah that will prove to him the message comes
from you and is not a Dutch trap?"

Althuda thought about it.  "Just say "tis the father of little Bobby,"
he suggested at last.  Hal waited in silence for Althuda to explain,
and after a pause he went on, "Robert is my son, born in the wilderness
after we had escaped from the colony.  This August he will be a year
old.  His mother is one of the girls I spoke of.  In all but name she
is my wife.  Nobody inside the bitter-almond hedge but I could know the
child's name."

"So, you have as good a reason as any of us for wanting to fly over
these walls," Hal murmured.

The content of the messages that they were able to pass to Aboli was
severely restricted by the size of the paper they could safely employ
without alerting the gaolers, or the sharp, hungry scrutiny of Hugo
Barnard.  Hal and Althuda spent hours straining their eyes in the dim
light and flogging their wits to compose the most succinct messages
that would still be intelligible.  The replies that returned to them
were the voice of Sukeena speaking, little jewels of brevity that
delighted them with occasional flashes of wit and humour.

Hal found himself thinking more and more of Sukeena, and when she came
again to the castle, following behind her mistress, her eyes went first
to the scaffold where he worked before going on to seek out her
brother.  Occasionally, when there was space in the letters that Aboli
placed in the crack of the wall, she made little personal comments, a
reference to his bushing black beard or the passing of his birthday.
This startled Hal, and touched him deeply.  He wondered for a while how
she had known this intimate detail, until he guessed that Aboli had
told her.  He encouraged Althuda to talk about her in the darkness.  He
learned little things about her childhood, her fancies and her
dislikes.  As he lay and listened to Althuda, he began to fall in love
with her.

Now when Hal looked to the mountains in the north they were covered by
a mantle of snow that shone in the wintry sunlight.  The wind came down
from it like a lance and seemed to pierce his soul.  "Aboli has still
not heard from Sabah."  After four months of waiting, Hal at last
accepted that failure.  "We will have to cut him out of our plans."

"He is my friend, but he must have given me up," Althuda agreed.  "I
grieve for my wife for she also must be mourning my death."

"Let us move on, then, for it boots us not to wish for what is denied
us," Hal said firmly.  "It would be easier to escape from the quarry on
the mountain than from the castle itself.  It seems that Sukeena must
have arranged for your reprieve.  Perhaps in the same fashion she can
have us sent to the quarry."

They dispatched the message, and a week later the reply came back.

Sukeena was unable to influence the choice of their workplace, and she
cautioned that any attempt to do so would arouse immediate suspicion.
"Be patient, Gundwane, she told him in a longer message than she had
ever sent before.  "Those who love you are working for your
salvation."

Hal read that message a hundred times then repeated it to himself as
often.  He was touched that she should use his nickname, Gundwane.  Of
course, Aboli had told her that also.

"Those who love you?"  Does she mean Aboli alone, or does she use the
plural intentionally?  Is there another who loves me too?  Does she
mean me alone or does she include Althuda, her brother?  He alternated
between hope and dismay.  How can she trouble my mind so, when I have
never even heard her voice?  How can she feel anything for me, when she
sees nothing but a bearded scarecrow in a beggar's rags?  But, then,
perhaps Aboli has been my champion and told her I was not always
thus.

Plan as they would, the days passed and hope grew threadbare.  Six more
of Hal's seamen died during the months of August and September.  two
fell from the scaffold, one was struck down by a falling block of
masonry and two more succumbed to the cold and the damp.  The sixth was
Oliver, who had been Sir Francis's manservant.  Early in their
imprisonment his right foot had been crushed beneath the iron-shod
wheel of one of the ox-wagons that brought the stone down from the
quarry.  Even though Doctor Soar had placed a splint upon the shattered
bone, the foot would not mend.  It swelled up and burst out in
suppurating ulcers that smelt like the flesh of a corpse.  Hugo Barnard
drove him back to work, even though he limped around the courtyard on a
crude crutch.

Hal and Daniel tried to shield Oliver, but if they intervened too
obviously Barnard became even more vindictive.  All they could do was
take as much of the work as they could on themselves and keep Oliver
out of range of the overseer's whip.  When the day came that Oliver was
too weak to climb the ladder to the top of the south wall, Barnard sent
him to work as a mason's boy, trimming and shaping the slabs of stone.
In the courtyard he was right under Barnard's eye, and twice in the
same morning Barnard laid into him with the whip.

The last was a casual blow, not nearly as vicious as many that had
preceded it.  Oliver was a tailor by trade, and by nature a timid and
gentle creature, but, like a cur driven into an alley from which there
was no escape, he turned and snapped.  He swung the heavy wooden mallet
in his right hand, and though Barnard sprang back he was not swift
enough and it caught him across one shin.  It was a glancing blow that
did not break bone but it smeared the skin, and a flush of blood
darkened Barnard's hose and seeped down into his shoe.  Even from his
perch on the scaffold Hal could see by his expression that Oliver was
appalled and terrified by what he had done.

"Sir!"  he cried, and fell to his knees.  "I did not mean it.

Please, sir, forgive me."  He dropped the mallet and held up both hands
to his face in the attitude of prayer.

Hugo Barnard staggered back, then stooped to examine his injury.  He
ignored Oliver's frantic pleas, and peeled back his hose to expose the
long graze down his shin.  Then still without looking at Oliver, he
limped to the hitching rail on the far side of the courtyard where his
pair of black boar hounds were tethered.  He held them on the leashes
and pointed them at where Oliver still knelt.

"Get him!"  They hurled themselves against the leashes, baying and
gaping with wide red mouths and long white fangs.

"Get him!"  Barnard urged, and at the same time restrained them.  The
fury in his voice enraged the animals, and they leapt against the
leashes so that Barnard was almost pulled off his feet.

"Please!"  screamed Oliver, struggling to rise, toppling back, then
crawling towards where his crutch was propped against the stone wall.

Barnard slipped the hounds.  They bounded across the yard and Oliver
had time only to lift his hands to cover his face before they were on
him.

They bowled him over and sent him rolling over the cobbles, then
slashed at him with snapping jaws.  One went for his face, but he
lifted his arm and it buried its fangs in his elbow.  Oliver was
shirtless and the other hound caught him in the belly.  Both held on.

From high on the scaffold Hal was powerless to intervene.  Gradually
Oliver's screams grew weaker and his struggles ceased.  Barnard and his
hounds never let up.  they went on worrying the body long after the
last flutter of life had been extinguished.  Then Barnard gave the
mutilated body one last kick and stepped back.  He was panting wildly
and sweat slimed his face and dripped onto his shirtfront, but he
lifted his head and grinned up at Hal.  He left Oliver's body lying on
the cobbles until the end of the work shift when he singled out Hal and
Daniel.  "Throw that piece of offal on the dung heap behind the castle.
He will be more use to the seagulls and crows than he ever was to me."
And he chuckled with glee when he saw the murder in Hal's eyes.

When spring came round again only eight were left.  Yet the eight were
tempered by these hardships.  Every muscle and sinew stood proud
beneath the tanned and weathered skin of Hal's chest and arms.  The
palms of his hands were tough as leather, and his fingers powerful as a
blacksmith's tongs.  When he broke up a fight a single blow from one of
his scarred fists could drop a big man to the paving.

The first promise of spring dispersed the gale-driven clouds, and the
sun had new fire in its rays.  A restlessness took over from the
resigned gloom that had possessed them all during winter.  Tempers were
short, fighting among them more frequent, and their eyes looked often
to the far mountains, from which the snows had thawed or turned out
across the blue Atlantic.

Then there came a message from Aboli in Sukeena's hand.  "Sabah sends
greetings to A. Bobby and his mother pine for him."  It filled them all
with a wild and joyous hope that, in truth, had no firm foundation for
Sabah and his band could only help them once they had passed the
bitter-almond hedge.

Another month passed, and the wild flame of hope that had lit their
hearts sank to an ember.  Spring came in its full glory, and turned the
mountain into a prodigy of wild flowers whose colours stunned the eye,
and whose perfume reached them even on the high scaffold.  The wind
came singing out of the south-east, and the sun birds returned from
they knew not where, setting the air afire with their sparkling
plumage.

Then there was a laconic message from Sukeena and Aboli.  "It is time
to go.  How many are you?"

That night they discussed the message in whispers that shook with
excitement.  "Aboli has a plan.  But how can he get all of us away?"

"For me he is the only horse in the race," Big Daniel growled.  "I'm
laying every penny I have on him."

"If only you had a penny to lay."  Ned chuckled.  It was the first time
Hal had heard him laugh since Oliver had been ripped to pieces by
Barnard's dogs.

"How many are going?"  Hal asked.  "Think on it a while, lads, before
you give answer."  In the bad light he looked around the circle of
heads, whose expressions turned grim.  "If you stay here you will go on
living for a while at least, and no man will think the worse of you.

If we go and we do not reach the mountains, then you all saw the way my
father and Oliver died.  "Twas not a fitting death for an animal, let
alone a man."

Althuda spoke first.  "Even if it were not for Bobby and my woman, I
would go."

"Aye!"said Daniel, and'Aye!"said Ned.

"That's three," Hal murmured, "What about you, William Rogers?"

"I'm with you, Sir Henry."

"Don't test me, Billy.  I have told you not to call me that."  Hal
frowned.  When they used his title he felt himself a fraud, for he was
not worthy of the honour that his grandfather had won at the right hand
of Drake.  The title that his father had carried with such
distinction.

"Your last chance, Master Billy.  If your tongue trips again I'll kick
some sense into the other end of you.  Do you hear?"

"Aye, I hear you sweet and clear, Sir Henry."  Billy grinned at him,
and the others roared with laughter as Hal caught him by the scruff of
his neck and boxed his ears.  They were all bubbling over with
excitement all, that was, but Dick Moss and Paul Hale.

"I've grown too old for a lark such as this, Sir Hal.  My bones are so
stiff I could not climb a pretty lad if you tied him over a barrel for
me, let alone climb a mountain."  Dick Moss the old pederast grinned.
"Forgive me, Captain, but Paul and me have talked it over, and we'll
stay on here where we'll get a bellyful of stew and a bundle of straw
each night."

"Perhaps you are wiser than the rest of us."  Hal nodded, and he was
not saddened by the decision.  Dicky was long past his glory days when
he had been the man to beat to the masthead when they reefed sail in a
full gale.  This last winter had stiffened his limbs and greyed his
hair.  He would be non-paying cargo to carry on this voyage.  Paul was
Dicky's ship-wife.  They had been together for twenty years, and though
Paul was still a fury with a cutlass in his hand he would stay with his
ageing lover.

"Good luck to both of you.  You're as good a pair as I ever sailed
with," Hal said, and looked at Wally Finch and Stan Sparrow.  "What
about you two birds?  Will you fly with us, lads?"

"As high and as far as you're going."  Wally spoke for both of them,
and Hal clapped his shoulder.

"That makes six of us, eight with Aboli and Althuda, and it'll be high
and far enough to suit all our tastes, I warrant you."  here was a
final exchange of.  messages as Aboli and Sukeena explained the plan
they had worked out.  Hal suggested refinements and drew up a list of
items that Aboli and Sukeena must try to steal to make their existence
in the wilderness more certain.  Chief among these were a chart and
compass, and a backstaff if they could find one.

Aboli and Sukeena made their final preparation without letting their
trepidation or excitement become apparent to the rest of the household.
Dark eyes were always watching everything that happened in the slave
quarters, and they trusted nobody now that they were so close to the
chosen day.  Sukeena gradually assembled those items for which Hal had
asked, and added a few of her own that she knew they would need.

The day before the planned escape, Sukeena summoned Aboli into the main
living area of the residence where before he had never been allowed to
enter.  "I need your strength to move the carved armoire in the banquet
hall," she told him, in front of the cook and two others of the kitchen
staff.  Aboli followed her submissively as a trained hound on a leash.
Once they were alone, Aboli dropped the demeanour of the meek slave.

"Be quick!"  Sukeena warned him.  "The mistress will return very soon.
She is with Slow John at the bottom of the garden."  She moved swiftly
to the shutter of the window that overlooked the lawns, and saw that
the ill-assorted couple were still in earnest conversation under the
oak trees.

"There is no limit to her depravity," she whispered to herself, as she
watched Katinka laugh at something the executioner had said.  "She
would make love to a pig or a poisonous snake if the fancy came upon
her."  Sukeena shuddered at the memory of that ophidian tongue
exploring .  the secret recesses of her own body.  It will never happen
again, she promised herself, only four more days to endure before
Althuda will be safe.  If she calls me to her nest before then I will
plead that my courses are flowing.

She heard something whirl in the air like a great bird in flight and
glanced back over her shoulder to see that Aboli had taken one of the
swords from the display of weapons in the hallway.  He was testing its
balance and temper, swinging it in singing circles around his head, so
that the reflections of light off the blade danced on the white
walls.

He set it aside and chose another, but liked it not at all and placed
it back with a frown.  "Hurry!"  she called softly to him.  Within
minutes he had picked out three blades, not for the jewels that
decorated the hilts but for the litheness and temper of their blades.
All three were curved scimitars made by the annourers of Shah Jahan at
Agra on the Indian continent.  "They were made for a Mogul prince and
sit ill in the hand of a rough sailor, but they will do until I can
find a cutlass of good Sheffield steel to replace them."  Then he
picked out a shorter blade, a kukri knife used by the hill people of
Further India, and he shaved a patch of hair off his forearm.

"This will do for the close work I have in mind."  He grunted with
satisfaction.

"I have marked well those you have chosen," Sukeena told him.  "Now
leave them on the rack or their empty slots will be noticed by the
other house slaves.  I will pass them to you on the evening before the
day."

That afternoon she took her basket and, the conical straw Hat on her
head, went up into the mountain.  Although any watcher would not have
understood her intent, she made certain that she was out of sight,
hidden in the forest that filled the great ravine below the summit.
There was a dead tree that she had noted on many previous outings.
From the rotting pith sprouted a thicket of tiny purple toadstools.
She pulled on a pair of gloves before she began to pick them.  The
gills beneath the parasol-shaped tops were of a pretty yellow colour.
These fungi were toxic, but only if eaten in quantity would they be
fatal. She had chosen them for this quality she did not want the lives
of innocent men and their families on her conscience.  She placed them
in the bottom of the basket and covered them with other roots and herbs
before she descended the steep mountainside and walked sedately back
through the vineyards to the residence.

That evening Governor van de Velde held a gala dinner in the great
hall, and invited the notables from the settlement and all the Company
dignitaries.  These festivities continued late, and after the guests
had left the household staff and slaves were exhausted.  They left
Sukeena to make her rounds and lock up the kitchens for the night.

Once she was alone she boiled the purple toadstools and reduced the
essence to the consistency of new honey.  She poured the liquid into
one of the empty wine bottles from the feast.  It had no odour and she
did not have to sample it to know that it had only the faintest taste
of the fungi.  One of the women who worked in the kitchens at the
castle barracks was in her debt.  Sukeena's potions had saved her
eldest son when he had been stricken by the smallpox.  The next morning
she left the bottle in a basket with remedies and potions in the
carriage for Aboli to deliver to the woman.

When Aboli drove the Governor down to the castle, van de Velde was
ashen-faced and grumpy with the effects of the previous night's
debauchery.  Aboli left a message in the slot in the wall that- read,
"Eat nothing from the garrison kitchen on the last evening."

That night Hal poured the contents of the stew kettle into the latrine
bucket before any of the men were tempted to sample it.  The steaming
aroma filled the cell and to the starving seamen it smelled like the
promise of eternal life.  They groaned and gritted their teeth, and
cursed Hal, their fates and themselves to see it wasted.

The next morning at the accustomed hour the dungeon began to stir with
life.  Long before dawn outlined the four small, barred windows, men
groaned and coughed and then crept, one at a time to ease themselves,
grunting and farting as they voided in the latrine bucket.  Then, as
the significance of the day dawned upon them, a steely, charged silence
gripped them.

Slowly the light of day filtered down upon them from the windows and
they looked at each other askance.  They had never been left this late
before.  On every other morning they had been at work on the walls an
hour earlier than this.

When at last Manseer's keys rattled in the lock, he looked pale and
sickly.  The two men with him were in no better case.

"What ails you, Manseer?"  Hal asked.  "We thought you had changed your
affections and that we would never see you again."  The gaoler was an
honest simpleton, with little malice in him, and over the months Hal
had cultivated a superficially amicable relationship with him.

"I spent the night sitting in the shithouse," Manseer moaned.  "And I
had company, for every man in the garrison was trying to get in there
with me.  Even at this hour half of them are still in their bunks-" He
broke off as his belly rumbled like distant thunder, and a desperate
expression came over his face.  "Here I go again!  I swear I'll kill
that poxy cook."  He started back up the stairs and left them waiting
another half-hour before he returned to open the grille gate and lead
them out into the courtyard.

Hugo Barnard was waiting to take over from him.  He was in a foul mood.
"We have lost half a day's work," he snarled at Manseer.  "Colonel
Schreuder will blame me for this, and when he does I'll come back to
you, Manseer!"  He turned on the line of convicts.  "Don't you bastards
stand there smirking!  By God, you're going to give me a full day's
work even if I have to keep you on the scaffold until midnight.  Now
leap to it, and quickly too!"  Barnard was in fine fettle, his face
ruddy and his temper already on the boil.  It was clear that the colic
and diarrhoea that afflicted the rest of the garrison had not touched
him.  Hal remembered Manseer remarking that Barnard lived with a
Hottentot girl in the settlement down by the shore, and did not eat in
the garrison mess.

He looked around quickly as he walked across the courtyard to the foot
of the ladder.  The sun was already well up and its rays lit the
western redoubt of the castle.  There were less than half the usual
number of gaolers and guards.  one sentry instead of four at the gates,
none at the entrance to the armoury and only one more at the head of
the staircase that led to the Company offices and the Governor's suite
on the south side of the courtyard.

When he climbed the ladder and reached the top of the wall he looked
across the parade to the avenue, and could just make out the roof of
the Governor's residence among the trees.

"God speed, Aboli," he whispered.  "We are ready for you Aboli brought
the carriage round to the front of the residence a few minutes earlier
than the Governor's wife had ordered it, and pulled up the horses below
the portico.  Almost immediately Sukeena appeared in the doorway and
called to him.  "Aboli!  The mistress has some packages to take with us
in the carriage."  Her tone was light and easy, with no hint of strain.
"Please come and carry them down."  This was for the benefit of the
others whom she knew would be listening.

Obediently Aboli locked the brake on the carriage wheels and, with a
quiet word to the horses, jumped down from the coachman's seat.  He
moved without haste and his expression was calm as he followed Sukeena
into the house.  He came out again a minute later carrying a rolled-up
silk rug and a set of leather saddle-bags.  He went to the back of the
carriage and placed this luggage in the panniers, then closed the lid.
There was no air of secrecy about his movements and no furtiveness to
alert any of the other slaves.  The two maids who were busy sweeping
the front terrace did not even look up at him.  He went back to his
seat and picked up the reins, waiting with a slave's infinite
patience.

Katinka was late, but that was not unusual.  She came at last in a
cloud of French perfume and rustling silks, sweeping down the stairs
and scolding Sukeena for some fancied misdemeanour.  Sukeena glided
beside her on small, silent, slippered feet, contrite and smiling.

Katinka climbed up into the carriage like a queen on her way to her
coronation, and imperiously ordered Sukeena, "Come and sit here beside
me!"  Sukeena gave her a curtsy with her hands to her lips.  She had
hoped that Katinka would give her that command.  When she was in the
mood for physical intimacy, Katinka wanted her close enough to be able
to stretch out her hand and touch her.  At other times she was cold and
aloof, but at all times unpredictable.

"Tis an omen for good that she does what I intended, Sukeena encouraged
herself, as she took the seat opposite her mistress and smiled at her
lovingly.

"Drive on, Aboli!"  Katinka called and then, as the carriage pulled
away, gave her attention to Sukeena "How does this colour suit me in
the sunlight?  Does it not make me seem pale and insipid?"

"It goes beautifully with your skin, mistress."  Sukeena told her what
she wanted to hear.  "Even better than it does indoors.  Also it brings
out the violet lights in your eyes."

"Should there not be a touch more lace in the collar, do you think?"
Katinka tilted her head prettily.

Sukeena considered her reply.  "Your beauty does not rely on even the
finest lace from Brussels," she told her.  "It stands alone."

"Do you think so, Sukeena?  You are such a flatterer, but I must say
you yourself are looking particularly fetching this morning."  She
considered the girl thoughtfully.  The carriage was now bowling down
the avenue at a trot, the greys arching their necks and stepping out
handsomely.  "There is colour in your cheeks and a twinkle in your
eye.

One might be forgiven for thinking that you were in love."

Sukeena looked at her in a way that made Katinka's skin tingle.  "Oh,
but I am in love with a special person," she whispered.

"My naughty little darling," Katinka putted.

The carriage came out into the Parade and turned towards the castle.
Katinka was so engrossed that for some while she did not realize where
they were heading.  Then a shadow of annoyance crossed her face and she
called sharply, "Aboli!  What are you doing, idiot?  Not the castle.
We are going to Mevrouw de Wool."

Aboli seemed not to have heard her.  The greys trotted straight on
towards the castle gates.

"Sukeena, tell the fool to turn round."

Sukeena stood up quickly in the swaying carriage then sat down close
beside Katinka and slipped her arm through that of her mistress,
holding her firmly.

"What on earth are you doing, child?  Not here.  Have you lost your
mind?  Not in front of the whole colony."  She tried to pull away her
arm, but Sukeena held it with a strength that shocked her.

"We are going into the castle," Sukeena said quietly.  "And you are to
do exactly what I tell you to do."

"Aboli!  Stop the carriage this in stand Katinka raised her voice and
made to stand up.  But Sukeena jerked her down in her seat.

"Don't struggle," Sukeena ordered, "or I will cut you.  I will cut your
face first, so that you are no longer beautiful.  Then if you still do
not obey I will send this blade through your slimy, evil heart."

Katinka looked down and, for the first time, saw the blade that Sukeena
held to her side.  That dagger had been a gift from one of Katinka's
lovers and she knew just how sharp was its slender blade.  Sukeena had
stolen it from Katinka's closet.

"Are you mad?"  Katinka blanched with terror, and tried to squirm away
from the needle point.

"Yes.  Mad enough to kill you and to enjoy doing it."  Sukeena pressed
the dagger to her side and Katinka screamed.  The horses pricked their
ears.  "If you scream again I will draw your blood," Sukeena warned.
"Now hold your tongue and listen while I tell you what you are to
do."

"I will give you to Slow John and laugh as he draws out your entrails,"
Katinka blustered, but her voice shook and terror was in her eyes.

"You will never laugh again, not unless you obey me.  This dagger will
see to that," and she pricked Katinka again, hard enough to pierce
cloth and skin, so that a spot of blood the size of a silver guilder
appeared on her bodice.

"Please!"  Katinka whimpered.  "Please, Sukeena, I will do as you say.
Please don't hurt me again.  You said you loved me."

"And I lied," Sukeena hissed at her.  "I lied for my brother's sake.  I
hate you.  You will never know the strength of my hatred.  I loath the
touch of your hands.  I am revolted by every filthy, evil thing you
forced me to do.  So do not trade on any love from me.  I will crush
you with as little pity as I would rid my hair of lice."  Katinka saw
death in her eyes, and she was afraid as she had seldom been in her
life before.

"I will do as you tell me," she whispered, and Sukeena instructed her
in a flat, hard tone that was more threatening than any shouting or
raging.

Aboli drove the carriage through the castle gates, the usual stir of
activity heralded its Arrival.  The single sentry came to attention and
presented his musket.  Aboli wheeled the team of greys and brought the
carriage to a halt in front of the Company offices.  The captain of the
guard hurried from the armoury, hastily strapping on his sword-belt. He
was a young subaltern, freshly out from Holland, and he had been taken
by surprise by the unexpected arrival of the Governor's wife.

"The devil's horns!"  he muttered to himself.  "Why does the bitch pick
today to arrive when half my men are sick as dogs?"  He looked
anxiously at the single guard at the door to the Company offices, and
saw that the man's face still had a pale greenish tinge.  Then he
realized that the Governor's wife was beckoning to him from her seat in
the carriage.  He broke into a run across the courtyard, straightening
his cap and tightening the strap under his chin as he went.  He reached
the carriage and saluted Katinka "Good morning, Mevrouw.  May I assist
you to dismount?"

The Governor's wife had a strained, nervous look and her voice was high
and breathless.  The subaltern was instantly alarmed.  "Is something
amiss, Mevrouw?"

"Yes, something is very much amiss.  Call my husband!"  "Will you go to
his office?"

"No.  I will remain here in the carriage.  Go to him this instant and
tell him that I say he must come immediately.  It is a matter of the
utmost importance.  Life and death!  Go!  Hurry!"

The subaltern looked startled and saluted quickly, then bounded up the
steps two at a time and shot through the double doors into the offices.
While he was gone Aboli dismounted, went to the panniers at the back of
the carriage and opened the lid.  Then he glanced around the
courtyard.

There was one guard at the gates and another at the head of the stairs
but, as usual, the slow-match in their muskets was unlit.  There was no
sentry posted at the doors to the armoury, but from where he stood he
could see through the window that three men were in the guard room.
Each of the five overseers in the courtyard carried swords as well as
their whips and canes.  Hugo Barnard was at the far end of the yard and
had both his hounds on the leash.  He was haranguing the gang of common
convicts laying the paving stones along the foot of the east wall.
These other convicts, not part of the crew of the Resolution, might be
a hazard when they made their attempt to escape.  Nearly two hundred
were working on the walls, the multihued dregs of humanity.  They could
easily hamper the rescue attempt by blocking the escape route or even
by trying to join in with the Resolution's crew and mobbing the
carriage when they realized what was happening.

We will deal with that when it happens, he thought grimly, and turned
his full attention to the armed guards and overseers who were the
primary threat.  With Barnard and his gang, there were ten art ned men
in sight but any outcry could bring another twenty or thirty soldiers
hurrying out of the barracks and across the yard.  The whole business
could get out of hand quickly.

He looked up to find Hal and Big Daniel watching him from the scaffold.
Hal already had the rope of the gantry in his hand, the tail looped
around his wrist.  Ned Tyler and Billy Rogers were on the lower tier,
and the two birds, Finch and Sparrow, were working near Althuda in the
courtyard.  They were all pretending to carry on with their tasks, but
were eyeing Aboli surreptitiously.

Aboli reached into the pannier and loosened the twine that secured the
rolled silk carpet.  He opened a flap of it and, without lifting them
clear, revealed the three Mogul scimitars and the single kukii knife
that he had chosen for himself.  He knew that, from their vantage
point, Hal and Big Daniel could see into the pannier.  Then he stood
immobile and expressionless at the back wheel of the carriage.

Suddenly the Governor burst hatless and in his shirt sleeves through
the double doors at the head of the staircase and came down at an
ungainly lurching run.

"What is it, Mevrouw?"  he called urgently to his wife, when he was
half-way down.  "They say you sent for me, and it's a matter of life
and death."

"Hurry!"  Katinka cried plaintively.  "I am in the most terrible
predicament."

He arrived at the door of the carriage, panting wildly.  "Tell me what
ails you, Mevrouw!"  he gasped.

Aboli stepped up behind him and hooked one great arm around his neck,
pinning him helplessly.  Van de Velde began to struggle.  For all his
obesity he was a powerful man and even Aboli had difficulty in holding
him.

"What in the devil's name are you doing?"  he roared in outrage.  Aboli
placed the blade of the knife at his throat.  When van de Velde felt
the cold touch of steel and the sting of the razor edge, his struggles
ceased.

"I will slit your throat like the great hog you are," Aboli whispered
in his ear, "and Sukeena has a dagger at your wife's heart.  Tell your
soldiers to stay where they are and throw down their arms."

The subaltern had started forward at van de Velde's cry, and his sword
was half-way out of its scabbard as he rushed down the stairs.

St opP van de Velde shouted at him in terror.  "Don't move, you fool.
You will have me killed."  The subaltern halted and dithered
uncertainly.

Aboli tightened his lock around the Governor's throat.  "Tell him to
throw down his sword."

"Throw down your sword!"  van de Velde whinnied.  "Do as he says.
Can't you see he has a knife at my throat?"  The subaltern dropped his
sword, which clattered down the steps.

Fifty feet above the courtyard, Hal sprang out from the scaffold,
hanging on the rope from the gantry, and Big Daniel belayed the other
end, braking the speed of his fall.  The sheave squealed as he
plummeted down and landed in balance on the cobbles.  He leaped to the
rear of the carriage and seized one of the jewelled scimitars.  With
the next leap he was half-way up the steps where he stooped and swept
up the subaltern's sword in his left hand.  He placed the point under
the officer's chin and said, "Order your men to throw down their
weapons!"

"Lay down your arms, all of you!"  the subaltern yelled.  "If any man
among you brings harm to the Governor or his lady, he will pay for it
with his own life."  The sentries obeyed with alacrity, dropping their
muskets and sidearms to the paving stones.

"You too!"  van de Velde howled at the overseers, and with reluctance
they obeyed.  However, at that moment Hugo Barnard was screened by a
pile of masonry blocks.  He stepped quietly into the doorway to the
kitchens, dragging his two hounds with him, and crouched there, waiting
his opportunity.

Down from the scaffold scrambled the other seamen.  Sparrow and Finch
from the lower tier were first to reach the courtyard but Ned, Big
Daniel and Billy Rogers were seconds behind them.

"Come on, Althuda!"  Hal called, and Althuda dropped his mallet and
chisel and ran to join him.  "Catch!"  Hal lobbed the jewelled scimitar
in a high, glinting parabola, and Althuda reached up and caught it by
the hilt, plucking it neatly out of the air.  Hal wondered what class
of swordsman he was.  As a fisherman it was unlikely that he would have
had much practice.

I shall have to shield him if it comes to a fight, he thought, and
looked around quickly.  He saw Daniel pulling the other weapons out of
the pannier at the back of the carriage.  The twin scimitars looked
like toys in his huge fist.  He tossed one to Ned Tyler and kept the
other for himself as he ran to join Hal.

Hal picked up a sword that a sentry had dropped and threw it to Big
Daniel.  "This one is more your style, Master Danny," he yelled, and
Daniel grinned, showing his broken black teeth, as he caught the heavy
infantry weapon and made it hiss in the air as he cut left and right.

"Sweet Jesus, it's good to have a re all blade in my hand again!"  he
exulted, and tossed the light scimitar to Wally Finch.  "A tool for a
man, but a toy for a boy."

"Aboli, keep a firm hold on that great hog.  Cut his ears off if he
tries to be crafty," Hal shouted.  "The rest of you follow me!"  He
dropped down the staircase and raced towards the doors of the armoury
with Big Daniel and the others on his heels.  Althuda began to follow
him also, but Hal stopped him.  "Not you.  You look after Sukeena!"  As
Althuda turned back and they ran on across the courtyard, Hal snapped
at Daniel, "Where's Barnard?"

"The murdering bastard was here not a moment past, but I don't see him
now."

"Keep a good lookout for his top sails.  We'll have trouble with that
swine yet."

Hal burst into the armoury.  The three men in the guard room were
slumped on the bench.  two were asleep and the third scrambled to his
feet in bewilderment.  Before he could recover his wits, Hal's point
was pressed to his chest.  "Stay where you are, or I'll look at the
colour of your liver."  The man dropped back into his seat.  "Here,
Ned!"  Hal called to him as Ned rushed in..  "Play wet-nurse to these
infants," and left them in his charge as he ran after Daniel and the
other seamen.

Daniel charged the heavy teak door at the end of the passage and it
burst open before his rush.  They had never before had a chance to look
into the armoury, but now at a glance Hal saw that it was all laid out
in a neat and orderly fashion.  The weapons were in racks along the
walls, and the powder kegs stacked to the ceiling at the far end.

"Pick your weapons and bring a keg of powder each," he ordered, and
they ran to the long racks of infantry swords, polished, gleaming and
sharpened to a bright edge.  Further back were the racks of muskets and
pistols.  Hal thrust a pair of pistols into the rope that served him as
a belt.  "Remember, you'll have to carry everything you take with you
up the mountains, so don't be greedy," he warned them, and picked up a
fifty-pound keg of gunpowder from the pyramid at the far end of the
armoury, which he hoisted to his shoulder.  Then he turned for the
door.  "That's enough, lads.  Get out!  Daniel, lay a powder trail as
you go!  Daniel used the butt of a musket to stove in the bungs of two
of the powder kegs.  At the foot of the pyramid of barrels he poured a
mound of black gunpowder.  "That lot will go off with an almighty
bang!"  He grinned, as he backed towards the door, the other keg under
his arm spilling a long dark trail behind him.

Under their burdens they staggered out into the sunlight.  Hal was the
last to leave.  "Get out of here, Ned!"  he ordered, and handed him the
weapons he carried as Ned ran for the door.  Then Hal turned on the
three Dutch soldiers, who were cowering on the bench.  Ned had disarmed
them their weapons were thrown in the corner of the guard room.

"I'm going to blow this place to hell," he told them in Dutch.  "Run
for the gates, and if you're wise you'll keep running without looking
back. Go!"  They sprang up and, in their haste to get clear, jammed in
the doorway.  They struggled and fought each other until they burst out
into the courtyard and raced across it.

"Look out!"  they yelled, as they sprinted for the gates.  "They're
going to blow up the powder store!"  The gaolers and the other common
convicts who, until this point, had stood gaping at the carriage and
the hostage Governor in Aboli's grip, now turned their heads towards
the armoury and stared at it in stupid surprise.

Hal appeared in the armoury doorway with a sword in one hand and a
burning torch that he had seized from its bracket in the other.

"I am counting to ten," Hal shouted, "and then I am lighting the powder
train!"  In his rags, and with his great bushy black beard and wild
eyes, he looked like a maniac.

A moan of horror and fear went up from every man in the yard.  One of
the convicts threw down his spade and followed the fleeing soldiers in
a rush for the gate.  Immediately pandemonium overwhelmed them all.
Two hundred convicts and soldiers stormed the gates in a rush for
safety.

Van de Velde struggled in Aboli's grip and screamed, "Let me go!  The
idiot is going to blow us all to perdition.  Let me go!  Run!  Run!"
His shrieks added to the panic, and within the time it takes to draw
and hold a long breath the courtyard was deserted except for the group
of seamen around the carriage and Hal.  Katinka was screaming and
sobbing hysterically, but Sukeena slapped her hard across the face.
"Keep quiet, you simpering ninny, or I'll give you good reason to
blubber," and Katinka gulped back her distress.

"Aboli, get van de Velde into the carriage!  He and his wife are coming
with us," Hal called, and Aboli lifted the Governor bodily and hurled
him over the top of the door.  He landed in an ungainly heap on the
floorboards and struggled there, like an insect on a pin.  "Althuda,
put your sword point to his heart and be ready to kill him when I give
the word."

"I look forward to it!"  Althuda shouted, dragged van de Velde upright
and thrust him into the seat facing his wife.  "Where should I give it
to you?"  he asked him.  "In your fat gut, perhaps?"

Van de Velde had lost his wig in the scuffle and his expression was
abject, every inch of his huge frame seeming to quiver with despair.
"Don't kill me.  I can protect you," he pleaded, and Katinka started
weeping and keening again.  This time, Sukeena merely held her a little
tighter, lifted the point of the dagger to her throat and whispered,
"We don't need you now we have the Governor.  It won't matter at all if
I kill you."  Katinka choked back the next sob.

"Daniel, load the powder and the spare weapons," Hal ordered, and. they
piled them into the carriage.  The elegant vehicle was no wagon, and
the coach work sagged under the load on its delicately sprung
suspension.

"That's enough!  It will take no more."  Aboli stopped them throwing
the last few powder kegs on board.

"One man to each horse!"  Hal commanded.  "Don't try to board them,
lads.  You're none of you riders.  You'll fall off and break your
necks, which won't matter much, but your weight will kill the poor
beasts before we have gone a mile, and that will matter.  Lay hold of
their rigging and let them tow you along."  They ran to their places
around the team of horses, and latched onto their harness.  "Leave
space for me on the larboard bow, lads," he called, and even in her
excitement and agitation Sukeena laughed aloud at his use of the
nautical terms.  His men understood, though, and left the offside lead
horse for him.

Aboli leaped to his place on the coachman's seat, while in the body of
the carriage Althuda menaced van de Velde and Sukeena held her dagger
to Katinka's white throat.

Aboli wheeled the team and shouted, "Come on, Gundwane.  It's time to
go.  The garrison will wake up at any moment now."  As he said it they
heard the flat report of a pistol shot, and a garrison officer ran from
the doorway of the barracks across the square waving his smoking
pistol, shouting to his men to form up on him.  "Stand to arms!  On me
the First Company!"

Hal paused only a moment to light the slow-match of one of his pistols
from the burning torch, then tossed the torch onto the powder train and
waited to see it flare and catch.  The smoking flame started snaking
back through the doors of the armoury into the passageway that led to
the main powder magazine.  Then he sprang down the steps into the
courtyard and raced to meet the overloaded carriage as Aboli drove the
horses in a circle and lined up for the gates.

He was almost there, raising his hand to seize the bridle of the
leading grey gelding, when suddenly Aboli shouted in agitation,
"Gundwane, behind you!  Have a care!"  Hugo Barnard had appeared in the
doorway where he and his hounds had taken shelter at the first sign of
trouble.  Now he slipped both dogs from the leash and with wild yells
of encouragement sent them in pursuit of Hal.  "Vat horn!  Catch him!"
he yelled and the animals raced towards him in a silent rush, running
side by side, striding out and covering the length of the courtyard
like a pair of whippets coursing a hare.

Aboli's warning had given Hal just time enough to turn to face them.
The dogs worked as a team, and one leaped for his face while the other
rushed for his legs.  Hal lunged at the first while it was in the air
and sent his point into the base of the black throat where it joined
the shoulders.  The flying weight of the hound's body drove the blade
in full length, transfixing it cleanly through heart and lung and on
into its guts.  Even though it was dead, the momentum of its flight
drove it on to crash into Hal's chest, and he staggered backwards.

The second hound, snaked in low to the ground and, while Hal was still
off balance, sank its fangs into his left shin just below the knee,
jerking him over backwards.  His shoulder crashed into the stone
paving, but when he tried to rise the animal still had him in its grip
and pulled back on all four braced legs, sending him sprawling again.
Hal felt its teeth grate on the bone of his leg.

"My hounds!"  Barnard yelled.  "You are hurting my darlings."  With his
drawn sword in his hand he rushed to intervene.  Again Hal tried to
rise, and again the hound pulled him down.  Barnard reached them and
raised his sword to his full height above Hal's unprotected head.  Hal
saw the blow coming and rolled aside.  The blade struck the flint
cobbles beside his ear in a sheet of sparks.

"You bastard!"  Barnard roared, and lifted the sword again.  Aboli
swerved the team of horses and drove them deliberately to Barnard.  The
overseer's back was turned to the approaching carriage, and he was so
engrossed with Hal that he did not see it coming.  As he was about to
strike again at Hal's head, the rear wheel caught him a glancing blow
on the hip and sent him staggering aside.

With a violent effort Hal hauled himself into a sitting position, and
before the hound could drag him flat again, he stabbed it in the base
of the neck, driving his blade at an angle back between its shoulder
blades like the bullfighter's coup, finding the heart.  The beast let
out an agonized howl and released its grip on his leg, staggered around
in a circle then collapsed on the cobbles, kicking feebly.

Hal heaved himself to his feet just as Barnard rushed at him.  "You
have killed my beauties!"  He was maddened with grief, and hacked again
at Hal, a wild uncontrolled blow.  Hal turned it effortlessly aside and
let it fly an inch past his head.

"You filthy pirate, I'll cut you down!"  Barnard gathered himself and
rushed in again.  With the same apparent ease Hal deflected the next
thrust, and said softly, "Do you remember what you -and your dogs did
to Oliver?"  He feinted high left, forcing Barnard to open his guard in
the mid-line, and then, like a bolt of lightning, thrust home.

The blade took Barnard just under the sternum, and sprang half its
length out of his back.  He dropped his sword and fell to his knees.

The debt to Oliver is paid!"  Hal said, placed his bare foot on
Barnard's chest and, against its resistance, pulled his blade clear.
Barnard toppled and lay beside the carcass of his dying hound.

"Come on, Gundwane!"Aboli was struggling to hold the team of greys, for
the shouting and the smell of blood had panicked them.  "The magazine!"
It was only seconds since Hal had lighted the powder train, but when he
glanced in that direction he saw clouds of acrid blue smoke billowing
from the doorway of the armoury.

"Hurry, Gundwane!"  Sukeena called softly.  "Oh, please, hurry!"  Her
voice was so filled with concern for his safety that it spurred him.
Even in these dire straits, Hal realized that it was the first time he
had ever heard her speak his nickname.  He started forward.  The dog
had bitten deeply into his leg, but its fangs could not have severed
nerves or sinews for Hal found that, if he ignored the pain, he could
still run on it.  He leaped across the yard and grabbed hold of the
leading horse's bridle.  It tossed its head and rolled its eyes until
the pink lining showed, but Hal hung on and Aboli gave the team its
head.

The carriage went rocking and clattering under the archway of the
gates, across the bridge, over the moat and out onto the open Parade.
Suddenly from behind them came a shattering explosion, and a shock-wave
of disrupted air swept over them like a tropical line squall.  The
horses reared and plunged in terror, and Hal was lifted off his feet.
He clung desperately to the traces and looked back.  A tower of
dun-Coloured -smoke rose swiftly from the interior courtyard of the
castle, spinning and revolving upon itself, shot through with dark
flames and scraps of debris and wreckage.  In the midst of this plume
of destruction a single human body cartwheeled a hundred feet into the
sky.

"For Sir Hal and King Charley!"  Big Daniel roared, and the other
seamen took up the cheering, beside themselves with excitement at their
escape.

However, when Hal looked back again he could see that the massive outer
walls of the castle were untouched by the detonation.  The barracks had
been built of the same heavy stonework, and almost certainly had
withstood the blast.  Two hundred men were housed in there, three
companies of green-jackets, and even now they were probably recovering
their wits after the explosion.  Soon they would come pouring out
through the castle gates in full pursuit and where, he wondered, was
Colonel Cornelius Schreuder?

The carriage was pounding across the Parade at a gallop.  Ahead ran a
mob of escaped convicts.  They were scattering in every direction, some
leaping over the stone wall of the Company gardens and heading for the
mountain, others running for the beach to find a boat in which to make
good their flight.  Out on the Parade were the few stunned burghers and
house slaves who were abroad at this time of the forenoon.  They gawked
in amazement at the tide of fugitives, then at the rolling cloud of
smoke that enveloped the castle and then at the even more extraordinary
sight of the advancing Governor's carriage, festooned with a motley
array of desperate tatterdemalion outlaws and pirates, screaming like
madmen and brandishing their weapons.  As the vehicle bore down on them
they scattered frantically.

"The pirates have escaped from the castle.  Run!  Run!"  At last they
recovered and spread the alarm.  The cry was taken up and shouted ahead
of them through the huts and hovels of the settlement.  Hal could see
the burghers and their slaves hurrying to escape the bloodthirsty
pirate crew.  One or two of the braver souls had armed themselves, and
there was a desultory popping of musket fire from some of the cottage
windows, but the range was long, the aim hurried and poor.  Hal did not
even hear the flight of the balls and none of the men or horses were
hit.  The carriage swept on past the first buildings, following the
only road that skirted the curving beach of Table Bay, and headed out
into the unknown.

Hal looked back at Aboli.  "Slow down, damn you!  You'll blow the
horses before we've got past the town."  Aboli stood upright and pulled
the horses back.  "Whoa, Royal!  Slow down, Cloud!"  But the team were
bolting and had almost reached the outskirts of the settlement before
Aboli was able to wrestle them to a trot.  They were all sweating and
snorting from the gallop, but were far from spent.

As soon as they were under control, Hal loosed his grip on the harness
and turned back to jog beside the carriage.  "Althuda," he called,
"instead of sitting up there like a gentleman on a Sunday picnic, make
sure all the muskets are primed and loaded.  Here!"  He passed up the
pistol with the burning match.  "Use this to light the match on all the
weapons.  They'll be after us soon enough."  Then he looked from
Althuda to his sister.

"We have not been introduced.  Your servant, Henry Courtney."  He
grinned at her, and she laughed delightedly at his formal manner.

"Good morrow, Gundwane.  I know you well.  Aboli has warned me of what
a fierce young pirate you are."  Then she turned serious.  "You are
hurt.  I should see to your leg."

"Tis nothing that cannot wait until later," he assured her.

"The bite of a dog will mortify swiftly if it is left untreated, she
told him.

"Later!"  he repeated, and turned to Aboli.

"Aboli, are you acquainted with the road to the boundary of the
colony?"

"There is only one road, Gundwane.  We have to go straight through the
village, skirt the marshland then head out across the sandy flatlands
towards the mountains."  He pointed.  "The bitter-almond fence is five
miles beyond the marsh."

Looking beyond the settlement, Hal could already see marshland and the
lagoon ahead, stands of reeds and open water, over which hovered flocks
of water birds.  He had heard that crocodiles and hippopotami lurked in
the depths ofthelagoon.

"Althuda, will there be any soldiers in our way?"  Hal asked him.

"There are usually guards at the first bridge and there is always a
patrol at the bitter-almond hedge to shoot any Hottentots who try to
enter," Althuda replied, without looking up from the musket he was
loading.

Then Sukeena sang out, "There will be no pickets or patrols today.

From dawn I kept a watch on the crossroad.  No soldiers went out to
take up their posts.  They are all too busy nursing their aching
bellies."  She laughed gaily, as excited and wrought up as the rest of
them.  Suddenly she leaped up in the body of the carriage and called
out in a ringing voice, "Free!  For the first time in my life I am
free!"  Her plait had tumbled down and come loose.  Her hair streamed
out behind her head.  Her eyes sparkled, and she was so beautiful that
she epitomized the dreams of every one of the ragged seamen.

Although they cheered her, "You, and us also, darling!"  it was Hal at
whom she was looking with those laughing eyes.

As they passed the buildings of the settlement, the warning cries had
been shouted ahead of them.  "Beware!  The pirates have escaped.  The
pirates are on the rampage!"  The good citizens of Good Hope scattered
before them.  Mothers rushed into the street to seize their offspring
and drag them indoors, to throw the door-bolts and slam down the
shutters.

"You are safe now.  You have escaped clean away.  Please will you not
let me free, Sir Henry?"  Katinka had recovered from her shock
sufficiently to plead for her life.  "I swear I have never meant you
harm.  I saved you from the gallows.  I saved Althuda also.  I'll do
anything you say, Sir Henry.  just please set me free," she whimpered,
clinging to the side of the carriage.

"You may call me sir now and make me those declarations of goodwill but
they would have stood my father in better stead while he was on his way
to the gallows."  Hal's expression was so cold and remorseless that
Katinka recoiled and fell back in the seat beside Sukeena, sobbing as
though her heart were breaking.

The seamen running with Hal shouted their scorn and hatred at her.

"You wanted to see us hanged, you painted doxy, and we're going to feed
you to the lions out there in the wilderness," gloated Billy Rogers.

Katinka sobbed afresh and covered her face with her hands.  "I never
meant any of you harm.  Please let me go."  The carriage rolled
steadily down the empty street, and the last few huts and hovels of the
settlement were all that lay ahead when Althuda rose from his seat and
pointed back down the gravel-surfaced road towards the distant parade.
"Horseman coming at a gallop!"  he cried.

"So soon?"  Big Daniel muttered, shading his eyes.  "I had not expected
the Pursuit yet.  Do they have cavalry to send after us?"

"Have no fear of that, lads, Aboli reassured them.  "There are no more
than twenty horses in the whole colony, and we have six of those."

"Aboli is right.  "tis only one horseman!"  shouted Wally Finch.

The rider was leaving a pale ribbon of dust in the air behind him,
leaning forward over his mount's neck as he drove the animal to its top
speed, using the whip in his right hand to flog it onwards
mercilessly.

He was still far Off, but Hal recognized him from the sash that flowed
out behind him with the speed of his gallop.

"Sweet Mary, it's Schreuder!  I knew he would join us before too long."
His jaw clenched in anticipation.  "The hot-headed idiot comes alone to
fight us.  Brains he lacks, but he has a full cargo of guts."  Even
from his seat Aboli could see what Hal intended by the narrowing of his
eyes and the way he changed his grip on his sword.

"Don't think of going back to give him satisfaction, Gundwane!"Aboli
called sternly.  "You will place every soul here at risk for any
delay."

"I know you think I'm no match for Schreuder but things have changed,
Aboli.  I can beat him now.  I'm sure of it in my heart."  Aboli
thought that he might well do so, for Hal was no longer a boy.  The
months on the walls had toughened him, and Aboli had seen him match
strength with Big Daniel.  "Leave me here to see to this business, man
to man, and I will follow you later," Hal cried.

"No, Sir Hal!"  shouted Big Daniel.  "Maybe you could best him but not
with that leg bitten to the bone.  Leave your feud with the Dutchman
for another time.  We need you with us.  There will be a hundred
green-jackets following close behind him."

"No!"  agreed Wally and Stan.  "Stay with us, Captain."  "We've put our
trust in you," said Ned Tyler.  "We can never find our way through the
wilderness without a navigator.  You can't desert us now."

Hal hesitated, still glaring back at the swiftly approaching rider.
Then his eyes flicked to the face of the girl in the carriage.  Sukeena
stared at him, her huge dark eyes full of entreaty.  "You are sorely
wounded.  Look at your leg."  She leaned over the door of the carriage,
so that she was very close, and spoke so softly that he could only just
make out the words above the din of men and wheels and horses.  "Stay
with us, Gundwane."

He glanced down at the blood and pale lymph oozing from the deep
puncture wounds.  While he wavered Big Daniel ran back and jumped up
onto the step of the carriage.

"I'll take care of this one," he said, and lifted the loaded musket
from Althuda's hands.  Holding it, he dropped from the step into the
dirt of the road and stood there checking the burning matchlock and the
priming in the pan.  He took his time as the carriage trotted away from
him and Colonel Schreuder galloped down on him.

Despite all their pleas and warnings Hal started back to intervene.
"Daniel, don't kill the fool."  He wanted to explain that he and
Schreuder had a destiny to work out together.  It was a matter of
chivalric honour in which no other should come between them, but there
was no time to give voice to such a romantic notion.

Schreuder galloped to within earshot and stood in his stirrups.
"Katinka!"  he shouted.  "Have no fear, I am come to save you, my
darling.  I will never let these villains take.  you."

He plucked the bell-muzzled pistol from his sash and held the matchlock
in the wind so that the smouldering match flared.  Then he lay flat
along his horse's neck with his pistol arm outstretched.  "Out of my
way, oaf!  "he roared at Daniel, and fired.  His right arm was thrown
high by the discharge and a wreath of blue smoke swirled around his
head, but the ball flew wide, hitting the earth a foot from Daniel's
bare right leg, showering him with gravel.

Schreuder threw aside the pistol and drew the Neptune sword from its
scabbard at his side.  The gold inlay on the blade glinted as he
wielded it.  "I'll cleave your skull to the teeth!"  Schreuder roared,
and raised the blade high.  Daniel dropped on one knee and let the
Colonel's horse come on the last few strides.

Too close, Hal thought.  Much too close.  If the musket misfires Danny
is a dead man.  But Daniel held his aim steadily and snapped the lock.
For an instant Hal thought his worst fear had been realized but then,
with a sharp report, a spurt of flame and silver smoke, the musket
discharged.

Perhaps Daniel had heeded Hal's shout, or perhaps the horse was a
bigger and surer target than the rider upon its back, but he had aimed
into the animal's wide, sweat drenched chest and the heavy lead ball
for once flew true.  At full charge Schreuder's steed collapsed under
him. He was thrown over its head, slamming face and shoulder into the
ground.

The horse struggled and kicked, lying on its back, thrashing its head
from side to side while its heart-blood pumped from the wound in its
chest.  Then its head fell back to earth with a thump and, with one
last snorting breath, it lay still.

Schreuder lay motionless on the sun-baked road, and Hal felt a moment's
fear that his neck was broken.  He almost ran back to aid him, but
Schreuder made a few disjointed movements, and Hal paused.  The
carriage was drawing away swiftly, and the others were shouting to him,
"Come back, Gundwane!"  "Leave the bastard, Sir Henry."

Daniel sprang up, grabbed Hal's arm.  "He ain't dead, but we soon will
be if we lie becalmed here much longer," and dragged him away.

For the first few steps Hal resisted and tried to shake off Daniel's
hand.  "It can't end like this.  Don't you understand, Danny?"

"I understand well enough," Big Daniel grunted, and at that Schreuder
sat up groggily in the middle of the road.  The gravel had torn the
skin off one side of his face, but he was trying to get to his feet,
lurching and falling, then trying again.

"He's all right," said Hal, with a relief that almost surprised him,
and allowed Daniel to pull him away.

"Aye!"  said Daniel, as they caught up with the carriage.  "He's right
enough to crop your acorns for you when next you meet.  We'll not be
rid of that one so easily."

Aboli braked the carriage to allow them to catch up, and Hal grabbed
the bridle of the leading horse and allowed it to lift him off his
feet.  He looked back to see Schreuder on his feet in the middle of the
road, dusty, and bleeding.  He staggered after the carriage like a man
with a bottle of cheap gin in his belly, still brandishing the sword.

They pulled away from him at a brisk trot and Schreuder gave up the
attempt to overhaul the departing carriage, instead screamed abuse
after it.  "By God, Henry Courtney, I'm coming after you, even if I
have to follow you to the very gates of hell.  I have you in my eye,
sir, I have you in my heart."

"When you come, bring with you that sword you stole from me," Hal
shouted back.  "I'll spit you with it like a sucking pig for the devil
to roast."  His seamen hooted with laughter and gave the colonel an
assortment of obscene farewell gestures.

"Katinka!  My darling!"  Schreuder changed his tone.  "Do not despair.
I will rescue you.  I swear it on my father's grave.  I love you with
my very life."

Throughout all the shouting and the musket fire, van de Velde had been
crouching on the floor of the carriage but now he heaved himself back
onto the seat and glared at the battered figure in the road.  "Is he
raving mad?  How dare he address my wife in such odious terms?"  He
rounded on Katinka with a red face and wobbling jowls.  "Mevrouw, I
trust you have given the dolt of a soldier no cause for such
licence."

"I assure you, Mijnheer, his language and address come as more of a
shock to me than they do to you.  I take great offence, and I implore
you to take him seriously to task at the first opportunity," replied
Katinka, clinging to the door of the carriage with one hand and to her
bonnet with the other.

"I will do better than that, Mevrouw.  He will be on the next ship back
to Amsterdam.  I cannot abide with such impertinence.  Moreover, he is
responsible for the predicament we are now in.  As commander of the
castle, the prisoners are his responsibility.  Their escape is due to
his incompetence and the dereliction of his duty.  The Bastard has no
right to speak to you in such a fashion."

"Oh, yes, he does," said Sukeena sweetly.  "Colonel Schreuder has the
right of conquest in his favour.  Your wife has been lying under him
often enough with her legs in the air for him to call her darling, or
even to call her whore and slut if he chose to be more honest."

"Quiet, Sukeena!"  shrilled Katinka "Are you out of your mind?
Remember your place.  You are a slave."

"No, Mevrouw.  A slave no longer.  A free woman now, and your captor,"
Sukeena told her, "so I can say to you anything I please, especially if
it is the truth."  She turned to van de Velde.  "Your wife and the
gallant colonel have been playing the beast with two backs so blatantly
as to delight every tattle-tale in the colony.  They have set a pair of
horns on your head that are too large for even your grossly bloated
body."

"I will have you thrashed!"  van de Velde gurgled apoplectically.  "You
slave bitch!"

"No, you won't," said Althuda, and placed the point of the jewelled
scimitar against the Governor's pendulous belly.  "Rather, you will
apologize for that insult to my sister."

"Apologize to a slave?  Never!"  van de Velde began in a bellow, but
this time Althuda pricked him with more intent and the bellow turned
into a squeal, like air escaping from a pig's bladder.

"Apologize not to a slave, but to a free-born Balinese princess,"
Althuda corrected him.  "And swiftly."

"I beg your pardon, madam," van de Velde gritted through clenched
teeth.

"You are gallant, sir."  Sukeena smiled at him.  Van de Velde sank back
in his seat and said no more, but he fixed his wife with a venomous
stare.

Once they had left the settlement behind them, the surface of the road
deteriorated.  There were deep wheel ruts left by the Company wagons
going out to fetch firewood, and the carriage rocked and lurched
dangerously through them.  Along the edge of the lagoon the water had
seeped in to turn the tracks to mud and slush and, in many places, the
seamen were forced to put their shoulders to the tall rear wheels to
help the horses drag the vehicle through.  It was late morning before
they saw ahead the framework of the wooden bridge over the first
river.

"Soldiers!"  Aboli called.  From his high seat he had picked out the
glint of a bayonet and the shape of the tall helmets.

"Only four," said Hal.  His eyes were still the sharpest of all.
"They'll not be expecting trouble from this direction."  He was right.
The corporal of the bridge guard came forward to meet them, puzzled but
unalarmed, his sword sheathed and the match on his pistols unlit.  Hal
and his crew disarmed him and his men, stripped them to their breeches
and sent them running back towards the colony with a discharge of
muskets over their heads.

While Aboli walked the carriage over the bridge and took it on along
the rudimentary track, Hal and Ned Tyler climbed beneath the wooden
structure and roped a barrel of gunpowder under the heavy timber king
post  When it was secure Hal used the butt of his pistol to drive in
the bung of the barrel, thrust a short length of slow-match into it and
lit it.  He and Ned scrambled back onto the roadway and ran after the
carriage.

Hal's leg was painful now.  It was swelling and stiffening, but he was
looking back over his shoulder as he hobbled along through the
ankle-deep sand.  The centre of the bridge suddenly erupted in a spout
of mud, water, shattered planks and piers.  The wreckage fell back into
the river.

"That will not hold the good colonel long, but at least he will get his
breeches wet," Hal muttered, as they caught up with the carriage.
Althuda jumped down and called to him, "Take my place.  You must favour
that leg."

"There is little wrong with my leg," Hal protested.

"Other than that it can barely carry your weight," said Sukeena
sternly, leaning over the door.  "Come up here at once, Gundwane, or
else you will do lasting damage to it."

Meekly Hal climbed up into the coach and took the seat opposite Sukeena
Without looking at the pair, Aboli grinned to himself Already she gives
the orders and he obeys.  It seems they have the tide and a fair wind
behind them.

"Let me look at that leg," Sukeena ordered, and Hal placed it on the
seat between her and Katinka.

"Take care, clod!"  Katinka snapped, and pulled away her skirts.  "You
will bloody my dress."

"If you do not have a care to your tongue, it will not be the only
thing I will bloody," Hal assured her, and scowled.  She withdrew into
the farthest corner of the seat.

Sukeena worked over the leg with swift, competent hands.  "I should lay
a hot poultice on these bites, for they are deep and will certainly
fester.  But I need boiling water."  She looked up at Hal.

"You will have to wait for that until we reach the mountains," he told
her.  Then, for a while, their conversation broke down and they gazed
into each other's eyes bemusedly.  This was as close as they had ever
been and each found something in the other to amaze and delight them.

Then Sukeena roused herself.  "I have my medicines in the saddle-bags,
she said briskly, and climbed over the seat to reach the panniers on
the back of the carriage.  She hung there as she rummaged in the
leather bags.  The carriage jotted on over the rough track, and Hal
looked with awe on her small rounded bottom, pointed skywards.  Despite
the ruffles and petticoats that shrouded it, he thought it almost as
enchanting as her face.

She climbed back with cloths and a black bottle in her hand.  "I will
swab out the wounds with this tincture and then bind them up," she
explained, without looking again into the distraction of his green
eyes.

"Avast!"  Hal gasped at the first touch of the tincture.  "That burns
like the devil's breath."

Sukeena scolded, "You have endured whip and shot and sword and savaging
by an animal.  But the first touch of medicine and you cry like a baby.
Now be still."

Aboli's face creased into a bouquet of tattoos and merry laughter lines
but, though his shoulders shook, he held his peace.

Hal sensed his amusement, and rounded on him.  "How far ahead is the
bitter-almond hedge?"

"Another league."

"Will Sabah meet us there?"

"That is what I believe, if the green-jackets don't catch up with us
first."

"Methinks we will have some respite.  Schreuder made an error by
rushing alone in pursuit of us.  He should have mustered his troops and
come after us in an orderly fashion.  My guess is that most of the
green-jackets will be chasing the other prisoners we turned free, They
will concentrate on us only once Schreuder takes command."

"And he has no horse," Sukeena added.  "I think we will get clear away,
and once we reach the mountains-" She broke off and lifted her eyes
from Hal's leg.  Both she and Hal looked ahead to the high blue rampart
that filled the sky ahead.

Van de Velde had been avidly following this conversation, and now he
broke in.  "The slave wench is right.  You have succeeded in this
underhand scheme Of yours, more's the pity.  However, I am a reasonable
man, Henry Courtney.  Set my wife and me free now.  Give the carriage
over to us and let us return to the colony.  In exchange I will give
you my solemn undertaking to call off the chase.  I will order Colonel
Schreuder to send his men back to their barracks."  He turned on Hal
what he hoped was an open and guileless countenance.  "I offer you my
word as a gentleman on it."

Hal saw the cunning and malice in the Governor's eyes.

"Your excellency, I am uncertain of the validity of your claim to the
title of gentleman, besides which I should hate to be deprived so soon
of your charming company."

At that moment one of the front wheels of the carriage crashed into a
hole in the tracks.  "The aardvarks dig these burrows," Althuda
explained, as Hal clambered down from the lopsided vehicle.

"Pray, what manner of man or beast is that?"

"The earth pig, a beast with a long snout and a thick tail that digs up
the burrows of ants with its powerful claws and devours them with its
long sticky tongue," Althuda told him.

Hal threw back his head and laughed.  "Of course, I believe that.  I
also believe that your earth pig flies, dances the hornpipe and tells
fortunes by cards."

"You have a few things yet to learn about the land that lies out there,
my friend,"Althuda promised him.

Still chuckling, Hal turned from him.  "Come on, lads!"  he called to
his seamen.  "Let's get this ship off the reef and running before the
wind again."

He made van de Velde and Katinka get out and the rest of them strained
with the horses to pull the carriage free.  From here onwards, though,
the track became barely passable, and the bush on either hand grew
taller and more dense as they went on.  Within the next mile they were
stuck in holes twice more.

"It is almost time to get rid of the carriage.  We can get on faster on
our own shanks, Hal told Aboli quietly.  "How much further to the
hedge?"  -"I thought we should have reached it by now," Aboli replied,
"but it cannot be far."  They came to the boundary around the next kink
in the narrow track.  The famous bitter-almond hedge was a straggly and
blighted excrescence, hardly shoulder high, but the road ended
dramatically against it.  There was also a rough hut, which served as a
guard post to the border picket, and a notice in Dutch.

"WARNING!"  the notice began, in vivid scarlet letters, and went on to
forbid movement by any person beyond that point, with the penalty for
infringement being imprisonment or the payment of a fine of a thousand
guilders or both.  The board had been erected in the name of the
Governor of the Dutch East India Company.

Hal kicked open the door of the single room of the guard hut and found
it deserted.  The fire on the open hearth was cold and dead.  A few
articles of Company uniform hung on the wooden pegs in the wall, and a
black kettle stood over the dead coals, with odd bowls, bottles and
utensils lying on the rough wooden table or on shelves along the
walls.

Big Daniel was about to put the slow-match to the thatch, but Hal
stopped him.  "No point in giving Schreuder a smoke beacon to follow,"
he said, "and there's naught of value here.  Leave it be," and limped
back to where the seamen were unloading the carriage.

Aboli was turning the horses out of the traces and Ned Tyler was
helping him to improvise pack saddles for them, using the harness,
leather work and canvas canopy from the carriage.

Katinka stood forlornly at her husband's side.  "What is to become of
me, Sir Henry?"  she whispered as he came up.  "Some of the men want to
take you up into the mountains and feed you to the wild animals," he
replied.  Her hand flew to her lips and she paled.  "Others want to cut
your throat here and now for what you and your fat toad of a husband
did to us."

"You would never allow such a thing to happen," van de Velde blustered.
"I only did what was my duty."

"You're right," Hal agreed.  "I think throat-cutting too good for you.
I favour hanging and drawing, as you did to my father."  He glared at
him coldly, and van de Velde quailed.  "However, I find myself sickened
by you both.  I want no further truck with either of you, and so I
leave you and your lovely wife to the mercy of God, the devil and the
amorous Colonel Schreuder."  He turned and strode away to where Aboli
and Ned were checking and tightening the loads on the horses.

Three of the greys had kegs of gunpowder slung on each side of their
backs, two carried bundles of weapons and the sixth horse was loaded
with Sukeena's bulky saddle-bags.

"All shipshape, Captain."  Ned knuckled his forehead.  "We can up
anchor and get under way at your command."  "There's nothing to keep us
here.  The Princess Sukeena will ride on the lead horse."  He looked
around for her.  "Where is she?"

"I am here, Gundwane."  Sukeena stepped out from behind the guard hut.
"And I need no mollycoddling.  I will walk like the rest of you."

Hal saw that she had shed her long skirts and that she now wore a pair
of baggy Balinese breeches and a loose cotton shift that reached to her
knees.  She had tied a cotton head cloth over her hair, and on her feet
were sturdy leather sandals that would be comfortable for walking.  The
men ogled the shape of her calves in the breeches, but she ignored
their rude stares, took the lead rein of the nearest horse and led it
towards the gap in the bitter-almond hedge.

"Sukeena!"  Hal would have stopped her, but she recognized his
censorious tone and ignored it.  He realized the folly of persisting,
and wisely tempered his next command.  "Ald-tuda, you are the only one
who knows the path from here.  Go ahead with your sister."  Althuda ran
to catch up with her, and brother and sister led them into the
uncharted wilderness beyond the hedge.

Hal and Aboli brought up the rear of the column as it wound through the
dense scrub and bush.  No men had trodden this path recently.  It had
been made by wild animals.  the marks of their hoofs and paws were
plain to see in the soft sandy soil, and their dung littered the
track.

Aboli could recognize each animal by these signs, and as they moved
along at a forced pace, he pointed them out to Hal.  "That is leopard
and there is the spoor of the antelope with the twisted horns we call
kudu.  At least we shall not starve," he promised.  "There is a great
plenty of game in this land."

This was the first opportunity since the escape that they had had to
talk, and Hal asked quietly, "This Sabah, the friend of Althuda, what
do you know of him?"

"Only the messages he sent."

"Should he not have met us at the hedge?"

"He said only that he would lead us into the mountains.  I expected him
to be waiting at the hedge," Aboli shrugged, "but with Althuda to guide
us we do not need him."

They made good progress, the grey mare trotting easily with them
hanging onto her traces and running beside her.  Whenever they passed a
tree that would bear Aboli's weight he shinned up it and looked back
for signs of pursuit.  Each time he came down and shook his head.

"Schreuder will come," Hal told him.  "I have heard men say that those
green-jackets of his can run down a mounted man.  They will come."

They moved on steadily across the plain, stopping only at the swampy
waterholes they passed.  Hal hung onto the horse to ease his injured
leg and, as he limped along, Aboli recounted all that had happened in
the months since they had last been together.  Hal was silent as he
described, in his own language, how he had retrieved Sir Francis's body
from the gibbet and the funeral he had given him.  "It was the burial
of a great chief.  I dressed -him in the hide of a black bull and
placed his ship and his weapons within his reach.  I left food and
water for his journey, and before his eyes I set the cross of his God."
Hal's throat was too choked for him to thank Aboli for what he had
done.

The day wore on, and their progress slowed as men and horses tired in
the soft sandy footing.  At the next marshy swamp where they stopped
for a few minutes" rest, Hal took Sukeena aside.

"You have been strong and brave but your legs are not as long as ours,
and I have watched you stumble with fatigue.  From now on you must
ride."  When she started to protest he stopped her firmly.  "I obeyed
you in the matters of my wounds, but in all else I am captain and you
must do as I say.  From here on you will ride."

Her eyes twinkled.  She made a pretty little gesture of submission,
placing her fingertips together and touching them to her lips, "As you
command, master," and allowed him to boost her up on top of the
saddle-bags on the leading grey.

They skirted the swamp and went on a little faster now.  Twice more
Aboli climbed a tree to look back and saw no sign of pursuit.  Against
his natural instincts Hal began to hope that they might have eluded
their pursuers, that they might reach the mountains that loomed ever
closer and taller without being further molested.

In the middle of the afternoon they crossed a broad -open vlei, a
meadow of short green grass where herds of wild antelope with
scimitar-curved horns were grazing.  They looked up at the approach of
the caravan of horses and men, standing frozen in wide-eyed
astonishment!  their coats a metallic blue-grey hue in the afternoon
sunlight.

"Even I have never seen beasts of that ilk Aboli admitted.

As the herds fled before them, wreathed in their own dust, Althuda.
called back, "Those are the animals the Dutch call blaauwbok, the blue
buck.  I have seen great herds of them on the plains beyond the
mountains."

Beyond the vlei the ground began to rise in a series of undulating
ridges towards the foothills of the range.  They climbed towards the
first ridge, with Hal toiling along at the rear of the column.  By now
he was moving heavily, in obvious pain.  Aboli saw that his face was
flushed with fever, and that blood and watery fluid had seeped through
the bandage that Sukeena had placed on his leg.

At the top of the ridge Aboli forced a halt.  They looked back at the
great Table Mountain, which dominated the western horizon.  To their
left, the wide blue curve of False Bay opened.  However, they were all
too exhausted to spend long admiring their surroundings.  The horses
stood, heads hanging, and the men threw themselves down in any shade
they could find.  Sukeena slid off her mount and hurried to where Hal
had slumped with his back to a small tree-trunk.  She knelt in front of
him, unwrapped the bandage from his leg and drew a sharp breath when
she saw how swollen and inflamed it was.  She leaned closer and sniffed
the oozing punctures.  When she spoke her voice was stern.

"You cannot walk further on this.  You must ride as you force me to
do."  Then she looked up at Aboli.  "Make a fire to boil water," she
ordered him.  , "We have no time for such tomfoolery," Hal murmured
halfheartedly, but they ignored him.  Aboli lit a small fire with a
slow-match and placed over it a tin mug of water.  As soon as it
boiled, Sukeena prepared a paste with the herbs she had in her
saddle-bag, and spread it on a folded cloth.  While it still steamed
with heat she clapped the cloth over Hal's wounds.  He moaned and said,
"I swear I would rather Aboli pissed on my leg, than you burned it off
with your devilish concoctions."

Sukeena ignored his immodest language and went on with her task.  She
bound the poultice in place with a fresh cloth, then from her
saddle-bags she fetched a loaf of bread and a dried sausage.  She cut
these into slices, folded bread and sausage together, and handed one to
each of the men.

"Bless you, Princess."  Big Daniel knuckled his forehead, before taking
his ration from her.

"God love you, Princess," said Ned, and all the others adopted the
name.  From then on she was their princess, and the rough seamen looked
upon her with increasing respect and burgeoning affection.

"You can eat on the march, lads."  Hal hauled himself to his feet.

"We have been lucky too long.  Soon the devil will want his turn."
They groaned and muttered but followed his lead.

As Hal was helping Sukeena to mount, there was a warning shout from
Daniel.  "There the bastards come at last."  He pointed back down at
the open vlei at the bottom of the slope.  Hal pushed Sukeena up
between the saddlebags and limped back to the rear of the column.  He
looked down the hillside and saw the long file of running men who had
emerged from the edge of the scrub and were crossing the open ground.
They were led by a single horseman who came on at a trot.

"It's Schreuder again.  He has found another mount."  Even at that
range there was no mistaking the Colonel.  He sat tall and arrogant in
the saddle, and there was a sense of deadly purpose about the set of
his shoulders and the way he lifted his head to look up the slope
towards them.  It was obvious that he had not yet spotted them, hidden
in the thick scrub.

"How many men with him?"  Ned Tyler asked, and they all looked at Hal
to count them.  He slitted his eyes and watched them come out of the
thick scrub.  With their swinging trot they kept up easily with
Schreuder's horse.  "Twenty," Hal counted.

"Why so few?"  Big Daniel demanded.

"Almost certainly Schreuder has chosen his fastest runners to press us
hard.  The rest will be following at their best speed."  Hal shaded his
eyes.  "Yes, by God, there they are, a league behind the first platoon,
but coming fast.  I can see their dust and the shape of their helmets
above the scrub.  There must be a hundred or more in that second
detachment."

"Twenty we can deal with," Big Daniel muttered, "but a hundred of those
murdering green-backs is more than I can eat for breakfast without
belching.  What orders, Captain?"  Every man looked at Hal.

He paused before replying, carefully studying the lie and the grain of
the land below before he said, "Master Daniel, take the rest of the
party on with Althuda to guide you.  Aboli and I will stay here with
one horse to slow down their advance."

"We cannot outrun them.  They've proved that to us, Captain," Daniel
protested.  "Would it not be better to fight them here?"

"You have your orders."  Hal turned a cold, steely eye upon him.

Daniel again knuckled his brow.  "Aye, Captain," and he turned to the
others.  "You heard the orders, lads."

Hal limped back to where Sukeena sat on her horse, with Althuda.
holding the lead rein.  "You must go on, whatever happens.  Do not turn
back for any reason," he told Althuda, and then he smiled up at Sukeena
"Not even if her royal highness commands it."

She did not return his smile but leaned down closer and whispered, "I
will wait for you on the mountain.  Do not make me wait too long."

Althuda led the column of horses forward again, and as they crossed the
skyline there was a distant shout from the vlei below.

"So they have discovered us," Aboli muttered.

Hal went to the single remaining horse, and loosened one of the
fifty-pound kegs of gunpowder.  He lowered it to the ground, and told
Aboli, "Take the horse on.  Follow the others.  Let Schreuder see you
go.  Tether it out of sight beyond the ridge and then come back to
me."

He rolled the keg to the nearest outcrop of tock and crouched beside
it.  With only the top of his head showing, he again studied the slope
below him, then turned his full attention to Schreuder and his band of
green-jackets.  Already they were much closer, and he could see that
two of the Hottentots ran ahead of Schreuder's horse.  They watched the
ground as they came on, following exactly the route that Hal's party
had blazed.

They read our sign from the earth, like hounds after the stag, he
thought.  They will come up the same path we followed.

At that moment Aboli dropped back over the ridge and squatted beside
him.  "The horse is tethered and the others go on apace.  Now what is
your plan, Gundwane?"

"Tis so simple, there is no need to explain it to you," said Hal, as he
prised the bung from the keg with the point of his sword.  Then he
unwound the length of the slow match he had tied around his waist.
"This match is the devil.  It either burns too fast or too slow.  But I
will take a chance on three fingers" length," he muttered as he
measured, then lopped off a length.  He rolled it gently between the
palms of his hands in an attempt to induce it to burn evenly, then
threaded one end into the bunghole of the keg and secured it by driving
back the wooden plug.

"You had best hurry, Gundwane.  Your old fencing partner, Schreuder, is
in great haste to meet you again."

Hal glanced up from his task and saw that the pursuers had crossed the
meadow and were already starting up the slope towards them.  "Keep out
of sight," Hal told him.  "I want to let them get very close."  The two
lay flat on their bellies and peered down the hillside.  Sitting high
in the saddle, Schreuder was in full view, but the two trackers who led
him were obscured by the scrub and flowering bushes from the waist
down.  As they came on Hal could make out the ugly gravel graze down
Schreuder's face, the rents and dirt smears on his uniform.  He wore
neither Hat nor wig, had probably lost them along the way, perhaps in
his fall.  Vain though he was, he had wasted no time in trying to
regain them, so urgent was his haste.

The sun had already reddened his shaven pate and his horse was
lathered.  Perhaps he had not bothered to water it during the long
chase.  Closer still he came.  His eyes were fastened on the ridge
where he had seen the fugitives cross.  His face was a stony mask, and
Hal could see that he was a man driven by his volcanic temper, ready to
take any risk or brave any danger.

On the steep slope even his indefatigable trackers began to flag.  Hal
could see the sweat streaming down their flat yellow Asiatic faces and
hear their gasping breath.

"Come on, you rogues!"  Schreuder goaded them.  "You will let them get
clear away.  Faster!  Run faster."  They came scrambling and straining
up the slope.

"Good!"  Hal muttered.  "They are sticking in our tracks, as I hoped."
He whispered his final instructions to Aboli.  "But wait until I give
you the word," he cautioned him.

Closer they came until Hal could hear the Hottentots" bare feet
slapping the ground, the squeak of Schreuder's tack and the jingle of
his spurs.  On he came, until Hal saw the individual beads of sweat
that decorated the points of his moustache, and the little veins in his
bulging blue eyes as he fixed his obsessed and furious stare on the
skyline of the ridge, overlooking the enemy who lay hidden much closer
at hand.

"Ready!"  whispered Hal, and held the burning slow match to the fuse of
the powder keg.  It flared, spluttered, caught, then burned up
fiercely.  The flame raced down the short length of fuse towards the
bung hole.

"Now, Aboli!"  he snapped.  Aboli seized the keg and leapt to his feet,
almost under the hoofs of Schreuder's horse.  The two Hottentots yelled
with shock and ducked off the path, while the horse shied and reared,
throwing Schreuder forward onto its neck.

For a moment Aboli stood poised, holding the keg high above his head
with both hands.  The fuse sizzled and hissed like an angry puff-adder,
and the powder smoke blew around his great tattooed head like a blue
nimbus.  Then he hurled the keg out over the hillside.  It turned
lazily in the air before striking the rocky ground and bounding away,
bouncing and leaping as it gathered speed.  It jumped up into the face
of Schreuder's horse, which reared away just as its rider had recovered
his balance.  Schreuder was thrown forward again onto its neck, lost
one of his stirrups and hung awkwardly out of the saddle.

The horse spun and leaped back down the slope, almost into the platoon
of infantry that was following close upon its heels.  As both maddened
horse and bouncing powder keg came hurtling back among them, the column
of green jackets sent up a howl of consternation.  Every one recognized
that the smoking fuse was the harbinger of a fearsome detonation only
seconds away, and they broke ranks and scattered.  Most turned
instinctively downhill, rather than breaking out to the sides, and the
keg overhauled them, bouncing along in their midst.

Schreuder's horse went down on its bunched hindquarters as it slipped
and slid down the hillside.  The reins snapped in one of its rider's
hands while the other lost its precarious hold on the pommel of the
saddle.  Schreuder fell clear of his mount's driving hoofs, and as he
hit the earth the keg exploded.  The fall saved his life for he had
tumbled into the lee of a low rock outcrop and the main force of the
blast swept over him.

However, it ripped through the horde of routed soldiers.  Those closest
to it were hurled about and thrown upwards like burning leaves from a
garden fire.  Their clothing was stripped from their mangled bodies,
and a disembodied arm was thrown high to fall back at Hal's feet.  Both
Aboli and Hal were knocked down by the force of the blast.  Ears
buzzing, Hal scrambled upright again and stared down in awe at the
devastation they had created.

Not one of the enemy was still on his feet.  "By God, you killed them
all!"  Hal marvelled, but at once there were confused Cries and shouts
among the flattened bushes.  First one and then more of the enemy
soldiers staggered dazedly upright.

"Come away!"  Aboli seized Hal's arm and dragged him to the top of the
ridge.  Before they dropped over the crest Hal glanced back and saw
that Schreuder had hoisted himself upright.  Swaying drunkenly he was
standing over the mutilated carcass of his mount.  He was still so
dazed that, even as Hal watched, his legs folded under him and he sat
down heavily among the broken branches and torn leaves, covering his
face with his hands.

Aboli released Hal's arm, and changed his sword into his right hand. "I
can run back and finish him off," he growled, but the suggestion
stirred Hal from his own daze.

"Leave him be!  It would not be honourable to kill him while he is
unable to defend himself."

"Then let us go, and fast."  Aboli growled.  "We may have put this band
of Schreuder's men up on the reef but, look!  The rest of his
green-jackets are not far behind."

Hal wiped the sweat and dust from his face and blinked to stop his eyes
blurring..  He saw that Aboli was right.  The dust cloud from the
second detachment of the enemy rose from the scrub of the flatlands on
the far side of the vleil but it was coming on swiftly.

"If we run hard now, we might be able to hold them off until nightfall
and by then we should be into the mountains,"Aboli estimated.  " Within
a few paces, Hal stumbled and hopped as his injured leg gave way under
him.  Without a word Aboli gave him his arm to help him over the rough
ground to where he had tethered the horse.  This time Hal did not
protest when Aboli boosted him up onto its back and took the lead
rein.

"Which direction?"  Hal demanded.  As he looked ahead the mountain
barrier was riven into a labyrinth of ravines and soaring rock
buttresses, of cliffs and deep gorges in which grew.  dense strips of
forest and tangled scrub.  He could pick out no path nor pass through
this confusion.

"Althuda knows the way, and he has left signs for us to follow."  The
spoor of five horses and the band of fugitives was deeply trodden ahead
of them, but to enhance it Althuda had blazed the bark from the trees
along his route.  They followed at the best of their speed, and from
the next ridge saw the tiny shapes of the five grey horses crossing a
stretch of open ground two or three miles ahead.  Hal could even make
out Sukeena's small figure perched on the back of the leading horse.
The silver colour of the horses made them stand out like mirrors in the
dark, surrounding bush, and he murmured, "They are beautiful animals,
but they draw the eye of an enemy."

"In the traces of a gentleman's carriage there could be no finer,"
Aboli agreed, "but in the mountains they would flounder.  We must
abandon them when we reach the rough ground, or else they will break
their lovely legs in the rocks and crevices."

"Leave them for the Dutch?"  Hal asked.  "Why not a musket ball to end
their suffering?"

"Because they are beautiful, and because I love them like my children,"
said Aboli softly, reaching up and patting the animal's neck.  The grey
mare rolled an eye at him and whickered softly, returning his
affection.

Hal laughed, "She loves you also, Aboli.  For your sake we will spare
them."

They plunged down the next slope and struggled up the far side.  The
ground grew steeper at each pace and the mountain crests seemed to hang
suspended above their heads.  At the top they paused again to let the
mare blow, and looked ahead.

"It seems Althuda is aiming for that dark gorge dead ahead."  Hal
shaded his eyes.  "Can you see them?"

"No," Aboli grunted.  "They are hidden by the folds of the foothills
and the trees."  Then he looked back again.  "But look behind you,
Gundwane!"

Hal turned and stared where he pointed, and exclaimed as though he were
in pain.  "How can they have come so quickly?  They are gaining on us
as though we were standing still."

The column of running green-jackets was swarming over the ridge behind
them like soldier ants from a disturbed nest.  Hal could count their
numbers easily and pick out the white officers.  The mid-afternoon
sunlight flashed from their bayonets and Hal could hear their faint but
jubilant cries as they viewed their quarry so close ahead.

"There is Schreuder!"  Hal exclaimed bitterly.  "By God, that man is a
monster.  Is there no means of stopping him?"  The dismounted colonel
was trotting along near the rear of the long, spread-out column but, as
Hal watched him, he passed the man ahead of him on the path.  "He runs
faster than his own Hottentots.  If we linger here another minute, he
will be up to us before we reach the mouth of the dark gorge."

The ground ahead rose up so steeply that the horse could not take it
straight up, and the path began to zigzag across the slope.  There was
another joyous cry from below, like the halloo of the fox hunter, and
they saw their pursuers strung out over a mile or more of the track.
The leaders were much closer now.

"Long musket shot," Hal hazarded, and as he said it one of the leading
soldiers dropped to his knee behind a rock and took deliberate aim
before he fired.  They saw the puff of muzzle smoke long before they
heard the dull pop of the shot.  The ball struck a blue chip off a rock
fifty feet below where they stood.  "Still too far.  Let them waste
their powder."

The grey mare leaped upwards over the rocky steps in the path, much
surer on her feet than Hal could have hoped.  Then they reached the
outer bend in the wide dogleg and started back across the slope.  Now
they were approaching their pursuers at an oblique angle, and the gap
between them narrowed even faster.

The men on the path below welcomed them with joyous shouts.  They flung
themselves down to rest, to steady their pounding hearts and shaking
hands.  Hal could see them checking the priming in the pans of their
muskets and lighting their slow-match, preparing themselves to make the
shot as the grey mare and her rider came within fair musket range.

"Satan's breathP Hal muttered.  "This is like sailing into an enemy
broadsideP But there was nowhere to run or hide, and they laboured.  on
up the path.

Hal could see Schreuder now.  he had worked his way steadily towards
the head of the column and was staring up at them.  Even at this range
Hal could see that he had driven himself far beyond his natural
strength.  his face was drawn and haggard, his uniform torn, filthy,
soaked with sweat, and blood from a dozen scratches and abrasions.  He
heaved and strained for breath, but his sunken eyes burned with
malevolence.  He did not have the strength to shout or to shake a
weapon but he watched Hal implacably.

One of the green-jackets fired and they heard the ball hum close over
their heads.  Aboli was urging on the mare at her best pace over the
steep, broken path, but they would be within musket range for many more
minutes.  Now a ripple of fire ran along the line of soldiers along the
path below.  Musket balls thudded among the rocks around them, some
flattening into shiny discs where they struck.  Others sprayed chips of
stone down upon them, or whined away in ricochet across the valley.

Unscathed, the grey mare reached the outward leg of the path and
started back.  Now the range was longer and most of the Hottentot
infantrymen jumped to their feet and took up the pursuit.  One or two
started directly up the slope, attempting to cut the corner, but the
hillside proved too sheer for even their nimble feet.  They gave up,
slid back to the angled pathway and hurried after their companions
along the gentler but longer route.

A few soldiers remained kneeling in the path, and reloaded, stabbing
the ramrods frantically down the muzzles of their muskets, then pouring
black powder into the pan.  Schreuder had watched the fusillade,
leaning heavily against a rock while his pounding heart and laboured
breathing slowed.  Now he pushed himself upright and seized a reloaded
musket from one of his Hottentots, elbowing the other man aside.

"We are beyond musket shot!"  Hal protested.  "Why does he persist?"

"Because he is mad with hatred for you," Aboli replied.  "The devil
gives him strength to carry on."

Swiftly Schreuder stripped off his coat and bundled it over the rock,
making a cushion on which to rest the forestock of the musket.  He
looked down the barrel and picked up the pip of the foresight in the
notch of the backsight.  He settled' it for an instant on Hal's bobbing
head, then lifted it until he had a slice of blue sky showing beneath
it, compensating for the drop of the heavy lead ball when it reached
the limit of its carry.  In the same motion he swept the sight ahead of
the grey's straining head.

"He can never hope for a hit from there!"  Hal breathed, but at that
instant he saw the silver smoke bloom like a noxious flower on the
stern of the musket barrel.  Then he felt a mallet blow as the ball
ploughed into the ribs of the grey mare an inch from his knee.  Hal
heard the air driven from the horse's punctured lungs.  The brave
animal reeled backwards and went down on its haunches.  It tried to
recover its footing by rearing wildly, but instead threw itself off the
edge of the narrow path.  just in time, Aboli grabbed Hal's injured leg
and pulled him from its back.

Hal and Aboli sprawled together on the rocks and looked down.  The
horse rolled until it struck the bend in the pathway, where it came to
rest in a slide of small stones, loose earth and dust.  It lay with all
four legs kicking weakly in the air.  A resounding shout of triumph
went up from the pursuing soldiers, whose cries rang along the cliffs
and echoed through the gloomy depths of the dark gorge.

Hal crawled shakily to his feet, and quickly assessed their
circumstances.  Both he and Aboli still had their muskets slung over
their shoulders and their swords in their scabbards.  In addition they
each had a pair of pistols, a small powder horn and a bag containing
musket balls strapped around their waists.  But they had lost all
else.

Below them their pursuers had been given new heart by this reverse in
their fortunes and were clamouring like a pack of hounds with the smell
of the chase hot in their nostrils.  They came scrambling upwards.

"Leave your pistols and musket," Aboli ordered.  "Leave the powder horn
and sword also, or their weight will wear you down."

Hal shook his head.  "We will need them soon enough.  Lead the way on."
Aboli did not argue and went away at full stride.  Hal stayed close
behind him, forcing his injured leg to serve his purpose through the
pain and the quivering weakness that spread slowly up his thigh.

Aboli reached back to hand him up over the more formidable steps in the
pathway, but the incline became sharper as they laboured upwards and
began to work round the sheer buttress of rock that formed one of the
portals of the dark gorge.  Now, at every pace forward, they were
forced to step up onto the next level, as though they were on a
staircase, and were skirting the sheer wall that dropped into the
valley far below.  The pursuers, though still close, were out of sight
around the buttress.

"Are we sure this is the right path?"  Hal gasped, as they stopped for
a few seconds" rest on a broader step.

"Althuda is leaving sign for us still," Aboli assured him, and kicked
over the cairn of three small pebbles balanced upon each other which
had been erected prominently in the centre of the path.  "And so are my
grey horses."  He smiled as he pointed out a pile of shining wet balls
of dung a little further ahead.  Then he cocked his head.  "Listen!"

Now Hal could hear the voices of Schreuder's men.  They were closer
than they had been when last they had stopped.  They sounded as though
they were just round the corner of the buttress behind them.  Hal
looked at Aboli with dismay, and tried to balance on his good leg to
conceal the weakness of the other.  They could hear the clink of sword
on rock and the clatter of loose stones underfoot.  The soldiers"
voices were so clear and loud that Hal could distinguish their words,
and Schreuder's voice relentlessly urging his troops onwards.

"Now you will obey me, Gundwane!"said Aboli, and he leaned across and
snatched Hal's musket.  "You will go on at your best speed while I hold
them here for a while."  Hal was about to argue but Aboli looked hard
into his eyes.  "The longer you argue- the more danger you place me
in," he said.

Hal nodded.  "See you at the top of the gorge."  He clasped Aboli's arm
in a firm grip, then hobbled on alone.  As the path turned into the
main gorge, Hal looked back and saw that Aboli had taken shelter
crouching in the bend of the path, and that he had laid the two muskets
on the rock in front of him, close to his hand.

Hal turned the corner, looked up and saw the gorge open up above him
like a great gloomy funnel.  The sides were sheer rock walls and it was
roofed over by trees with tall thin stems that reached up for the
sunlight.  They were draped and festooned with lichens.  A small stream
came leaping down, in a series of pools and waterfalls, and the path
took to this stream bed and climbed up over water worn boulders.  Hal
dropped to his knees, plunged his face into the fir At pool and sucked
up water, choking and coughing in his greed.  As the water distended
his belly he felt strength flow back into his swollen, throbbing leg.

From the other side of the buttress behind him there came the thud of a
musket shot, then the thump of a ball striking flesh, followed
immediately by the scream of a man thrown into the abyss, a scream that
dwindled and faded as he fell away.  It was cut off abruptly as he
struck the rocks far below.  Aboli had made certain of his first shot,
and the pursuers would be thrown back in disarray.  It would take them
time to regroup and come on more cautiously, so he had won precious
minutes for Hal.

Hal scrambled to his feet, and launched himself up the stream bed.

Each of the huge, smooth boulders tested his injured leg to its
limit.

He grunted, groaned and dragged himself upward, listening at the same
time for the sounds of fighting behind him, but he heard nothing more
until he reached the next pool where he stopped in surprise.

Althuda had left the five grey horses tethered to a dead tree at the
water's edge.  When he looked beyond them to the next giant step in the
stream bed, Hal knew why they had been abandoned here.  They could no
longer follow this dizzy path.  The gorge was constricted into a narrow
throat high above his head and his own courage faltered as he surveyed
the perilous route that he had to follow.  But there was no other way,
for the gorge had turned into a trap from which there was no escape.
While he wavered, he heard from far below another musket shot and a
clamour of angry shouts.

"Aboli has taken another," he said aloud, and his own voice echoed
weirdly from the high walls of the gorge.  "Now both his muskets are
empty and he will have to run."  But Aboli had won this reprieve for
him, and he dared not squander it.  He drove himself at -the steep
path, dragging his wounded leg over glassy, water-polished rock, which
was slippery and treacherous with slimy green algae.

His heart pounding with exhaustion, and his fingernails ripped to the
quick, he crawled the last few feet upwards and reached the ledge in
the throat of the gorge.  Here he dropped flat on his belly and looked
back over the edge.  He saw Aboli coming up, leaping from rock to rock
without hesitation, a musket clutched in each hand, not even glancing
down to judge his footing on the treacherous boulders.

Hal looked up at the sky through the narrow opening of the gorge high
above his head, and saw that day was fading.  It would be dark soon,
and the tops of the trees were turning to gold in the last rays of
sunlight.

"This way!  "he shouted down to Aboli.

"Go on, Gundwane!"  Aboli shouted back.  "Do not wait for me.  They are
close behind!"

Hal turned and looked up the steep stream bed behind him.  For the next
two hundred paces it was in full view.  if he and Aboli tried to
continue the climb, then Schreuder and his men would reach this vantage
point while their backs were still exposed.  Before they could reach
the next shelter they would be- shot down by short-range musket fire.

We will have to make our stand here, he decided.  We must hold them
until nightfall, then try to slip away in the dark.  Quickly he
gathered loose rocks from the choked watercourse in which he hid and
stacked them along the lip of the ledge.  When he looked down he saw
that Aboli had reached the foot of the rock wall and was climbing
rapidly up towards him.

When Aboli was half-way up, and fully exposed, there was a shout from
further down the darkening gorge.  Through the gloom Hal made out the
shape of the first of their pursuers.  There came the flash and bang of
a musket shot, and Hal peered down anxiously but Aboli was uninjured
and still climbing fast.

Now the bottom of the gorge was swarming with men, and a fusillade of
shots set the echoes booming and crashing.  Hal picked out Schreuder
down there in the gloom.  his white face stood out among the darker
ones that surrounded him.

Aboli reached the top of the rock-wall, and Hal gave him a hand on to
the ledge.  "Why have you not gone on, Gundwane?"  he panted.

"No time for talking."  Hal snatched one of the muskets from him and
began to reload it.  "We have to hold them here until dark.  Reload!"

"Powder almost finished," Aboli replied.  "Only enough for a few more
shots."  As he spoke he was plying the ramrod.

"Then we must make every shot tell.  After that we will beat them back
with rocks."  Hal primed the pan of his musket.  "And when we have run
out of rocks to throw, we will take the steel to them."

Musket balls began to buzz and crack around their heads as the men
below opened up a sustained rolling volley.  Hal and Aboli were forced
to lie below the lip, every few seconds popping up their heads to take
a quick glance down the wall.

Schreuder was using most of his men to keep up the fusillade,
controlling them so that weapons were always loaded and ready to fire
at his command while others reloaded.  It seemed that he had chosen a
team of his strongest men to scale the wall, while his marksmen tried
to keep Hal and Aboli from defending themselves.

This first wave of a dozen or more climbers carrying only their swords
rushed forward and hurled themselves at the rock wall, scrambling
upwards.  Then, as soon as Hal and Aboli's heads appeared over the lip,
there came a thunderous volley of musket fire and the muzzle flashes
lit the gloom.

Hal ignored the balls that flew around and splashed against the rock
below him.  He thrust out the barrel of his musket and aimed down at
the nearest climber.  This was one of the white Dutch corporals, and
the range was pointblank.  Hal's ball struck him in the mouth, smashed
in his teeth and shattered his jawbone.  He lost his grip on the
slippery face, and fell backwards.  He crashed into the three men below
him, knocking them loose, and all four plummeted down to shatter on the
rocks below.

Aboli fired and sent another two green-jackets slithering downwards.
Then both he and Hal snatched up their pistols and fired again, then
again, clearing the wall of climbers, except for two men who clung
helplessly to a crevice half-way up the polished rock face.

Hal dropped the empty pistols and seized one of the boulders he had
placed at hand.  It filled his fist, and he hurled it down at the man
below him.  The green-jacket saw it coming, but could not avoid it.

He tried to tuck his head into his shoulders but the rock caught him on
the temple, his fingers opened and he fell.

"Good throw, Gundwane!"  Aboli applauded him.  "Your aim is improving."
He threw at the last man on the wall and hit him under the chin.  He
teetered for a moment, then lost his grip and plunged down.

"Reload!"  Hal snapped, and as he poured in powder he glanced at the
strip of sky above them.  "Will the night never come?"  he lamented,
and saw Schreuder send the next wave of climbers to rush the wall.
Darkness would not save them for, before they had reloaded the muskets,
the enemy soldiers were already half-way up.

They knelt on the lip and fired again, but this time their two shots
brought down only one of the attackers and the rest came on steadily.
Schreuder sent another wave of climbers to join them and the entire
wall seethed with dark figures.

"We cannot beat them all back," Hal said, with black despair in his.
heart.  "We must retreat back up the gorge."  But when he looked up at
the steep, boulder-strewn climb, his spirits quailed.

He flung down his musket and, with Aboli at his side, went at the
treacherous slope.  The first climbers came over the lip of the wall
and rushed, shouting, after them.

In the gathering darkness Hal and Aboli struggled upwards, turning when
the pursuers pressed them too closely to take them on with their blades
and drive them back just far enough to give them respite to go on
upwards.  But now more and still more green-jackets had reached the top
of the wall, and it was only a matter of minutes before they would be
overtaken and overwhelmed.  just ahead, Hal noticed a deep crevice in
the side wall of the gorge and thought that he and Aboli might take
shelter in its darkness.

He abandoned the idea, however, as he came level with it and saw how
shallow it was.  Schreuder would hunt them out of there like a ferret
driving out a couple of rabbits from a warren.

"Hal Courtney!"  a voice called from the dark crack in the rock.  He
peered into it and, in its depths, saw two men.  One was Althuda, who
had called him, and the other was a stranger, a bearded, older man
dressed in animal skins.  It was too dark to see his face clearly, but
when both he and Althuda beckoned urgently neither Hal nor Aboli
hesitated.  They threw themselves at the narrow opening and squeezed
in, between the two men already there.

"Get down!"  the stranger shouted in Hal's ear, and stood up with a
short-handled axe in his hand.  A soldier appeared in the opening of
the crevice and raised his sword to thrust at the four men crowded into
it, but Althuda threw up the pistol in his hand and shot him at close
range in the centre of his chest.

At the same time the bearded stranger raised the axe high then slashed
down with a powerful stroke.  Hal did not understand what he was doing,
until he saw that the man had severed a rope of plaited bark, thick as
a man's wrist and hairy.  The axe bit cleanly through the taut rope,
and as it parted the severed tail whipped away, as though impelled by
some immense force.  The end had been looped and knotted around a
sturdy wooden peg, driven into a crack in the stone.  The length of the
rope ran round the corner of the crevice, then stretched upwards to
some point lost in the gathering gloom higher up the steep gorge.

For a long minute nothing else happened, and Hal and Aboli stared at,
the other two in bewilderment.  Then there was a creaking and a
rustling from higher up the funnel of the gorge, a rumbling and a
crackling as though a sleeping giant had stirred.

"Sabah has triggered the rockfall!"  Althuda explained, and instantly
Hal understood.  He stared out into the gorge through the narrow
entrance to the crevice.  The rumbling became a gathering roar, and
above it he could hear the wild, terrified screams of green-jackets
caught full in the path of this avalanche.  For them there was neither
shelter nor escape.  The gorge was a death trap into which Althuda and
Sabah had lured them.

The roaring and grinding of rock rose in a deafening crescendo.  The
mountain seemed to tremble beneath them.  The screams of the soldiers
in its path were drowned, and suddenly a mighty river of racing
boulders came sweeping past the entrance to the crevice.  The light was
blotted out, and the air was filled with dust and powdered rock so that
the four men choked and gasped for breath.  Blinded and suffocating,
Hal lifted the tail of his ragged shirt and held it over his nose and
mouth, trying to filter the air so that he could breathe in the
tumultuous choking dust-storm thrown out by the tidal wave of rock and
flying stone that poured past.

The avalanche went on for a long time but gradually the stream of
moving rock dwindled to become a slow, intermittent slither and tumble
of the last few fragments.

At last silence, complete and oppressive, weighed down upon them, and
the dust settled to reveal the outline of the opening to their
shelter.

Aboli crawled out and balanced gingerly on the loose, unstable footing.
Hal crept out beside him and both peered down the gloomy gorge.  From
wall to wall, it had been scoured clean by the avalanche.  There was no
sound or trace of their pursuers, not a last despairing cry or dying
moan, not a shred of cloth or discarded weapon.  It was as though they
had never been.

Hal's injured leg could no longer bear his weight.  He staggered and
collapsed in the opening of the crevice.  The fever in his blood from
the festering wounds boiled up and filled his head with darkness and
heat.  He was aware of strong hands supporting him and then he lapsed
into unconsciousness.

Colonel Cornelius Schreuder waited for an hour in the antechamber of
the castle before Governor van de Velde condescended to see him.

When, eventually, he was summoned by an aide-decamp, he strode into the
Governor's audience chamber, but still van de Velde declined to
acknowledge his presence.  He went on signing the documents and
proclamations that Jacobus Hop laid before him, one at a time.

Schreuder was in full uniform, wearing all his decorations and stars.
His wig was freshly curled and powdered, and his moustaches were
dressed with beeswax into sharp spikes.  Down one side of his face
there were pink raw scars and scabs.

Van de Velde signed the last document and dismissed Hop with a wave of
his hand.  When the clerk had left and closed the doors behind him, van
de Velde picked up Schreuder's written report from the desk in front of
him as though it was a particularly revolting piece of excrement.

"So you lost almost forty men, Schreuder?"  he asked heavily.  "Not to
mention eight of the Company's finest horses."

"Thirty-four men, Schreuder corrected him, still standing stiffly to
attention.

"Almost forty!"  van de Velde repeated, with an expression of
repugnance.  "And eight horses.  The convicts and slaves you were
pursuing got clean away from you.  Hardly a famous victory, do you
agree, Colonel?"  Schreuder scowled furiously at the sculpted cornices
on the ceiling above the Governor's head.  "The security of the castle
is your responsibility, Schreuder.  The minding of the prisoners is
your responsibility.  The safety of my person and that of my wife is
also your responsibility.  Do you agree, Schreuder?"

"Yes, your excellency."  A nerve beneath Schreuder's eye began to
twitch.

"You allowed the prisoners to escape.  You allowed them to plunder the
Company's property.  You allowed them to do grievous damage to this
building with explosives.  Look at my windowsP Van de Velde pointed at
the empty casements from which the stained-glass panels had been
blown.

"I have estimates from the Company surveyor that place the damage at
over one hundred thousand guilders!"  He was working himself steadily
into a rage.  "A hundred thousand guilders!  Then, on top of that, you
allowed the prisoners to abduct my wife and myself and to place us in
mortal danger-" He had to break off to get his temper under control.
"Then you allowed almost forty of the Company's servants to be
murdered, including five white men!  What do you imagine will be the
reaction of the Council of Seventeen in Amsterdam when they receive my
full report detailing the depths of the dereliction of your duties,
hey?  What do you think they will say?  Answer me, you jumped-up
popinjay!  What do you think they will say?"  "They may be somewhat
displeased," Schreuder replied stiffly.

"Displeased?  Somewhat displeased?"  shrieked van de Velde, and fell
back in his chair, gasping for breath like a stranded fish.  When he
had recovered, he went on, "You will be the first to know whether or
not they are somewhat displeased, Schreuder.  I am sending you back to
Amsterdam in the deepest disgrace.  You will sail in three days" time
aboard the Weltevreden, which is anchored in the bay at this moment."

He pointed out through the empty windows at the cluster of ships lying
at anchor beyond the surf line.  "My report on the affair will go to
Amsterdam on the same ship, together with my condemnation of you in the
strongest possible terms.  You will stand before the Seventeen and make
your excuses to them in person."  He leered at the colonel gloatingly.
"Your military career is destroyed, Schreuder.  I suggest you consider
taking up the calling of whoremaster, a vocation for which you have
demonstrated considerable aptitude.  Goodbye, Colonel Schreuder.  I
doubt I shall have the pleasure of your company ever again."

Aching with the Governor's insults as though he had taken twenty lashes
of the cat, Schreuder strode out to the head of the staircase.  To give
himself time in which to regain his composure and his temper, he paused
to survey the damage that the explosion had inflicted on the buildings
surrounding the courtyard.  The armoury had been destroyed, blown into
a rubble heap.  The roof timbers of the north wing were shattered and
blackened by the fire that had followed the blast, but the outer walls
were intact and the other buildings only superficially damaged.

The sentries who once would have leapt to attention at his appearance
now delayed rendering him his honours, and when finally they tossed him
a lackadaisical salute, one accompanied it with an impudent grin.  In
the tiny community of the colony news spread swiftly, and clearly his
dishonourable discharge from the Company's service was already known to
the entire garrison.  Jacobus Hop must have taken pleasure in spreading
the news, Schreuder decided, and he rounded on the grinning sentry.
"Wipe that smirk off your ugly face or, by God, I will shave it off
with my sword."  The man sobered instantly and stared rigidly ahead.
However, as Schreuder crossed the courtyard, Manseer and the overseers
whispered together and smiled behind their fists.  Even some of the
recaptured prisoners, now wearing chains, who were repairing the damage
to the armoury stopped work to grin slyly at him.

Such humiliation was painfully hard for a man of his pride and
temperament to bear, and he tried to imagine how much worse it would
become when he returned to Holland and faced the Council of Seventeen.
His shame would be shouted in every tavern and port, in every garrison
and regiment, in the salons of all the great houses and mansions of
Amsterdam.  Van de Velde was correct.  he would become a pariah.

He strode out through-the gates and across the bridge of the moat.

He did not know where he was going, but he turned down towards the
foreshore and stood above the beach staring out to sea.  Slowly he
brought his turbulent emotions under some control, and began to look
for some escape from the scorn and the ridicule that he could not
bear.

I shall swallow the ball, he decided.  It's the only way open to me.
Then, almost instantly, his whole nature revolted against such a craven
course of action.  He remembered how he had despised one of his brother
officers in Batavia who, over the matter of a woman, had placed the
muzzle of a loaded pistol in his mouth and blown away the back of his
skull.  "It is the coward's way!"  Schreuder said aloud.  "And not for
me."

Yet he knew he could never obey van de Velde's orders to return home to
Holland.  But neither could he remain here at Good Hope, nor travel to
any Dutch possession anywhere upon this globe.  He was an outcast, and
he must find some other land where his shame was unknown.

Now his gaze focused on the cluster of shipping anchored out in Table
Bay.  There was the Weltevreden, upon which van de Velde wished to send
him back to face the Seventeen.  His eye moved on over the three other
Dutch vessels lying near it.  He would not sail on a Dutch ship but
there were only two foreign vessels.  One was a Portuguese slaver,
outward-bound for the markets of Zanzibar.  Even the thought of sailing
on a slaver was distasteful he could smell her from where he stood
above the beach.  The other ship was an English frigate and, by the
looks of her, newly launched and well found.  Her rigging was fresh and
her paintwork only lightly marred by the Atlantic gales.  She had the
look of a warship, but he had heard that she was privately owned and an
armed trader.  He could read her name on her transom.  the Golden
Bough.  She had fifteen gun ports down the side, which she presented to
him as she rode lightly at anchor, but he did not know whence she had
come nor whither she was bound.  However, he knew exactly where to find
this information so he settled his Hat firmly over his wig and struck
out along the shore, heading for the nearest of the insalubrious
cluster of hovels that served as brothels and gin halls to the
seafarers of the oceans.

Even at this hour of the morning the tavern was crowded, and the
windowless interior was dark and rank with tobacco smoke and the fumes
of cheap spirits and unwashed humanity.  The whores were mostly
Hottentots but there were one or two white women who had grown too old
and pox-ridden to work in even the ports of Rotterdam or St.  Pauli.
Somehow they had found ships to carry them southwards and had come
ashore, like rats, to eke out their last days in these squalid
surroundings before the French disease burned them out entirely.

His hand on the hilt of his sword, Schreuder cleared a small table for
himself with a sharp word and haughty state.  Once he was seated he
summoned one of the haggard serving wenches to bring him a tankard of
small beer.  "Which are the sailors from the Golden Bough?"  he asked,
and tossed a silver rix-dollar onto the filthy table top.  The trull
snatched up this largesse and dropped it down the front of her grubby
dress between her pendulous dugs before she jerked her head in the
direction of three seamen at a table in the far corner of the room.

"Take each of those gentlemen another chamber pot filled with whatever
foul piss you're serving them and tell them that I'm paying for it."

When he left the tavern half an hour later Schreuder knew where the
Golden Bough was heading, and the name and disposition of her captain.
He sauntered down to the beach and hired a skiff to row him out to the
frigate.

The anchor watch on board the Golden Bough spotted him as soon as he
left the beach, and could tell by his dress and deportment that he was
a man of consequence.  When Schreuder hailed the deck of the frigate
and asked for permission to come aboard, a stout, florid-faced Welsh
petty-officer gave him a cautious greeting at the entry port then led
him down to the stern cabin where Captain Christopher Llewellyn rose to
welcome him.  Once he was seated, he offered Schteuder a pewter pot of
porter.  He was obviously relieved to find that Schreuder spoke good
English.  Llewellyn soon accepted him as a gentleman and an equal,
relaxed and spoke easily and openly.

First they discussed the recent hostilities between their two
countries, and expressed themselves pleased that a satisfactory peace
had been concluded, then went on to speak about maritime trade in the
eastern oceans and the temporal powers and politics that governed the
regions of the East Indies and Further India.  These were highly
involved, and complicated by the rivalry between the European powers
whose traders and naval vessels were entering the Oriental seas in ever
greater numbers.

"There are also the religious conflicts that embroil the eastern
lands," Llewellyn remarked.  "My present voyage is in response to an
appeal by the Christian King of Ethiopia, the Prester John, for
military assistance in his war against the forces of Islam."

At the mention of war in the East Schreuder sat up a little straighter
in his chair.  He was a warrior, at the moment an unemployed warrior,
and war was his trade.  "I had not heard of this conflict.  Please tell
me more about it."

"The great Mogul has sent his fleet and an army under the command of
his younger brother, Sadiq Khan Jahan, to seize the countries that make
up the seaboard of the Great Horn of Africa from the Christian king."
Llewellyn broke off his explanation to ask, "Tell me, Colonel, do you
know much about the Islamic religion?"

Schreuder nodded.  "Yes, of course.  Many of the men I have commanded
over the last thirty years have been Muslims.  I speak Arabic and I
have made a study of Islam."

"You will know, then, that one of the precepts of this militant belief
is the hadj, the pilgrimage to the birthplace of the prophet at Mecca,
which is situated on the eastern shores of the Red Sea."

"Ah!"  Schreuder said.  "I can see where you are heading.  Any pilgrim
from the Great Mogul's realm in India would be forced to enter the Red
Sea by passing around the Great Horn of Africa.  This would bring the
two religions into confrontation in the region, am I correct in my
surmise?"

"Indeed, Colonel, I commend you on your grasp of the religious and
political implications.  That is precisely the excuse being used by the
Great Mogul to attack the Prester John.  Of course, the Arabs have been
trading with Africa since before the birth of either our Saviour, Jesus
Christ, or the prophet Muhammad.  From a foothold on Zanzibar island
they have been gradually extending their domination onto the mainland.
Now they are intent on the conquest and subjugation of the heartland of
Christian Ethiopia."

"And where, may I be so bold to ask, is your place in this conflict?"
Schreuder asked thoughtfully "I belong to a naval chivalric order, the
Knights of the Temple of the Order of St.  George and the Holy Grail,
committed to defend the Christian faith and the holy places of
Christendom.  We are the successors to the Knights Templar."

"I know of your order," Schreuder said, "and I am acquainted with
several of your brother knights.  The Earl of Cumbrae, for one."

"Ah!"  Llewellyn sniffed.  "He is not a prime example of our
membership."

"I have also met Sir Francis Courtney," Schreuder went on.

Llewellyn's enthusiasm was unfeigned.  "I know him well," he exclaimed.
"What a fine seaman and gentleman.  Do you know, by any chance, where I
might find Franky?  This religious war in the Great Horn would draw him
like a bee to honey.  His ship joined with mine would make a formidable
force."

"I am afraid that Sir Francis was a casualty of the recent war between
our two countries."  Schreuder phrased it diplomatically, and Llewellyn
looked distraught.

"I am saddened by that news."  He was silent for a while then roused
himself.  "To give you the answer to your question, Colonel Schreuder,
I am on my way to the Great Horn in response to the Prester's call for
assistance to repel the onslaught of Islam.  I intend sailing with the
tide this very evening."

"No doubt the Prester will be in need of military as well as naval
assistance?"  Schreuder asked abruptly.  He was trying to disguise the
excitement he felt.  This was a direct answer to his prayers, "Would
you look kindly upon my request for passage aboard your fine ship to
the theatre of war?  I, also, am determined to offer my services."

Llewellyn looked startled.  "A sudden decision, sir.  Do you not have
duties and obligations ashore?  Would it be possible for you to sail
with me at such short notice?"  indeed, Captain, your presence here in
Table Bay seems like a stroke of destiny.  I have this very day freed
myself from the obligations of which you speak.  It is almost as though
I had divine premonition of this call to duty.  I stand ready to answer
the call.  I would be pleased to pay for my passage, and that of the
lady who is to be my wife, in gold coin."

Llewellyn looked doubtful, scratched his beard and studied Schreuder
shrewdly.  "I have only one small cabin unoccupied, hardly fit
accommodation for persons of quality."

"I would pay ten English guineas for the privilege of sailing with
you," Schreuder said, and the captain's expression cleared.

"I should be honoured by your company, and that of your lady.  However,
I cannot delay my departure by a single hour.  I must sail with the
tide.  I will have a boat take you ashore and wait for you on the
beach."

As Schreuder was rowed away he was seething with excitement.  The
service of an oriental potentate in a religious war would surely offer
opportunities for martial glory and enrichment far beyond what he could
ever have expected in the service of the Dutch East India Company.  He
had been offered an escape from the threat of disgrace and ignominy.
After this war, he might still return to Holland laden with gold and
glory.  This was the tide of fortune he had waited for all his life
and, with the woman he loved beyond everything else at his side, he
would take that tide at the full.

As soon as the boat beached he sprang out and tossed a small silver
coin to the boatswain, "Wait for me!"  and strode off towards the
castle.  His servant was waiting in his quarters, and Schreuder gave
him instructions to pack all his possessions, have them carried down to
the foreshore and placed upon the Golden Bough's longboat.  It seemed
that the entire garrison must know already of his dismissal.  Even his
servant was not surprised by his orders, so none would think it odd
that he was moving out.

He shouted for his groom and ordered him to saddle his single remaining
horse.  While he waited for the horse to be brought round from the
stables, he stood before the small mirror in his dressing room and
rearranged his uniform, brushed out his wig and reshaped his
moustaches.  He felt a glow of excitement and a sense of release.  By
the time that the Governor realized that he and Katinka were gone, the
Golden Bough would be well out to sea and on course for the Orient.

He hurried down the stairs, out into the yard where the groom now held
his horse, and sprang into the saddle.  He was in great haste, anxious
to be away, and he pushed his mount to a gallop along the avenues
towards the Governor's residence.  His haste was not so great, however,
as to deprive him of all caution.  He did not ride up the front drive
through the lawns in front of the mansion, but took the side road
through the oak grove which was used by slaves and the suppliers of
firewood and provisions from the village.  He reined his horse in as
soon as he was close enough for its hoofbeats to be heard in the
residence, and walked the animal sedately into the stableyard behind
the kitchens.  As he dismounted a startled groom hurried out to take
the horse, and Schreuder skirted the kitchen wall, entering the gardens
through the small gate in the corner.

He looked about carefully for the gardeners were often working in this
part of the estate, but he saw no sign of them.  He walked across the
lawns, neither dawdling nor hurrying, and entered the residence through
the double doors that led into the library.  The long, book-lined room
was deserted.

Schreuder was well acquainted with the layout of the residence.  He had
visited Katinka often enough while her husband was about his duties in
the castle.  He went first to her reading room, which overlooked the
lawns and a distant vista of the bay and the blue Atlantic.  It was
Katinka's favourite retreat, but this noon she was not there.  A female
slave was on her knees in front of the bookshelves, taking down each
volume one at a time and polishing the leather bindings with a soft
cloth.  She looked up, startled, as Schreuder burst in upon her.

"Where is your mistress?"  he demanded, and when she gawked dumbly at
him he repeated, "Where is Mevrouw van de Velde?"

The slave girl scrambled to her feet in confusion.  "The mistress is in
her bedroom.  But she is not to be disturbed.  She is unwell.  She left
strict instructions."

Schreuder spun on his heel and went down the corridor.  Gently he tried
the handle of the door at the end of the passage, but it was locked
from within.  He exclaimed with impatience.  Time was wasting away, and
he knew Llewellyn would not hesitate to make good his threat to sail
without him when the tide turned.  He hurried back along the corridor
and stepped through the glazed doors out onto the long veranda.  He
went down to the windows that opened into the principal bedroom suite.
The windows to Katinka's closet were shuttered, and he raised his fist
to knock upon them but restrained himself.  He did not want to alert
the house slaves.  Instead he drew his sword, slipped the blade through
the gap in the shutters and lifted the latch on the inside.  He eased
open the shutter and stepped inside over the sill.

Katinka's perfume assailed his senses and, for an instant, he felt
giddy with his love and longing for her.  Then with a surge of joy, he
remembered that she would soon be his alone, the two of them voyaging
out, hand in hand, to make a new life and fortune together.  He crossed
the wooden floor, stepping lightly so as not to frighten her, and
gently drew aside the curtains from the door into the main bedroom.
Here, also, the shutters were closed and latched and the room was in
semi-darkness.  He paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light
and saw that the bed was in disarray.

Then, in the gloom, he made out the pearly sheen of her flawless white
skin among the tumbled bed linen  She was nude, her back turned to him,
her silver-gold hair cascading down to the cleft of her perfect
buttocks.  He felt a surge of lust, his loins engorged, and he was so
overcome with wanting her that for a moment he could not move, could
not even breathe.

Then she turned her head and looked straight at him.  Her eyes flew
wide and all the colour drained from her face.

"You despicable swine!"  she said softly.  "How dare you spy upon me?"
Her voice was low but filled with scorn and fury.  He recoiled in
astonishment.  She was his lover, and he could not understand that she
would speak to him thus, nor that she should look upon him with such
contempt and fury.  Then he saw that her naked breasts shone with the
soft dew of her own sweat, and that she was seated astride a supine
masculine form.  The man beneath her lay upon his back, and she was
impaled upon him, in the act of passion, riding him like a steed.

The man's body was muscular, white and hard, the body of a gladiator.
With one explosive movement Katinka sprang off him and spun to face
Schreuder.  As she stood beside the bed trembling with outrage her
inner thighs glistened with the overflow of her venery.

"What are you doing in my bedroom?"  she hissed at Schreuder.

Stupidly he answered, "I came to take you away with me."  But his eyes
went down to the man's body.  His pubic hair was wet and matted and his
sex thrust up towards the ceiling, thick and swollen and glistening,
with a shiny, viscous coating.  The man sat upright and looked straight
at Schreuder, with a flat yellow gaze.

A wave of unspeakable horror and revulsion swept over Schreuder.
Katinka, his love, had been rutting with Slow John, the executioner.

Katinka was speaking, but her words barely made sense to him.  "You
came to take me away?  What gave you the notion that I would go with
you, the Company clown, the laughing stock of the colony?  Get out of
here, you fool.  Go into obscurity and shame where you belong."

Slow John stood up from the bed.  "You heard her.  Get out or I shall
throw you out."  It was not the words but the fact that Slow John's
penis was still fully tumescent that turned Schreuder into a maniac.
His temper which, until now, he had been able to keep under restraint
boiled over and took control of him.  To the humiliation, insults and
rejection that had been heaped upon him all that day was added the
black rage of his jealousy.

Slow John stooped to the pile of his discarded clothing, which lay upon
the tiles beside the bed, and straightened up again with a pruning
knife in his right hand.  "I warn you," he said in that deep, melodious
voice, "leave now, at once."

With one fluid movement the Neptune sword sprang from its scabbard as
though it were a living thing.  Slow John was no warrior.  His victims
were always delivered to him trussed and chained.  He had never been
matched against a man like Schreuder.  He jumped forward, the knife
held low in front of him, but Schreuder flicked his own blade across
the inner side of Slow John's wrist, severing the sinews so that the
man's fingers opened involuntarily and the knife dropped to the
tiles.

Then Schreuder thrust for the heart.  Slow John had neither time nor
chance to evade the stroke.  The point took him in the centre of his
broad, hairless chest and the blade buried itself right up to the
jewelled pommel.  The two men stood, locked together by the weapon.
Gradually Slow John's sex wilted and hung white and flaccid.  His eyes
glazed over and turned opaque and sightless as yellow pebbles.  As he
sank to his knees, Katinka began to scream.

Schreuder plucked the blade from the executioner's chest.  Its
burnished length was dulled by his blood.  Katinka screamed again as a
feather of bright heart-blood stood out of the wound in Slow John's
chest, and he toppled headlong to the tiles.

"Don't scream," Schreuder snarled, with the black rage still upon him,
and advanced upon her with the sword in his hand.  "You have played me
false with this creature.  You knew I loved you.  I came to fetch you.
I wanted you to come away with me."  She backed away before him, both
fists clenched upon her cheeks, and screamed in high, ringing
hysteria.

"Don't scream," he shouted.  "Be quiet.  I cannot bear it when you do
that."  The dreadful sound, echoed in his head and made it ache, but
she retreated from him, her cries louder now, a terrible sound, and he
had to make her stop.

"Don't do that!"  He tried to catch hold of her wrist, but she was too
swift for him.  She twisted out of his grip.  Her screams grew even
louder, and his rage broke its bounds as though it were some terrible
black animal over which he had no control.  The sword in his hand flew
without his brain or his hand commanding it, and he stabbed her satiny
white belly, just above the golden nest of her mons vener is

Her screaru turned to a higher, agonized shriek and she clutched at the
blade as he jerked it from her flesh.  It cut her palms to the bone,
and he thrust again to quieten her, twice more in the belly.

"Quiet!"  he roared at her and she turned away and tried to run for the
doors of her closet, but he stabbed her in the back just above her
kidneys, pulled out the blade and thrust between her shoulders.  She
fell and rolled on her back, and he stood over her and stabbed and
hacked and thrust at her.  Each time the blade passed clean through her
body and struck the tiles on which she squirmed.

"Keep quiet!"  he yelled, and kept on stabbing until her screams and
sobs died away.  Even then he continued to thrust at her, standing in
the spreading pool of her blood, his uniform drenched with gouts of
scarlet, his face and arms splashed and speckled so that he looked like
a plague victim covered with the rash of the disease.

Then, slowly, the black rage drained from his brain, and he staggered
back against the wall, leaving daubs of her blood across the
whitewash.

"Katinka!"  he whispered.  "I did not mean to hurt you.  I love you
so."

She lay in the wide deep pool of her own blood.  The wounds were like a
choir of red mouths on her white skin.  The blood still trickled from
each of them.  He had not dreamed there could be so much blood in that
slim white body.  Her head lay in a scarlet puddle, and her hair was
soaked red.  Her face was daubed thickly with it.  Her features were
twisted into a rictus of terror and agony that was no longer lovely to
look upon.

"Katinka, my darling.  Please forgive me."  He started across the floor
towards her, stepping through the river of her blood that spread across
the tiles.  Then he stopped with the sword in his hand as, in the
mirror across the room, he glimpsed a wild blood-smeared apparition
staring back at him.

"Oh, sweet Mary, what have I done?"  He tore his eyes from the creature
in the Mirror, and knelt beside the body of the woman he loved.  He
tried to lift her, but she was limp and boneless.  She slid out of his
embrace, and flopped into the puddle of her own blood.

He stood again and backed away from her.  "I did not mean you to die.
You made me angry.  I loved you, but you were unfaithful."

Again he saw his own reflection in the mirror, "Oh sweet God, the
blood.  There is so much."  He wiped, with sticky hands, at the mess of
crimson that covered his jacket, then at his face, spreading the blood
into a scarlet carnival mask.

For the first time he thought of flight, of the boat waiting for him on
the beach and the frigate lying out in the bay.  "I cannot ride through
the colony like this!  I cannot go aboard like this!"

He staggered across the room to the door of the Governor's dressing
room.  He stripped off his sodden jacket and threw it from him.  A
pitcher of water was standing in a basin on the cabinet and he plunged
his gory hands into it and sloshed it over his face.  He seized the
washcloth from its hook and soaked it in the pink water, then scrubbed
at his arms and the front of his breeches.

"So much blood!"  he kept repeating, as he wiped then rinsed the cloth
and wiped again.  He found a pile of clean white shirts on one of the
shelves, and pulled one on over his damp chest.  Van de Velde was a big
man, and it fitted him well enough.  He looked down and saw that the
bloodstains were not so obvious on the dark serge of his breeches.  His
wig was stained so he pulled it off and flung it against the far wall.
He chose another from the row set on blocks along the back wall.

He found a woollen cloak that covered him from shoulders to calves.  He
spent a minute cleaning the blade and the sapphire of the Neptune
sword, then thrust it back into its scabbard.  When he looked again in
the mirror he saw that his appearance would no longer shock or alarm.
Then a thought struck him.  He picked up his soiled jacket and ripped
the stars and decorations from the lapels.  He wrapped them in a clean
neck cloth he found on one of the shelves and stuffed them into the
inner pocket of the woollen cloak.

He paused on the threshold of the Governor's dressing room and looked
for the last time at the body of the woman he loved.  Her blood was
still moving softly across the tiles, like a fat, lazy adder.  As he
watched, it reached the edge of the smaller puddle in which Slow John
lay.  Their blood ran together, and Schreuder felt a deep sense of
sacrilege that the pure should mingle thus with the base.

"I did not want this to happen, "he said hopelessly.  "I am so sorry,
my darling.  I wanted you to come with me."  He trod carefully over the
rill of blood, went to the shuttered window and stepped out onto the
veranda.  He gathered the cloak around his shoulders and strode through
the gardens to the small door in the stableyard.  where he shouted for
the groom, who hurried up with his horse.

Schreuder rode down the avenue and crossed the Parade, looking straight
ahead.  The longboat was still on the beach and as he rode up the
boatswain called to him, "We was just about to give you up, Colonel.
The Golden Bough is shortening her anchor cable and manning her
yards."

As he climbed to the deck of the frigate, Captain Llewellyn and his
crew were so absorbed by the business of weighing anchor and getting
the ship under sail that they paid him little heed.  A midshipman
showed him down to his small cabin, then hurried away leaving him
alone.  His travel chests had been brought aboard and were stowed under
the narrow bunk.  Schreuder stripped off all his soiled dress and found
a clean uniform in one of his chests.  Before donning it, he placed the
stars and orders upon its lapels.  His blood-smeared clothing he tied
in a bundle, then looked around for something to weight it.  Obviously
the thin wooden bulkheads would be struck when the frigate was cleared
for action, and his cabin would form part of the ship's gundeck.  A
culverin filled most of the available deck space.  Beside the weapon
was heaped a pyramid of iron cannonballs.  He stuffed one into the
bundle of bloodsoaked clothing and waited until he felt the ship come
on the wind and thrust out into the bay.

Then he opened the gun port a crack, and dropped the bundle through it
into fifty fathoms of green water.  When he went up on deck they were
already a league offshore and running out strongly on the sou'easter to
make their offing before coming about to round the cape.

Schreuder stared back at the land and made out the roof of the
Governor's mansion among the trees at the base of the great mountain.
He wondered if they had yet discovered Katinka's body, or whether she
still lay joined in death to her base lover.  He stood there at the
stern rail until the great massif of Table Mountain was only a distant
blue silhouette against the evening sky.

"Farewell, my darling," he whispered.

It was only when he lay sleepless in his hard bunk at midnight that the
enormity of his situation began to dawn upon him.  His guilt was
manifest.  Every ship that left Table Bay would carry the tidings
across the oceans and to every port in the civilized world.  From this
day forward he was a fugitive and an outlaw.

Hal woke to a sense of peace such as he had seldom known before.  He
lay with his eyes AH shut too lazy and weak to open them.  He realized
that he was warm and dry and lying on a comfortable mattress.  He
expected the dungeon stench to assail him, the mouldy odour of damp,
rotting straw, the latrine bucket and the smell of men who had not
bathed for a twelve-month -crowded together in a fetid hole in the
earth.  Instead he smelled fresh woodsmoke, perfumed and sweet, the
scent of burning cedar faggots.

Suddenly the memories came flooding back, and, with a great lift of the
spirits, he remembered their escape, that he was no longer a prisoner.
He lay and savoured that knowledge.  There were other smells and
sounds.  It amused him to try to recognize them without opening his
eyes.  There was the smell of the newly cut grass mattress on which he
lay and the fur blanket that covered him, the aroma of meat grilling on
the coals and another tantalizing fragrance that he could not place.
It was a mingling of wild flowers and a warm kittenish musk that roused
him strangely and added to his sense of well-being.

He opened his eyes slowly and cautiously, and was dazzled by the strong
mountain light through the opening of the shelter in which he lay.  He
looked around and saw that it must have been built into the side of the
mountain, for half the walls were of smooth rock and the sides nearest
the opening were built of interwoven saplings daubed with red clay. The
roof was thatch.  Clay pots and crudely fashioned tools and implements
were stacked against the inner wall.  A bow and quiver hung from a peg
near the door.  Beside them hung his sword and pistols.

He lay and listened to the burble of a mountain stream, and then he
heard a woman's laughter, merrier and more lovely than the tinkle of
water.  He raised himself slowly on one elbow, shocked by the effort it
required, and tried to look through the doorway.  The sound of an
infant's laughter mingled with that of the woman.  Through all his long
captivity he had heard nothing to equal it, and he could not help but
chuckle with delight.

The sound of feminine laughter ceased and there was a quick movement
outside the hut.  A lissom ga mine figure appeared in the opening,
backlit by the sunshine so that she was only a lovely silhouette.
Though he could not see her face, he knew straight away who it was.

"Good morrow, Gundwane, you have slept long, but did you sleep well?"
Sukeena asked shyly.  She had the infant on her hip and her hair was
loose, hanging in a dark veil to her waist.  "This is my nephew,
Bobby."  She joggled the baby on her hip and he gurgled with delight.

"How long did I sleep?"  Hal asked, beginning to rise, but she passed
the baby to someone outside, and came quickly to kneel beside the
mattress.  She restrained him with a small warm hand on his naked
chest.

"Gently, Gundwane.  You have been in fever sleep for many days."  " I'm
well again now," he said, and then recognized the mysterious perfume he
had noticed earlier.  It was her woman smell, the flowers in her hair
and the soft warmth of her skin.

"Not yet," she contradicted him, and he let her ease his head back onto
the mattress.  He was staring at her and she smiled without
embarrassment.

"I have never seen anything so beautiful as you, he said, then reached
up and touched his own cheek.  "My beard?"

"It is gone."  She laughed, sitting back with her legs curled under
her.  "I stole a razor from the fat Governor especially for the task."
She cocked her head on one side and studied him.  "With the beard gone,
you also are beautiful, Gundwane."

She blushed slightly as she realized the import of her words, and Hal
watched in delight as the red-gold suffused her cheeks.  She turned her
full attention to his injured leg, drew back the fur blanket to expose
it and unwound the bandage.

"Ah!"  she murmured, as she touched it lightly.  "It heals marvellously
well with a little help from my medicines.  You have been fortunate.
The bite from the fangs of a hound is always poisonous, and then the
abuse to which you put the limb during our flight might have killed you
or crippled you for the rest of your life."

Hal smiled at her strictures as he lay back comfortably and surrendered
himself to her hands.

"Are you hungry?"  she asked, as she retied the dressing over his
wound.  At that question Hal realized that he was ravenous.  She
brought him the carcass of a wild partridge, grilled on the coals, and
sat opposite him, watching with a proprietary air as he ate and then
sucked the bones clean.

"You will soon be strong again."  She smiled.  "You eat like a lion."
She gathered up the scraps of his meal, then stood up.  "Aboli and your
other seamen have been pleading with me for a chance to come to you.  I
will call them now."

"Wait!"  He stopped her.  He wished that this intimate time alone with
her would not end so soon.  She sank down beside him once more and
watched his face expectantly.

"I have not thanked you," he said lamely.  "Without your care, I would
probably have died of the fever."

She smiled softly and said, "I have not thanked you either.  Without
you, I would still be a slave."  For a time they looked at each other
without speaking, openly examining each other's face in detail.

Then Hal asked, "Where are we, Sukeena?"  He made a gesture that took
in their surroundings.  "This hut?"

"It is Sabah's.  He has lent it to us.  To you and me, and he has gone
to live with the others of his band."

"So we are in the mountains at last?"

"Deep in the mountains."  She nodded.  "At a place that has no name. In
a place where the Dutch can never find US."

"I want to see," he said.  For a moment she looked dubious, then
nodded.  She helped him to stand and offered her shoulder to support
him as he hopped to the opening in the thatched shelter.

He sank down and leaned against the doorpost of rough cedar wood.
Sukeena sat close beside him as he gazed about.  For a long time
neither spoke.  Hal breathed deeply of the crisp, high air that smelled
and tasted of the wild flowers that grew in such profusion about
them.

"Tis a vision of paradise, he said at last.  The peaks that surrounded
them were wild and splendid.  The cliffs and gorges were painted with
lichens that were all the colours of the artist's palette.

The late sunlight fell full upon the mountain tops across the deep
valley and crowned them with a golden radiance.  The long shadow thrown
by the peak behind them was royal purple.  The water of the stream
below was clear as the air they breathed, and Hal could see the fish
lying like long shadows on the yellow sandbanks, fanning their dark
tails to keep their heads into the current.

"It is strange, I have never seen this place nor any like it, and yet I
feel as though I know it well.  I feel a sense of homecoming, as though
I was waiting to return here."

"Tis not strange, Henry Courtney.  I also was waiting."  She turned her
head and looked deep into his eyes.  "I was waiting for you.

I knew you would come.  The stars told me.  That day I first saw you on
the Parade outside the castle, I recognized you as the one."

There was so much to ponder in that simple declaration that he was
silent again for a long while, watching her face.  "My father was also
an adept.  He was able to read the stars, he said.

"Aboli told me."

"So you, too, can divine the future from the stars, Sukeena."

She did not deny it.  "My mother taught me many skills.  I was able to
see you from afar."

He accepted her statement without question.  "So you must know what is
to become of us, you and me?"

She smiled, and there was a mischievous gleam in her eye.  She slipped
a slim arm through his.  "I would not have to be a great sage to know
that, Gundwane.  But there is much else that I am able to tell of what
lies ahead."

"Tell me, then," he ordered, but she smiled again and shook her head.
"There will be time later.  We will have much time to talk while your
leg heals and you grow strong again."  She stood up.  "But now I will
fetch the others, I cannot deny them any longer."

They came immediately, but Aboli was the first to arrive.  He greeted
Hal in the language of the forests.  "I see you well, Gundwane.

I thought you would sleep for ever."

"Without your help, I might indeed have done so."

Then Big Daniel and Ned and the others came to touch their foreheads
and mumble their self-conscious greetings and squat in a semi-circle in
front of him.  They were not much given to expressing their emotions in
words, but what he saw in their eyes when they looked at him warmed and
fortified him.

"This is Sabah, whom you already know."  Althuda led him forward.

"Well met, Sabah!"  Hal seized his hand.  "I have never been happier to
see another man than I was that night in the Gorge."

"I would have liked to come to your aid much sooner," Sabah replied in
Dutch, "but we are few and the enemy were as numerous as ticks on an
antelope's belly in spring."  Sabah sat down in the ring of men and,
with an apologetic air, began to explain.  "The fates have not been
kind to us here in the mountains.  We did not have the services of a
physician such as Sukeena We who were once nineteen are now only eight
and two of those a woman and an infant.  I knew we could not help you
fight out in the open, for in hunting for food we have used up all our
gunpowder.  However, we knew Althuda would bring you up Dark Gorge.

We built the rockfall knowing that the Dutch would follow you."

"You did the brave and wise thing," Hal said.

Althuda brought his woman out of the gathering darkness.  She was a
pretty girl, small and darker-skinned than he was, but Hal could not
doubt that Althuda was the father of the boy on her hip.

"This is Zwaantie, my wife, and this is my son, Bobby."  Hal held out
his hands and Zwaantie handed him the child.  He held Bobby in his lap,
and the little boy regarded him with huge solemn black eyes.

"He is a likely lad, and strong, Hal said, and father and mother smiled
proudly.

Zwaantie lifted the infant and strapped him on her back.  Then she and
Sukeena built up the fire and began to cook the evening meal of wild
game and the fruits of the mountain forests, while the men talked
quietly and seriously.

First Sabah explained their circumstances, addressing himself directly
to Hal, enlarging on the brief report he had already given.  Hal soon
understood that, despite the beauty of their surroundings now in the
summertime and the seeming abundance of the meal that the women were
preparing, the mountains were not always as hospitable.  During winter
the snows lay thick even in the valleys and game was scarce.  However,
they dared not move down to lower altitudes where they would be seen by
the Hottentot tribes and their whereabouts reported to the Dutch at
Good Hope.

"The winters here are fierce," Sabah summed up.  "If we stay here for
another, then few of us will be left alive this time next year."
During their captivity Hal's seamen had garnered enough knowledge of
the Dutch language to enable them to follow what Sabah had to say, and
when he had finished speaking they were all silent and stared glumly
into the fire, munching disconsolately on the food the women brought to
them.

Then, one at a time, their heads turned towards Hal.  Big Daniel spoke
for them all when he asked, "What are we going to do now, Sir Henry?"

"Are you seamen or mountaineers?"  Hal answered his question with a
question, and some of the men chuckled.  "We were born in Davey Jones's
locker and we were all of us given salt water for blood," Ned Tyler
answered.

"Then I will have to take you down to the sea and find you a ship,
won't I?"" said Hal.  They looked confused but some chuckled again,
though halfheartedly.

"Master Daniel, I want a manifest of all the weapons, powder and other
stores that we were able to bring with us, Hal said briskly.

"There weren't much of anything, Captain.  Once we left the horses we
had just about enough strength left to get ourselves up the
mountains."

"Powder?"  Hal demanded.

"Only what we had in our flasks."

"When you went on ahead, you had two full kegs on the horses."

"Those kegs weighed fifty pounds apiece."  Daniel looked ashamed.  "Too
much cargo for us to haul."

"I have seen you carry twice that weight."  Hal was angry and
disappointed.  Without a store of powder they were at the mercy of this
wild terrain, and the beasts and tribes that infested it.

"Daniel carried my saddle-bags up Dark Gorge."  Sukeena intervened
softly.  "No one else could do it."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Daniel muttered.

But Sukeena supported him fiercely.  "There is not a thing in my bags
that we could do without.  That includes the medicines that saved your
leg and will save every one of us from the hurts and pestilences that
we will meet here in the wilderness."

"Thank you, Princess," Daniel murmured, and looked at her like an
affectionate hound.  If he had possessed a tail Hal knew he would have
wagged it.

Hal smiled and clapped Daniel's shoulder.  "I find no fault with what
you did, Big Danny.  There is no man alive who could have done
better."

They all relaxed and smiled.  Then Ned asked, "Were you serious when
you promised us a ship, Captain?"  Sukeena stood up from the fire.

"That's enough for tonight.  He must regain his strength before you
plague him further.  You must go now.  You may come again tomorrow."
One at a time they came to Hal, shook his hand and mumbled something
incoherent, then wandered off through the darkness towards the other
huts spread out along the valley floor.  When the last had gone Sukeena
threw another cedar log on the fire then came and sat close beside
him.

In a natural, possessive manner, Hal placed his arm around her
shoulders.  She leaned her slim body against him and fitted her head
into the notch of his shoulder.  She sighed, a sweet, contented sound,
and neither spoke for a while.

"I want to stay here at your side like this for ever, but the stars may
not allow it," she whispered.  "The season of our love may be short as
a winter day."

"Don't say that," Hal commanded.  "Never say that."

They both looked up at the stars, and here, in the high thin air, they
were so brilliant that they lit the heavens with the luminescence of
the mother-of pearl that lines the inside of an abalone shell taken
fresh from the sea.  Hal looked upon them with awe and considered what
she had said.  He felt a sense of hopelessness and sadness come upon
him.  He shivered.

Immediately she sat up straight and said softly, "You grow cold.  Come,
Gundwane!"

She helped him to his feet and led him into the hut, to the mattress
against the far wall.  She laid him upon it and then lit the wick of
the small clay oil lamp and placed it on a shelf in the rock wall.  She
went to the fire and lifted off the clay pot of water that stood on the
edge of the coals.  She poured steaming water into an empty dish and
mixed in cold water from the pot beside the door until the temperature
suited her.

Her movements were unhurried and calm.  Propped on one elbow, Hal
watched her.  She placed the dish of warm water in the centre of the
floor then poured a few drops from a glass vial into it and stirred it
again with her hand.  He smelt its light, subtle perfume on the waft of
steam.

She rose, went to the doorway and closed the animals king curtain over
the opening, then came back and stood beside the dish of scented water.
She removed the wild flowers from her hair and tossed them onto the fur
blanket at Hal's feet.  Without looking at him, she let down the coils
of her hair and combed them out until they shimmered like a wave of
obsidian.  She began to sing in her own language as she combed, a
lullaby or a love song, Hal could not be certain.  Her voice was
mellifluous, it soothed and delighted him.

She laid aside her comb, and let the shift slip from her shoulders. Her
skin gleamed in the yellow lamplight and her breasts were pert as small
golden pears.  When she turned her back to him Hal felt deprived that
they were hidden from his sight.  Her song changed now it had a lilt of
joy and excitement in it.

"What is it you sing?"  Hal asked.

Sukeena smiled at him over her bare shoulder.  "It is the wedding song
of my mother's people," she answered.  "The bride is saying that she is
happy and that she loves her husband with the eternal strength of the
ocean, and the patience of the shining stars."

"I have never heard anything so pleasing," Hal whispered.

With slow voluptuous movements, she unwrapped the sarong from around
her waist and threw it aside.  Her buttocks were small and neat, the
deep cleft dividing them into perfect ovals.  She squatted down beside
the dish to soak a small cloth in the scented water and began to bathe
herself.  She started at her shoulders and washed each arm down to her
long tapered fingertips.  There were silky clusters of black curls in
her armpits.

Hal realized that it was a ritual bath she was performing, part of some
ceremony she was enacting before him.  He watched avidly each move she
made, and every now and then she looked up and smiled at him shyly.

The soft hairs behind her ears were damp from the cloth, and water
droplets gleamed on her cheeks and upper lip.

She stood at last and turned slowly to face him.  Once he had thought
her body boyish, but now he saw that it was so feminine that his heart
swelled hard with desire for her.  Her belly was flat but smooth as
butter, and at its base was a triangle of dark fur, soft as a sleeping
kitten.

She stepped away from the dish and dried herself on the cotton shift
she had discarded.  Then she went to the oil lamp, cupped one hand
around the wick and leaned towards it as if to snuff out the flame.

"No!"  said Hal.  "Leave the light.  I want to look at you."  At last
she came to him, gliding across the stone floor on small bare feet,
crept onto the bed beside him, into his arms, and folded her body
against his.  She held her lips to his mouth.  Hers were soft and wet
and warm, and her breath mingled with his, and smelled of the wild
flowers she had worn in her hair.

"I have waited all my life for you, " she whispered into his mouth.

He whispered back, "It was too long to wait, but I am here at last."

In the morning she proudly displayed the treasures she had brought for
him in her saddle-bags.  She had somehow procured everything he had
asked for in the notes he had left for Aboli in the wall of the
castle.

He snatched up the charts.  "Where did you get these from, Sukeena?"he
demanded, and she was delighted to see how much value he placed upon
them.

"I have many friends in the colony," she explained.  "Even some of the
whores from the taverns came to me to treat their ailments.  Doctor
Soar kills more of his patients than he saves.  Some of the tavern
ladies go aboard the ships in the bay to do their business, and come
back with divers things, not all of them gifts from the seamen."  She
laughed merrily.  "If something is not bolted to the deck of the
galleon they think it belongs to them.  When I asked for charts these
are what they brought me.  Are they what you wanted, Gundwane?"

"These are more than I ever hoped for, Sukeena This one is valuable and
so is this."  The charts were obviously some navigator's treasures,
highly detailed and covered with notations and observations in a
well-formed, educated hand.  They showed the coasts of southern Africa
in wondrous detail, and from his own knowledge he could see how
accurate they were.  To his amazement the location of Elephant Lagoon
was marked on one, the first time he had ever seen it shown on any
chart other than his father's.  The position was accurate to within a
few minutes of angle, and in the margin there was a sketch of the
landfall and seaward elevation of the heads, which he recognized
instantly as having been drawn from observation.

Although the coast and the immediate littoral were accurately recorded,
the interior, as usual, had been left blank or filled with conjecture,
apocryphal lakes and mountains that no eye had ever beheld.

The outline of the mountains in which they were now sequestered was
sketched in, as though the cartographer had observed them from the
colony of Good Hope or from sailing into False Bay and had guessed
their shape and extent.  Somewhere, somehow, Sukeena had found him a
Dutch mariners" almanac to go with the charts.  It had been published
in Amsterdam and listed the movements of the heaVenly bodies until the
end of the decade.

Hal laid aside these precious documents and took up the backstaff
Sukeena had found.  It was a collapsible model whose separate parts
fitted into a small leather case, the interior of which was lined with
blue velvet.  The instrument itself was of extraordinarily fine
workmanship.  the bronze quadrant, decorated with embodiments of the
four winds, needles and screws were all engraved and worked in pleasing
artistic shapes and classical figures.  A tiny bronze plaque inside the
lid of the case was engraved "Cellini.  Venezia'.

The compass she had brought was contained in a sturdy leather case, the
body was brass and the magnetic needle was tipped with gold and ivory,
so finely.  balanced that it swung unerringly into.  the north as he
rotated the case slowly in his hand.

"These are worth twenty pounds at least!"  Hal marvelled.  "You're a
magician to have conjured them up."  He took her hand and led her
outside, not limping as awkwardly as he had on the previous day.
Seated side by side on the mountain slope he showed her how to observe
the noon passage of the sun and to mark their position on one of the
charts.  She delighted in the pleasure she had given him, and impressed
him with her immediate grasp of the esoteric arts of navigation.  Then
he remembered that she was an astrologer, and that she understood the
heavens.

With these instruments in his hands, he could move with authority
through this savage wilderness, and his dream of finding a ship began
to seem less forlorn than it had only a day before.  He drew her to his
chest, kissed her, and she merged herself tenderly to him.  "That kiss
is better reward than the twenty pounds of which you spoke, my
captain."

"If one kiss is worth twenty pounds, then I have aught for you that
must be worth five hundred," he said, laid her back in the grass and
made love to her.  A long time later she smiled up at him and
whispered, "That was worth all the gold in this world."

When they returned to the encampment they found that Daniel had
assembled all the weapons, and that Aboli was polishing the sword
blades and sharpening the edges with a fine-grained stone he had picked
from the stream bed.

Hal went carefully over the collection.  There were cutlasses enough to
arm every man, and pistols too.  However, there were only five muskets,
all standard Dutch military models, heavy and robust.  Their lack was
in powder, slow-match and lead ball.  They could always use pebbles as
missiles, but there was no substitute for black powder They had less
than five pounds weight of this precious substance in the flasks, not
enough for twenty discharges.

"Without powder, we can no longer kill the larger game," Sabah told
Hal.  "We eat partridges and dassies."  He used the diminutive of the
Dutch name for badger, dasc, to describe the fluffy, rabbity creatures
that swarmed in the caves and crevices of every cliff.  Hal thought he
recognized them as the coneys of the Bible.

The urine from the dassie colonies poured down the cliff face so
copiously that as it dried it covered the rock with a thick coating
that shone in the sunlight like toffee but smelt less sweet.  With care
and skill, these rock-rabbits could be killed and trapped in such
numbers as to provide the little band with a staple of survival.  Their
flesh was succulent and delicious as suckling pig.

Now that Sukeena was with them their diet was much expanded by her
knowledge of edible roots and plants.  Each day Hal went out with her
to carry her basket as she foraged along the slopes.  As his leg grew
stronger they ventured further and stayed out in the wilderness a
little longer each day.

The mountains seemed to enfold them in their grandeur and to provide
the perfect setting for the bright jewel of their love.  When Sukeena's
foraging basket was filled to overflowing, they found hidden pools in
the numerous streams in which to bathe naked together.  Afterwards they
lay side by side on the smooth, water-polished rocks and dried
themselves in the sun.  With tantalizing slowness they toyed with each
other's bodies and at last made love.  Then they talked and explored
each other's minds as intimately as they had explored their bodies, and
afterwards made love yet again.  Their appetites for each other seemed
insatiable.

"Oh!  Where did you learn to please a girl so?"  Sukeena asked
breathlessly.  "Who taught you all these special things that you do to
me?"

It was not a question he cared to answer, and he said, "Tis simply that
we fit together so perfectly.  My special places were made to touch
your special places.  I seek pleasure in your pleasure.  My pleasure is
increased a hundredfold by yours."

In the evenings when all the fugitives gathered around the cooking
fire, they pressed Hal with questions about his plans for them, but he
avoided these with an easy laugh or a shake of his head.  A plan of
action was indeed germinating in his mind but it was not yet ready to
be disclosed, for there were still many obstacles he had to
circumvent.

Instead he questioned Sabah and the five escaped slaves, who with him
had survived the mountain winter.

"How far to the east have you travelled across the range, Sabah?"

"In midwinter we travelled six days in that direction.

We were trying to find food and a place where the cold was not so
fierce."

"What land lies to the east?"

"It is mountains such as these for many leagues, and then suddenly they
fall away into plains of forest and rolling grassland, with glimpses of
the sea on the right hand."  Sabah took up a twig and began to draw in
the dust beside the fire.  Hal memorized his descriptions, questioning
him assiduously, urging him to recall every detail of what he had
seen.

"Did you descend into these plains?"

"We went down a little way.  We found strange creatures never before
seen by the eyes of man grey and enormous with long horns set upon
their noses.  One rushed upon us with terrible snorts and whistles.
Though we fired our muskets at it, it came on and impaled the wife of
Johannes upon its nose horn and killed her."

They all looked at little one-eyed Johannes, one of Sabah's band of
escaped slaves, who wept at the memory of his dead woman.  It was
strange to see tears squeezing out of his empty eye socket.  They were
all silent for a while, then Zwaantie took up the story.  "My little
Bobby was only a month old, and I could not place him in such danger.
Without powder for the muskets we could not go on.  I prevailed on
Sabah to turn back, and we returned to this place."

"Why do you ask these questions?  What is your plan, Captain?"  Big
Daniel wanted to know, but Hal shook his head.

"I'm not ready to explain it to you, but don't lose heart, lads.  I
have promised to find you a ship, have I not?"  he said, with more
confidence than he felt.  In the morning, on the pretence of fishing,
he led Aboli and Big Daniel up the stream to the next pool.  When they
were out of sight of the camp, they sat close together on the rocky
bank.  "It is clear that unless we can better arm ourselves, we are
trapped in these mountains.  We will perish as slowly and despondently
as most of Sabah's men already have.  We must have powder for the
muskets."

"Where will we get that?"  Daniel asked.  "What do you propose?"

"I have been thinking about the colony, "Hal told them.  Both men
stared at him in disbelief.  Aboli broke the silence.  "You plan to go
back to Good Hope?  Even there you will not be able to lay your hands
on powder.  Oh, perhaps you might steal a pound or two from the green
jackets at the bridge, or from a Company hunter, but that is not enough
to see us on our journey."

"I planned to break into the castle again," Hal said.

Both men laughed bitterly.  "You lack not in enterprise or in heart,
Captain," Big Daniel said, "but that is madness."  Aboli agreed with
him, and said, in his deep, thoughtful voice, "If I thought there were
even the poorest chance of success, I would gladly go alone.  But think
on it, Gundwane, I do not mean merely the impossibility of winning our
way into the castle armoury.  Say, even, that we succeeded in that, and
that the store of powder we destroyed has since been replenished by
shipments from Holland.  Say that we were able to escape with some of
it.  How would we carry even a single keg back across the plains with
Schreuder and his men pursuing us?  This time we would not have the
horses."

In his heart Hal had known that it was madness, but he had hoped that
even such a desperate and forlorn proposal might fire them to think of
another plan.

At last, Aboli broke the silence.  "You spoke of a plan to find a ship.
If you tell us that plan, Gundwane, then perhaps we can help you to
bring it to pass."  Both men looked at him expectantly.

"Where do you suppose the Buzzard is at this very moment?"  Hal
asked..

Aboli and Big Daniel looked startled.  "If my prayers have prevailed he
is roasting in hell," Daniel replied bitterly.

Hal looked at Aboli.  "What do you think, Aboli?  Where would you look
for the Buzzard?"

"Somewhere out on the seven seas.  Wherever he smells gold or the
promise of easy pickings, like the carrion bird for which he is
named."

"Yes!"  Hal clapped him on the shoulder.  "But where might the smell of
gold be strongest?  Why did the Buzzard buy jiri and our other black
shipmates at auction?"

Aboli stared blankly at him.  Then a slow smile spread over his wide,
dark face.  "Elephant Lagoon!"  he exclaimed.  Big Daniel boomed with
excited laughter.  "He scented the treasure from the Dutch galleons and
he thought our Negro lads could lead him to it."

"How far are we from Elephant Lagoon?"Aboli asked.

"By my reckoning, three hundred sea miles.  "The immensity of the
distance silenced them.

"It's a long tack, said Daniel, "without powder to defend ourselves on
the way or with which to fight the Buzzard if we get there."

Aboli did not reply, but looked at Hal.  "How long will the journey
take us, Gundwane?"

"If we can make good ten miles a day, which I doubt, perhaps a little
over a month."

"Will the Buzzard still be there when we arrive, or will he have given
up his search and sailed away?"Aboli thought aloud.

"Aye!"  Daniel muttered.  "And if he has gone what will become of us
then?  We'd be marooned there for ever."

"Do you prefer to be marooned here, Master Daniel?  Do you want to die
of cold and starvation on this God-forsaken mountain when winter comes
round again?"

They were quiet again.  Then Aboli said, "I am ready to leave now.

There is no other path open to us."

"But what of Sir Henry's leg?  Is it strong enough yet?"

"Give me another week, lads, and I'll walk the hind legs off all of
you."

"What do we do if we find the Buzzard still roosting at Elephant
Lagoon?"  Daniel was not ready to agree so easily.  "He has a crew of a
hundred well-armed ruffians and, if all of us survive the journey, we
will be a dozen armed with swords alone."

"That's fine odds!"  Hal laughed at him.  "I've seen you take on much
worse.  Powder or no powder, we're off to find the Buzzard.  Are you
with us or not, Master Daniel?"

"Of course, I'm with you, Captain."  Big Daniel was affronted" "What
made you think I was not?"

That night, around the council fire, Hal explained the plan to the
others.  When he had finished he looked at their sombre faces in the
firelight.  "I will prevail on no man to come with us.  Aboli, Daniel
and I are determined to go, but if any among you wishes to remain here
in the mountains we will leave half the store of weapons with you,
including half the remaining gunpowder, and we will think no ill of
you.  Are there any of you who wish to speak?"

"Yes, said Sukeena, without looking up from the food she was cooking.
"I go wherever you go."

"Bravely spoken, Princess," grinned Ned Tyler.  "And I go also."

"Aye!"  said the other seamen in unison.  "We are all with you."

Hal nodded his thanks to them, and then looked at Althuda.  "You have a
woman and your son to think of, Althuda.  What say you?"

He could see the distress on the face of little Zwaantie as she suckled
the baby at her breast.  Her dark eyes were filled with doubts and
misgivings.  Althuda lifted her to her feet and led her away into the
darkness.

When they were gone Sabah spoke for all his band.  "Althuda is our
leader.  He brought us out of captivity, and we cannot leave him and
Zwaantie alone in the wilderness to perish with the baby of cold and
hunger.  If Althuda goes we go, but if he stays we must stay with
him."

"I admire your resolve and your loyalty, Sabah," said Hal.

They waited in silence, hearing Zwaantie weeping with fear and
indecision in the darkness.  Then, after a long while, Althuda led her
back to the fire, his arm around her shoulders, and they took their
places in the circle.

"Zwaantie fears not for herself but for the baby," he said.  "But she
knows that our best chance will be with you, Sir Hal.  We will come
with you."

"I would have mourned if your decision had been different, Althuda."
Hal smiled with genuine pleasure.  "Together our chances are much
increased.  Now we must make our preparations and agree on the time
when we will set out."

Sukeena came from the fire to sit beside Hal, and spoke out firmly.
"Your leg will not be healed for at least another five days.  I will
not allow you to march upon it before then."

"When the Princess speaks," Aboli declared, in his deep voice, "only a
foolish man does not listen."

During those last days Hal and Sukeena foraged for the herbs and plants
that she would use for medicine and food.  The last of the infection in
Hal's wounds yielded to her treatment, while climbing and descending
the steep and rugged slopes of the mountains rapidly strengthened his
injured limb.

On the day before the journey was due to commence, the two stopped at
midday to bathe and rest and make love in the soft grass beside the
stream.  This was a branch of the river that they had not visited on
their previous forays, and while Hal lay surfeited with passion in the
warm sunlight, Sukeena stood up naked and moved away up the rarine a
short distance to ease herself.

Hal watched her squat behind a patch of low bush, lay back and closed
his eyes, drifting lazily to the edge of sleep.  He was roused by the
familiar sound of Sukeena's sharp pointed digging stick pounding into
the earth.  A few minutes later she returned, still naked, but with a
crumbling lump of yellow earth in her hand.

"Flower crystals!  The first I have found in these mountains."  She
looked delighted with her discovery, and emptied some of the less
valuable herbs from her basket to make place for the lumps of friable
earth.  "Part of these mountains must once have been volcanoes for the
flower crystals are spewed up from the earth in the lava."

Hal watched her work, more interested in the way her naked body gleamed
in the sunlight, like molten gold, and the way her small breasts
changed shape as she wielded the stick vigorously, than in the
crystalline lumps of yellow earth she was pr ising from the bank of the
ravine.

"What do you use this earth for?"  he asked, without rising from his
grassy nest.

"It has many uses.  It is a sovereign cure for headaches and colic.  If
I mix it with the juice of the verbena berry it will soothe
palpitations of the heart and ease a woman's monthly courses..  ."  She
reeled off a list of the ailments that she could treat with it, but to
Hal it did not seem to have any special virtue, and looked like any
other clod of dry earth.  The basket was so heavy by now that, on their
return to camp, Hal had to take it from her.

That night while the band sat around the fire and held their final
council before beginning the long journey east, Sukeena pounded the
clods of earth in the crude stone mortar she had made and mixed the
powder into a pot of water.  She heated this over the fire, then came
to sit beside Hal as he went over the order of march for the following
day.  He was allocating weapons and loads to the men.  The weight and
bulk of each load would be dictated by the age and strength of the man
carrying it.

Suddenly Hal broke off and sniffed the air.  "Sweet heaven and all the
apostles!"  he cried.  "What have you in this pot, Sukeena?"

"I told you, Gundwane.  "Tis the yellow flowers."  She looked alarmed
as he rushed back to her, picked her up in his arms, tossed her high in
the air and caught her as she came down, skirts fluttering around
her.

"Tis not any type of flower at all!  I would know that smell in hell
itself where it truly belongs!"  He kissed her until she pushed his
face away.

"Are you mad?"  She laughed and gasped for breath.

"Mad with love for you!"  he said, and turned her to face the men who
had watched this display in amazement.  "Lads, the Princess has created
the miracle which will save us all!"

"You speak in riddles!"  said Aboli.

"Yes!"  the others cried.  "Speak plain, Captain."

"I'll speak plain enough so even the slowest-witted of you sea-rats
will understand my words."  Hal laughed at their confusion.  "Her pot
is filled with brimstone!  Magical yellow brimstone!"

It was Ned Tyler who understood first, for he was the master gunner. He
also leaped to his feet, rushed to kneel over the pot and inhaled the
fumes as though they were the smoke of an opium pipe.

"The captain's right, lads," he howled with glee.  "It's brimstone
sulphur, sure enough."

Sukeena led a party, headed by Aboli and Big Daniel, back to the ravine
in which she had discovered the sulphur deposit, and they returned to
camp staggering under their loads of the yellow earth, packed into
baskets or sewn into sacks made of animal skins.

While Sukeena supervised the boiling and leaching of the sulphur
crystals from the ore, one-eyed Johannes and Zwaantie tended the slow
fires, banked with earth, in which the baulks of cedar wood were being
gradually reduced to pure black nuggets of charcoal.

Hal and Sabah's band climbed the steep mountainside above the camp to
reach the cliffs in which the multitudes of rock rabbits had their
colonies.  Sabah's men clung to the precipice like flies to the wall as
they scraped away the amber coloured crystals of dried urine.  The
little animals defecated in communal middens, and while the round
pellets of dung rolled away, the urine dribbled down and soaked the
rock face.  They discovered that, in some places, this coating was
several feet thick.

They lowered skin sacks of these odoriferous deposits to the foot of
the cliff, then lugged them down to the camp.  They worked in shifts to
keep the fires burning all day and night under the clay pots,
extracting the sulphur from the powdered earth and the saltpetre from
the animal excreta.

Ned Tyler and Hal, the two gunners, hovered over these steaming pots
like a pair of alchemists, straining the liquid and reducing it with
heat.  Finally they dried the thick residual pastes in the sun.  From
the first brewing of the stinking compounds they were left with a store
of dried crystalline powders that filled three large pots.

When crushed the charcoal was a smooth black powder, while the
saltpetre was pale brown and fine as sea salt.  When Hal placed a small
pinch of it on his tongue it was indeed as pungent and salty as the
sea.  The flowers of sulphur were daffodil yellow and almost odour
less

The entire band of fugitives gathered round to watch when, at last, Hal
started to mix the three constituents in Sukeena's stone mortar.  He
measured the proportions and first ground together the charcoal and the
sulphur, for without the final vital ingredient these were inert and
harmless.  Then he added the saltpetre and gingerly combined it with
the dark grey primary powder until he had a flask filled with what
looked and smelt like veritable gunpowder.

Aboli handed him one of the muskets and he measured a charge, dribbled
it down the barrel, stuffed a wad of fibrous dried bark on top of it
and rodded home a round pebble he had selected from the sandbank of the
stream.  He would not waste a lead ball in this experiment.

Meanwhile, Big Daniel had set up a wooden target on the opposite bank.
While Hal squatted and took his aim the rest spread out on either side
of him and plugged their ears with their fingers.  An expectant silence
fell as he took aim and pressed the trigger.

There was a thunderous report and a blinding cloud of smoke.  The
wooden target shattered and toppled down the bank into the water.  An
exultant cheer went up from everyone, and they pounded each other upon
the back and danced delirious jigs of triumph in the sunlight.

"It's as fine a grade of powder as any you can find in the naval stores
in Greenwich," Ned Tyler opined, "but it will have to be properly caked
afore we can bag it and carry it away."

To this end Hal ordered a large clay pot to be placed behind a grass
screen at the edge of the camp, and all were strictly enjoined to make
use of it on every possible occasion.  Even the two women went behind
the screen to make their demure contributions.  Once the pot was
filled, the gunpowder was moistened into paste with the urine, then
formed into briquettes, which dried hard in the sun.  These were packed
into reed baskets for ease of transporting.

"We will grind the cakes as we need them," Hal explained to Sukeena
"Now we do not have to carry such a weight of dried fish and meat for
we will hunt as we travel.  If there is such an abundance of game, as
Sabah tells us there is, we will not go short of fresh meat."

Ten days later than they had first intended, the band was ready to set
out into the east.  Hal, as the navigator, and Sabah, who had travelled
that route before, led the column, Althuda and the three musketeers
were in the centre to guard the women and little Bobby, while Aboli and
Big Daniel brought up the rear under their ponderous burdens.

They travelled with the grain and run of the range, not attempting to
scale the high ground but following the valleys and crossing only
through the passes between the high peaks.  Hal estimated the distances
travelled by eye and time, and the direction with the leather-cased
compass.  These he marked on his charts every evening before the light
faded.

At night they camped in the open, for the weather was mild and they
were too tired to build a shelter.  When they woke each dawn, their
skin blankets, that Sabah called karosses, were soaked with dew.

As Sabah had warned, it was six days of hard travel through the
labyrinth of valleys before they reached the steep eastern escarpment
and looked down from its crest on the lower ground..

Far out to their right they could make out the blue stain of the ocean
merging with the paler heron's-egg blue of the sky, but below the land
was not the true plains that Hal had expected but was broken up with
hillocks, undulating grassy glades and streaks of dark green forest
that seemed to follow the courses of the many small rivers that
crisscrossed the littoral as they meandered down to the sea.

To their left, another range of jagged blue mountains marched parallel
to the sea, forming a rampart that guarded the mysterious hinterland of
the continent.  Hal's sharp eyesight picked out the dark stains on the
golden grassy plains, moving like cloud shadows when there were no
clouds in the sky.  He saw the haze of dust that followed the moving
herds of wild game, and now and then he spotted the reflection of
sunlight from tusks of ivory or from a polished horn.

"This land swarms with life he murmured to Sukeena, who stood at his
shoulder.  "There may be strange beasts down there that man has never
before laid eyes upon.  Perhaps even fire-breathing dragons and
unicorns and griffons."  Sukeena shivered and hugged her shoulders,
even though the sun was high and warm.

"I saw such creatures drawn on the charts I brought for you," she
agreed.

There was a path before them, beaten by the great round pads of
elephant and signposted by piles of their fibrous yellow dung, that
wound down the slope, picking the most favourable gradient, skirting
the deep ravines and dangerous gorges, and Hal followed it.

As they descended, the features of the landscape below became more
apparent.  Hal could even recognize some of the creatures that -moved
upon it.  The black mass of bovine animals surmounted by a golden haze
of dust and a cloud of hovering tick birds, sparkling white in the
sunlight, must be the wild buffalo that Aboli had spoken of.  Nyati, he
had called them, when he had warned Hal of their ferocity.  There must
be several hundred of these beasts in each of the three separate herds
that he had under his eye.

Beyond the nearest herd of buffalo was a small gathering of elephants.
Hal remembered them well from his previous sightings long ago on the
shores of the lagoon.  But he had never before seen them in such
numbers.  At the very least there were twenty great grey cows each with
a small calf, like a piglet, at her heels.  Dotted upon the plain like
hillocks of grey granite were three or four solitary bulls.  he could
barely credit the size of these patriarchs or the length and girth of
their gleaming yellow ivory tusks.

There were other creatures, not as large as the elephant bulls, but
massive and grey none the less, which at first he took for elephant
also, but as they descended towards the low ground he was able to make
out the black horns, some as long as a man is tall, that decorated
their great creased grey snouts.  He remembered then what Sabah had
told him of these savage beasts, one of which had speared and killed
Johannes" woman with its deadly horn.  These "rhenosters" which was
Sabah's name for them, seemed solitary in nature for they stood apart
from others of the same kind, each in the shade of its own tree.

As Hal strode along at the head of the tiny column, he heard the light
tread of feet coming up behind him, footsteps that he had come to know
and love so well.  Sukeena had left her place in the centre of the
line, as she often did when she found some excuse to walk with him for
a while.

She slipped her hand into his and kept pace with him.  "I did not want
to go alone into this new land.  I wanted to walk beside you, she said
softly, then looked up at the sky.  "See the way the wind veers into
the south and the clouds crouch on the mountain tops like a pack of
wild beasts in ambush?  There is a storm coming."

Her warning proved timely.  Hal was able to lead them to a cave in the
mountainside to shelter before the storm struck.  They lay up there for
three long days and nights while the storm raged without, but when they
emerged at last, the land was washed clean and the sky was bright and
burning blue.

Before the Golden Bough had made her offing from Good Hope and come
onto her true course to round the Cape, Captain Christopher Llewellyn
was already regretting having taken on board his paying passenger.

He had found out soon enough that Colonel Cornelius Schreuder was a
difficult man to like, arrogant, outspoken and highly opinionated.  He
held firm and unwavering views on every subject that was raised, and
was never diffident in giving expression to these.  "He picks up
enemies as a dog picks up fleas," Llewellyn told his mate.

The second day out from Table Bay, Llewellyn had invited Schreuder to
dine with him and some of his officers in the stern cabin.  He was a
cultured man, and maintained a grand style even at sea.  With the prize
money that he had won in the recent Dutch war, he could afford to
indulge his taste for fine things.

The GoLden Bough had cost almost two thousand pounds to build and
launch, but she was probably the finest vessel of her class and burden
afloat.  Her culver ins were newly cast and her sails were of the
finest canvas.  The captain's quarters were fitted out with a taste and
discrimination unparalleled in any navy, but her qualities as a
fighting ship had not been sacrificed for luxury.

During the voyage down the Atlantic, Llewellyn had found, to his
delight, that her sea-keeping qualities were all he had hoped.  On a
broad reach, with her sails full and the wind free, her hull sliced
through the water like a blade, and she could point so high into the
wind that it made his heart sing to feel her deck heel under his
feet.

Most of his officers and petty-officers had served with him during the
war and had proved their quality and courage, but he had on board one
younger officer, the fourth son of George, Viscount Winterton.

Lord Winterton was the Master Navigator of the Order, one of the
richest and most powerful men in England.  He owned a fleet of
privateers and trading ships.  The Honourable Vincent Winterton was on
his first privateering voyage, placed by his father under Llewellyn's
tutelage.  He was a comely youth, not yet twenty years of age but well
educated, with a frank and winning manner that made him popular with
both the seamen and his brother officers alike.

He was one of the other guests at Llewellyn's dinner table that second
night out from Good Hope.

The dinner started out gay and lively, for all the Englishmen were
merry, with a fine ship under them and the promise of glory and gold
ahead.  Schreuder, however, was aloof and gloomy.  With the second
glass of wine warming them all, Llewellyn called across the cabin,
"Vincent, my lad, will you not give us a tune?"

"Could you bear to listen, yet again, to my caterwauling, sir?"  The
young man laughed modestly, but the rest of the company urged him on.
"Come on, Vinny!  Sing for us, man!

Vincent Winterton stood up and went to the small clavichord that was
fastened with heavy brass screws to one of the main frames of the ship.
He sat down, tossed back his long thick curling locks and struck a
soft, silvery chord from the keyboard.  "What would you have me
sing?"

"Greensleeves!"  suggested someone, but Vincent pulled a face.  "You've
heard that a hundred times and more since we sailed from home."

"Mother Mine'T."  cried another.  This time Vincent nodded, threw back
his head and sang in a strong, true voice that transformed the mawkish
lyrics and brought tears to the eyes of many of the company as they
tapped their feet in time to the song.

Schreuder had taken an immediate and unreasoned dislike to the
attractive youth, so comely and popular with his peers, so sure of
himself and serene in his high rank and privileged birth.  Schreuder,
in comparison, felt himself ageing and overlooked.  He had never
attracted the natural admiration and affection of those about him, as
this young man so obviously did.

He sat stiffly in a corner, ignored by these men who, not so long ago,
had been his deadly enemies, and who, he knew, despised him as a dull
foreigner and a foot soldier, not one of their brotherhood of the
ocean.  He found his dislike turning to active hatred of the young man,
whose fine features were clear and unlined and whose voice had the
timbre and tonal colour of a temple bell.

When the song ended, there was a moment of silence, attentive and awed.
Then they all burst out clapping and applauding.  "Oh, well done, lad!"
and "Bravo, Vinny!"  Schreuder felt his irritation become
unbearable.

The applause went on too long for the liking of the singer, and Vincent
rose from the clavichord with a deprecating wave of the hand that
begged them to desist.

In the silence that followed, Schreuder said, softly but distinctly,
"Caterwauling?  No, sit, that was an insult to the feline species."

There was a shocked silence in the small cabin.  The young man flushed
and his hand dropped instinctively to the hilt of the short-bladed dirk
that he wore at his jewelled belt, but Llewellyn said sharply,
"Vincent!"  and shook his head.  Reluctantly he dropped his hand from
the weapon and forced himself to smile and bow slightly.  "You have a
perceptive ear, sit.  I commend your discerning taste."

He resumed his seat at the board and turned away from Schreuder to
engage his neighbour in light-hearted repartee.  The awkward moment
passed, and the other guests relaxed, smiled and joined in the
conversation, which pointedly excluded the Colonel.

Llewellyn's cook had come with him from home, and the ship had been
provisioned at Good Hope with fresh meat and vegetables.  The meat was
as good as any that might be served in the coffee shops and ate-houses
of Fleet Street, the conversation as pleasing and the banter nimble and
amusing, larded with clever puns, double meanings and fashionable
slang.  Most of this was above Schreuder's grasp of the language and
his resentment built up like the brewing of a tropical typhoon.

He made one contribution to the conversation, a stinging reference to
the Dutch victory in the Thames River and the capture of the Royal
Charles, the pride of the English navy and the namesake of their
beloved sovereign.  The conversation froze into silence once more, and
the company fixed him with chilly scrutiny, before continuing their
conversation as though he had not spoken.

Schreuder consoled himself with the claret, and when the bottle in
front of him was exhausted, he reached down the table for a flagon of
brandy.  His head for liquor was -as adamantine as his pride, but today
it seemed only to make him more truculent and angry.  By the end of the
meal he was spoiling for trouble, and prospecting for some way in which
to ease the terrible sense of rejection and hopelessness that
overpowered him.

At last Llewellyn stood up to propose the loyal toast.  "Here's health
and a long life to the Black Boy!"  Everyone rose enthusiastically to
their feet, stooping under the low deck timbers overhead, but Schreuder
stayed seated.

Llewellyn knocked on the table.  "If you please, Colonel, come to your
feet.  We are drinking the health of the King of England."

"I am no longer thirsty, thank you, Captain."  Schreuder folded his
arms.

The men growled, and one said loudly, "Let me at him, Captain."

"Colonel Schreuder is a guest aboard this ship," Llewellyn said
ominously, "and none of you will offer him any discourtesy, no matter
if he behaves like a pig himself and transgresses all the conventions
of decent society."  Then he turned back to Schreuder.  "Colonel, I am
asking you for the last time to join the loyal toast.  If you do not,
we are still within easy range of Good Hope.  I will give the orders
immediately for this ship to go about and sail back to Table Bay.
There I will return your fare money to you, and have you deposited on
the beach like a bucketful of kitchen slops."

Schreuder sobered instantly.  This was a threat he had not anticipated.
He had hoped to provoke one of these English oafs into a duel.  He
would then have given them a display of swordsmanship that would have
opened their cold-fish eyes and wiped those superior smirks from their
faces, but the thought of being taken back to the scene of his crime
and delivered into the vengeful hands of Governor van de Velde made his
lips go numb and his fingers tingle with dread.  He rose slowly to his
feet with his glass in his hand.  Llewellyn relaxed slightly, they all
drank the toast and sat down again in a hubbub of laughter and talk.

"Does anybody fancy a few throws of the dice?"  Vincent Winterton
suggested, and there was general agreement.

"But not if you wish to play for shilling stakes again," one of the
older officers demurred.  "Last time I lost almost twenty pounds, all
the prize money I won when we captured the Buumwn."

"Farthing stakes and a shilling limit another suggested, and they
nodded and felt for their purses.

"Mister Winterton, sir," Schreuder broke in, "I will oblige you with
whatever stakes your stomach will hold and not puke up again."  He was
pale and sweat sheened his forehead, but that was the only visible
effect the liquor had upon him.

Once again a silence fell on the table as Schreuder groped under his
tunic and brought out a pigskin purse.  He dropped it nonchalantly on
the table and it clinked with the unmistakable music of gold.  Every
man at the table stiffened.

"We play in sport and in good fellowship here," Llewellyn growled.

But Vincent Winterton said lightly, "How much is in that purse,
Colonel?"

Schreuder loosened the drawstring and, with a flourish, poured the
coins into a heavy heap in the centre of the table where they sparkled
in the lamplight.  Triumphantly he looked around the circle of their
faces.

They will not take me so lightly now!  he thought, but aloud he said,
"Twenty thousand Dutch guilders.  That is over two hundred of your
English pounds."  It was his entire fortune, but there was a reckless,
self-destructive pounding in his heart.  He found himself driven on to
folly as though he might wipe away the guilt of his terrible murder
with gold.

The company was silenced by the size of his purse.  It was an enormous
sum, more than most of these officers might expect to accumulate in a
lifetime of dangerous endeavour.

Vincent Winterton smiled graciously.  "I see you are indeed a
sportsman, sir."

"Ah!  So!"  Schreuder smiled coldly.  "The stakes are too high, are
they?"  And he swept the golden coins back into his purse and made as
if to rise from the table.

"Hold hard, Colonel."  Vincent stopped him, and Schreuder sank back
into his seat.  "I came unprepared, but if you will afford me a few
minutes of your time?"  He rose, bowed and left the cabin.  They all
sat in silence until he returned and placed a small teak chest in front
of him on the table.

"Three hundred, was it?"  He began to count out the coins from the
chest.  They made a splendid profusion in the centre of the table.

"Will you be kind enough to hold the stakes, Captain?"  Vincent asked
politely.  "That is, if the colonel agrees?"

"I have no objection."  Schreuder nodded stiffly and passed his purse
to Llewellyn.  Inwardly the first regrets were assailing him.  He had
not expected any of them to take up his challenge.  A loss of such
magnitude must beggar most men, as indeed it would beggar him.

Llewellyn received both purses, and placed them before him.  Then
Vincent took up the leather dice cup and passed it across to
Schreuder.

"We usually play with these, sir."  Vincent said easily.  "Would you
care to examine them?  If they are not to your liking, perhaps we may
be able to find others that suit you better."

Schreuder shook the dice out of the cup and rolled them across the
table.  Then he picked up each ivory cube and held it to the
lamplight.

"I can see no blemish," he said, and replaced them in the cup.  "It
remains only to agree on the game.  Will it be Hazard?"

"English Hazard, "Vincent agreed.  "What else?"

"What limit on each coup?"  Schreuder wanted to know.  "Will it be a
pound or five?"

"A single coup only," said Vincent.  "The shooter to be decided by high
dice, and then two hundred pounds on his Hazard."

Schreuder was stunned by the proposal.  He had expected to make his
wagers in small increments, which would allow him the possibility of
withdrawing with some semblance of grace if the run of the dice turned
against him.  He had never heard of such an immense sum staked on a
single throw of the dice.

One of Vincent's friends chortled delightedly.  "By God's truth, Vinny!
That will show up the colour of the cheese head liver."

Schreuder glared at him, but he knew he was trapped.  For a moment
longer he sought some escape, but Vincent murmured, "I do hope I have
not embarrassed you, Colonel.  I mistook you for a sport.  Would you
rather call off the whole affair?"

"I assure you," he said coldly, "that it suits me very well.  One
hazard for two hundred pounds.  I agree."

Llewellyn placed one of the dice in the cup and passed it to Schreuder.
"One dice to decide the shooter.  High shoots.  Is that your agreement,
gentlemen?"  Both men nodded.

Schreuder rolled the single dice, "Three!"  said Llewellyn, and
replaced it in the leather cup.

"Your throw, Mister Winterton."  He placed the cup in front of Vincent,
who swept it up and threw in the same motion.

"Five!"  said Llewellyn.  "Mister Winterton is the shooter at one coup
of English Hazard for a purse of two hundred pounds."  This time he
placed both dice in the cup.  "The shooter will throw to decide the
main point.  If you please, Mister Winterton."

Vincent took up the cup and rolled it out.  Llewellyn read the dice.
"The Main is seven."

Schreuder's soul quailed.  Seven was the easiest Main to duplicate.
Many combinations of the dice would yield it.  The odds had swung
against him, and this realization was reflected on the gloating face of
every one of the watchers.  If Vincent threw another seven or an eleven
he would win, which was likely.  If he threw the "crabs" one and one or
one and two, or if he threw twelve then he lost.  Any other number
would become his Chance, and he would have to keep throwing until he
repeated it or threw one of the losing combinations.

Schreuder leaned back and folded his arms as though to defend himself
from a brutal attack.  Vincent threw.

"Four!"  said Llewellyn.  "The Chance is now four."  There was a
simultaneous release of breath from every person at the table except
Vincent.  He had given himself the most difficult Main to achieve.  The
odds had swung back overwhelmingly in Schreuder's favour.  Vincent must
now throw a Chance four to win, or a Main seven to lose.  Only two
combinations could total four, whereas there were many others that
would yield a losing seven.

"You have my sympathy, sir."  Schreuder smiled cruelly.  "Four is the
devil's own number to make."

"The angels favour the virtuous."  Vincent waved his hand lightly, and
smiled.  "Would you care to increase your stake.  I will give you even
money for another hundred pounds?"  It was a foolhardy offer, with the
odds stacked heavily against him, but Schreuder had not another guilder
to avail himself of it.

He shook his head curtly.  "I would not take advantage of a man who is
on his knees."

"How gallant you are, Colonel," Vincent said, and threw again.

"Ten!"  said Llewellyn.  It was a neutral number.

Vincent picked up the dice and rattled them in the cup and threw
again.

"Six!"  Another neutral number and, though Schreuder sat still as a
corpse, his colour was waxen and he could feel droplets of sweat
crawling through his chest hairs like slimy garden slugs.

"This one is for all the pretty girls we left behind US," said Vincent
and the dice clattered on the walnut tabletop as he threw again.  For a
long terrible moment no man moved or spoke.  Then a howl went up from
every English throat that must have alarmed the watch on the deck above
and reached to the lookout at the top of the mainmast.

"Mary and Joseph!  Two pairs of titties!  As sweet a little four as I
have ever seen!"

"Mister Winterton has thrown his Chance," intoned Llewellyn, and placed
both heavy purses in front of him.  "Mister Winterton wins."  But his
voice was almost drowned by the uproar of laughter and congratulation.
It went on for several minutes while Schreuder sat immobile as a fallen
forest log, his face grey and sweating.

At last Winterton waved away any further chaff and congratulation.

He stood up, leaned over the table towards Schreuder, and said
seriously, "I salute you, sir.  You are a gentleman of iron nerve, and
a sportsman of the first water.  I offer you the hand of friendship."
He stretched out his right hand with the palm open.  Schreuder looked
at it disdainfully, still not moving, and the smiles faded away.
Another charged silence fell over the little cabin.

Schreuder spoke out clearly.  "I should have examined those dice of
yours more closely while I had the chance."  He placed a heavy emphasis
on the possessive pronoun.  "I hope you will forgive me, sir, but I
make it a rule never to shake hands with cheats."  Vincent recoiled
sharply and stared at Schreuder in.  disbelief, while the others gasped
and gaped.

It took Vincent a long moment to recover from the shock of the
unexpected insult, and his handsome young face had paled under his sea
and salt-tanned skin as he replied, "I would be deeply obliged if you
could see fit to accord me satisfaction for that remark, Colonel
Schreuder."

"With the greatest of pleasure."  Schreuder rose to his feet, smiling
with triumph.  He had been challenged so the choice of weapons was his.
There would be no aping about with pistols.  It would be the steel and
this English puppy would have the pleasure of a yard of the Neptune
sword in his belly.  Schreuder turned to Llewellyn.  "Would you do me
the honour of acting as my second in this matter?"  he asked.

"No!"  Llewellyn shook his head firmly.  "I will not allow duelling on
board any ship of mine.  You will have to find yourself another person
to act for you, and you will have to check your temper until we reach
port.  Then you can go ashore to settle this matter."

Schreuder looked back at Vincent.  "I will inform you of the name of my
second at the first opportunity," he said.  "I promise you satisfaction
as soon as we reach port."  He stood up and marched out of the cabin.
He could hear their voices behind him, raised in comment and
conjecture, but the brandy fumes rose to mingle with his rage until he
feared the veins beating in his temples might burst with the strength
of it.

The folloing day Schreuder kept to his own cabin where a servant
brought his meals to him.  he lay on his bunk like a battle casualty,
nursing the terrible wounds to his pride and the unbearable pain caused
by the loss of his entire worldly wealth.  On the second day he came on
deck while the Golden Bough was on a larboard tack and making good her
course of west-north-west along the bulging coastline of southern
Africa.

As soon as his head appeared above the coaming of the companionway, the
officer of the watch turned away and busied himself with the pegs on
the traverse board, while Captain Llewellyn raised his telescope and
studied the blue mountains that loomed on the horizon to the north.
Schreuder paced along the lee rail of the ship while the officers
studiously ignored his presence.  The servant who had waited at the
Captain's dinner party had spread the news of the impending duel
through all the ship, and the crew eyed him curiously and kept well out
of his path.

After half an hour Schreuder stopped abruptly in front of the officer
of the watch and, without preamble, asked, "Mister Fowler, will you act
as my second?"

"I beg your pardon, Colonel, Mister Winterton is a friend of mine.
Will you excuse me, please?"

During the days that followed Schreuder approached every officer aboard
to act for him, but in each case he was received with frigid refusals.
Ostracized and humiliated, he prowled the open deck like a
night-stalking leopard.  His thoughts swung like a pendulum between
remorse and agony over Katinka's death, and resentment of the treatment
meted out to him by the captain and officers of the ship.  His rage
swelled until he could barely support it.

On the morning of the fifth day, as he paced the lee rail, a hail from
the masthead aroused him from this black mist of suffering.  When
Captain Llewellyn strode to the windward rail and stared into the
south-west, Schreuder followed him across the deck and stood at his
shoulder.

For some moments he doubted his own eyesight as he stared at the
mountainous range of menacing dark cloud that stretched from the
horizon to the heavens and which bore down upon them with such speed
that it made him think again of the avalanche sweeping down the dark
gorge.

"You had best go below, Colonel," Llewellyn warned him.  "We're in for
a bit of a blow."

Schreuder ignored the warning and stood by the rail, filled with awe as
he- watched the clouds roll down upon them.  All around him the ship
was in turmoil as the crew rushed to get the sails furled and to bring
the bows around, so that the Golden Bough faced into the racing storm.
The wind came on so swiftly that it caught her with her royals and jib
still set and sheeted home.

The storm hurled itself upon the Golden Bough, howling with fury, and
laid her over so that the lee rail went under and green water piled
aboard to sweep the deck waist deep.  Schreuder was borne away on this
flood and might have been washed overboard had he not grabbed hold of
the main shrouds.

The Golden Bough's jib and royals burst as though they were wet
parchment and for a long minute she wallowed half under as the gale
pinned her down.  The sea poured into her open hatches, and from below
there was the crash and thunder as some of her bulkheads burst and her
cargo shifted.  Men screamed as they were crushed by a culverin that
had broken its breeching tackle and was running amok on the gundeck.
Other sailors cried like lost souls falling into the pit as they were
carried over the side by the racing green waters.  The air turned white
with spray so that Schreuder felt himself drowning, even though his
face was clear of the water, and the white fog blinded him.

Slowly the Golden Bough righted herself as her lead weighted keel
levered her upright, but her spars and rigging were in tatters,
snapping and lashing in the gale.  Some of her yards were broken away
and they clattered, banged and battered the standing masts.  Listing
heavily with the seawater she had taken in the Golden Bough was driven
out of control before the wind.

Gasping and choking, half-drowned and doused to the skin, Schreuder
dragged himself across the deck to the shelter of the companionway.
From there he watched in dread and fascination as the world around him
dissolved in silver spray and maddened green waves streaked with long
pathways of foam.

For two days the wind never ceased its assault upon them, and the seas
grew taller and wilder with every hour until they seemed to tower
higher than the mainmast as they rushed down upon them.  Halfswamped,
the Golden Bough was slow to lift to meet them, and as they struck her
they burst into foam and tumbled green across her decks.  Two helmsmen,
lashed to the whipstall, battled to keep her pointing with the gale,
but each wave that came aboard burst over their heads.  By the second
day all aboard were exhausted and nearing the limits of their
endurance.  There was no chance of sleep and only hard biscuit to
eat.

Llewellyn had lashed himself to the mainmast and from there he directed
the efforts of his officers and men to keep the ship alive.  No man
could stand unsupported upon the open deck, so Llewellyn could not
order them to man the main pumps, but on the gundeck teams of seamen
worked in a frenzy at the auxiliary pumps to try to clear the six feet
of water in her bilges.  As fast as they pumped it out the sea poured
back through the shattered gun ports and the cracked hatch covers.

Always the land loomed closer in their lee as the storm drove them
onwards under bare masts, and though the helmsmen strained muscle and
heart to hold her off, the Golden Bough edged in towards the land.
That night they heard the surf break and boom like a barrage of cannon
out there in the darkness, growing every hour more tumultuous as they
were driven towards the rocks.

When dawn broke on the third day they could see, through the fog and
spume, the dark, threatening shape of the land, the cliffs and jagged
headlands only a league away across the marching mountains of grey and
furious waters.

Schreuder dragged himself across the deck, clinging to mast and shroud
and backstay as each wave came aboard.  Seawater streamed from his hair
down his face, filling his mouth and nostrils, as he gasped at
Llewellyn, "I know this coast.  I recognize that headland coming up
ahead of US."

"We'll need God's blessing to weather it on this course," Llewellyn
shouted.  "The wind has us in its teeth."

"Then pray to the Almighty with all your heart, Captain, for our
salvation lies not five leagues beyond," Schreuder bellowed, blinking
the salt water from his eyes.

"How can you be certain of that?"

"I have been ashore here and marched through the country.  I know every
wrinkle of the land.  There is a bay beyond that cape, which we named
Buffalo Bay.  Once she is into it, the ship should be sheltered from
the full force of the wind, and on the far side there stand a pair of
rocky heads that guard the entrance to a wide and calm lagoon.  In
there we would be safe from even such a storm as this."

"There is no lagoon marked on my charts."  Llewellyn's expression was
riven with hope and doubt.

"Sweet Jesus, Captain, you must believe me!"  Schreuder shouted.  On
the sea he was out of his natural element and for once even he was
afraid.

"First we must weather those rocks, and after that we can prove the
quality of your memory."

Schreuder was silenced and clung desperately to the mast beside
Llewellyn.  He stared ahead in horror as he watched the sea open her
snarling lips of white foam and bare fangs of black rock.  The Golden
Bough drove on helplessly into her jaws.

One of the helmsmen screamed, "Oh, holy Mother of God, save our mortal
souls!  We're going to strike!"

"Hold your helm hard over!"  Llewellyn roared at him.  Close alongside,
the sea opened viciously and the reef burst out like a blowing whale.
Claws of stone seemed to reach out towards the frail planks of the
little ship, and they were so near that Schreuder could see the masses
of shellfish and weed that cloaked the rocks.  Another wave, larger
than the rest, lifted and flung them at the reef, but the rocks
disappeared below the boiling surface and the Golden Bough rose up like
a hunter at a fence and shot high over it.

Her keel touched the rock and she checked with such force that
Schreuder's grip on the mast was broken and he was hurled to the deck,
but the ship shook herself free, surged onwards, carried on the crest
of that mighty wave, and slid off the reef into the deeper water
beyond.  She charged forward, the point of the headland dropping away
behind her and the bay opening ahead.  Schreuder dragged himself
upright and felt at once that the dreadful might of the gale had been
broken by the sprit of land.  Though the ship still hurtled on wildly,
she was coming back under control and Schreuder could feel her respond
to the urging of her rudder.

"There!"  he screamed in Llewellyn's ear.  "There!  Dead ahead!"

"Sweet heaven!  You were right."  Through the spume and seaftet
Llewellyn picked out the shape of the twin heads over the ship's bows.
He rounded on his helmsmen.  "Let her fall off a point!"  Though their
terrified expressions showed how they hated to obey, they let her come
down across the wind and point towards the next pier of black rock and
surf.

"Hold her at that!"  Llewellyn checked them, and the Golden Bough tore
headlong across the bay.

"Mister Winterton!"  he roared at Vincent, who crouched below the
hatch-coaming close at hand with a halfdozen sailors sheltering on the
companion behind him.  "We must shake out a reef on the main topgallant
sail to give her steerage.  Can you do it?"

He made the order a request, for it was the next thing to murder to
send a man to the top of the mainmast in this gale.  An officer must
lead the way, and Vincent was the strongest and boldest among them.

"Come on, lads!"  Vincent shouted at his men without hesitation.
"There's a golden guinea for any man who can beat me to the main
topgallant yard."  He leapt to his feet and darted across the deck to
the mainmast shrouds and went flying up them hand over hand with his
men in pursuit.

The Golden Bough "tore across Buffalo Bay like a runaway horse.
Suddenly Schreuder shouted again, "Look there!"  and pointed to where
the entrance to the lagoon began to open to their view between the
heads that towered on either hand.

Llewellyn threw back his head and gazed up the main, mast at the tiny
figures that spread out along the high yard and wrestled with the
reefed canvas.  He recognized Vincent easily by his lean athletic form
and his dark hair whipping in the wind.

"Bravely done thus far," Llewellyn whispered, "but hurry, lad.  Give me
a scrap of canvas to steer her by."

As he said it the studding-sail flew out and filled with a crack like a
musket shot.  For a dreadful moment Llewellyn thought the canvas might
be shredded in the gale, but it filled and held and immediately he felt
the ship's motion change.

"Sweet Mother Mary!  We might make it yet!"  he croaked, through a
throat scoured and rough with salt.  "Hard over!"  he called to the
helm, and the Golden Bough answered willingly and put her bows across
the wind.

Like an arrow from a longbow, she drove straight at the western
headland as though to hurl herself ashore, but her hull slid away
through the water and the angle of her bows altered.  The passage
opened full before her, and as she passed into the lee of the land she
steadied, darted between the heads, caught the tide, which was at full
flow, and sped upon it through the channel into the quiet lagoon where
she was protected from the full force of the storm.

Llewellyn gazed at the green forested shores in wonder and relief.

Then he started and pointed ahead.  "There's another ship at anchor
here already!"

Beside him Schreuder shaded his eyes from the slashing gusts of wind
that eddied around the cliffs.

"I know that vessel!"  he cried.  "I know her well.  "Tis Lord
Cumbrae's ship.  "Tis the Gull of Moray!"

"Eland!"  whispered Althuda softly, and Hal recognized the Dutch name
for elk, but these creatures were unlike any of the great red deer of
the north that he had ever seen.  They were enormous, larger even than
the cattle that his uncle Thomas had raised on the High Weald estate.

The three Of them, Hal, Althuda and Aboli, lay belly down in a small
hollow filled with rank grass.  The herd was strung out among the open
grove of sweet-thorn trees ahead.  Hal counted fifty-two bulls, cows
and calves together.  The bulls were ponderous and fat so that, as they
walked, their dewlaps swung from side to side and the flesh on their
bellies and quarters quivered like that of a jellyfish.  At each pace
there came a strange clicking sound like breaking twigs.

"It is their knees that make that noise," Aboli explained in Hal's ear.
"The Nkulu Kulu, the great god of all things, punished them when they
boasted of being the greatest of all the antelope.  He gave them this
affliction so that the hunter would always hear them from afar."

Hal smiled at the quaint belief, but then Aboli told him something else
that turned off that smile.  "I know these creatures, they were highly
prized by the hunters of my tribe, for a bull such as that one at the
front of the herd carries a mass of white fat around his heart that two
men cannot carry."  For months now none of them had tasted fat, for all
the game they had managed to kill was devoid of it.  They all craved
it, and Sukeena had warned Hal that for lack of it they must soon
sicken and fall prey to disease.

Hal studied the herd bull as he browsed on one of the sweet-thorn
trees, hooking down the higher branches with his massive spiralling.
horns.  Unlike his cows, who were a soft and velvet brown, striped with
white across their shoulders, the bull had turned grey-blue with age
and there was a tuft of darker hair on his forehead between the bases
of his great horns.

"Leave the bull," Aboli told Hal.  "His flesh will be coarse and tough.
See that cow behind him?  She will be sweet and tender as a virgin, and
her fat will turn to honey in your mouth."  Against Aboli's advice,
which Hal knew was always the best available, he felt the urge of the
hunter attract him to the great bull.

"If we are to cross the river safely, then we need as much meat as we
can carry.  Each of us will fire at his own animal."  he decided.  "I
will take the bull, you and Althuda pick younger animals."  He began to
snake forward on his belly, and the other two followed him.

In these last days since they had descended the escarpment they had
found that the game upon these plains had little fear of man.  It
seemed that the dreaded upright bipod silhouette he presented had no
especial terrors for them, and they allowed the hunters to approach
within certain musket shot before moving away.

Thus it must have been in Eden before the Fall, Hal thought, as he
closed with the herd bull.  The soft breeze favoured him, and the
tendrils of blue smoke from their slow-match drifted away from the
herd.

He was so close now that he could make out the individual eyelashes
that framed the huge liquid dark eyes of the bull, and the red and gold
legs of the ticks that clung in-bunches to the soft skin between his
forelegs.  The bull fed, delicately wiping the young green leaves from
the twigs between the thorns with its blue tongue.

On each side of him two of his young cows fed from the same thorn tree.
One had a calf at heel while the other was full-bellied and gravid. Hal
turned his head slowly and looked at the men who lay beside him. He
indicated the cows to them with a slow movement of his eyes, and Aboli
nodded and raised his musket.

Once more Hal concentrated all his attention on the great bull, and
traced the line of the scapula beneath the skin that covered the
shoulder, fixing a spot in all that broad expanse of smooth blue-grey
hide at which to aim.  He raised the musket and held the butt into the
notch of his shoulder-, sensing the men on either side of him do the
same.

As the bull took another pace forward he held his fire.  It stopped
again and raised its head, on the thick dew lapped neck, to full
stretch, laying the massive twisted horns across its back, reaching up
over two fathoms high to the topmost sprigs of the thorn tree where the
sweetest bunches of lacy green leaves grew.

Hal fired, and heard the detonation of the other muskets on either side
of him blend with the concussion of his own weapon.  A swirling screen
of white gunsmoke blotted out his forward view.  He let the musket
drop, sprang to his feet and raced out to his side to get a clear view
around the smoke bank.  He saw that one of the cows was down, kicking
and struggling as her lifeblood spurted from the wound in her throat,
while the other was staggering away, her near front leg swinging
loosely from the broken bone.  Already Aboli was running after her, his
drawn cutlass in his right hand.

The rest of the herd was rushing away in a tight brown mass down the
valley, the calves falling behind their dams.  However, the bull had
left the herd, sure sign that the lead ball had struck him grievously.
He was striding away up the gentle slope of the low, grass-covered
hillock ahead.  But his gait was short and hampered, and as he changed
direction, exposing his great shoulder to Hal's view, the blood that
poured down his flank was red as a banner in the sunlight and bubbling
with the air from his punctured lungs.

Hal started to run, speeding away over the tussocked grass.  The injury
to his leg was by now only a perfectly healed scar, glossy blue and
ridged.  The long trek over the mountains and plains had strengthened
that limb so that his stride was full and lithe.  A cable's length or
more ahead, the bull was drawing away from him, leaving a haze of fine
red dust hanging in the air, but then its wound began to tell and the
spilling blood painted a glistening trail on the silver grass to mark
his passing.

Hal closed the gap until he was only a dozen strides behind the
mountainous beast.  It sensed his pursuit and turned at bay.  Hal
expected a furious charge, a lowering of the great tufted head and a
levelling of those spiral horns.  He came up short, facing the
antelope, and whipped his cutlass from the scabbard, prepared to defend
himself.

The bull looked at him with huge puzzled eyes, dark and swimming with
the agony of its approaching death.  Blood dripped from its nostrils
and the soft blue tongue lolled from the side of its mouth.  It made no
move to attack him, or to defend itself, and Hal saw no malice or anger
in its gaze.

"Forgive me," he whispered, as he circled the beast, waiting for an
opening, and felt the slow, sad waves of remorse break over his heart
to watch the agony he had inflicted upon this magnificent animal.

Suddenly he rushed forward and thrust with the steel.  The stroke of
the expert swordsman buried the blade full length in the bull's flesh,
and it bucked and whirled away, snatching the hilt out of Hal's hand.
But the steel had found the heart and, its legs folded gently under it,
the bull sagged wearily onto its knees.  With one low groan it toppled
over onto its side and died.

Hal took hold of the cutlass hilt and withdrew the long, smeared blade,
then chose a rock near the carcass and went to sit there.  He felt sad
yet strangely elated.  He was puzzled and confused by these contrary
emotions, and he dwelt on the beauty and majesty of the beast that he
had reduced to this sad heap of dead flesh in the grass.

A hand was laid on his shoulder, and Aboli rumbled softly, "Only the
true hunter knows this anguish of the kill, Gundwane.  That is why my
tribe, who are hunters, sing and dance to give thanks to propitiate the
spirits of the game they have slain."

"Teach me to sing me this song and to dance this dance, Aboli," Hal
said, and Aboli began to chant in his deep and beautiful voice.  When
he had picked up the rhythm Hal joined in the repetitive chorus,
praising the beauty and the grace of the prey and thanking it for dying
so that the hunter and his tribe might live.

Aboli began to dance, shuffling, stamping and singing in a circle about
the great carcass, and Hal danced with him.  His chest was choked and
his eyes were blurred when, at last, the song ended and they sat
together in the slanting yellow sunlight to watch the tiny column of
fugitives, led by Sukeena, coming towards them from far across the
plain.

Before darkness fell Hal set them to building the stockade, and he
checked carefully to make certain that the gaps in the breastwork were
closed with branches of sweet-thorn.

They carried the quarters and shoulders of eland meat and stacked them
in the stockade where scavengers could not plunder them.  They left
only the scraps and the offal, the severed hoofs and heads, the mounds
of guts and intestines stuffed with the pulp of half-digested leaves
and grass.  As they moved away the vultures hopped in or sailed down on
great pinions, and the hyena and jackal rushed forward to gobble and
howl and squabble over this charnel array.

After they had all eaten their fill of succulent eland steaks, Hal
allocated to Sukeena and himself the middle watch that started at
midnight.  Though it was the most onerous, for it was the time when
man's vitality was at its lowest ebb, they loved to have the night to
themselves.

While the rest of their band slept, they huddled at the entrance to the
stockade under a single fur kaross, with a musket laid close to Hal's
right hand.  After they had made soft and silent love so as not to
disturb the others, they watched the sky and spoke in whispers as the
stars made their remote and ancient circuits high above.

"Tell me true, my love, what have you read in those stars?  What lies
ahead for you and me?  How many sons will you bear me?"  Her hand,
cupped in his, lay still, and he felt her whole body stiffen.  She did
not reply and he had to ask her again.  "Why will you never tell me
what you see in the future?  I know you have drawn our horoscopes, for
often when you thought I was sleeping I have seen you studying and
writing in your little blue book."

She laid her fingers on his lips.  "Be quiet, my lord.  There are many
things in this existence that are best hidden from us.  For this night
and tomorrow let us love each other with all our hearts and all our
strength.  Let us draw the most from every day that God grants us."

"You trouble me, my sweet.  Will there be no sons, then?"  She was
silent again as they watched a shooting star leave its brief fiery
trail though the heavens and at last perish before their eyes.  Then
she sighed, and whispered, "Yes, I will give you a son but-" She bit
off the other words that rose to her tongue.

"There is great sadness in your voice."  His tone was disquieted.
"And, yet, the thought that you will bear my son gives me joy."

"The stars can be malevolent, she whispered.  "Sometimes they fulfill
their promises in a manner that we do not expect, or relish.  Of one
thing alone I am certain, that the fates have selected for you a labour
of great consequence.  It has been ordained thus from the day of your
birth."

"My father spoke to me of this same task."  Hal brooded on the old
prophecy.  "I am willing to face my destiny, but I need you to help and
sustain me as you have done so often already."

She did not answer his plea, but said, "The task they have set for you
involves a vow and a talisman of mystery and power."

"Will you be with me, you and our son?"  he insisted.

"If I can guide you in the direction you must go, I will do so with all
my heart and all my strength."

"But will you come with me?"  he pleaded.

"I will come with you as far as the stars will permit it," she
promised.  "More than that I do not know and cannot say.

"But-" he started, but she reached up with her mouth and covered his
lips with her own to stop him speaking.

"No more!  You must ask no more," she warned him.  "Now join your body
with mine once again and leave the business of the stars to the stars
alone."

Towards the end of their watch, when the Seven Sisters had sunk below
the hills and the Bull stood high and proud, they lay in each other's
arms, still talking softly to fight off the drowsiness that crept upon
them.  They had become accustomed to the night sounds of the
wilderness, from the liquid warble of night birds and the yapping,
yodelling chorus of the little red jackals to the hideous shrieking and
cackling of the hyena packs at the remains of the carcasses, but
suddenly there came a sound that chilled them to the depths of their
souls.

It was the sound of all the devils of hell, a monstrous roaring and
grunting that stilled all lesser creation, rolled against the hills and
came back to them in a hundred echoes.  Involuntarily Sukeena clung to
him and cried aloud, "Oh, Gundwane, what terrible creature is that?"

She was not alone in her terror for all the camp was suddenly awake.
Zwaantie screamed, and the baby echoed her terror.  Even the men sprang
to their feet and cried out to God.

Aboli appeared beside them like a dark * moon shadow and calmed Sukeena
with a hand on her trembling shoulder.  "It is no phantom, but a
creature of this world," he told them.  "They say that even the bravest
hunter is frightened three times by the lion.  Once when he sees its
tracks, twice when he hears its voice, and the third time when he
confronts the beast face to face."

Hal sprang up, and called to the others, "Throw fresh logs on the fire.
Light the slow-match on all the muskets.  Place the women and the child
in the centre of the stockade."

They crouched in a tight circle behind its flimsy walls, and for a
while all was quiet, quieter than it had been all that night for now
even the scavengers has been silenced by the mighty voice that had
spoken from out of the darkness.

They waited, their weapons held ready, and stared out into the night
where the yellow light of the flames could not reach.  It seemed to Hal
that the flickering firelight played tricks with his eyes, for all at
once he thought he saw a ghostly shape glide silently through the
shadows.  Then Sukeena gripped his arm, digging her fingernails into
his flesh, and he knew that she had seen it also.

Abruptly that gale of terrifying noise broke over them again, raising
the hair on their scalps.  The women shrieked and the men quaked and
tightened their grip on the weapons that now seemed so frail and
inadequate in their hands.

"There!"  whispered Zwaantie, and this time there could be no doubt
that what they saw was real.  It was a monstrous feline shape that
seemed as tall as a man's shoulder, which passed before their gaze on
noiseless pads.  The flames lit upon its brazen glossy hide, turning
its eyes to glaring emeralds like those in the crown of Satan himself.
Another came and then another, passing in swift and menacing parade
before them, then disappearing into the night once more.

"They gather their courage and resolve," Aboli said.  "They smell the
blood and the dead flesh and they are hunting us."

"Should we flee from the stockade, then?"  Hal asked.  "No!"  Aboli
shook his head.  "The darkness is their domain.  They are able to see
when the night stops up our eyes.  The darkness makes them bold.  We
must stay here where we can see them when they come."

Then, from out of the night, came such a creature as to dwarf the
others they had seen.  He strode towards them with a majestic swinging
gait, and a mane of black and golden hair covered his head and
shoulders and made him seem as huge as a haystack.  "Shall I fire upon
him?"  Hal whispered to Aboli.

"A wound will madden him," Aboli replied.  "Unless you can kill
cleanly, do not fire."

The lion stopped in the full glare of the firelight.  He placed his
forepaws apart and lowered his head.  The dark hair of his mane came
erect, swelling before their horrified gaze, seeming to double his
bulk.  He opened his jaws, and they saw the ivory fangs gleam, the red
tongue curl out between them, and he roared again.

The sound struck them with a physical force, like a storm-driven wave.
It stunned their ear-drums and startled their senses.  The beast was so
close that Hal could feel the breath from its mighty lungs blow into
his face.  It smelt of corpses and carrion long dead.

"Quietly now!"  Hal urged them.  "Make no sound and do not move, lest
you provoke him to attack."  Even the women and the child obeyed.  They
stifled their cries and sat rigid with the terror of it.  It seemed an
eternity that they remained thus, the lion eyeing them, until little
one-eyed Johannes could bear it no longer.  He screamed, flung up his
musket and fired wildly.

In the instant before the gunsmoke blinded them Hal saw that the ball
had missed the beast and had struck the dirt between its forelegs.

Then the smoke billowed over them in a cloud, and from its depths came
the grunts of the angry lion.  Now both women screamed and the men
barged into each other in their haste to run deeper into the stockade.
Only Hal and Aboli stood their ground, muskets levelled, and aimed into
the bank of smoke.  Little Sukeena shrank against Hal's flank but did
not run.

Then the lion burst in full charge out of the mist of gunsmoke.  Hal
pressed the trigger and his musket misfired.  Aboli's weapon roared
deafeningly, but the beast was a blur of movement so swift, in the
smoke and the darkness, that it cheated the eye.  Aboli's shot must
have flown wide for it had no effect upon the lion, which swept into
the stockade, roaring horribly.  Hal flung himself down on Sukeena,
covering her with his own body and the lion leapt over him.

It seemed to pick out Johannes from the huddle of terrified humanity.
Its great jaws closed in the small of the man's back and it lifted him
as a cat might carry a mouse.  With one more bound it cleared the rear
wall of the stockade and disappeared into the night.

They heard Johannes screaming in the darkness, but the lion did not
carry him far.  just beyond the firelight it began to devour him while
he still lived.  They heard his bones crack as the beast bit into them,
then the rending of his flesh as it tore out a mouthful.  There was
more roaring and growling as the lionesses rushed in to share the prey,
and while Johannes still shrieked and sobbed they tore him to pieces.
Gradually his cries became weaker until they faded away entirely and
from the darkness there were only the grisly sounds of the feast.

The women were hysterical and Bobby waited and beat his little fists in
terror against Althuda's chest.  Hal quieted Sukeena, who responded
swiftly to the feel of his arm around her shoulder.  "Do not run.  Move
quietly.  Sit in a circle.  The women in the centre.  Reload the
muskets, but do not fire until I give the word."  Hal rallied them,
then looked at Daniel and Aboli.

"It is our Store of meat that draws them.  When they have finished with
Johannes they will charge the stockade again for more."

"You are right, Gundwane."

"Then we will give them eland meat to distract them from us," Hal said.
"Help me."

Between the three of them they seized one of the huge hindquarters of
raw eland flesh and staggered with it to the edge of the firelight.
They threw it down in the dust.

"Do not run," Hal cautioned them again, "for as the cat pursues the
mouse, they will come after us if we do."  They backed into the
stockade.  Almost immediately a lioness rushed out, seized the bloody
hindquarter and dragged it away into the night.  They could hear the
commotion as the others fought her for the prize, and then the sounds
as they all settled down to feed, snarling and growling and spitting at
each other.

That hunk of raw meat was sufficient to keep even that voracious pride
of the great cats feeding and squabbling for an hour, but when once
more they began to prowl at the edge of the firelight and make short
mock charges at the huddle of terrified humans Hal said, "We must feed
them again."  It soon became clear that the lions would accept these
offerings in preference to rushing the camp, for when the three men
dragged out another hindquarter from the stockade, the beasts waited
for them to retire before a lioness slunk out of the night to haul it
away.

"Always it is the female who is boldest," Hal said, to distract the
others.

Aboli agreed with him.  "And the greediest!"

"It is not our fault that you males lack courage and the sense to help
yourselves," Sukeena told them tartly, and most of them laughed, but
breathlessly and without conviction.  Twice more during the night Hal
had them carry out legs of eland meat to feed the pride.  At last as
the dawn started to define the tops of the thorn trees against the
paling sky the lions seemed to have assuaged their appetites.  They
heard the roaring of the black-maned male fading with distance as he
wandered away.  He roared for the last time a league off, just as the
sun pushed its flaming golden rim above the jagged tops of the mountain
range that ran parallel with the route of their march.

Hal and Althuda went out to find what remained of poor Johannes.
Strangely the lions had left his hands and his head untouched, but had
consumed the rest of him.  Hal closed the staring eyes and Sukeena
wrapped these pathetic remnants in a scrap of cloth and prayed over the
grave they dug.  Hal placed slabs of rock over the fresh turned earth
to deter the hyenas from digging it up.

"We can spend no more time here."  He lifted Sukeena to her feet.  "We
must start out immediately if we are to reach the river today.
Fortunately, there is still enough meat left for our purpose."

They slung the remaining legs of eland meat on carrying poles, and with
a man at each end staggered with them over the rolling hills and
grasslands.  It was late afternoon when they reached the river and,
from the high bluff, looked down onto its broad green expanse, which
had already proved such a barrier to their march.

The Golden Bough dropped her anchor at the head of the channel in
Elephant Lagoon, and at once Llewellyn set his crew to work, pumping
out the bilges and repairing the storm damage to the hull and the
rigging.  A full gale still raged overhead, but though the surface of
the lagoon was whipped into a froth of white wavelets the high ground
of the heads broke its main force.

Cornelius Schreuder fretted to go ashore.  He was desperate to get off
the Golden Bough and rid himself of this company of Englishmen whom he
had come to detest so bitterly.  He looked upon Lord Cumbrae as a
friend and an ally and was anxious to join him and ask him to act as
his second in the affair of honour with Vincent Winterton.  In his tiny
cabin he packed his chests hurriedly and, when a man could not be
spared to help him, lugged them up onto the deck himself.  He stood
with the pile of his possessions at the entry port staring out across
the lagoon to Cumbrae's shore base.

The Buzzard had set up his camp on the same site as Sir Francis
Courtney's, which Schreuder had attacked with his green-jackets.  A
great deal of activity was taking place among the trees.  It seemed to
Schreuder that Cumbrae must be digging trenches and other
fortifications and he was puzzled by this.  he saw no sense in throwing
up earthworks against an enemy that did not exist.

Llewellyn would not leave his ship until he was certain that the
repairs to her were well afoot and that, in all other respects, she was
snugged down and secure.  Eventually he placed his first mate, Arnold
Fowler, in charge of the deck and ordered one of his longboats made
ready.

"Captain Llewellyn!"  Schreuder accosted him, as he came to the ship's
side.  "I have decided that, with Lord Cumbrae's agreement, I will
leave your ship and transfer to the Gull of Moray."

Llewellyn nodded.  "I understood that was your intention and, in all
truth, Colonel, I doubt there will be many tears shed on board the
Golden Bough when you depart.  I am going ashore now to find where we
can refill the water casks that have been contaminated with seawater
during the gale.  I will convey you and your possessions to Cumbrae's
camp, and I have here the fare money which you paid to me for your
passage.  To save myself further unpleasantness and acrimonious
argument, I am repaying this to you in full."

Schreuder would have dearly loved to give himself the pleasure of
disdainfully refusing the offer, but those few guineas were all his
wealth in the world and he took the thin purse that Llewellyn handed
him, and muttered reluctantly, "In that, at least, you act like a
gentleman, sir.  I am indebted to you."

They went down into the longboat, and Llewellyn sat in the stern sheets
while Schreuder found a seat in the bows and ignored the grinning faces
of the crew and the ironical salutes from the ship's officers on the
quarterdeck as they pulled away.  They were only half-way to the beach
when a familiar figure wearing a plaid and a beribboned bonnet
sauntered out from amongst the trees, his red beard and tangled locks
blazing in the sunlight, and watched them approach with both hands on
his hips.

"Colonel Schreuder, by the devil's steaming turds!"  Cumbrae roared as
he recognized him.  "It gladdens my heart to behold your smiling
countenance."  As soon as the bows touched the beach Schreuder leapt
ashore and seized the Buzzard's out thrust hand.

"I am surprised but overjoyed to find you here, my lord."  The Buzzard
looked over Schreuder's shoulder, and grinned widely.  "Och!  And if
it's not my beloved brother of the Temple, Christopher Llewellyn!  Well
met, cousin, and God's benevolence upon you."

Llewellyn did not smile, and showed little eagerness to take the hand
that Cumbrae thrust at him as soon as his feet touched the sand.  "How
do ye do, Cumbrae?  Our last discourse in the Bay of Trincomalee was
interrupted at a crucial point when you left in some disarray."

"Ah, but that was in another land and long ago, cousin, and I'm sure we
can both be magnanimous enough to forgive and forget such a trifling
and silly matter."

"Five hundred pounds and the lives of twenty of my men is not a
trifling and silly matter in my counting house.  And I'll remind you
that I'm no cousin nor any kin of yours," Llewellyn snapped, and his
legs were stiff with the memory of his old outrage.

But Cumbrae placed one arm around his shoulder and said softly, "In
Arcadia habito."

Llewellyn was obviously struggling with himself, but he could not deny
his knightly oath, and at last he gritted the response, "Flumen sacrurn
bene cognosco."

"There you are."  The Buzzard boomed with laughter.  "That was not so
bad, was it?  If not cousins, then we are still brothers in Christ, are
we not?"

"I would feel more brotherly towards you, sir, if I had my five hundred
pounds back in my purse."

"I could set off that debt against the grievous injury that you
inflicted on my sweet Gull and my own person."  The Buzzard pulled back
his cloak to display the bright scar across his upper arm.  "But I'm a
forgiving man with a loving heart, Christopher, and so you shall have
it.  I give you my word on it.  Every farthing of your five hundred
pounds, and the interest to boot."

Llewellyn smiled at him coldly.  "I will delay my thanks until I feel
the weight of your purse in my hands."  Cumbrae saw the purpose in his
level gaze and, without another look at the Golden Bough's row of gun
ports and the handy businesslike lines of her hull, he knew that they
were evenly matched and it would be hard pounding if it came to a fight
between the two ships, just as it had been four years previously in the
Bay of Trincomalee.

"I don't blame you for trusting no man in this naughty world of ours,
but dine with me today, here ashore, and I will place the purse in your
hands, I swear it to you."

Llewellyn nodded grimly.  "Thank you for that offer of hospitality,
sir, but I well remember the last time I availed myself of one of your
invitations.  I have a fine cook on board my own ship who can provide
me with a meal more to my taste.  However, I will return at dusk to
fetch the purse you have promised me."  Llewellyn bowed and returned to
his longboat.

The Buzzard watched him go, with a calculating look in his eyes.  The
longboat headed up the lagoon towards the stream of fresh water that
flowed into its upper end.  "That dandy bastard has a nasty temper," he
growled and, beside him, Schreuder nodded.

"I have never been so pleased to be rid of somebody unpleasant and to
be standing here on this beach and appealing to your friendship, as I
am now."

Cumbrae looked at him shrewdly.  "You have me at a disadvantage, sir,"
he said.  "What indeed are you doing here, and what is it that I can do
for you in good friendship?"

"Where can we talk?"  Schreuder asked.

Cumbrae replied, "This way, my old friend and companion in arms," led
Schreuder to his hut in the grove and poured him half a mug of whisky.
"Now, tell me.  Why are you no longer in command of the garrison at
Good Hope?"

"To be frank with you, my lord, I am in the devil's own fix.  I stand
accused by Governor van de Velde of a crime that I did not commit.  You
know well how bitterly he was obsessed by envy and ill-will towards
me," Schreuder explained, and Cumbrae nodded cautiously without
committing himself.

"Please go on."

"Ten days ago the Governor's wife was murdered in a fit of lust and
bestial passion by the gardener and executioner of the Company."

"Sweet heavens!"  Cumbrae exclaimed.  "Slow John!  I knew he was a
madman.  I could see it in his eyes.  A blethering maniac!  I am sorry
to hear about the woman, though.  She was a delicious little muffin.
put a bone in my breeches just to look at those titties of hers, she
did."

"Van de Velde has falsely accused me of this foul murder.  I was forced
to flee on the first available ship before he had me imprisoned and
placed on the rack.  Llewellyn offered me passage to the Orient where I
had determined to enlist in the war that is afoot in the Horn of Africa
between the Prester and the Great Mogul."

Cumbrae's eyes lit up and he leaned forward on his stool at the mention
of war, like a hyena scenting the blood of a battlefield.  By this time
he was heartily bored with digging for Franky Courtney's elusive
treasure, and the promise of an easier way to fill his holds with
riches had all of his attention.  But he would not show this posturing
braggart just how eager he was, so he left the subject for another time
and said, with feeling and understanding, "You have my deepest sympathy
and my assurances of any aid I am able to render."  His mind was
seething with ideas.  He sensed that Schreuder was guilty of the murder
he denied so vehemently but, guilty or not, he was now an outlaw and he
was placing himself at Cumbrae's mercy.

The Buzzard had been given ample demonstration of Schreuder's qualities
as a warrior.  An excellent man to have serve under him, especially as
he would be completely under Cumbrae's control by virtue of his guilt
and the blood on his hands.  As a fugitive and a murderer, the Dutchman
could no longer afford to be too finicky in matters of morality.

Once a maid has lost her virginity she lifts her skirts and lies down
in the hay with more alacrity the second time, the Buzzard told himself
happily, but reached out and clasped Schreuder's arm with a firm and
friendly grip.  "You can rely on me, my friend," he said.  "How may I
help you?"

"I wish to throw in my lot with you.  I will become your man."

"And heartily welcome you will be."  Cumbrae grinned through his red
whiskers with unfeigned delight.  He had just found himself a hunting
hound, one perhaps not carrying a great cargo of intelligence but, none
the less, fierce and totally without fear.

"I ask only one favour in return," Schreuder said.  The Buzzard let the
friendly hand drop from his shoulder, and his eyes became guarded.  He
might have known that such a handsome gift would have a price written
on the underside.

"A favour?"  he asked.

"On board.  the Golden Bough I was treated in the most shabby and
scurvy fashion.  I was cheated out of a great deal of money at Hazard
by one of the ship's officers, and insulted and reviled by Captain
Llewellyn and his men.  To cap it all, the person who cheated me
challenged me to a duel.  I could find no person on board willing to
act as my second, and Llewellyn forbade this matter of honour to be
pursued until we reached port."

"Go on, please."  Cumbrae's suspicions were beginning to evaporate as
he realized where the conversation was heading.

"I would be most grateful and honoured if you could consent to act as
my second in this affair, my lord."

"That is all you require of me?"  He could hardly credit that it would
be so easy.  Already he could see the profits that might be reaped from
this affair.  He had promised Llewellyn his five hundred pounds, and he
would give it to him, but only when he was certain that he would be
able to get the money back from him, together with any other profit
that he could lay hands upon.

He glanced out over the waters of the lagoon.  There lay the Golden
Bough, a powerful, warlike vessel.  If he were able to add her to his
flotilla, he would command a force in the oriental oceans that few
could match.  If he appeared off the Great Horn of Africa with these
two vessels, in the midst of the war that Schreuder had assured him was
raging, what spoils might there be for the picking?

"It will be my honour and my pleasure to act for you," he told
Schreuder.  "Give me the name of the Bastard who has challenged you,
and I will see to it that you obtain immediate satisfaction from
him."

When Llewellyn came ashore again for dinner, he was accompanied by two
of his officers and a dozen of his seamen, carrying cutlass and
pistols.  Cumbrae was on the beach to welcome him.  "I have the purse I
promised you, my dear Christopher.  Come with me to my poor lodgings
and take a dram with me for loving friendship and for the memory of
convivial days we passed in former times in each other's company.  But
first will ye no" introduce me to these two fine gentlemen of yours?"

"Mister Arnold Fowler, first mate of my ship.  "The two men nodded at
each other.  "And this is my third officer, Vincent Winterton, son of
my patron, Viscount Winterton."

"Also, so I am informed, a paragon at Hazard, and a mean hand with the
dice."  Cumbrae grinned at Vincent and the young man withdrew the hand
he was on the point of proffering.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but what do you mean by that remark?  "Vincent
enquired stiffly.

"Only that Colonel Schreuder has asked me to act for him.  Would you be
good enough to inform me as to who is your own second?"

Llewellyn cut in quickly, "I have the honour to act for Mister
Winterton."

"Indeed, then, we have much to discuss, my dear Christopher.  Please
follow me, but as it is Mister Winterton's affairs we will be
discussing, it might be as well if he remained here on the beach."

Llewellyn followed the Buzzard to his hut, and took the stool that he
was offered.  "A dram of the water of life?"  Llewellyn shook his head.
"Thank you, no.  Let us come to the matters at hand."

"You were always impatient and headstrong."  The Buzzard filled his own
mug and took a mouthful.  He smacked his lips and wiped his whiskers on
the back of his hand.  "You'll never know what you're missing.  "Tis
the finest whisky in all the islands.  But, here, this is for you."  He
slid the heavy purse across the keg that served him for a table.
Llewellyn picked it up and weighed it thoughtfully in his hand.

"Count it if you will," the Buzzard invited him.  "I'll take no
offence."  He sat back and watched with a grin on his face, sipping at
his mug, while Llewellyn arranged the golden coins in neat stacks on
the top of the keg.

"Five hundred it is, and fifty for the interest.  I am obliged to you,
sir."  Llewellyn's expression had softened.

"It's a small price to pay for your love and friendship, Christopher,"
Cumbrae told him.  "But now to this other matter.  As I told you, I act
for Colonel Schreuder."

"And I act for Mister Winterton."  Llewellyn nodded.  "My principal
will be satisfied with an apology from Schreuder."  "You know full
well, Christopher, that my lad will no' give him one.  I am afraid that
the two young puppies will have to fight it out."

"The choice of weapons lies with your side," said Llewellyn.  "Shall we
say pistols at twenty paces?"

"We will say no such thing.  My man wants swords."  "Then we must
agree.  What time and place will suit you?"

"I leave that decision to you."

"I have repairs to make to my rigging and hull.  Damage we sustained in
the gale.  I need Mister Winterton on board to help with these.  May I
suggest three days hence, on the beach at sunrise?"

The Buzzard tugged at his beard as he considered this proposal.  He
would need a few days to make the arrangements he had in mind.  Three
days" delay would suit him perfectly.

"Agreed!"  he said, and Llewellyn rose to his feet immediately and
placed the purse in the pocket of his tunic.

"Will you not take that dram I offered you now, Christopher?"  Cumbrae
suggested, but again Llewellyn declined.

"As I told you, sit, I have much to do on board my ship."  The Buzzard
watched him go down to the beach and step into his longboat.  As they
were rowed back to where the Golden Bough was anchored, Llewellyn and
Winterton were in deep and earnest conversation.

"Young Winterton is in for a surprise.  He can never have seen the
Dutchman with a sword in his hand to have agreed so lightly to the
choice of weapons."  He swigged back the few drops of whisky that
remained in his mug, and grinned again.  "We shall see if we cannot
arrange a little surprise for Christopher Llewellyn also."  He banged
the mug onto the keg top, and bellowed, "Send Mister Bowles to me, and
be quick about it."

Sam Bowles came smarming in, wriggling his whole body like a whipped
dog to ingratiate himself with his captain.  But his eyes were cold and
shrewd.

"Sammy, me boy."  Cumbrae gave him a slap on the arm that stung like a
wasp, but did not upset the smile on the man's lips.  "I have something
for you, that should be much to your taste.  Listen well."

Sam Bowles sat opposite him and cocked his head so as not to miss a
word of his instructions.  Once or twice he asked a question or
chortled with glee and admiration as Cumbrae unfolded his plans.

"You have always wanted the command of your own ship, Sammy me laddy.
This is your chance.  Serve me well, and you shall have it.  Captain
Samuel Bowles.  How does that sound to you?"

"I like the sound of it powerful well, your grace!"  Sam Bowles bobbed
his head.  "And I'll not let you down."

"That you won't!"  Cumbrae agreed.  "Or not more than once, you won't.
For if you do, you'll dance me a merry hornpipe while you dangle from
the main yard of my Gull."

The riverbanks were lined with wild willow and dark green acacia trees,
which were covered with a mantle of yellow blossom.  The river ran
broad and deep, slow and green between its rocky piers.  The sandbanks
were exposed and, as they looked down upon them from the steep slopes
of the valley, Sukeena shuddered and whispered, "Oh, what foul and ugly
creatures!  Surely these are the very dragons we spoke of?"

"They are dragons indeed," Hal agreed, as they gazed down on the
crocodiles that lay sunning on the white beach.  There were dozens of
them, some not much larger than lizards and other brutes with the beam
and length of a ship's boat, massive grey monsters, which surely could
swallow a man whole.  They had found out how ferocious these creatures
were on their first attempt to ford the river, when Billy Rogers had
been seized by one and dragged beneath the surface.  They had not
recovered any part of his body.

"I tremble at the thought of trying to cross again, with these
creatures still guarding the river," Sukeena whispered tremulously.

"Aboli knows them from his own land to the north, and his tribe have a
way of dealing with them."

On the -rocky bluff, high above the river where the crocodiles could
not reach, they stacked the piles of eland meat, which were already
beginning to stink, in the hot sunlight.  Then Hal sent some of the men
to search the forest floor for dried logs that would float high in the
water.  Under Ned Tyler's instruction they shaped them with the
cutlasses, although Hal hated to see the fine steel edges dulled and
chipped.  While this was being done Althuda, with Sukeena helping him,
carefully slit the wet eland hides into long tough ropes as thick as
her little finger.

Aboli sought out the species of tree he needed, and then chopped short
supple stakes from its branches and carried bundles of these back to
where the others were working.  Big Daniel helped him to sharpen both
ends of these short, resilient pieces of green wood into spear points,
and harden them in the fire.  Then, using a log of the correct
circumference as a template, the two powerful men bent each stake
around the log until it formed a circle, the sharpened points
overlapping.  While they held them in place, Hal lashed the ends
together with strips of the raw eland hide.  When they gingerly
released the tension the coiled stakes were like the loaded steel
springs of a musket lock, ready to fly open if the retaining strip of
hide was severed.  By sundown they had finished work on a pile of these
snares.

They had learned from their encounter with the lion pride, and on this
night they hoisted the legs of eland meat high into the top branches of
one of the tallest trees that grew along the banks of the broad river.
They built their stockade well downstream from this cache of meat, and
made certain that the walls were of sturdy logs, and that the entrance
was blocked with freshly cut thorn branches.

Though they slept little that night, lying and listening to the hyena
and the jackal howling and gibbering below the tree where the meat
hung, the lions did not trouble them again.  In the dawn they left the
stockade to begin work once more on their preparations for the river
crossing.

Ned Tyler finished the construction of the raft by lashing the poles
together with rawhide rope.

"Tis a rickety vessel."  Sukeena eyed it with obvious misgivings.  "One
of those great river dragons could overturn it with a flick of its
tail."

"That is why Aboli has prepared his snares for them."  They went back
up the slope to where Althuda and Zwaantie were helping Aboli wrap the
coiled green-wood circlets with a thick covering of half-putrid eland
meat.

"The crocodile cannot chew his food," Aboli explained to them as he
worked.  "Each of these lumps of meat is the right size for one of the
monsters to swallow whole."

When all the baits had been prepared, they carried them down to the
water's edge.  As they approached the sandbank where the great saurians
lay like stranded logs, they shouted clapped their hands and fired off
the muskets, creating a commotion that alarmed even these huge
beasts.

They raised their massive bulks on short stubby legs and lumbered to
the shelter of their natural element, sliding into the deep green pools
with mighty splashes and setting up waves that broke upon the far bank.
As soon as the sandbank was clear, the men rushed out and placed the
lumps of stinking meat along the water's edge.  Then they hurried back
and climbed up to where the women waited on the safety of the high
bluff above the river.

After a while, the eye knuckles of the crocodiles began to pop up
everywhere over the surface of the pool, and then to move in slowly
towards the sandbank.

"They are cowardly, sneaking beasts," Aboli said, with hatred in his
tone and revulsion in his expression, "but soon, when they smell the
meat, their greed will overcome their fear."

As he spoke one of the largest reptiles lifted itself out of the
shallows at the edge and waddled cautiously out on to the sandbank, its
massive crested tail ploughing a furrow behind it.  Suddenly, with
surprising speed and agility, it darted forward and seized one of the
lumps of eland meat.  It opened its jaws to their full stretch as it
strained to swallow.  From the bluff they watched in awe as the huge
lump of meat slid down into its maw, bulging the soft white scales on
the outside of its throat.  It turned and rushed back into the pool,
but immediately another of the scaly reptiles emerged and gobbled a
bait.  There followed a general melee of long slithering bodies,
shining wet in the sunlight, that hissed and snapped and tumbled over
each other as they fought for the meat.

Once every bait had been consumed, some crocodiles splashed back into
the pool, but many settled down again in the sun-warmed sand from where
they had been disturbed.  Peace fell over the riverbank again, and the
kingfishers darted and hovered over the green waters.  A great grey
hippopotamus thrust out his head on the far side of the pool and gave
vent to a raucous grunt of laughter.  His cows clustered around him,
their backs like a pile of shiny black boulders.

"Your plan has not worked," said Sabah in Dutch.  "The crocodiles are
unharmed and still ready to fall upon any of us who goes near the
water."

"Be patient, Sabah," Aboli told him.  "It will take a while for the
juices of their stomach to eat through the rawhide.  But when they do
the sticks will spring open and the sharpened ends will pierce their
guts and stab through their vitals."

As he finished speaking, one of the largest reptiles, the first to take
the bait, suddenly let out a thunderous roar and arched its back until
the cox combed tail flapped over its head.  It roared again, and spun
round to snap with mighty jaws at its own flank, its spiked yellow
fangs tearing through the armoured scales, ripping out lumps of its own
flesh.

"See there!"  Aboli sprang to his feet and pointed.  "The sharp end of
the stake has cut right through his belly."  Then they saw the
fire-blackened point of sharpened green wood protruding a hand's
breadth through the scaly hide.  As the bull crocodile writhed and
hissed in his hideous death throes, a second reptile began to thrash
about in gargantuan convulsions, and then another and another, until
the pool was turned to white foam, and their terrible stricken cries
and roars echoed along the bluffs of the river, startling the eagles
and vultures from their nesting platforms high on the cliffs.

"Bravely done, Aboli!  You have cleared the way for us."  Hal leaped to
his feet.

"Yes!  We can cross now,"Aboli agreed.  "But be swift and do not linger
in the water or near the edge for there may still be some of the
ngovenya who have not felt the spikes in their bellies."

They heeded his advice.  Lifting the clumsy raft between them they
rushed it down the bank, and as soon as it was afloat they flung aboard
the baskets of provisions, the saddle-bags and the bags of gunpowder,
then urged the two women and little Bobby onto the frail craft.  The
men were stripped to their petticoats, and swam the craft across the
sluggish current.  As soon as they reached the opposite bank they
seized their possessions and scampered in haste up the rocky slope
until they were well clear of the riverbank.

High above the water they could at last fall upon each other with
laughter and congratulation.  They camped there that night, and in the
dawn Aboli asked Hal quietly, "How far now to Elephant Lagoon?"

Hal unrolled his chart and pointed out his estimate of their position.
"Here, we are five leagues inland from the seashore and not more than
fifty leagues from the lagoon.  Unless there is another river as wide
as this to bar our way, we should be there in five more days of hard
marching."

"Then let us march hard," said Aboli, and roused the rest of the
depleted band.  At his urging, they took up their loads and, with the
rays of the rising sun beating full into their faces, fell once more
into the order of march that they had maintained through all the long
journey.

The four longboats from the Golden Bough were crowded with seamen as
they rowed ashore in that dark hour before the dawn.  A sailor in the
bow of each boat held high a lantern to light their way, and the
reflections danced like fireflies on the calm black surface of the
lagoon.

"Llewellyn is bringing half his crew ashore with him!"  the Buzzard
gloated, as he watched the little fleet head in towards the beach.

"He suspects treachery," Sam Bowles laughed delightedly, "so he comes
in force."

"What a churlish guest, to suspect us of villainy."  The Buzzard shook
his head sadly.  "He deserves whatever Fate has in store for him."

"He has split his force.  There are at least fifty men in those boats,
Sam estimated.  "He makes it easier for us.  From here it should all be
plane sailing and a following wind."

"Let us hope so, Mister Bowles," the Buzzard grunted.  "I go now to
meet our guests.  Remember, the signal is a red Chinese rocket.  Wait
until you see it burn."

"Aye, Captain!"  Sam knuckled his forehead and slipped away into the
shadows.  Cumbrae strode down the sand to meet the leading boat.  As it
came in to the beach he could see in the lamplight that Llewellyn and
Vincent Winterton were sitting together in the stern sheets.  Vincent
wore a dark woollen cloak against the dawn chill, but his head was
bare.  He had braided his hair into a thick pigtail down his back.  He
followed his captain ashore.

"Good morrow, gentlemen," Cumbrae greeted them.  "I commend you for
your punctuality."

Llewellyn nodded a greeting.  "Mister Winterton is ready to begin."

The Buzzard waggled his beard.  "Colonel Schreuder is waiting.  This
way, if you please."  They strode abreast along the beach, the seamen
from the boats following in an orderly column.  "It is unusual to have
such a crowd of ruffians to witness an affair of honour," he
remarked.

"There are but a few conventions out here beyond the Line," Llewellyn
retorted, "but one is to keep your back well covered."

"I take your point."  Cumbrae chuckled.  "But to demonstrate my good
faith, I will not invite any of my own lads to join us.  I am unarmed."
He showed his hands, then opened the front of his tunic to demonstrate
the fact.  Making a comforting lump in the small of his back, where it
was tucked into his belt, was one of the newfangled wheel-lock pistols,
made by Fallon of Glasgow.  It was a marvelous invention but
prohibitively expensive, which was the main reason why it was not more
widely employed.  On pressing the trigger the spring-loaded wheel of
the lock spun and the iron pyrites striker sent a shower of sparks into
the pan to detonate the charge.  The weapon had cost him well over
twenty pounds but was worth the price for there was no burning match to
betray its presence.

"To demonstrate your own good faith, my dear Christopher, will you
kindly keep your men together at your side of the square and under your
direct control?"

A short way down the beach, they came to the area where the sand had
been levelled and a square roped off.  A water cask had been set up at
each of the four corners.  "Twenty paces each side," Cumbrae told
Llewellyn.  "Will that give your man enough sea room in which to
work?"

Winterton surveyed the square then nodded briefly.  "It will suit us
well enough."  Llewellyn spoke for him.

"We will have some time to wait for the light to strengthen" Cumbrae
said.  "My cook has prepared a breakfast of hot biscuit and spiced
wine.  Will you partake?"

"Thank you, my lord.  A cup of wine would be welcome."  A steward
brought the steaming cups to them, and Cumbrae said, "If you will
excuse me, I will attend my principal."  He bowed and went up the path
into the trees, to return minutes later leading Colonel Schreuder.

They stood together at the far side of the roped square, talking
quietly.  At last Cumbrae looked up at the sky, said something to
Schreuder, then nodded and came to where Llewellyn and Vincent waited.
"I think the light is good enough now.  Do you gentlemen agree?"

"We can begin."  Llewellyn nodded stiffly.

"My principal offers his weapon for your examination," Cumbrae said,
and proffered the Neptune sword hilt first.  Llewellyn took it and held
the gold-inlaid blade up to the morning light.

"A fancy piece of work," he murmured disparagingly.  "These naked
females would not be out of place in a whorehouse."  He touched the
gold engravings of sea nymphs.  "But at least the point is not poisoned
and the length matches that of my principal's blade."  He held the two
swords side by side to compare them, and then passed Vincent's sword to
Cumbrae for inspection.

"A fair match," he agreed, and passed it back.  "Five-minute rounds and
first blood?"  Llewellyn asked, drawing his gold timepiece from the
pocket of his waistcoat.

"I am afraid we cannot agree to that."  Cumbrae shook his head.  "My
man wishes to fight without pause until one of them cries for quarter
or is dead."

"By God, sir!"  Llewellyn burst out.  "Those rules are murderous."

"If your man pisses like a puppy, then he should not aspire to howl
with the wolves."  Cumbrae shrugged.

"I agree!"  Vincent interjected.  "We will fight to the death, if
that's the way the Dutchman wants it."

"That, sir, is exactly how he wants it," Cumbrae assured him.  "We are
ready to begin when you are.  Will you give the signal, Captain
Llewellyn?"

The Buzzard went back and, in a few terse sentences, explained the
rules to Schreuder, who nodded and ducked under the rope of the
barrier.  He wore a thin shirt open at the throat so that it was clear
that he wore no body armour beneath it.  Traditionally, the brilliant
white cotton would give his opponent a fair aiming mark, and show up
the blood from a hit.

On the opposite side of the square Vincent loosened the clasp of his
cloak and let it drop into the sand.  He was dressed in a similar white
shirt.  With his sword in his hand, he vaulted lightly over the rope
barrier and faced Schreuder across the swept beach sand.  Both men
began to limber up with a series of practice cuts and thrusts that made
their blades sing and glitter in the early light.

"Are you ready, Colonel Schreuder?"  After a few minutes, Llewellyn
called from the side-line as he held on high a red silk scarf.

"Ready!"

"Are you ready, Mister Winterton?"  "Ready!"

Llewellyn let the scarf drop, and a growl went up from the Gull's
seamen at the far side of the square.  The two swordsmen circled each
other, closing in cautiously with their blades extended and their
points circling and dipping.  Suddenly Vincent, sprang forward, and
feinted for Schreuder's throat, but Schreuder met him easily and locked
his blade.  For a long moment they strained silently, staring into each
other's eyes.  Perhaps Vincent saw death in the other man's implacable
gaze, and felt the steel in his wrist, for he broke first.  As he
recoiled Schreuder came after him with a series of lightning ripostes
that made his blade glint and glitter like a sunbeam.

It was a dazzling display that drove Vincent, desperately parrying and
retreating, against one of the water kegs that marked a corner of the
square.  Pinned there, he was at Schreuder's mercy.  Abruptly Schreuder
broke off the assault, turned his back contemptuously on the younger
man and strode back into the centre.  There, he took up his guard again
and, blade poised, waited for Vincent to engage him once more.

All the watchers, except Cumbrae, were stunned by the Dutchman's
virtuosity.  Clearly Vincent Winterton was a swordsman of superior
ability but he had been forced to call upon all his skill to survive
that first blazing attack.  In his heart Llewellyn knew that Vincent
had survived not because of his skill but because Schreuder had wanted
it that way.  Already the young Englishman had been touched three
times, two light cuts on the chest and another deeper wound on the
upper left arm.  His shirt was slashed in three irregular tears and was
turning red and sodden as the wounds began to weep profusely.

Vincent glanced down at them, and his expression mirrored the despair
he felt as he faced the knowledge that he was no match for the
Dutchman.  He lifted his head and looked across to where Schreuder
waited for him, his stance classical and arrogant, his expression grave
and intent as he studied his adversary over the weaving point of the
Neptune sword.

Vincent straightened his spine and took his guard, trying to smile
carelessly as he steeled himself to go forward to his certain death.
The rough seamen who watched might have bayed and bellowed at the
spectacle of a bull-baiting or a cockfight, but even they had fallen
silent, awed by the terrible tragedy they saw unfolding.  Llewellyn
could not let it happen.

"Hold hard!"  he cried, and vaulted over the rope.  He strode between
the two men, his right hand raised.  "Colonel Schreuder, sir.  You have
given us every reason to admire your swordsmanship.  You have drawn
first blood.  Will you not give us good reason to respect you by
declaring that your honour is satisfied?"

"Let the English coward apologize to me in front of all the present
company, and then I will be satisfied," said Schreuder, and Llewellyn
turned to appeal to Vincent.  "Will you do what the colonel asks?
Please, Vincent, for my sake and the trust I pledged to your father."

Vincent's face was deathly pale but the blood that stained his shirt
was bright crimson, as full blown June roses on the bush.  "Colonel
Schreuder has this moment called me a coward.  Forgive me, Captain, but
you know I cannot accede to such conditions."

Llewellyn looked sadly upon his young protege.  "He intends to kill
you, Vincent.  It is such a shameful waste of a fine young life."

"And I intend to kill him."  Vincent was able to smile now that it was
decided.  It was a gay, reckless smile.  "Please stand aside, Captain."
Hopelessly Llewellyn turned back to the sidelines.

"On guard, sir!"  Vincent called, and charged with the white sand
spurting from under his boots, thrust and parry for his very life.  The
Neptune sword was an impenetrable wall of steel before him, meeting and
turning his own blade with an ease that made all his bravest efforts
seem like those of a child.  Schreuder's grave expression never
faltered, and when at last Vincent fell back, panting and gasping,
sweat diluting his streaming blood to pink, he was wounded twice more.
There was black despair in his eyes.

Now, at last, the seamen from the Golden Bough had found their voices.
"Quarter!  You bloody murdering cheese head  they howled, and "Fair
shakes, man.  Let the lad live!"

"They'll get no mercy from Colonel Cornelius," Cumbrae smiled grimly,
"but the din they're making will help Sam to do his job."  He glanced
across the lagoon to where the Golden Bough lay in the channel.

Every man still aboard her was crowded along the near rail, straining
his eyes for a glimpse of the duel.  Even the lookout at her main top
had trained his telescope on the beach.  Not one was aware of the boats
that were speeding out from among the mangroves on the far shore.  He
recognized Sam Bowles in the leading boat, as it raced in under the
Golden Bough's tumble home and was hidden from his view by the ship's
hull.  Sweet Mary, Sam will take her without a shot fired!  Cumbrae
thought exultantly, and looked back at the arena.

"You have had your turn, sir," said Schreuder quietly.  "Now it is
mine.  On guard, if you please.  "With three swift strides he had
covered the gap that separated them.  The younger man met his first
thrust, and then the second with a high parry and block, but the
Neptune blade was swift and elusive as an enraged cobra.  It seemed to
mesmerize him with its deadly shining dance and, darting and striking,
slowly forced him to yield ground.  Each time he parried and retreated,
he lost position and balance.

Then suddenly Schreuder executed a coup that few swordsmen would dare
attempt outside the practice field.

He caught up both blades in the classical prolonged engagement,
swirling the two swords together so that the steel edges shrilled with
a sound that grated across the nerve endings of the watchers.  Once
committed neither man dared break off the engagement, for to do so was
to concede an opening.  Around in a deadly glittering circle the two
swords revolved.  It became a trial of strength and endurance.
Vincent's arm turned leaden and the sweat dripped from his chin.  His
eyes were desperate and his wrist began to tremble and bend under the
strain.

Then Schreuder froze the fatal circle.  He did not break away but
simply clamped Vincent's sword in a vice of steel.  It was a display of
such strength and control that even Cumbrae gaped with amazement.

For a moment the duel lists remained unmoving, then slowly Schreuder
began to force both points upward, until they were aimed skywards at
full stretch of their arms.  Vincent was helpless.  He tried to hold
the other blade but his arm began to shudder and his muscles quivered.
He bit down on his own tongue with the effort until a spot of blood
appeared at the -corner of his mouth.

It could not last longer, and Llewellyn cried out in despair as he saw
that the young man had reached the furthest limits of his strength and
endurance.  "Hold hard, Vincent!"" It was in vain.  Vincent broke.  He
disengaged with his right arm at full reach above his head, and his
chest wide open.

"Ha!"  shouted Schreuder, and his thrust was a blur, fast as the
release of a bolt from a crossbow.  He drove in his point an inch below
Vincent's sternum, clear through his body and a foot out of his back.
For a long moment Vincent froze like a figure carved from a block of
marble.  Then his legs melted under him and he toppled into the sand.

"Murder!"  cried Llewellyn.  He sprang into the square and knelt beside
the dying youth.  He took him in his arms, and looked up again at
Schreuder.  "Bloody murder!"  he cried again.

"I must take that as a request."  Cumbrae smiled and came up behind the
kneeling man.  "And I am happy to oblige you, cousin!"  he said, and
brought the wheel-lock pistol out from behind his back.  He thrust the
muzzle into the back of Llewellyn's head and pulled the trigger.  There
was a bright flare of sparks and then the pistol roared and leaped in
the Buzzard's fist.  At such close range the load of lead pellets drove
clean through Llewellyn's skull and blew half of his face away in red
tatters.  He flopped forwards with Vincent's body still in his arms.

The Buzzard looked around quickly, and saw that from the dark grove the
red rocket was already soaring upwards, leaving a parabola of silver
smoke arched against the fragile blue of the early-morning sky, the
signal to Sam Bowles and his boarding party to storm the decks of the
Golden Bough.

Meanwhile, above the beach, the gunners hidden among the trees were
dragging away the branches that covered their culver ins  The Buzzard
had sited the battery himself and laid them to cover all the far side
of the square where the seamen from the Golden Bough stood in a row
four deep.  The culver ins enfiladed the group, and each was loaded
with a full charge of grape shot.

Even though they were unaware of the hidden battery, the seamen "from
the Golden Bough were swiftly recovering from the shock of seeing their
officers slaughtered before their horrified gaze.  A hum of fury and
wild cries of outrage went up from their midst, but there was no
officer to give the order, and though they drew their cutlasses, yet
instinctively they hesitated and hung back.

The Buzzard seized Colonel Schreuder's free arm and grated in his ear.
"Come on!  Hurry!  Clear the range."  He dragged him from the roped
ring.  ""By God, sir, you have murdered Llewellyn!"  Schreuder
protested.  He was stunned by the act.  "He was unarmed!
Defenceless!"

"We will debate the niceties of it later," Cumbrae promised, and stuck
out one booted foot, hooking Schreuder's ankle at the same time shoving
him forward.  The two men sprawled headlong into the shallow trench in
the sand that Cumbrae had dug specially for this purpose, just as the
seamen from the Golden Bough burst through the ropes of the ring behind
them.

"What are you doing?"  Schreuder bellowed.  "Release me at once."

"I am saving your life, you blethering idiot," Cumbrae shouted in his
ear, and held his head down below the lip of the trench as the first
salvo of grape shot thundered from out of the grove and swept the
beach.

The Buzzard had calculated the range with care so that the pattern of
shot spread to its most deadly arc.  It caught the phalanx of sailors
squarely, raked the sand of the beach into a blinding white storm, and
went on to tear across the surface of the quiet lagoon waters like a
gate.  Most of the Golden Bough's men were struck down instantly, but a
few stayed on their feet, bewildered and stunned, staggering like
drunkards from their wounds and from the turmoil of grape shot and the
blast of disrupted air.

Cumbrae seized his claymore from the bottom of the pit, where he had
buried it under a light coating of sand, and leaped to his feet.  He
rushed on these few survivors, the great sword gripped in both hands.
He struck the head clean from the torso of the first man in his path,
just as his own sailors came charging out of the gunsmoke, yelling like
demons and brandishing their cutlasses.

They fell upon the decimated shore party and hacked them down, even
when Cumbrae bellowed, "Enough!  Give quarter to those who yield!"

They took no heed of his order, and swung the cutlasses until the brown
blood drops wet them to the elbows and speckled their grinning faces.
Cumbrae had to lay about him with his fists and the flat of his
sword.

"Avast!  We need men to sail the Golden Bough.  Spare me a dozen, you
bloody ruffians."  They gave him less than he demanded.  When the
carnage was over there were only nine, trussed ankle and wrist and
lying belly down in the sand like porkers in the marketplace.

"This way!"  the Buzzard bellowed again, and led his crew sprinting
down the beach to where the longboats from the Golden Bough were drawn
up.  They piled into them and seized the oars.  With Cumbrae roaring in
the bows like a wounded animal they pulled for the Golden Bough, hooked
onto her sides and went swarming up onto her deck with cutlass bared
and pistols cocked.

There, help was not needed.  Sam Bowles's men had taken the Golden
Bough by surprise and storm.  The deck was slippery with blood and
corpses were strewn across it and huddled in the scuppers.  Under the
forecastle a small band of Llewellyn's men were hanging on desperately,
surrounded by Sam's gang of boarders, but when they saw the Buzzard and
his gang storm up onto the deck they threw down their cutlasses.  Those
few who could swim raced to the ship's side and dived into the lagoon
while the others fell to their knees and pleaded for quarter.

"Spare them, Mister Bowles," Cumbrae shouted.  "I need sailors!"  He
did not wait to see the order obeyed but snatched a musket from the
hands of the man beside him and ran to the rail.  The escaping sailors
were splashing their way towards the mangrove trees.  He took careful
aim at the head of one, whose pink scalp showed through his wet grey
hair.  It was a lucky shot, and the man threw up both hands and sank,
leaving a pink stain on the surface.  The men around Cumbrae hooted
with glee and joined in the sport, calling their targets and laying
wagers on their marksmanship.  "Who'll give me fives in shillings on
that rogue with the blond pigtail?"  They shot the swimming men like
wounded ducks.

Sam Bowles came grinning and bobbing to meet Cumbrae.  "The ship is
yours, your grace."

"Well done, Mister Bowles."  Cumbrae gave him such a hearty blow of
commendation as to knock him almost off his feet.  "There will be some
hiding below decks.  Winkle them out!  Try to take them alive.  Put a
boat in the water and drag those out also!"  He pointed at the few
survivors still splashing and swimming towards the mangroves.  "I am
going down to Llewellyn's cabin to find the ship's papers.  Call me
when you have all the prisoners trussed up in the waist of the ship."

He kicked open the locked door to Llewellyn's cabin, and paused to
survey the interior.  It was beautifully appointed, the furniture
carved and polished and the drapery of fine velvet.

In the writing desk he found the keys to the iron strongbox that was
bolted to the deck below the comfortable bunk.  As soon as he opened it
he recognized the purse he had given Llewellyn.  "I am much obliged to
you, Christopher.  You'll not be needing this where you're going," he
murmured as he slipped it into his pocket.  Under it was a second
purse, which he carried to the desk.  He spilled the golden coins out
onto the tabletop.  "Two hundred and sixteen pounds five shillings and
twopence," he counted.  "This will be the money for the running of the
ship.  Very parsimonious, but I am grateful for any contribution."

Then his eyes lit on a small wooden chest in the bottom of the box.  He
lifted it out and inspected the name carved into the lid.  "The Hon.
Vincent Winterton."  The chest was locked but it yielded readily to the
blade of his dirk.  He smiled as he saw what it contained, and let a
handful of coins run through his fingers.  "No doubt the gambling
losses of the good.  Colonel Schreuder are in here but he need never be
tempted to wager them again.  I will take care of them for him."

He poured a mug of French brandy from the captain's stores and seated
himself at the desk while he ran through the ship's books and
documents.  The log-book would make interesting reading at a later
date.  He set it aside.  He glanced through a letter of partnership
agreement with Lord Winterton who, it seemed, owned the Golden Bough.
"No longer, your lordship."  He grinned.  "I regret to inform you that
she is all mine now."

The cargo manifest was disappointing.  The Golden Bough was carrying
mostly cheap trade goods, knives and axes, cloth, beads and copper
rings.  However, there were also five hundred muskets and a goodly
store of black, powder in her holds.

"Och!  So you were going to do a spot of gun smuggling.  Shame on you,
my dear Christopher."  He tutted disapprovingly.  "I'll have to find
something better to fill her holds on the return voyage," he promised
himself, and took a pull at the brandy.

He went on sorting through the other documents.  There was a second
letter from Winterton, agreeing to the Golden Bough's commission as a
warship in the service of the Prester John, and a flowery letter of
introduction to him signed by the Chancellor of England, the Earl of
Clarendon, under the Great Seal, commending Christopher Llewellyn to
the ruler of Ethiopia in the highest terms.

"Ah!  That is of more value.  With some small alteration to the name,
even I would fall for that!"  He folded it carefully and replaced the
chest, the purses, the books and documents in the strong-box, and hung
the key on a ribbon around his neck.  While he finished the rest of the
brandy he considered the courses of action that were now open to him.

This war in the Great Horn intrigued him.  Soon the south-east trade
winds would begin to blow across the Ocean of the Indies.  On their
benevolent wings the Great Mogul would be sending his dhows laden with
troops and treasure from his empire on the mainland of India and
Further India to his entre pets on the African coast.  There would also
be the annual pilgrimage of the faithful of Islam taking advantage of
the same fair wind to sail up the Arabian Sea on their journey to the
birthplace of the Prophet of God.  Potentates and princes, ministers of
state and rich merchants from every corner of the Orient, they would
carry with them such riches as he could only guess at, to lay as
offerings in the holy mosques and temples of Mecca and Medina.

Cumbrae allowed himself a few minutes to dream of pigeon's-blood rubies
and cornflower sapphires the size of his fist, and elephant-loads of
silver and gold bullion.  "With the Gull and the Golden Bough sailing
together, there ain't no black heathen prince who will be able to deny
me.  I will fill my holds with the best of it.  Franky Courtney's
miserly little treasure pales beside such abundance," he consoled
himself.  It still rankled sorely that he had not been able to find
Franky's hiding place, and he scowled.  "When I sail from this lagoon,
I will leave the bones of Jiri and those other lying blackamoors as
signposts to mark my passing, "he promised himself.

Sam Bowles interrupted his thoughts by sticking his head into the
cabin.  "Begging your pardon, your grace, we've rounded up all the
prisoners.  It was a clean sweep.  Not one of them got away."

The Buzzard heaved himself to his feet, glad to have a distraction from
these niggling regrets.  "Let's see what you've got for me, then."

The prisoners were bound and squatting in three files in the ship's
waist.  "Forty-two hardened salt-water men," said Sam proudly, "sound
in wind and limb."

"None of them wounded?"  the Buzzard asked incredulously.

Sam answered in a whisper, "I knew you wouldn't want to be bothered to
play nursemaid to such.  We held their heads under water to help them
on their way into the bosom of Jesus.  For most of them it was a
mercy."

"I'm amazed at your compassion, Mister Bowles," Cumbrae grunted, "but
in future spare me such details.  You know I'm a man of gentle
persuasion."  He put that matter out of his mind and contemplated his
prisoners.  Despite Sam's assurance, many had been heavily beaten,
their eyes were blackened and their lips cut and swollen.  They hung
their heads and none would look at him.

He walked slowly down the squatting ranks, now and then seizing a
handful of hair and lifting the man's face to study it.  When he
reached the end of the line he came back and addressed them jovially.
"Hear me, my bully lads, I have a berth for all of you.  Sail with me
and you shall have a shilling a month and a fair share of the prize
money and, as sure as my name is Angus Cochran, there'll be sack loads
of gold and silver to share."

None replied, and he frowned.  "Are you deaf or has the devil got your
tongues?  Who will sail with Cochran of Cumbrae?"  The silence hung
heavily over the deck.  He strode forward and picked out one of the
most intelligent looking of his prisoners.  "What's your name, lad?"

"Davey Morgan."

"Will you sail with me, Davey?"

Slowly the man lifted his head and stared at the Buzzard.  "I saw young
Mister Winterton slaughtered and the captain shot down in cold blood on
the beach.  I'll not sail with any murdering pirate."

"Pirate!"  the Buzzard screamed.  "You dare to call me pirate, you lump
of stinking offal?  You were born to feed the seagulls, and that's what
you shall do!"  The great claymore rasped from its scabbard, and he
swung it down to cleave Davey Morgan's head, through the teeth as far
as his shoulders.  With the bloody sword in his hand he strode down the
line of prisoners.

"Is there another among you who would dare to call me pirate to my
face?"  No man spoke out, and at last Cumbrae rounded on Sam Bowles.
"Lock them all in the Golden Bough's hold.  Feed them on half a pint of
water and a biscuit a day.  Let them think about my offer more
seriously.  In a few days" time I'll speak to these lovelies again, and
we shall see if they have better manners then."

He took Sam aside and spoke in a quieter tone.  "There is still some
storm damage that needs repair."  He pointed up at the rigging.  "She's
your ship now, to sail and command.  Make all good at once.  I want to
leave this godforsaken anchorage as soon as I can.  Do you hear me,
Captain Bowles?"

Sam Bowles's face lit with pleasure at the title.  "You can rely on me,
your grace."

Cumbrae strode to the entry port and slid down into one of the
longboats.  "Take me back to the beach, varlets."  He jumped over the
side before they touched the sand and waded knee-deep to the shore
where Colonel Schreuder was waiting for him.

"My lord, I must speak to you, he said, and the Buzzard smiled at him
engagingly.

"Your discourse always gives me pleasure, sit.  Come with me.  We can
talk while I go about my affairs."  He led the way across the beach,
and into the grove.

"Captain Llewellyn was-" Schreuder began, but the Buzzard cut him
off.

"Llewellyn was a bloody pirate.  I was defending myself from his
treachery."  He stopped abruptly and faced Schreuder, hauling up his
sleeve to display the ridged purple scar that disfigured his shoulder.
"Do you see that?  That's what I got for trusting Llewellyn once
before.  If I had not forestalled him, his desperadoes would have
fallen on us and slaughteied us where we stood.  I am sure that you
understand and that you are grateful for my intervention.  It could
have been you going that way."

He pointed at the group of his men who were staggering up from the
beach, dragging the corpses of Llewellyn and Vincent Winterton by their
legs.  Llewellyn's shattered head left a red drag mark through the
sand.

Schreuder stared aghast at the burial party.  He recognized in
Cumbrae's words both a warning and a threat.  Beyond the first line of
trees was a series of deep trenches that had been freshly dug all over
the area where once Sir Francis Courtney's encampment had stood.  His
hut was gone but in its place was a pit twenty feet deep, its bottom
filled with seepage of brackish lagoon water.  There was another
extensive excavation on the site of the old spice go down  It looked as
though an army of miners had been at work among the trees.  The
Buzzard's men dragged the corpses to the nearest of these pits and
dumped them unceremoniously into it.  The bodies slid down the steep
side and splashed into the puddle at the bottom.

Schreuder looked troubled and uncertain.  "I find it difficult to
believe that Llewellyn was such a person."  But Cumbrae would not let
him finish.

"By God, Schreuder, do you doubt my word?  What of your assurance that
you wanted to throw in your lot with me?  If my actions offend you then
it's better that we part now.  I will give you one of the pirmaces from
the Golden Bough, and a crew of Llewellyn's pirates to help you make
your own way back to Good Hope.  You can explain your fine scruples to
Governor van de Velde.  Is that more to your liking?"

"No, sir, it is not," said Schreuder hurriedly.  "You know I cannot
return to Good Hope."

"Well, then, Colonel, are you still with me?"

Schreuder hesitated, watching the grisly labours of the burial teams.
He knew that if he crossed Cumbrae he would probably end up in the pit
with Llewellyn and the sailors from the Golden Bough.  He was
trapped.

"I am still with you," he said at last.

The Buzzard nodded.  "Here's my hand on it, then."  He thrust out his
huge freckled fist covered with wiry ginger hair.  Slowly Schreuder
reached out and took it.  Cumbrae could see in his eyes the realization
dawning that from now onwards he would be beyond the pale and was
content that he could trust Schreuder at last.  By accepting and
condoning the massacre of the officers and crew of the Golden Bough he
had made himself a pirate and an outlaw.  He was, in every sense, the
Buzzard's man.

"Come along with me, sir.  Let me show you what we have done here."
Cumbrae changed the subject easily, and led Schreuder past the mass
grave without another glance at the pile of corpses.  "You see, I knew
Francis Courtney well we were like brothers.  I am still certain that
his fortune is hidden hereabouts.  He has what he took from the
Standvastigheid and that from the Heerlycke Nacht.  By the blood of all
the saints, there must be twenty thousand pounds buried somewhere under
these sands."

At that they came to the long, deep trench where forty of Cumbrae's men
were already back at work with spades.  Among them were the three black
seamen he had bought on the slave block at Good Hope.

"Jiri!"  the Buzzard bellowed.  "Matesi!  Kimatti!"  The slaves jumped,
threw down their spades and scrambled out of the ditch in trepidation
to face their master.

"Look at these great beauties, sir.  I paid five hundred florins for
each.  It was the worst bargain I ever struck.  Here before your eyes
you have living proof that there are only three things a blackamoor can
do well.  He can prevaricate, thieve and swive."  The Buzzard let fly a
guffaw.  "Isn't that the truth, Jiri?"

"Yes, Lardy."  Jiri grinned and agreed.  "It's God's own truth."

The Buztard stopped laughing as suddenly as he had begun.  "What do you
know about God, you heathen?"  he roared and, with a mighty swing of
his fist, he knocked Jiri back into the ditch.  "Get back to work all
three of you!"  They seized their spades and attacked the bottom of the
ditch in a frenzy, sending earth flying over the parapet in a cloud.
Cumbrae stood above them, his hands on his hips.  "Listen to me, you
sons of midnight.  You tell me that the treasure I seek is buried here.
Well, then, find it for me or you won't be coming with me when I sail
away.  I'll bury all three of you in this grave that you're digging
with your own sooty paws.  Do you hear me?"

"We hear you, Lardy," they answered in chorus.

He took Schreuder's arm in a companionable grip and led him away.  "I
have come to accept the sad fact that they never truly knew the
whereabouts of Franky's hoard.  They've been jollying me along all
these months.  My rascals and I have had just about a bellyful of
playing at moles.  Let me offer you the hospitality of my humble abode
and a mug of whisky, and you can tell me all you know about this pretty
little war that's a-going on between the great Mogul and the Prester.
Methinks, you and I might well find better occupation and more profit
elsewhere than here at Elephant Lagoon."

In the firelight Hal studied his band as they ate, with ravenous
appetite, their dinner of smoked meat.  The hunting had been poor in
these last days and most of them were tired.  His own seamen had never
been slaves.  Their labour on the walls of the castle of Good Hope had
not broken or cowed them.  Rather it had hardened them, and now the
long march had put a temper on them.  He could want no more from them.
they were tough and tried warriors.  Althuda he liked and trusted, but
he had been a slave from childhood and some of his men would never be
fighters.  Sabah was a disappointment.  He had not fulfilled Hal's
expectation of him.  He had become sullen and obstructive.  He shirked
his duties and protested at the orders Hal gave him.  His favourite cry
had become, "I am a slave no longer!  No man has the right to command
me!"

Sabah would not fare well if matched against the likes of the Buzzard's
seamen, Hal thought, but he looked up and smiled as Sukeena came to sit
beside him.

"Do not make an enemy of Sabah," she whispered quietly.

"I do not wish that," he replied, "but every man among us must do his
part."  He looked down at her tenderly.  "You are the worth of ten men
like Sabah, but today I saw you stumble more than once and when you
thought I was not watching you there was pain in your eyes.  Are you
sickening, my sweetheart?  Am I truly setting too hard a pace?"

"You are too fond, Gundwane."  She smiled up at him.  "I will walk with
you to the very gates of hell and not complain."

"I know you would, and it worries me.  If you do not complain, how will
I ever know what ails you?"

"Nothing ails me," she assured him.

"Swear it to me," he insisted.  "You are not hiding any illness from
me."

"I swear it to you, with this kiss."  She gave him her lips.  "All is
as well as God ever intended.  And I will prove it to you."  She took
his hand and led him to the dark corner of the stockade where she had
laid out their bed.

Though her body melted into his as sweetly as before, there was a
softness and languor in her loving that was strange and, though it
delighted him while his passion was in white heat, afterwards it left
him with a sense of disquiet and puzzlement.  He was aware that
something had changed but he was at a loss as to exactly what was
different.

The next day he watched her carefully during the long march, and it
seemed to him that on the steeper ground her step was not as spry as it
had been.  Then, when the heat was fiercest, she lost her place in the
column and began to fall back.  Zwaantie went to help her over a rough
place in the elephant path that they were following but Sukeena said
something sharply to her and thrust away her hand.  Hal slowed the
pace, almost imperceptibly, to give her respite, and called the midday
halt earlier than he had on the preceding days.

Sukeena slept beside him that night with a deathlike stillness while
Hal lay awake.  By now he was convinced that she was not well, and that
she was trying to hide her weakness from him.  As she slept her
breathing was so light that he had to place his ear to her lips to
reassure himself.  He held her close and her body seemed heated.  Once,
just before dawn, she groaned so pitifully that he felt his heart swell
with love and concern for her.  At last he also fell into a deep
dreamless sleep.  When he woke with a start and reached out for her, he
found her gone.

He lifted himself on one elbow and looked around the stockade.  The
fire had died down to a puddle of embers, but the full moon, even
though it was low in the west, threw enough light for him to see that
she was not there.  He could make out the dark shape of Aboli.  the
morning star was almost washed out by the more brilliant light of the
moon, but it burned just above his head as he sat his watch at the
entrance.  Aboli was awake, for Hal heard him cough softly and then saw
him draw his fur blanket closer around his shoulders.

Hal threw back his own kaross, and went to squat beside him.  "Where is
Sukeena?"  he whispered.

"She went out a short while ago."  "Which way?"

"Down towards the stream."  "You did not stop her?"

"She was going about her private business."  Aboli turned to look at
him curiously.  "Why would I stop her?"

"I am sorry," Hal whispered back.  "I meant no rebuke.  She worries me.
She is not well.  Have you not noticed?"  Aboli hesitated.  "Perhaps."
He nodded.  "Women are children of the moon, which lacks but a few
nights of full, so perhaps her courses are in flood."

"I am going after her."  Hal stood up and went down the rough path
towards the shallow pool where they had bathed the previous evening.
He was about to call her name when he heard a sound that silenced and
alarmed him.  He stopped and listened anxiously.  The sound came again,
the sound of pain and distress.  He started forward and saw her on the
sandbank kneeling beside the pool.  She had thrown aside her blanket,
and the moonlight shone on her bare skin, imparting to it the patina of
polished ivory.  She was doubled up in a convulsion of pain and
sickness.  As he watched in distress, she retched and vomited into the
sand.

He ran down to her and dropped on his knees beside her.  She looked up
at him in despair.  "You should not see me thus, she whispered
-hoarsely, then turned her head.  away and vomited again.  He put his
arm around her bare shoulders.  She was cold and shivering.

"You are sick," he breathed.  "Oh, my love, why did you not answer me
straight?  Why did you try to hide it from me?

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.  "You should not have
followed," she said.  "I did not want you to know."

"If you are sick, then I must know.  You should trust me enough to tell
me."

"I did not want to be a burden to you.  I did not want you to delay the
march because of me."

He hugged her to him.  "You will never be a burden to me.  You are the
breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins.  Tell me now truthfully
what ails you, my darling."

She sighed and shivered against him.  "Oh, Hal, forgive me.  I did not
want this to happen yet.  I have taken all the medicines that I know of
to prevent it."

"What is it?"  He was confused and dismayed.  "Please tell me "I am
carrying your child in my womb."  He stared at her in astonishment and
could neither move nor speak.  "Why are you silent?  Why do you look at
me so?  Please don't be angry with me."

Suddenly he clasped her to his chest with all his strength.  "It is not
anger that stops up my mouth.  It is joy.  Joy for our love.  joy for
the son you promised me."

That day Hal changed the order of march and took Sukeena to walk with
him at the head of the column.  Though she protested laughingly, he
took her basket from her and added it to his own load.  Thus relieved
she was able to step out lightly and stay beside him without
difficulty.  Still he took her hand on the difficult places, and she
did not demur when she saw what pleasure it gave him to protect and
cherish her thus.

"You must not tell the others," she murmured, "else they will want to
slow the march on my behalf."

"You are as strong as Aboli and Big Daniel," he assured her staunchly,
"but I will not tell them."

So they kept their secret, walking hand in hand and smiling at each
other in such obvious happiness that even if Zwaantie had not told
Althuda and he had not told Aboli, they must have guessed.  Aboli
grinned as if he were the father and showed Sukeena such special favour
and attention that even Sabah, in the end, fathomed the reason for this
new mood that had come over the band.

The land through which they were passing now became more heavily
wooded.  Some of the trees were monstrous and seemed, like great
arrows, to pierce the very heavens.  "These must have been old when
Christ the Saviour was born upon this earth!"  Hal marvelled.

With Aboli's wise counsel and guidance they were coming to terms with
this savage terrain, and the great animals that abounded in it.  Fear
was no longer their constant companion, and Hal and Sukeena had learned
to take pleasure in the strangeness and beauty all around them.

They would pause on a hilltop to watch an eagle sail on the high wind
with motionless wings, or to take pleasure in a tiny gleaming metallic
bird, no bigger than Sukeena's thumb, as it hung suspended from a
flower while it sipped the nectar with a curved beak that seemed as
long as its body.

The grassland teemed with a plethora of strange beasts that challenged
their imagination.  There were herds of the same blue buck that they
had first encountered below the mountains, and wild horses barred with
stark stripes of cream, russet and black.  Often they saw ahead of them
among the trees the dark mountainous shapes of the double-horned
rhinoceros, but they had learned that this fearsome beast was almost
blind and that they could avoid its wild, snorting charge by making a
short detour from the path.

On the open lands, beyond the forest, there were flocks of small
cinnamon-coloured gazelles, so numerous that they moved like smoke
across the hills.  Their flanks were slashed with a horizontal
chocolate stripe, and lyre-shaped horns crowned their dainty heads.
When alarmed by the sight of the human figures, they pranced with
astonishing lightness of hoof, leaping high in the air and flashing a
snowy plume upon their backs.  Each ewe was followed by a tiny lamb,
and Sukeena clapped her hands with delight and exclaimed to see the
young animals nudging the udder or cavorting with their peers.  Hal
watched her fondly, knowing now that she also carried a child within
her, sharing her joy in the young of another species and revelling with
her in the secret they thought they had kept from the others.

He read the angle of the noon sun, and everyone in the band gathered
around him to watch him mark their position on the chart.  The string
of dots on the heavy parchment sheet crept slowly towards the
indentation on the coastline, which was marked on the Dutch chart as
Buffels Baal or the Bay of the Buffaloes.

"We are not more than five leagues from the lagoon now.  "Hal looked up
from the chart.

Aboli agreed.  "While we were out hunting this morning I recognized the
hills ahead.  From the high ground I saw the line of low cloud that
marks the coast.  We are very close."

Hal nodded.  "We must advance with caution.  There is the danger that
we might run into foraging parties from the Gull.  This is a favourable
place to set up a more permanent camp.  There is an abundance of water
and firewood and a good lookout from this hill.  In the morning, Aboli
and I will leave the rest of you here while we go on ahead to discover
if the Gull is truly lying in Elephant Lagoon."

An hour before dawn, Hal took Big Daniel aside and committed Sukeena to
his care.  "Guard her well, Master Daniel.  Never let her out of your
sight."

"Have no fear, Captain.  She'll be safe with me."

As soon as it was light enough to see the track that led eastwards Hal
and Aboli left the camp, Sukeena walked a short distance with them.

"God speed, Aboli."  Sukeena embraced him.  "Watch over my man."

"I will watch over him, even as you watch over his son."  "You
monstrous rogue, Abold" She struck him a playful blow on his great
broad chest.  "How do you know everything?  We were so sure we had kept
it a secret even from you."  She turned laughing to Hal.  "He knows!"

"Then all is lost."  Hal shook his head.  "For on the day it is born
this rascal will take it as his own, even as he did with me."

She watched them climb the hill and wave from the crest.  But as they
disappeared the smile shrivelled on her lips and a single tear traced
its way down her cheek.  On her way back, she stopped beside the stream
and washed it away.  When she entered the camp again, Althuda looked up
at her from the sword blade he was burnishing and smiled at her,
unsuspecting of her distress.  He marvelled at how beautiful and fresh
she looked, even after all these months of hard travel in the
wilderness.

When last they had been here, Hal and Aboli had hunted and explored
these *-hills above the lagoon.  They knew the run of the river, and
they entered the deep gorge a mile above the lagoon, following an
elephant path down to a shallow ford that they knew.  They did not
approach the lagoon from this direction.  "There may be watering
parties from the Gull," Aboli cautioned.  Hal nodded and led them up
the far side of the gorge and in a wide circuit around the back of the
hills, out of sight of the lagoon.

They climbed the back slope of the hills until they were a few paces
below the skyline.  Hal knew that the cave of the ancient rock
paintings, where he and Katinka had dallied, lay just over the crest in
front of them, and that from the ridge there would be a panoramic view
across the lagoon to the rocky heads and the ocean beyond.

"Use those trees to break your shape on the skyline," Aboli told him
quietly.

Hal smiled.  "You taught me well.  I have not forgotten."  He inched
his way up the last few yards, followed by Aboli, and, gradually, the
view down the far side opened to his gaze.  He had not had sight of the
sea for weeks now, and he felt his heart leap and his spirits soar as
he looked upon its serene blue expanse, flecked with the white horses
that pranced before the south-easter.  It was the element that ruled
his life and he had missed it sorely.

"Oh, for a- ship!"  he whispered.  "Please, God, let there be a
ship!"

As he moved up, there before his eyes appeared the great grey castles
of the heads, the bastions that guarded the entrance to the lagoon.  He
paused before taking another step, steeling himself for the terrible
disappointment of finding the anchorage deserted.  Like a gambler at
Hazard, he had staked his life on this coup of the dice of Fate.  He
forced himself to take another slow step up the slope, then gasped,
seized Aboli's arm and dug his fingers into the knotted muscles.

"The Gull!"  he muttered, as though it were a prayer-of thanks.  "And
not alone!  There is another fine ship with her."

For a long while neither spoke again, until Aboli said softly, "You
have found the ship you promised them.  If you can seize it, you will
be a captain at last, Gundwane."

They crept forward and, on the crest of the hill, sank on their bellies
and gazed down upon the wide lagoon below.  "What ship is that with the
Gull?"  Hal asked.  "I cannot make out her name from here."

"She is an Englishman," said Aboli, with certainty.  "No other would
cross her mizzen topgallant yard in that fashion."

"A Welshman, perhaps?  She has a rake to her bows and a racy style to
her sheer.  They build them that way on the west coast."

"It is possible, but whoever she is, she's a fighting ship.  Look at
those guns.  There would be few to match her in her class," Aboli
murmured thoughtfully.

"Better than the Gull, even?"  Hal looked at her with longing eyes.

Aboli shook his head.  "You dare not try to take her, Gundwane.  Surely
she belongs to an honest English sea captain.  If you lay hands upon
her you turn all of us into pirates.  Better we try for the Gull."

For another hour they lay on the hilltop, talking and planning quietly
while they studied the two ships and the encampment among the trees on
the near shore of the lagoon.

"By heavens!"  Hal exclaimed abruptly.  "There is the Buzzard himself.
I would know that bush of fiery hair anywhere.  "His voice was sharp
with hatred and anger.  "He is going out to the other ship.  See him
climb the ladder without a by-your-leave, as if he owns it."

"Who is that greeting him at the companionway?"  Aboli asked.  "I swear
I know that walk, and the bald scalp shining in the sunlight."

"It cannot be Sam Bowles aboard that frigate ... but it is," Hal
marvelled.  "There is something very strange afoot here, Aboli.  How
may we find out what it is?"

While they watched the sun begin to slide down the western sky, Hal
tried to keep his rage under control.  Down there were the two men
responsible for his father's terrible death.  He relived every detail
of his agony and he hated Sam Bowles and the Buzzard to the point where
he knew that his emotions might override his reason.  His strong
instinct was to throw all else aside, go down to confront them and seek
retribution for his father's agony and death.

I must not let it happen, he told himself.  I must think first of
Sukeena and the son that she carries for me.

Aboli touched his arm and pointed down the hill.  The rays of the
sinking sun had changed the angle of the shadows of the trees of the
forest, so that they could see down more clearly through them into the
encampment.

"The Buzzard is digging fortifications, down there."  Aboli was
puzzled.  "But there is no plan to them.  His trenches are all
higgledy-piggledy."

"Yet all his men seem to be at work in the diggings.  There must be
some plan-" Hal broke off and laughed.  "Of course!  This is why he
came back to the lagoon!  He is still searching for my father's
hoard."

"He is a long way off course."  Aboli chuckled.  "Perhaps Jiri and
Matesi have deliberately misled him."

"Sweet Mary, of course those rascals have played the fool with him.
Cumbrae bought more than he bargained for in the slave market.  They
will tweak his nose while they pretend to grovel and call him Lardy."
He smiled at the thought, then became serious again.  "Do you think
they may still be down there, or has the Buzzard murdered them
already?"

"No, he will keep them alive as long as he thinks they are of value to
him.  He is digging, so he is still hoping.  My guess is that they are
still alive."

"We must watch for them."  For another hour they lay on the hilltop in
silence, then Hal said, "The tide is turning.  The strange frigate is
swinging on her moorings."  They watched her bow and curtsy to the ebb
with a stately grace, and then Hal spoke again.  "Now I can see the
name on her transom, but it is difficult to read.  Is it the Golden
Swan?  The Golden Hart?  No, I think not.  "Tis the Golden Bough!"

"A fine name for a fine ship," said Aboli, and then he started, and
pointed excitedly down at the network of trenches and pits amongst the
trees.  "There are black men coming out of that ditch, three of them.
Is that Jiri?  Your eyes are sharper than mine."

"By heavens!  So it is, and Matesi and Kimatti behind him."

"They are taking them to a hut near the water's edge.  That must be
where they lock them up at night."

"Aboli, we must speak to them.  I will go down as soon as it's dark and
try to reach their hut.  What time will the moon rise?"

"An hour after midnight," Aboli answered him.  "But I will not let you
go.  I made a promise to Sukeena Besides your white skin shines like a
mirror.  I will go."

Stripped naked, Aboli waded out from the far shore until the water
reached his chin and struck out in a dog-paddle that made no splash and
left only a silent oily wake behind his head.  When he reached the far
shore, he lay in the shallows until he was certain the beach was clear.
Then he crawled swiftly across the open sand and huddled against the
hole of the first tree.

One or two camp fires were burning in the grove, and from around them
he heard the sound of men's voices and an occasional snatch of song or
a shout of laughter.  The flames gave him enough light to discern the
hut where the slaves where imprisoned.  Near the front of it he picked
out the glow of a burning match on the lock of a musket, and from this
he placed the single sentry, who sat with his back to a tree covering
the door of the hut.

They are careless, he thought.  Only one guard, and he seems to be
asleep.

He crept forward on hands and knees, but before he reached the back
wall of the hut he heard footsteps and moved quickly to the shelter of
another tree-trunk and crouched there.  Two of the Buzzard's sailors
came sauntering through the grove towards him.  They were arguing
loudly.

"I'll not sail with that little weasel," one declared.  "He would cut a
throat for the fun of it."

"So would you, Willy MacGregor."

"Aye, but I'd no" be using a pizened blade, like Sam Bowles would."

"You'll sail with whoever the Buzzard says you will, and that's an end
to your carping," his mate announced and paused beside the tree where
Aboli crouched.  He lifted his petticoats and urinated noisily against
the trunk.  "By the devil's nuggets, even with Sam Bowles as captain
I'll be happy enough to get away from this place.  I left bonnie
Scotland to escape the coal pit, and here I am digging holes again." He
shook the droplets vigorously from himself and the two walked on.

Aboli waited until they were well clear, and then crawled to the rear
wall of the hut.  He found that it was plastered with unburnt clay, but
that chunks of this were falling from the framework of woven branches
beneath.  He crawled slowly along the wall, gently probing each crack
with a stalk of grass until he found a chink that went right through.
He placed his lips to the opening and whispered softly, "Jiri!"

He heard a startled movement on the far side of the wall, and a moment
later a fearful whisper came back.  "Is that the voice of Aboli, or is
it his ghost?"

"I am alive.  Here feel the warmth of my finger "tis not the hand of a
dead man."

They whispered to each other for almost an hour before Aboli left the
hut and crawled back down the beach.  He slipped into the waters of the
lagoon like an otter.

The dawn was painting the eastern sky the colours of lemons and ripe
apricots when Aboli climbed the hill again to where he had left Hal.
Hal was not in the cave, but when Aboli gave a soft warbling bird-call,
he stepped out from behind the hanging vines that screened the
entrance, his cutlass in his hand.

"I have news," said Aboli.  "For once the gods have been kind."

"Tell me!"  Hal commanded eagerly, as he sheathed the blade.  They sat
side by side in the entrance to the cave from where they could keep the
full sweep of the lagoon under their eyes, while Aboli related in
detail everything that Jiri had been able to tell him.

Hal exclaimed when Aboli described the massacre of the captain and men
of the Golden Bough, and the way in which Sam Bowles had drowned the
wounded like unwanted kittens in the shallows of the lagoon.  "Even for
the Buzzard that is a deed that reeks of hell itself."

"Not all were killed," Aboli told him.  "Jiri says that a large number
of the survivors are locked up in the main hold of the Golden Bough."
Hal nodded thoughtfully.  "He says too that the Buzzard has given the
command of the Golden Bough to Sam Bowles."

"By heaven, that rogue has come up in the world," Hal exclaimed.  "But
all this could work to our advantage.  The Golden Bough has become a
pirate ship, and is now fair game for us.  However, it will be a
dangerous enterprise to hunt the Buzzard in his own nest."  He lapsed
into a long silence, and Aboli did not disturb him.

At last Hal looked up and it was clear he had reached some decision. "I
swore an oath to my father never to reveal that which I am now to show
you.  But circumstances have changed.  He would forgive me, I know.
Come with me, Aboli Hal led him down the back slope of the hill, and
then turned towards the gorge of the river.  They found a trail made by
the baboons and scrambled down the steep side to the bottom. There Hal
turned upstream, and the cliffs became higher and steeper as they went.
At places they were forced to enter the water and wade alongside the
cliff.  Every few hundred yards Hal paused to take his bearings, until
at last he grunted with satisfaction as he marked the dead tree.  He
waded along the lip of the bank until he reached it, then scrambled
ashore and began to climb.

"Where are you going, Gundwane?"  Aboli called after him.

"Follow me," Hal answered, and Aboli shrugged and began to climb after
him.  He chuckled when Hal suddenly reached down and gave him a hand
onto the narrow ledge that he had not been able to see from below.

"This has the smell of Captain Franky's lair to it," he said.  "The
Buzzard would have saved himself a lot of work by searching here
instead of digging holes in the grove, am I right?"

"This way."  Hal shuffled along the ledge with his back to the cliff,
and- the hundred-foot drop that opened under his toes.  When he reached
the place where the ledge widened and the cleft split the face, he
paused to examine the rocks that blocked the entrance.

"There have been no visitors, not even the apes," he said, with relief,
and began to move the rocks out of the opening.  When there was space
to pass he crept through and groped in the darkness for the flint and
steel box and the candle that his father had placed on the ledge above
head level.  The under flared at the third stroke of the steel on the
flint, and he lit the candle stub and held it high.

Aboli laughed in the yellow light as he looked upon the array of canvas
sacks and chests.  "You are a rich man, Gundwane.  But what use is all
this gold and silver to you now?  It will not buy you a mouthful of
food or a ship to carry it all away."

Hal crossed to the nearest chest and opened the lid.  The gold bars
glinted in the candle-light.  "My father died to leave me this legacy.
I would rather have had him alive and me a beggar."  He slammed the
lid, and looked back at Aboli.  "Despite what you may think, I did not
come here for the gold," he said.  "I came for this."  He kicked the
powder keg beside him.  "And those!"  He pointed to the piles of
muskets and swords that were stacked against the far wall of the cave.
"And these also!"  He crossed to where the sheaves and gantry were
piled in a heap and picked up one of the coils of manila rope that he
and his father had used.  He tried the strength of the line by
stretching a length of it over his back and straining to break it with
his arms and shoulders.

"It is still strong, and has not rotted," he dropped the coil, "so we
have all we need here."

Aboli came to sit on the chest beside him.  "So you have a plan.  Then
share it with me, Gundwane."  He listened quietly as Hal laid it out
for him, and once or twice he nodded or made a suggestion.

THat same morning they set off for the base camp and by travelling
fast, trotting and running most of the way, they reached it shortly
after noon.  Sukeena saw them climbing the hill and came running down
to meet them.  Hal seized her and swung her high in the air, then
checked himself and set her down with great care as though she were
woven of gossamer and might easily tear.  "Forgive me, I treat you
roughly."

"I am yours to treat as you will, and I will be happier for it."  She
clung to him and kissed him.  "Tell me what you have found.  Is there a
ship in the lagoon?"

"A ship.  A fine ship.  A beautiful ship, but not half as lovely as
you."

With Hal urging them they broke the camp and moved out at once.  He and
Aboli scouted ahead to clear the path and to lead the band on towards
the lagoon.

When they reached the river and climbed down the gorge Hal left Big
Daniel there and all the other seamen but Ned Tyler.  They were unaware
that the treasure cave was only a cable's length upstream.  "Wait for
me here, Master Daniel.  I must take the others to a safe place.  Hide
yourselves well.  I will return after dark."

Aboli went with them, as Hal led the rest of the party up the far side
of the gorge, then took them round the far side of the hills.  They
approached the sandbanks that separated the mainland from the island,
on which they had built the fireships.

By this time it was late afternoon, and Hal allowed them to rest there
until nightfall.  As soon as it was dark they all waded across the
shallows, Hal carrying Sukeena on his back.  As soon as they reached
the island they hurried deep into the thick bush, where they were safe
from observation from the pirate encampment.

"No fires!"  Hal cautioned them.  "Speak only in whispers.  Zwaantie,
keep little Bobby from crying.  No one to wander away.  Keep close. Ned
is in command when I am not here.  Obey him."

Hal and Aboli went on across the island, through the bush to the beach
facing the lagoon.  In the area where they had built the fireships the
undergrowth had sprung up again thickly.  They groped and searched
beneath it until they located the two abandoned double-hulled vessels
that had not been used on the attack on the Gull, and dragged them
closer to the beach.

"Will they still float?"  Aboli asked dubiously.

"Ned made a good job of them, and they seem sturdy enough," Hal told
him.  "If we unload the combustibles, then they will float higher in
the water."

They stripped the ships of their cargo of dry tar-soaked wooden
faggots.  "That's better," Hal said, with satisfaction.  "They will be
lighter and easier to handle now."  They concealed them again, covering
them with branches.

"There is still much to do before daylight."  Hal led Aboli back to
where most of Althuda's party were already asleep.  "Do not wake
Sukeena," he warned her brother.  "She is exhausted and must rest."

"Where are you going?"  Althuda asked.

"There is no time to explain.  We will return before dawn."

Hal and Aboli crossed the channel to the mainland and then hurried back
through the forest in the darkness, but when they reached the line of
hills Hal stopped and said, "There is something I have to find."

He turned back towards the flickering lights of the pirate camp, moving
slowly and pausing often to get his bearings, until at last he stopped
at the base of a tall tree.

"This is the one."  With the point of his cutlass he probed the soft
loamy earth around the roots.  He felt it strike metal, and fell to his
knees.  He dug with his bare hands, then lifted the golden chain and
held it to catch the starlight.

"Tis your father's Nautonnier seal."  Aboli recognized it at once.

"The ring also.  And the locket with its portrait of my mother."  Hal
stood up and wiped the damp earth from the glass that had protected the
miniature.  "With these in my hands, I feel a whole man again."  He
dropped the treasures into his leather pouch.

"Let us go on, before we are discovered."

It was after midnight when, once again, they scrambled down the side of
the gorge and Big Daniel challenged them softly as they reached the
riverbank.

"Tis me," Hal reassured him, and the others emerged from where they
were hidden.

"Stay here," Hal ordered.  "Aboli and I will return shortly."  The two
set off upstream.  Hal led the climb to the ledge and groped his way
into the blackness of the cave.  Working in the cahdle's feeble light,
they tied the cutlasses into bundles of ten, then stacked them at the
entrance.  Hal emptied one of the chests of its precious contents,
piling the gold bars disdainfully in a corner of the cave, and packed
twenty pistols into the empty chest.

Then they rolled the kegs of gunpowder, with the slow match out onto
the narrow ledge, and set up the gantry and sheave blocks with the rope
rove through.  Hal scrambled back down the cliff.  When he reached the
riverbank he whistled softly.  Aboli lowered the bundles of weapons and
the kegs down to him.

It was heavy work, but Aboli's great muscles made light of it.  When
they had finished Aboli climbed down to join Hal, and they began the
weary porterage of the goods down to where Big Daniel and the other
seamen waited.

"I recognize these," Big Daniel chuckled, as he ran his hands over a
bundle of cutlasses then examined them in the moonlight.

"Here is something else you will recognize," Hal told him, and gave him
two of the heavy powder kegs to carry.

All of them carrying as much as their backs would bear, they toiled up
the side of the gorge, dumped their burdens and then scrambled down
again to bring up the next load.  At last fully laden they struck out
through the forest.  Hal made only one detour to cache the two kegs of
powder, a bundle of slow-match, and three cutlasses in the cave of the
rock paintings.  Then they went on again.

It was almost morning when at last they joined Althuda and his band on
the island.  They ate the cold smoked venison that Sukeena and Zwaantie
had ready for them.  Then, when the others rolled in their karosses,
Hal took Sukeena aside and showed her the great seal of the Nautonnier
and the locket.

"Where did you find these, Gundwane?"

"I hid them in the forest on the day we were captured."  "Who is the
woman?"  She studied the portrait.  "Edwina Courtney, my mother."

"Oh, Hal, she is beautiful.  You have her eyes."  "Give my son those
same eyes."

"I will try.  With all my heart I will try."

In the late afternoon Hal roused the others and assigned their duties
to them.

"Sabah, take the pistols out of the chest and draw the loads.  Reload
them, then pack them back into the chest to keep them dry."  The other
man set to work at once.

"Big Daniel will help me load the boats.  Ned, you take the women down
to the beach and explain to them how to help you launch the second boat
when the time comes.  They must leave everything else behind.  There
will be neither space nor time to care for extra baggage."

"Even my bags?"  Sukeena asked.

Hal hesitated then nodded firmly.  "Even your bags," he said, and she
did not argue, merely gave him a demure look from under her lashes
before she and Zwaantie, carrying Bobby strapped to her back, followed
Ned away through the trees.

"Come with me, Aboli."  Hal took his arm and they moved silently to the
top end of the island.  Then they crept forward on hands and knees
until they could lie and look across the open stretch of water at the
beach where the boats from the Gull and the Golden Bough were drawn up
below the encampment.

While they kept watch Hal explained the finer details and small
modifications to his original plan.  From time to time Aboli's tattooed
head nodded.  In the end he said, "It is a good and simple plan, and if
the gods are kind, it will work."

In the sunset they studied the two ships anchored in the channel and
watched the activity on the beach.  As it grew darker, the teams of men
who had worked all day, digging the Buzzard's trenches, were relieved.
Some came down to bathe in the lagoon.  Others rowed out to their
berths on the Gull.

Smoke from their cooking fires spiralled up through the trees and
spread in a pale blue haze across the waters.  Hal and Aboli could
smell grilling fish on the smoke.  Sound carried clearly across the
still water.  They could hear men's voices and even make out something
of what they were saying, a shouted oath or a boisterous argument.
Twice Hal was sure that he recognized the Buzzard's voice but they had
no further sight of him.  just as darkness began to fall a longboat
pulled away from the side of the Golden Bough and headed in towards the
beach.

"That's Sam Bowles in the stern," Hal said, and his voice was filled
with loathing.

"Captain Bowles now, if what "Jiri tells me is true," Aboli corrected
him.

"It is almost time to move," Hal said, as the shapes of the anchored
ships began to merge with the dark mass of the forest behind them. "You
know what to do, and God go with you, Aboli."  Hal gripped his arm
briefly.

"And with you also, Gundwane."  Aboli rose to his feet and went down
into the water.  He made no noise as he swam across the channel, but he
left a faint phosphorescent trail on the dark surface.

Hal found his way back through the bush to where the others waited by
the ungainly shapes of the two fireships.  He made them sit in a tight
circle around him while he spoke to them softly.  At the end he made
each repeat his instructions, and corrected them when they erred.

"Now nothing remains but to wait until Aboli has done his work."

Aboli reached the mainland and left the water quickly.  He moved
quietly through the &_)kforest, and the warm breeze had dried his body
before he reached the cave of the paintings.  He squatted beside the
powder kegs and made his preparations as Hal had instructed him.

He cut two fuses from the slow-match.  One was only a fathom in length,
but the second was a coil thirty feet long.  The time delay was an
imprecise calculation and the first might burn for ten minutes, but the
second for almost thrice as long.

He worked swiftly, and when both kegs were ready he tied the bundle of
three cutlasses on his back, swung a powder keg up onto each shoulder
and crept out of the cave.  He remembered that the previous night when
he had visited the hut in which Jiri and the other slaves were being
held, he had observed that the Buzzard's men had become careless.  The
uneventful months they had been camped here had lulled them into a
complacent mood.

The sentries were no longer vigilant.  Still he was not relying on
their sloth.

Stealthily he moved closer to the camp, until he could clearly make out
the features of the men sitting around the cooking fires.  He
recognized many, but there was no sign of either Cumbrae or Sam
Bowles.

He set up the first keg in a patch of scrub on the perimeter of the
camp, as close as he dared approach, and then, without lighting the
fuse, moved away until he reached one of the trenches where the
Buzzard's men had been digging for treasure.

He placed the keg with the longest fuse on the lip of the trench and
covered it with sand and debris from the excavation.  Then he paid out
the coiled fuse and took the end of it down into the trench.  He
crouched there and shielded the flint and steel with his body so the
flare of sparks would not alert the men in the camp as he lit the
slow-match.  When it was glowing evenly he lit the fuse from it and
watched it for a minute to make certain that it was also burning well.
Then he climbed out of the trench and moved swiftly and silently back
to the first keg.  From the slow match in his hand he lit the shorter
fuse.

"The first explosion will bring them running," Hal had explained.
"Then the second keg will go off in their faces."  Still carrying the
bundle of cutlasses, Aboli moved away swiftly.  There was always the
danger that the flame of one of the fuses might jump ahead and set off
the keg prematurely.  Once he was clear, and moving with more caution,
he found the path that ran down towards the beach.  Twice he was forced
to leave the path as other figures came towards him out of the
darkness.  Once he was not quick enough but he brazened it out,
exchanging a gruff "Good night!"  with the pirate who brushed past
him.

He picked out the mud hut against the glow of the campfires and crept
up to the back wall.  Jiri responded immediately to his whisper.  "We
are ready, brother."  His tone was crisp and fierce, no longer the
cringing whine of the slave.

Aboli laid down the bundle of weapons and, with his own cutlass,
severed the twine that held them.  "Here!"  he whispered, and Jiri's
hand came out through the crack in the mud wall.  Aboli passed the
cutlasses through to him.

"Wait until the first keg blows," he told him, through the hole in the
wall.

"I hear you, Aboli."

Aboli crept to the corner of the hut and glanced round it.  The guard
sat in his usual position in front of the door.  Tonight he was awake,
smoking a long-stemmed clay pipe.  Aboli saw the burning tobacco glow
in the bowl as he drew upon it.  He squatted behind the corner of the
wall and waited.

The time passed so slowly that he began to fear that the fuse on the
first keg had been faulty and had burned out before reaching it.  He
decided that he would have to go back to check it, but as he began to
rise to his feet the blast swept through the camp.

It tore branches from the trees and sent clouds of burning ash and
sparks swirling from campfires.  It struck the mud hut, knocking down
half the front wall and ripping the thatch from the roof.  It hit the
guard by the front door and hurled him over backwards.  He floundered
about on his back, trying to sit up, but his big belly made him
ungainly.  While he struggled Aboli stood over him, placed one foot on
his chest, pinning him to the earth, swung the cutlass and felt the
hilt jar in his hand as the edge hacked into the man's neck.  His whole
body spasmed and then lay still.  Aboli leaped away from him and
grabbed the rope handle of the rough-hewn door to the hut.  As he
heaved at it the three men inside hurled their combined weight upon it
from the far side, and it burst open.

"This way, brethren."  Aboli led them down towards the beach.

The camp was in uproar.  The darkness was full of men blundering about,
swearing, shouting orders and alarms.

"To arms!  We are attacked."

"Stand to here, they heard the Buzzard roar.  "Have at them, lads!"

"Petey!  Where are you, me darling boy?"  a wounded man screamed for
his ship wife  "I am killed.  Come to me, Petey."  Burning brands from
the campfires had been carried into the scrub and the flames were
taking hold in the forest.  They gave the scene a hellish illumination,
and men's shadows made monsters of them as they rushed about, startling
each other.  Someone fired a musket, and immediately there was a wild
fusillade as panic-stricken sailors fired at shadows and at one
another.  More screams and cries as the flying musket balls took their
toll among the scurrying figures.

"The bastards are in the forest behind us!"  It was the Buzzard's voice
again.  "This way, my brave boys!"  He was rallying them, and men came
rushing up from the beach to join the defence.  They ran full into the
musket fire of their nervous fellows among the trees and fired back at
them.

When Aboli reached the beach he found longboats drawn up, abandoned by
their crews who had rushed away to answer the Buzzard's call to arms.

"Where do they keep their tools?"  Aboli snapped at Jiri.  "There is a
store over there."  Jiri led him to it at a run.  The spades, axes and
iron bars were stacked under an open lean-to shed.  Aboli sheathed his
cutlass and seized a heavy iron bar.  The other three followed his
example, then ran back to the beach, and fell upon the boats lying
there.

With a few hefty blows they knocked in their bottom timbers, leaving
only one unscathed.

"Come on!  Waste no more time!"  Aboli urged, and they threw down the
tools and ran to the single undamaged boat.  They thrust it out into
the lagoon and tumbled aboard, grabbed an oar each and began to pull
for the dark shape of the frigate, which was now emerging from the
darkness as the flames of the burning forest lit her.

While they were still only a few oar strokes off the beach a mob of
pirates poured out from the grove.

"Stop!  Come back!  "one shouted.

"It's those black apes.  They're stealing one of the boats."  "Don't
let them get away!"  A musket banged and a ball hummed over the heads
of the men at the oars.  They ducked and rowed the harder, putting all
their weight into their strokes.  Now all the pirates were firing and
balls kicked spray off the water close at hand, or thumped into the
timbers of the longboat.

Some of the pirates ran to the boats at the water's edge and swarmed
into them.  They pushed off in pursuit, but almost immediately there
were howls of dismay as the water poured in through the shattered
floorboards and the boats swamped and overturned.  Few could swim, and
the yells of rage turned to piteous cries for help as they splashed and
floundered in the dark water.

At that moment the second explosion swept through the camp.  It did
even more damage than the first for, in response to his bellowed
orders, the Buzzard's men were charging straight into the blast when it
struck them.

"There's something to keep them busy for a while," Aboli grunted.
"Pull for the frigate, lads, and leave the Buzzard to his kinsman the
devil." al had not waited for the first explosion to shatter the night
before he launched the &Hfireship.  With all the men in the party
helping, they dragged the hull down the beach.  Relieved of her cargo,
she was a great deal lighter to handle.  They piled into her the
bundles of cutlasses and the chest filled with loaded pistols.

They left Sabah to hold her and ran back to fetch the second vessel.
The women ran beside them as they dragged it down to the water's edge
and scrambled on board.  Big Daniel carried little Bobby and handed him
to Zwaantie when she was safely seated on the floorboards.  Hal lifted
Sukeena in and placed her gently in the stern sheets.  He gave her one
last kiss.

"Keep out of danger until we have secured the ship.  Listen to Ned He
knows what to do."

He left her and ran back to take command of the first boat.  Big Daniel
and the two birds, Sparrow and Finch, were with him, as were Althuda.
and Sabah.  They would need every fighting man on the deck of the
frigate if they were to take her.

They pushed the boat out into the channel and as their feet lost the
bottom they began to swim and steered her for the anchored frigate.

The tide was at high slack.  soon it would turn and give them its help
as they ran the frigate for the deep channel between the heads.

But first we have to make her ours!  Hal told himself as he kicked out
strongly, clinging to the gunwale.

A cable's length from the Golden Bough Hal whispered, "Avast, lads.  We
don't want to arrive before we're welcome.  "They hung in the water as
the boat drifted aimlessly in the slack of the tide.

The night was quiet, so quiet that they could hear the voices of the
men on the beach and the tap and clatter of the frigate's rigging as
she snubbed her anchor and her bare masts rolled, almost imperceptibly,
against the blaze of the stars.

"Maybe Aboli has run into trouble, Big Daniel muttered at last.  "We
might have to board her without any diversion."  "Wait!"  Hal replied.
"Aboli will never let us down."

They hung in the water, their nerves stretched to breaking point.  Then
came the sound of a soft splash behind them, and Hal turned his head.
The shape of the second boat crept towards them from the island.

"Ned is overeager," Big Daniel said.

"He's only following my orders, but he must not get ahead of us."

"How can we stop him?"

"I will swim across to speak to him," Hal answered, and let go his hold
on the gunwale.  He struck out towards the other boat in a silent
breaststroke that did not break the surface.  Close alongside he trod
water and called softly, "Ned!"

"Aye, Captain!  "Ned answered as softly.

"There is some delay.  Wait here and do not get ahead of us.  Wait
until you hear the first explosion.  Then take her in and latch on to
the frigate's anchor cable."

"Aye, Captain, "Ned replied, and looking up at the black hull Hal saw a
head peering down at him over the side.  The starlight glowed on
Sukeena's honey-gold skin, and he knew he must not speak to her again
or swim closer lest his concern for her affect his judgement lest his
love for her quench the fighting fire in his blood, He turned and swam
back towards the other boat.

As he reached its side and lifted his hand to grip the gunwale, the
quiet night was shattered by thunder and the echoes that burst against
the hills swept over the lagoon.  From the dark grove, flames shot up
into the night sky and, for a brief moment, lit the scene like dawn. In
that illumination Hal saw every sheet and spar of the frigate's
rigging, but there was no sign of an anchor watch or other human
presence aboard her.

"All together now, lads," Hal said, and they struck out again with new
heart.  It took them only minutes to close the gap.  But in that time
the night was transformed.  They could hear the shouting and musket
fire from the beach and the flames of the burning forest danced and
glimmered on the surface around them.  Hal was afraid that they might
be lit brightly enough to be spotted by a vigilant sentry on the
frigate's deck.

With relief they swam the awkward craft into the shadow cast by the
frigate's tall hull.  He glanced back and saw Ned Tyler bringing the
other boat close behind them.  As Hal watched they reached the
frigate's drooping anchor line and he saw Sukeena stand up in the bows
and take hold of the cable.  He felt a lift of relief.  His orders to
Ned were to keep the women safely out of the way until they had control
of the frigate's deck.

He saw with satisfaction that a skiff was moored alongside the Golden
Bough, a rope ladder dangling into her from the deck above.  Even more
fortunately, it was empty, and no heads showed above the frigate's
rail.  However, he could hear a babble of voices above.  The crew must
be lining the frigate's far rail facing the beach, staring across in
alarm and consternation at the flames, watching the running figures and
the flashes of musket fire in bewilderment.

They pushed the fire ship the last few feet and bumped softly against
the side of the empty skiff.  Immediately Hal hauled himself out of the
water over her side, leaving the others to secure her, and swarmed up
the rope ladder to the deck.

As he had hoped, the skeleton crew of the frigate were all watching the
disturbance, but he was dismayed at their numbers.  There must be fifty
of them at least.  However, they were absorbed in what was happening
ashore, and as Hal gathered himself to climb out onto the deck there
was another mighty detonation from out of the forest.

"By God, will you no" look at that?"  one of Sam Bowles's pirates
shouted.

"There's a bloody great battle going on out there."  "Our shipmates are
in trouble.  They need our help."

"I owe no favours to any of them.  They'll get no help from me."

"Shamus is right.  Let the Buzzard fight his own battles."  Hal swung
himself onto the deck and, with half a dozen quick steps, he had
reached the shelter of the break in the forecastle.  He crouched there
and surveyed the deck.  Jiti had told Aboli they were holding the
frigate's loyal crew in the main hold.  But the hatch was in full view
of Sam Bowles's men at the far rail.

He glanced back, and saw Big Daniel's head appear at the entry port  He
could not delay.  He jumped up, ran out to the main hatch coaming and
dropped on his knees behind it.  There was a mallet lying beside the
hatch, but he dared not use it to hammer out the wedges.  The pirates
would hear him and be upon him in an instant.

He knocked softly on the timbers with the hilt of his cutlass and spoke
in a quiet voice.  "Ahoy there, Golden Bough.  Do you hear me?"

A muffled voice from beneath the hatch cover answered immediately, in a
lilting Celtic accent.  "We hear you.  Who are you?"

"An honest Englishman, come to set you free.  Will you fight with us
against the Buzzard?"

"God love you, honest Englishman!  We beg you for a taste of his
mongrel blood."

Hal glanced round.  Big Daniel had brought up a bundle of cutlasses,
and both Wally Finch and Stan Sparrow carried others.  Althuda had the
chest of loaded pistols.  He lowered it to the deck and opened the lid.
At first glance the weapons within seemed dry and ready to fire.

"We have weapons for you," Hal whispered to the man under the hatch.
"Lend a hand to throw back the hatch when I knock out the wedges, then
come out fighting like terriers but call your ship's name, so we will
know you and you us."

He nodded to Daniel and hefted the heavy mallet.  Big Daniel seized the
lip of the hatch and put all his weight under it.  Hal swung the
mallet, and with a resounding crack the first wedge flew across the
deck.  He leaped across the hatch and with another two more
full-blooded swings of the mallet sent the remaining wedges clattering
to the deck.  With Big Daniel straining above and the trapped crew of
the Golden Bough heaving underneath the coaming cover flew back with a
crash and the prisoners came boiling out like angry wasps.

At this sudden uproar behind them, Sam Bowles's men turned and gaped.
It took them a long moment to realize that they had been boarded and
that their prisoners were free.  But by that time Hal and Daniel faced
them across the fire lit deck, cutlass in hand.

Behind them Althuda was striking sparks from flint and steel as he
hurried to light the slow-match on the locks of the pistols, and Wally
and Stan were tossing cutlasses to the liberated seamen as they stormed
out of the hold.

With a wild shout a pack of pirates led by Sam Bowles charged across
the deck.  They were twenty against two, and their first rush drove
Daniel and Hal back, steel ringing and rasping against steel as they
gave ground slowly.  But the pair held them long enough for the seamen
of the Golden Bough to dash into the fight.

Within minutes the deck was thronged with struggling men, and they were
so mingled that only their shouted war-cries identified foe from
new-made friend.

"Cochran of Cumbrae!"  Sam Bowles howled, and Hal's men roared back,
"Sir Hal and the Golden Bow."  The frigate's freed sailors were mad for
vengeance not merely for their own imprisonment but for the massacre of
their officers and the drowning of their wounded mates.  Hal and his
men had a thousand better reasons for their rage, and they had waited
infinitely longer to pay off this score.

Sam Bowles's crew were cornered animals.  They knew they could expect
no help from their fellows on the shore.  Nor would they receive mercy
or quarter from the avengers who confronted them.

The two sides were almost evenly matched in numbers, but perhaps the
crew of the frigate had been weakened by their long confinement in the
dark and airless hold.  In the forefront of the fight Hal became aware
that it was swinging against them.  His men were being forced to yield
more of the deck and retreat towards the bows.

From the corner of his eye he saw Sabah break and run, throwing aside
his sword and scurrying for the hatch to hide below decks.  Hal hated
him for it.  It takes but one coward to start a rout.  But Sabah never
reached the hatch.  A tall black-bearded pirate sent a thrust through
the small of his back that came out through his belly-button.

Another hour on the practice field might have saved him, Hal thought
fleetingly, then concentrated all his mind and strength on the four men
who crowded forward, yammering like hyenas around their bleeding prey,
to engage him.

Hal killed one with a thrust under his raised arm into his heart and
disarmed another with a neat slash across his wrist that severed his
straining sinews.  The sword dropped from the man's fingers and he ran
screaming across the deck and threw himself, bleeding, overboard.
Hal's other two attackers drew back in fear, and in the respite he
looked around for Sam Bowles.

He saw him in the back of the horde, keeping carefully out of the worst
of it, screaming orders and threats at his men, his ferrety features
twisted with malice.

"Sam Bowles!"  Hal shouted at him.  "I have you in my eye."  Over the
heads of the men between them, Sam looked across at him and there was
sudden terror in his pale, close set eyes.

"I am coming for you now!"  Hal roared, and bounded forward, but three
men were in his way.  In the seconds it took him to beat them aside and
clear a path for himself, Sam had darted away and hidden himself in the
throng.

Now the pirates clamoured about Hal like jackals around a lion.  For a
moment he fought side by side with Daniel and saw with amazement that
the big man was wounded in a dozen places.  Then he felt the hilt of
the cutlass sticky in his hand as though he had scooped honey from a
jar with his fingers.  He realized that it was not honey but his own
blood.  He, too, was wounded, but in the heat of it all he felt no pain
and fought on.

"Beware, Sir Hal!"  Big Daniel roared, close beside him in the
confusion.  "The stern!"

Hal jumped back, disengaging from the fight, and looked back.  Daniel's
warning had come just in time to save him.  Sam Bowles was at the rail
of the stern overlooking the lower deck.  There was a heavy bronze
murderer in the slot of the rail and Sam had a lighted match in his
hand as he swivelled and aimed the small hand cannon.  He had picked
out Hal from the press of fighting men and the murderer was aimed at
him.  Sam touched the match to the pan of the cannon.

In the instant before it fired Hal leaped forward, seized the pirate in
front of him around his waist and lifted him off his feet.  The man
yelled with surprise as Hal held him like a shield, just as the
murderer fired and a gale of lead shot swept the deck.  Hal felt the
body of the man in his arms jump as half a dozen heavy pellets smashed
into him.  He was dead even before Hal dropped him to the deck.

But the shot had done fearful slaughter among the crew of the Golden
Bough, who were grouped close around where Hal stood.  Three were down
and kicking in their own blood while another two or three had been
struck and were struggling to stay on their feet.

The pirates saw that this sudden onslaught had tipped the balance in
their favour and surged forward in a pack, Sam urging them on with
excited cries.  Like a cracked dam Hal's men started to give way.  They
were seconds from total rout when from over the rail behind the raging
rabble of pirates rose a great black tattooed face.

Aboli let out a bellow that froze them all where they stood, and ashe
sprang over the rail he was followed closely by three other huge
shapes, each with cutlass in hand.  They had killed five men before the
pirates had gathered themselves to face this fresh onslaught.

Those around Hal were given new heart.  they rallied to Hal's hoarse
shouts and, with Big Daniel leading them, rushed back into the fight.
Caught between Aboli with his savages and the rejuvenated seamen, the
pirates wailed with despair and fled.  Those unable to swim scuttled
down the hatchways into the bowels of the frigate while the others
rushed to the rail and jumped overboard.

The fight was over and the frigate was theirs.  "Where is Sam
Bowles?"Hal shouted across at Daniel.

"I saw him run below."

Hal hesitated a moment, fighting the temptation to rush after him and
have his revenge.  Then, with an effort, he thrust it aside and turned
to his duty.

"There will be time for him later."  He strode to the captain's place
on the quarterdeck and surveyed his ship.  Some of his men were firing
their pistols over the side at the men splashing and swimming towards
the beach.  "Avast that nonsense!"  he shouted at them.  "Stand by to
get the ship under way.  The Buzzard will be upon us at any moment
now."

Even the strangers he had released from the hold rushed to obey his
command, for they recognized the tone of authority.

Then Hal dropped his voice.  "Aboli and Master Daniel, get the women on
board.  As quick as you can."  While they ran to the entry port he
turned his full attention to the management of the frigate.

The topmast men were already half-way up the shrouds, and another gang
was manning the capstan to weigh the anchor.

"No time for that," Hal told them.  "Take an axe to the anchor cable
and cut us free."  He heard the clunk of the axe into the timbers at
the bows, and felt the ship pay off and swing to the ebb.

He glanced towards the entry port and saw Aboli lift Sukeena onto the
deck.  Big Daniel had little Bobby weeping on his chest and Zwaantie on
his other arm.

The main sail blossomed out high above Hal's head, flapped lazily and
filled with the gentle night breeze.  Hal turned to the helm and felt
another great lift of his heart as he saw that Ned Tyler was already at
the whipstall.

"Full and by, Mister Tyler,"he said.  "Full and by it is, Captain."
"Steer for the main channel!"  "Aye, Captain!"  Ned could not suppress
his grin, and Hal grinned back at him.

"Will this ship do you, Mister Tyler?"

"It will do me well enough," Ned said, and his eyes sparkled.

Hal seized the speaking trumpet from its peg and pointed to the sky as
he called the order for the top sails to be set above the courses.  He
felt the ship start under his feet and begin to fly.

"Oh, sweet!"  he whispered.  "She is a bird, and the wind is her
lover."

He strode across to where Sukeena was already kneeling beside one of
the wounded seamen.

"I told you to leave those bags ashore, did I not?"

"Yes, my lord."  She smiled sweetly up at him.  "But I knew that you
were jesting."  Then her expression changed to dismay.  "You are hurt!"
She sprang to her feet.  "Let me attend to your injuries."

"I am scratched, not hurt.  This man needs your skills more than I do."
Hal turned from her, strode to the rail and looked across to the beach.
The fire had taken fierce hold on the forest, and now the scene was
lit like the dawn.  He could clearly make out the features of the horde
of men at the waterside.  They were dancing with rage and frustration
for they had realized at last that the frigate was being cut out under
their noses.

Hal picked out the giant figure of Cumbrae in the front of the press of
men.  He was waving his claymore and his face was so swollen with rage
that it seemed it might burst open like an overripe tomato.  Hal
laughed at him and the Buzzard's fury was magnified a hundredfold.  His
voice carried over the hubbub that his men were making.  "There is no
ocean wide enough to hide you, Courtney.  I will find you if it takes
fifty years."

Then Hal stopped laughing as he recognized the man who stood a little
higher up the beach.  At first he doubted his own eyesight, but the
flames lit him so clearly that there could be no mistake.  In contrast
to the Buzzard's antics and transparent rage, Cornelius Schreuder
stood, arms folded, staring across at Hal with a cold gaze that placed
a sudden chill on Hal's heart.  Their eyes locked, and it was as though
they confronted each other upon the duelling field.

The Golden Bough heeled slightly as a stronger eddy of wind over the
heads caught her, and the water began to gurgle under her forefoot like
a happy infant.  The deck trembled and she drew away from the beach.
Hal gave all his attention to the con of the ship, lining her up for
the run through the dangerous channel into the sea.  It was long
minutes before he could look back again towards the shore.

Only two figures remained on the beach.  The two men whom Hal hated
most in all the world, both his implacable enemies.  The Buzzard had
waded out waist-deep into the lagoon, as though to remain as close as
he could.  Schreuder still stood where Hal had last seen him.  He had
not moved and his reptilian stillness was every bit as chilling as
Cumbrae's wild histrionics.

"The day will come when you will have to kill both of them," said a
deep voice beside him, and he glanced at Aboli.

"I dream of that day."

Beneath his feet he felt the first thrust of the sea coming in through
the heads.  The flames had destroyed his night vision, and ahead lay
utter darkness.  He must grope his way through the treacherous channel
like a blind man.

"Douse the lanterns!"  he ordered.  Their feeble light would not
penetrate the darkness ahead and would serve only to dazzle him.

"Bring her up a point to larboard," he ordered Ned Tyler quietly.

"A point to larboard!"  "Meet her!"

He felt rather than saw the loom of the cliff ahead, and heard the
surge and break of the waves on the reef at the entrance.  He judged
his turn by the sounds of the sea, the feel of the wind on his chest
and the deck beneath his feet.

After all the shouting and pistol fire, the ship was deathly quiet.
Every seaman aboard her knew that Hal was leading them against an
ancient enemy far more dangerous than the Buzzard or any man alive.

"Harden up your main and mizzen courses," he called to the men on the
sheets.  "Stand ready to let your topgallants fly."

An almost palpable fear lay upon the Golden Bough for the ebb had her
by the throat and there was no manner in which the crew could slow the
ship's headlong rush towards the unseen cliffs in the aching
blackness.

The moment came.  Hal felt the back surge from the breaking reef push
across the bows, and the puff of wind on his cheek coming from a new
direction as the ship ran on into the maw of rock.

"Starboard your helm!"  he said sharply.  "Hard over.  Let your
topgallants fly."

The Golden Bough spun on her heel and her top sails flapped in the
wind, like the wings of a vulture scenting death.  The ship rushed on
into the darkness and every man on the deck braced himself for the
terrible crash as the belly was ripped out of her by the fangs of the
reef.

Hal stepped to the rail and peered up into the sky.  His eyes were
adjusting to the darkness.  He saw the line, high above, where the
stars were extinguished by the loom of the rocky head.

"Midship your helm, Mister Tyler.  Hold her at that."

The ship steadied on her new course into the night, and Hal's heart
beat fast to the echo of booming surf from the cliff close at hand.  He
clenched his fists at his sides in anticipation of the strike into the
reef.  Instead he felt the scend of the open sea hump up under her, and
the Golden Bough meet it with the passion thrust of a lover.

"Harden up your topgallants."  He raised his voice to carry on high.
The flapping of sails ceased and he heard once again the thrumming of
tight canvas.

The Golden Bough threw up her bows as the first ocean roller slid under
her and for a moment no man dared believe that Hal had led them through
the maelstrom to safety.

"Light the lanterns," Hal said quietly.  "Mister Tyler, come around to
due south.  We will make a good offing."

The silence persisted, then a voice from the main yard yelled down,
"Lord love you, Captain!  We're through."  Then the cheering swept down
the deck.

"For Sir Hal and the Golden Bough."  They cheered him until their
throats ached, and Hal heard strange voices calling his name.  The
seamen he had released from the hold were cheering him as loudly as the
others.

He felt a small warm hand creep into his and looked down to see
Sukeena's sweet face glow in the lantern light beside the binnacle.

"Already they love you almost as much as I do."  She tugged softly on
his hand.  "Will you not come away to where I can see to your
wounds?"

But he did not want to leave his quarterdeck.  He wanted to revel
longer in the sounds and the feel of his new ship and the sea under
her.  So he kept Sukeena close beside him as the Golden Bough ran on
into the night and the stars blazed down from above.

Big Daniel came to them at last, dragging with him an abject figure.
For a moment Hal did not recognize the creature but then the whining
voice made his skin crawl with loathing and the fine hairs at the back
of his neck rise.

"Sweet Sir Henry, I pray you to have mercy on an old shipmate."

"Sam Bowles."  Hal tried to keep his voice level.  "You have enough
innocent blood on your conscience to float a frigate."

"You do me injustice, good Sir Henry.  I am a poor wretch driven by the
storms and gales of life, noble Sir Henry.  I never wanted to do no man
harm."

"I will deal with him in the morning.  Chain him to the mainmast and
put two good men to guard him," Hal ordered Big Daniel.  "Make sure
that this time he does not eel his way out of our hands and cheat us
once again of the vengeance that we so richly deserve."

He watched in the lantern light as they shackled Sam Bowles to the foot
of the mainmast and two of the crew stood over him with drawn
cutlasses.

"My little brother Peter was one of those you drowned," the older of
the two guards told Sam Bowles.  "I beg you for any excuse to stick
this blade through your belly."

Hal left Daniel in charge of the deck and, taking Sukeena with him,
went below to the main cabin.  She would not rest until she had bathed
and bandaged his cuts and wounds, although none were serious enough to
cause her alarm.  When she had finished, Hal led her through into the
small cabin next door.  "You will be able to rest here undisturbed," he
told her, lifted her onto the bunk and, though she protested, covered
her with a woollen blanket.

"There are wounded men that need my help, "she said.  "Your unborn son
and I need you more," he told her finfily, and pushed her head down
gently.  She sighed and was almost immediately asleep.

He returned to the main cabin and sat down at Llewellyn's desk.  In the
centre of the mahogany top lay a great black leather-covered Bible.
During all his captivity Hal had been denied access to the book.  He
opened the front cover, and read the inscription, written in a bold
sloping hand.  "Christopher Llewellyn esq, Born 16th October in the
year of grace 1621."

Below it was another, fresher inscription.  "Consecrated as a
Nautonnier Knight of the Temple of the Order of St.  George and the
Holy Grail 2nd August 1643."

Knowing that the man who had captained this ship before him was a
brother Knight gave Hal a deep purpose and pleasure.  For an hour he
turned the pages of the Bible and reread the familiar and inspiring
passages by which his father had taught him to steer his course through
life.  At last he closed it, stood up and began to search the cabin for
the ship's books and documents.  He soon discovered the iron strong-box
below the bunk.  When he could not find the key he called Aboli to help
him.  They forced open the lid and Hal sent Aboli away.  He sat the
rest of the night at Llewellyn's desk, studying the ship's books and
papers in the lantern light.  He was so absorbed by his reading that
when Aboli came down to fetch him, an hour after the sun had risen, he
looked up in surprise.  "What time is it, Aboli?"

"Two bells in the morning watch.  The men are asking to see you,
Captain."

Hal stood up from the desk, stretching and rubbing his eyes, then
crossed to the door of the cabin where Sukeena still slept.

"It would be best if you spoke to the new men as soon as you can,
Gundwane,"Aboli said, behind him.

"Yes, you are right."  Hal turned back to him.

"Daniel and I have already told them who you are, but you must convince
them now to sail under your command.  If they refuse to accept you as
their new captain, there is little we can do.  There are thirty-four of
them, and only six of us."

Hal went to the small mirror on the bulkhead above the jug and basin of
the toilet stand.  When he saw his reflection he started with
amazement.  "Sweet heavens, Aboli, I look such a pirate that I do not
even trust myself."

Sukeena must have been listening, for she appeared suddenly in the
doorway with the blanket draped over her shoulders.

"Tell them we will come in a minute, Aboli, when I have made the best
of his appearance," she said.

When Hal and Sukeena stepped out onto the deck together, the men
gathered in the ship's waist stared at them with astonishment.  The
transformation was extraordinary.  Hal was freshly shaved and dressed
in simple but clean clothing from Llewellyn's locker.  Sukeena's hair
was combed, oiled and plaited and she had fashioned a long skirt from
one of the cabin's velvet drapes and wrapped it around her girlish
waist and hips.  They made an extraordinary couple, the tall young
Englishman and the oriental beauty.

Hal left Sukeena at the companionway and strode out in front of the
men.  "I am Henry Courtney.  I am an Englishman, as you are.  I am a
sailor, as you are."

"Aye, that you are, Captain," one said loudly.  "We watched you take a
strange ship out through the heads in darkness.  You're enough sailor
to fill my tankard and give me a warm feel in the guts."

Another called out, "I sailed with your father, Sir Francis, on the old
Lady Edwina.  He was a seaman and fighter, and an honest man to
boot."

Then another cried, "Last night, by my count, you took down seven of
the Buzzard's scum with your own blade.  The pup is well bred from the
old dog."

They all began to cheer him so he could not speak for a long while, but
at last he held up his hand.  "I tell you straight that I have read
Captain Llewellyn's log.  I have read the charter he had with the
ship's owner, and I know whither the Golden Bough was bound and what
was her purpose."  He paused, and looked at their honest, weatherbeaten
faces.  "We have a choice, you and I. We can say we were beaten by the
Buzzard before we began and sail back home to England."

They groaned and shouted protests until he held up his hand again.

"Or I can take over Captain Llewellyn's charter and his agreement with
the owners of the Golden Bough.  On your side, you can sign on with me
on the same terms and with the same share of the prize you agreed
before.  Before you answer me, remember that if you come with me the
chances are strong that we will run in with the Buzzard again, and you
will have to fight him once more."

"Lead us to him now, Captain," one yelled.  "We'll fight him this very
day."

"Nay, lad.  We're short-handed and I need to learn to con this ship
before we meet the Buzzard again.  We will fight the Gull on the day
and at the place of my own choosing," Hal told them grimly.  "On that
day we will hoist the Buzzard's head to our masthead and divide up his
booty."

"I'm with you, Captain," shouted a lanky fair-headed sailor.  "I cannot
write my name, but bring me the book and I'll mark a cross so big and
black it will fright the devil himself.  "They all roared with fierce
laughter.

"Bring the book and let us sign."

"We're with you.  My oath and my mark on it."

Hal stopped them again.  "You will come one at a time to my cabin, so
that I can learn each of your names and shake you by the hand."

He turned to the rail and pointed back over their stern.  "We have made
good our offing."  The African coast lay low and blue along the
horizon.  "Get aloft now to make sail and bring the ship around onto
her true course for the Great Horn of Africa."

They swarmed up the shrouds and out along the yards and the canvas
billowed out until it shone in the sunlight like a soaring
thunderhead.

"What course, Captain?"  Ned Tyler called from the helm.

"East by north, Mister Tyler," Hal replied, and felt the ship surge
forward under him, as he turned to watch the wake furrow the blue
rollers with a line of flashing foam.  he never one of the crew passed
the foot of the mainmast where Sam Bowles AW crouched, shackled at hand
and foot like a captive ape, they paused to gather saliva and spit at
him.  Aboli came to Hal in the forenoon watch.  "You must deal with Sam
Bowles now.  The men are becoming impatient.  One of them is going to
cheat the rope and stick a knife between his ribs."

"That will save me a deal of bother."  Hal looked up from the bundle of
charts and the book of sailing directions that he had found in
Christopher Llewellyn's chest.  He knew that his crew would demand a
savage revenge on Sam Bowles, and he did not relish what had to be
done.

"I will come on deck at once."  He sighed, surrendering at last to
Aboli's ruthless persuasion.  "Have the men assembled in the waist."

He had thought that Sukeena was still in the small cabin that adjoined
the powder magazine, which she had turned into a sickbay and in which
two of the wounded men still teetered on the edge of life.  He hoped
that she would stay there, but as he stepped out onto the deck she came
to meet him.

"You should go below, Princess," he told her softly.  "It will not be a
sight fitting to your eyes."

"What concerns you is my concern also.  Your father was part of you, so
his death touches upon me.  I lost my own father in terrible
circumstances, but I avenged him.  I will stay to see that you avenge
your father's death."

"Very well."  Hal nodded, and called across the deck.  "Bring the
prisoner!"

They were forced to drag Sam Bowles to face his accusers, for his legs
could barely support him and his tears ran down to mingle with the
spittle that the men had ejected into his face.

"I meant no ill," he pleaded.  "Hear me, shipmates.  "Twos that devil
Cumbrae that drove me to it."

"You laughed as you held my brother's head under the waters of the
lagoon, shouted one of the seamen.

As they dragged him past where Aboli stood with his arms folded across
his chest, he stared at Sam with eyes that glittered strangely.

"Remember Francis Courtney!"  Aboli rumbled.  "Remember what you did to
the finest man who ever sailed the oceans."

Hal had prepared a list of the crimes for which Sam Bowles must answer.
As he read aloud each charge, the men howled for vengeance.

Finally Hal came to the last item of the dreadful recital.  "That you,
Samuel Bowles, in the sight of their comrades and shipmates, did murder
the wounded seamen from the Golden Bough, who had survived your
treacherous ambush, by causing them to be drowned."

He folded the document, and demanded sternly, "You have heard the
charges against you, Samuel Bowles.  What have you to say in your
defence?"

"It was not my own fault!  I swear I would not have done it but I was
in terror of my life."

The crew shouted him down, and it was some minutes until Hal could
quieten them.  Then he asked, "So you do not deny the charges against
you?"

"What use denying it?"  one of the men shouted.  "We all saw it with
our own eyes."

Sam Bowles was weeping loudly now.  "For the love of sweet Jesus have
mercy, Sir Henry.  I know I have erred, but give me a chance and you
will find no more trusty and loving creature to serve you all the days
of your life."

The sight of Bowles disgusted Hal so deeply that he wanted to wash the
foul taste of it from his mouth.  Suddenly an image appeared in the eye
of his mind.  It was of his father lying on the litter, being borne
away to the scaffold, his body broken and twisted from the rack.  He
began to tremble.

Beside him, Sukeena sensed his distress.  She laid her hand softly on
his arm to steady him.  He drew a deep, slow breath and fought back the
black waves of sorrow that threatened to overwhelm him.  "Samuel
Bowles, you have admitted your guilt to all the charges brought against
you.  Is there anything that you wish to say before I pronounce
sentence upon you?"  Grimly he stared into Sam's flooded eyes, and
watched a strange transformation take place.  He realized that the
tears were a device that Sam could call upon at will.  Something else
burned out from a deep and hidden part of his soul, a nimbus so feral
and evil that he doubted he still looked into the eyes of a human being
and not those of a wild beast standing at bay.

"You think you hate me, Henry Courtney?  You do not know what hatred
truly is.  I glory in the thought of your father screaming on the rack.
Sam Bowles did that.  Remember it every day you live.  Sam Bowles might
be dead but Sam Bowles did that!"  His voice rose to a scream, and
spittle foamed on his lips.  His own evil overwhelmed him and his
shrieks were barely coherent.  "This is my ship, my own ship.  I would
have been Captain Samuel Bowles, and you took it from me.  May the
devil drink your blood in hell.  May he dance on your father's twisted
and rotting corpse, Henry Courtney."

Hal turned away from the revolting spectacle, trying to close his ears
to the stream of invective.

"Mister Tyler."  He spoke loudly enough for all the crew to hear above
Sam Bowles's screams.  "We will waste no more of the ship's time with
this matter.  The prisoner is to be hanged immediately.  Reeve a rope
to the main yard.  -" "Gundwane!"  Aboli roared a warning.  "Behind
you!"  And he started forward too late to intervene.  Sam Bowles had
reached under his petticoats.  Strapped to the inside of his thigh was
a leather sheath.  He was as swift as a striking adder.  In his hand
the blade of the stiletto sparkled like a sliver of crystal, pretty as
a maiden's bauble.  He threw it with a snap of his wrist.

Hal had begun to turn to Aboli's warning, but Sam was swifter.  The
dagger flitted across the space that separated them, and Hal winced in
anticipation of the sting of the razor-edged blade burying itself in
his flesh.  For an instant he doubted his own senses, for he felt no
blow.

He looked down and saw that Sukeena had flung out one slim bare arm to
block the throw.  The silver blade had struck an inch below her elbow
and buried itself to the haft.

"Sweet Jesus, shield her!"  Hal blurted, seized her in his arms and
hugged her to him.  Both of them stared down at the hilt of the dagger
protruding from her flesh.

Aboli reached Sam Bowles the instant after the stiletto had flown from
his fingers and sent him crashing to the deck with a blow of his
bunched fist.  Ned Tyler and a dozen men leapt forward to seize him,
and drag him to his feet.  Sam shook his head blearily for Aboli's fist
had stunned him.  Blood dribbled from the side of his mouth.

"Reeve a rope through the main yard block," Ned Tyler shouted, and a
man raced up the shrouds to obey.  He ran out along the main yard, and
a minute later the rope fell down through the sheave and its tail
flopped onto the deck.

"The blade has gone deep," Hal whispered, as he held Sukeena against
his chest and tenderly lifted her wounded arm.

"It is thin and sharp."  Sukeena smiled bravely up at him.  "So sharp I
hardly felt it.  Draw the blade swiftly, my darling, and it will heal
cleanly."

"Help me here!  Hold her arm," Hal called to Aboli, who sprang to his
side, grasped the slim engraved hilt and, with one swift motion,
plucked the blade from Sukeena's flesh.  It came away with surprising
ease.

She said softly, "There is little harm done," but her cheeks had paled
and tears trembled on her lower eyelids.  Hal lifted her in his arms
and started towards the companionway of the stern.  A wild scream
stopped him.

Sam Bowles stood beneath the dangling rope.  Ned Tyler was snugging the
noose down under his ear.  Four men waited ready with the tail of the
rope in their hands.

"Your bitch is dead, Henry Courtney.  She is dead just like your
bastard sire.  Sam Bowles killed both of them.  Glory be, Captain
Bloody Courtney, remember me in your prayers.  I am the man you will
never forget."  "Tis a little cut.  The Princess is a strong, brave
girl.

She will live on," Ned muttered grimly in Sam Bowles's ear.  "You are
the one who is dead, Sam Bowles."  He stepped back and nodded to the
men on the rope's end, who walked away with it, slapping their bare
feet on the deck timbers in unison.

The instant before the rope came up tight and stopped his breath, Sam
screamed again, "Look well at the blade that cut your whore, Captain.
Think on Sam Bowles when you try the point."  The rope bit into his
throat and yanked him off his feet, throttling the next word before it
reached his lips.

The crew howled with wolflike glee as Sam Bowles rose spiralling in the
air, swinging on the rope's end as the Golden Bough rotted under him.
His legs kicked and danced so that the chains on his ankles tinkled
like sleigh bells.

He was still twitching and gurgling when his neck jammed up tight
against the sheave block at the end of the main yard high above the
deck.

"Let him hang there all night, "Ned Tyler ordered.  "We'll cut him down
in the morning and throw him to the sharks."  Then he stooped and
picked up the stiletto from the deck where Hal had flung it.  He
studied the blood-smeared blade and his tanned face turned yellow
grey.

"Sweet Mary, let it not be so!"  He looked up again at Sam Bowles's
corpse swaying to the ship's motion high above him.

"Your death was too easy.  If it were in my power, I would kill you a
hundred times over, and each time more painfully than the last."  al
laid Sukeena on the bunk in the main cabin.  "I should cauterize the
wound but tH the hot iron would leave a scar."  He knelt beside the
bunk and examined it closely.  "It is deep but there is almost no
bleeding." He wrapped her arm in a fold of white linen that Aboli
brought him from the sea-chest at the foot of the bunk.

"Bring me my bag," Sukeena ordered, and Aboli went immediately.

As soon as they were alone, Hal bent over her and kissed her pale
cheek.  "You took Sam's throw to save me," he murmured, his face
pressed to hers.  "You risked your own life and the life of the child
in your womb for me.  It was a bad bargain, my love."

"I would strike the same bargain-" She broke off and he felt her
stiffen in his arms and gasp.

"What is it that ails you, my sweetheart?"  He drew back and stared
into her face.  Before his eyes, tiny beads of perspiration welled up
out of the pores of her skin, like the dew on the petals of a yellow
rose.  "You are in pain?"

"It burns," she whispered.  "It burns worse than the hot iron you spoke
of."

Swiftly he unwrapped her arm and stared at the change in the wound that
had taken place as they embraced.  The arm was swelling before his
eyes, like one of the Toby fish of the coral reef that could puff
itself up to many times its original size when threatened by a
predator.

Sukeena lifted the arm and nursed it to her bosom.  She whimpered
involuntarily as the pain flowed up from the wound to fill her chest
like glowing molten lead.

"I do not understand what is happening."  She began to writhe upon the
bunk.  "This is not natural.  Look how it changes colour."

Hal stared helplessly as the lovely limb slowly bloated and discoloured
with lines of crimson and vivid purple, that ran up from the elbow to
her shoulder.  The wound began to weep a viscous yellow fluid.

"What can I do?"  he blurted.

"I do not know," she said desperately.  "This is something beyond my
understanding."  A spasm of agony seized her in a vice, and her back
arched.  Then it passed and she pleaded, "I must have my bag.  I cannot
endure this pain.  I have a powder made from the opium poppy."

Hal sprang to his feet and bounded across the cabin.  "Aboli, where are
you?"  he bellowed.  "Bring the bag, and Swiftly!"

Ned Tyler stood upon the threshold of the door.  He held something in
his hand and there was a strange expression on his face.  "Captain,
there is something I must show you."

"Not now, man, not now."  Hal raised his voice again.  "Aboli, come
quickly."

Aboli came down the companionway in a rush, carrying the saddle-bags.
"What is it, Gundwane?"

"Sukeena!  There is something happening to her.  She needs the
medicine-" "Captain!"  Ned Tyler forced his way past Aboli's bulk into
the cabin and seized Hal's arm urgently.  "This cannot wait.  Look at
the dagger.  Look at the poi nd He held up the stiletto, and the others
stared at it.

"In God's name!"  Hal whispered.  "Let it not be so."

A narrow groove down the length of the blade was filled with a black,
tarry paste that had dried hard and shiny.

"It is an assassin's blade," Ned said quietly.  "The groove is filled
with poison."

Hal felt the deck sway under his feet as though the Golden Bough had
been struck by a tall wave.  His vision went dark.  "It cannot be," he
said.  "Aboli, tell me it cannot be."

"Be strong," Aboli muttered.  "Be strong for her, Gundwane."  He
gripped Hal's arm.

The hand steadied Hal and his vision brightened, but when he tried to
draw breath the leaden hand of dread crushed in his ribs.  "I cannot
live without her," he said, like a confused child.

"Do not let her know," Aboli said.  "Do not make the parting harder for
her than it need be."

Hal stared at him uncomprehendingly.  Then he began to understand the
finality, the significance of that tiny groove in the steel blade, and
of the fatal threats that Sam Bowles had shouted at him with the
hangman's noose around his neck.

"Sukeena is going to die," he said, in a tone of bewilderment.

"This will be harder for you than any fight you have ever fought
before, Gundwane."

With an enormous effort Hal fought to regain control of himself.  "Do
not show her the dagger," he said to Ned Tyler.  "Go!  Hurl the cursed
thing overboard."

When he got back to Sukeena he tried to conceal the black despair in
his heart.  "Aboli has brought your bags."  He knelt beside her again.
"Tell me how to prepare the potion."

"Oh, do it swiftly," she pleaded as another spasm gripped her.  "The
blue flask.  Two measures in a mug of hot water.  No more than that,
for it is powerful."

Her hand shook violently as she tried to take the mug from him.  She
had only the use of the one hand now.  her wounded arm was swollen and
purpled, the once dainty fingers so bloated that the skin threatened to
burst open.  She had difficulty holding the mug and Hal lifted it to
her lips while she gulped down the potion with pathetic urgency.

She fell back with the effort and writhed on the bunk, drenching the
bedclothes with the sweat of agony.  Hal lay beside her and held her to
his chest, trying to comfort her but knowing too well how futile were
his efforts.

After a while the poppy flower seemed to have its effect.  She clung to
him and pressed her face into his neck.  "I am dying, Gundwane."

"Do not say so," he begged her.

"I have known it these many months.  I saw it in the stars.  That was
why I could not answer your question."  "Sukeena, my love, I will die
with you."

"No."  Her voice was a little stronger.  "You will go on.  I have
travelled with you as far as I am.  permitted.  But for you the Fates
have reserved a special destiny."  She rested a while, and he thought
that she had fallen into a coma, but then she spoke again.  "You will
live on.  You will have many strong sons and their descendants will
flourish in this land of Africa, and make it their own."

"I want no son but yours," he said.  "You promised me a son.

"Hush, my love, for the son I give you will break your heart."  Another
terrible convulsion took her, and she screamed in the agony of it.  At
last, when it seemed she could bear no more, she fell back trembling
and wept.  He held her and could find no words to tell her of his
grief.

The hours passed, and twice he heard the ship's bell announce the watch
changes.  He felt her grow weaker and sink away from him.  Then a
series of powerful convulsions racked her body.  When she fell back in
his arms, she whispered, "Your son, the son I promised you, has been
born."  Her eyes were tightly closed, tears squeezing out between the
lids.

For a long minute he did not understand her words.  Then, fearfully, he
drew back the blanket.

Between her bloody thighs lay a tiny pink mannikin, glistening wet and
bound to her still by a tangle of fleshy cord.  The little head was
only half formed, the eyes would never open and the mouth would never
take suck, nor cry, nor laugh.  But he saw that it was, indeed, a
boy.

He took her again in his arms and she opened her eyes and smiled
softly.  "I am sorry, my love.  I have to go now.  If you forget all
else, remember only this, that I loved you as no other woman will ever
be able to love you."

She closed her eyes and he felt the life go out of her, the great
stillness descend.

He waited with them, his woman and his son, until midnight.  Then
Althuda brought down a bolt of canvas and sail maker needle, thread and
palm.  Hal placed the stillborn child in Sukeena's arms and bound him
there with a linen winding sheet.  Then he and Althuda sewed them into
a shroud of bright new canvas, a cannonball at Sukeena's feet.

At midnight Hal carried the woman and child in his arms up onto the
open deck.  Under the bright African moon he gave them both up to the
sea.  They went below the dark surface and left barely a ripple in the
ship's wake at their passing.

"Goodbye, my love," he whispered.  "Goodbye, my two darlings."

Then he went down to the cabin in the stern.  He opened Llewellyn's
Bible and looked for comfort and solace between its black-leather
covers, but found none.  or six long days he sat alone by his cabin
window.  He ate none of the food that Aboli -&-Fbrought him.  Sometimes
he read from the Bible, but mostly he stared back along the ship's
wake.  He came up on deck at noon each day, gaunt and haggard, and
sighted the sun.  He made his calculations of the ship's position and
gave his orders to the helm.  Then he went back to be alone with his
grief.

At dawn on the seventh day Aboli came to him.  "Grief is natural,
Gundwane, but this is indulgence.  You forsake your duty and those of
us who have placed our trust in you.  It is enough."

"It will never be enough."  Hal looked at him.  "I will mourn her all
the days of my life."  He stood up and the cabin swam around him, for
he was weak with grief and lack of food.  He waited for his head to
steady and clear.  "You are right, Aboli.  Bring me a bowl of food and
a mug of small beer."

After he had eaten, he felt stronger.  He washed and shaved, changed
his shirt and combed his hair back into a thick plait down his back. He
saw that there were strands of pure white in the sable locks.

When he looked in the mirror, he barely recognized the darkly tanned
face that stared back at him, the nose as beaky as that of an eagle,
and there was no spare flesh to cover the high-ridged cheek-bones or
the unforgiving line of the jaw.  His eyes were green as emeralds, and
with that stone's adamantine glitter.

I am barely twenty years of age, he thought, with amazement, and yet I
look twice that already.

He picked up his sword from the desk top and slipped it into the
scabbard.  "Very well, Aboli.  I am ready to take up my duty again," he
said, and Aboli followed him up onto the deck.

The boatswain at the helm knuckled his forehead, and the watch on deck
nudged each other.  Every man was intensely aware of his presence, but
none looked in his direction.  Hal stood for a while at the rail, his
eyes darting keenly about the deck and rigging.

"Boatswain, hold your luff, damn your eyes!"  he snapped at the
helmsman.

The leech of the main sail was barely trembling as it spilled the wind,
but Hal had noticed it and the watch, squatting at the foot of the
mainmast, grinned at each other surreptitiously.  The captain was in
command again.

At first they did not understand what this presaged.  However, they
were soon to team the breadth and extent of it.  Hal started by
speaking to every man of the crew alone in his cabin.  After he had
asked their names and the village or town of their birth, he questioned
them shrewdly as to their service.  Meanwhile he was studying each and
assessing his worth.

Three stood out above the others, they had all been watch keepers under
Llewellyn's command.  The boatswain, John Lovell, was the man who had
served under Hal's father.

"You'll keep your old rating, boatswain," Hal told him, and John
grinned.

"It will be a pleasure to serve under you, Captain."

"I hope you feel the same way in a month from now," Hal replied
grimly.

The other two were William Stanley and Robert Moone, both coxswains.
Hal liked the look of them.  Llewellyn had a good eye for judging men,
he thought, and shook their hands.

Big Daniel was his other boatswain, and Ned Tyler, who could both read
and write, was mate.  Althuda, one of the few other literates aboard,
became the ship's writer, in charge of all the documents and keeping
them up to date.  He was Hal's closest remaining link with Sukeena, and
Hal felt the greatest affection for him and wished to keep him near at
hand.  They could share each other's grief.

John Lovell and Ned Tyler went through the ship's roster with Hal and
helped him draw up the watch-bill, the nominal list by which every man
knew to which watch he was quartered and his station for every
purpose.

As soon as this was done Hal inspected the ship.  He started on the
main deck and then, with his two boatswains, opened every hatch.  He
climbed and sometimes crawled into every part of the hull, from her
bilges to her maintop.  In her magazine he opened three kegs, chosen at
random, and assessed the quality of her gunpowder and slow-match.

He checked off her cargo against the manifest, and was surprised and
pleased to find the amount of muskets and lead shot she carried,
together with great quantities of trade goods.

Then he ordered the ship hove to, and a longboat lowered.  He had
himself rowed around the ship so he could judge her trim.  He moved
some of the culver ins to gun ports further aft, and ordered the cargo
swung out on deck and repacked to establish the trim he favoured.  Then
he exercised the ship's company in sail setting and altering, sailing
the Golden Bough through every point of the compass and at every
attitude to the wind.  This went on for almost a week, as he called out
the watch below at noon or in the middle of the night to shorten or
increase sail and push the ship to the limits of her speed.

Soon he knew the Golden Bough as intimately as a lover.  He found out
how close he could take her to the wind, and how she loved to run
before it with all her canvas spread.  He had a bucket crew wet down
her sails so they would better hold the wind, and then, when she was in
full flight, took her speed through the water with glass and log timed
from bow to stern.  He found out how to coax the last yard of speed out
of her, and how to have her respond to the helm like a fine hunter to
the reins.

The crew worked without complaint, and Aboli heard them talking among
themselves in the forecastle.  Far from complaining, they seemed to be
enjoying the change from Llewellyn's more complacent command.

"The young "un is a sailor.  The ship loves him.  He can drive the
Bough to her limit, and make her fly through the water, he can."

"He's happy to drive us to the limit, also," another opined.

"Cheer up, all you lazy layabouts, I reckon there'll be prize money
galore at the end of this voyage."

Then Hal worked them at the guns, running them out then in again, until
the men sweated, strained and grinned as they cursed him for a tyrant.
Then he had the gun crews fire at a floating keg, and cheered with the
best of them as the target shattered to the shot.

In between times, he exercised them with the cutlass and the pike, and
he fought alongside them, stripped to the waist and matching himself
against Aboli, Big Daniel or John Lovell, who was the best swordsman of
the new crew.

The Golden Bough sailed on around the bulge of the southern African
continent and Hal headed her up into the north.  Now with every league
they sailed the sea changed its character.  The waters took on a vivid
indigo hue that stained the sky the same colour.  They were so clear
that, leaning over the bows, Hal could see the pods of porpoises four
fathoms down, racing ahead of the bows and frolicking like a pack of
boisterous spaniels, until they arched up to the surface.  As they
broke through it he could see the nostril on top of their head open to
breathe, and they looked up at him with a merry eye and a knowing
grin.

The flying fish were their outriders, sailing ahead of them on flashing
silver wings, and the mountains of towering cumulus clouds were the
beacons that beckoned them ever northwards.

When they sailed into the great calms he would not let his crew rest,
but lowered the boats and raced watch against watch, the oars churning
the water white.  Then at the end of the course he had them board the
Golden Bough as though she were an enemy, while he and Aboli and Big
Daniel opposed them and made them fight for a footing on the deck.

In the windless heat of the tropics, while the Bough rolled gently on
the sluggish swells and the empty sails slatted and lolled, he raced
the hands in relay teams to the top of the mainmast and down, with an
extra tot of rum as the prize.

Within weeks the men were fit and lean and bursting with high spirits,
spoiling for a fight.  Hal, however, was plagued by a nagging worry
that he shared with nobody, not even Aboli.  Night after night he sat
at his desk in the main cabin, not daring to sleep, for he knew that
the grief and the memories of the woman and the child he had lost would
haunt his dreams, and he studied, the charts and tried to puzzle out a
solution.

He had barely forty men under his command, only just sufficient to work
the ship, but too few by far to fight her.  If they met again, the
Buzzard would be able to send a hundred men onto the Golden Bough's
deck.  If they were to be able to defend themselves, let alone seek
employment in the service of the Prester, then Hal must find seamen.

When he perused the charts he could find few ports where he might
enlist trained seamen.  Most were under the control of the Portuguese
and the Dutch, and they would not welcome an English frigate,
especially one whose captain was intent on seducing their sailors into
his service.

The English had not penetrated this far ocean in any force.  A few
traders had factories on the Indian continent, but they were under the
thrall of the Great Mogul, and, besides, to reach them would mean a
voyage of several thousand miles out of his intended course.

Hal knew that on the south-east shore of the long island of St.
Lawrence, which was also called Madagascar, the French Knights of the
Order of the Holy Grail had a safe harbour which they called Fort
Dauphin.  If he called in there, as an English Knight of the Order he
could expect a welcome but little else for his comfort, unless some
rare circumstance such as a cyclone had caused a wreck and left sailors
in the port without ship.  However, he decided that he must take that
chance and make Fort Dauphin his first call, and laid his course for
the island.

As he sailed on northwards, with Madagascar as his goal, Africa was
always there off the larboard beam.  At times the land dreamed in the
blue distance, and at other times it was so close that they could smell
its peculiar aroma.  It was the peppery scent of spice and the rich
dark odour of the earth, like new-baked biscuit hot from the oven.

Often Jiri, Matesi and Kimatti clustered at the rail, pointing at the
green hills and the lacy lines of surf, and talking together quietly in
the language of the forests.  When there was a quiet hour, Aboli would
climb to the masthead and stare across at the land.  When he descended
his expression was sad and lonely.

Day after day they saw no sign of other men.  There were no towns or
ports along the shore that they could spy out, and no sail upon the
sea, not even a canoe or coasting dhow.

It was not until they were less than a hundred leagues south of Cap St.
Marie, the southernmost point of the island, that they raised another
sail.  Hal stood the ship to quarters and had the culverin loaded with
grape and the slow-match lit, for out here beyond the Line he dared
take no ship on trust.

When they were almost within hail of the other ship, it broke out its
colours.  Hal was delighted to see the Union flag and the croix pott6e
of the Order streaming from her masthead.  He replied with the same
show of cloth and both ships hove to within hail of each other.

"What ship?"  Hal asked, and the reply came back across the blue
swells, "The Rose of Durham.  Captain Welles."  She was an an ned
trader, a caravel with twelve guns a side.

Hal lowered a longboat and had himself rowed across.  He was greeted at
the entry port by a spry, elfin captain of middle years.  "In Arcadia
habito."

"Flurrien sac rum bene cognosco," Hal replied, and they clasped hands
in the recognition grip of the Temple..  Captain Welles invited Hal
down to his cabin where they drank a tankard of cider together and
exchanged news avidly.  Welles had sailed four weeks previously from
the English factory of St.  George near Madras on the east coast of
Further India with a cargo of trade cloth.  He intended to exchange
this for slaves on the Gambian coast of West Africa, and then sail on
across the Atlantic to the Caribbean where he would barter his slaves
for sugar, and so back home to England.

Hal questioned him on the availability of seamen from the English
factories on the Carnatic, that stretch of the shore of Further India
from East Ghats down to the Coromandel coast, but Welles shook his
head.  "You'll be wanting to give the whole of that coast a wide
berth.

When I left the cholera was raging in every village and factory.  Any
man you take aboard might bring death with him as a companion."

Hal chilled at the thought of the havoc that this plague would wreak
among his already depleted crew, should it take hold on the Golden
Bough.  He dared not risk a visit to those fever ports.

Over a second mug of cider, Welles gave Hal his first reliable account
of the conflict raging in the Great Horn of Africa.  "The younger
brother of the Great Mogul, Sadiq Khan Jahan, has arrived off the coast
of the Horn with a great fleet.  He has joined forces with Ahmed El
Grang, who they call the Left-handed, the king of the Omani Arabs who
holds sway over the lands bordering the Prester's empire.  These two
have declared jihad, holy war, and together they have swept down like a
raging gale upon the Christians.  They have taken by storm and sacked
the ports and towns of the coast, burning the churches and despoiling
the monasteries, massacring the monks and the holy men."

"I intend sailing to offer my services to the Prester to help him
resist the pagan," Hal told him.

"It is another crusade, and yours is a noble inspiration," Welles
applauded him.  "Many of the most sacred relics of Christendom are held
by the holy fathers in the Ethiopian city of Aksum and in the
monasteries in secret places in the mountains.  If they were to fall
into the hands of the pagIan, it would be a sad day for all
Christendom."

"If you cannot yourself go upon this sacred venture, will you not spare
me a dozen of your men, for I am sore pressed for the lack of good
sailors?"  Hal asked.

Welles looked away.  "I have a long voyage ahead of me, and there are
bound to be heavy losses among my crew when we visit the fever coast of
the Gambia and make the middle passage of the Atlantic,"he mumbled.

"Think on your vows," Hal urged him.

Welles hesitated, then shrugged.  "I will muster my crew, and you may
appeal to them and call for volunteers to join your venture."

Hal thanked him, knowing that Welles was on a certain wager.  Few
seamen at the end of a two-year voyage would forgo their share of
profits and the prospect of a swift return home, in favour of a call to
arms to aid a foreign potentate, even if he were a Christian.  Only two
men responded to Hal's appeal, and Welles looked relieved to be shot of
them.  Hal guessed that they were troublemakers and malcontents, but he
could not afford to be finicky.

Before they parted, Hal handed over to Welles two packets of letters,
stitched in canvas covers with the address boldly written on each.  One
was addressed to Viscount Winterton, and in the long letter Hal had
penned to him he set out the circumstances of Captain Llewellyn's
murder, and his own acquisition of the Golden Bough.  He gave an
undertaking to sail the ship in accordance with the original charter.

The second letter was addressed to his uncle, Thomas Courtney, at High
Weald, to inform him of the death of his father and his own inheritance
of the title.  He asked his uncle to continue to run the estate on his
behalf.

When at last he took leave of Welles, the two seamen he had acquired
went with him back to the Golden Bough.  From his quarterdeck Hal
watched the top sails of the Rose of Durham drop below the southern
horizon, and days afterwards the hills of Madagascar rise before him
out of the north.

That night Hal, as had become his wont, came up on deck at the end of
the second dog watch to read the traverse board and speak to the
helmsman.  Three dark shadows waited for him at the foot of the
mainmast.

"Jiri and the others wish to speak to you, Gundwane," Aboli told him.

They clustered about him as he stood by the windward rail.  jiri spoke
first in the language of the forests.  "I was a man when the slavers
took me from my home," he told Hal quietly.  "I was old enough to
remember much more of the land of my birth than these others."  He
indicated Aboli, Kimatti and Matesi, and all three nodded agreement.

"We were children, "said Aboli.

"In these last days," jiri went on, "when I smelled the land and saw
again the green hills, old memories long forgotten came back to me.

I am sure now, in my deepest heart, that I can find my way back to the
great river along the banks of which my tribe lived when I was a
child."

Hal was silent for a while, and then he asked, "Why do you tell me
these things, jiri?  Do you wish to return to your own people?"

Jiri hesitated.  "It was so long ago.  My father and my mother are
dead, killed by the slavers.  My brothers and the friends of my
childhood are gone also, taken away in the chains of the slavers."  He
was silent awhile, but then he went on, "No, Captain, I cannot return,
for you are now my chief as your father was before you, and these are
my brothers."  He indicated Aboli and the others who stood around
him.

Aboli took up the tale.  "If Jiri can lead us back to the great river,
if we can find our lost tribe, it may well be that we can find also a
hundred warriors among them to fill the watch-bill of this ship."

Hal stared at him in astonishment.  "A hundred men?  Men who can fight
like you four rascals?  Then, indeed, the stars are smiling upon me
again."

He took all four down to the stern cabin, lit the lanterns and spread
his charts upon the deck.  They squatted around them in a circle, and
the black men prodded the parchment sheets with their forefingers and
argued softly in their sonorous voices, while Hal explained the lines
on the charts to the three who, unlike Aboli, could not read.

When the ship's bell tolled the beginning of the morning watch, Hal
went on deck and called Ned Tyler to him.  "New course, Mister Tyler.
Due south.  Mark it on the traverse board."

Ned was clearly astounded at the order to turn back, but he asked no
question.  "Due south it is."

Hal took pity on him, for it was evident that curiosity itched him like
a burr in his breeches.  "We're closing the African mainland again."

They crossed the broad channel that separated Madagascar from the
African continent.  The mainland came up as a low blue smudge on the
horizon and, at a good offing, they turned and sailed southwards once
more along the coast.

Aboli and jiri spent most of the hours of daylight at the masthead,
peering at the land.  Twice Jiri came down and asked Hal to stand
inshore to investigate what appeared to be the mouth of a large river.
Once it turned out to be a false channel and the second time Jiri did
not recognize it when they anchored off the mouth.  "It is too small.
The river I seek has four mouths."

They weighed anchor and worked out to sea again, then went on
southwards.  Hal was beginning to doubt Jiri's memory but he
persevered.  Several days later he noticed the patent excitement of the
two men at the masthead as they stared at the land and gesticulated to
each other.  Matesi and Kimatti, who as part of the off-duty watch had
been lazing on the forecastle, scrambled to their feet and flew up the
shrouds to hang in the rigging and stare avidly at the land.

Hal strode to the rail and raised Llewellyn's brass-bound telescope to
his eye.  He saw the delta of a great river spread before them.  The
waters that spilled out from the multiple mouths were discoloured and
carried with them the detritus of the swamps and the unknown lands that
must lie at the source of this mighty river.  Squadrons of sharks were
feeding on this waste, and their tall, triangular fins zigzagged across
the current.

Hal called Jiri down to him and asked, "What do your tribe call this
river?"

"There are many names for it, for the one river comes to the sea as
many rivers.  They are called Muselo and Inharnessingo and Chinde.  But
the chief of them is Zambere."

"They all have a noble ring to them," Hal conceded.  "But are you
certain this is the river serpent with four mouths?"  "On the head of
my dead father I swear it is."

Hal had two men in the bows taking soundings as he crept inshore, and
as soon as the bottom began to shelve steeply he dropped anchor in
twelve fathoms.  He would not risk the ship in the narrow inland waters
and the convoluted channels of the delta.  But there was another risk
he was unwilling to face.

He knew from his father that these tropical deltas were dangerous to
the health of his crew.  If they breathed the night airs of the swamp,
they would soon fall prey to the deadly fevers that were borne upon
them, aptly named the malaria, the bad airs.

Sukeena's saddle-bags, which with her mother's jade brooch were her
only legacy to Hal, contained a goodly store of the Jesuit's powder,
the extract of the bark of the Cinchona tree.  He had also discovered a
large jar of the same precious substance among Llewellyn's stores.  It
was the only remedy against the malaria, a disease that mariners
encountered in every known area of the oceans, from the jungles of
Batavia and Further India to the canals of Venice, the swamps of
Virginia and the Caribbean in the New World.

Hal would not risk his entire crew to its ravages.  He ordered the two
pinnaces swung up from the hold and assembled.  Then he chose the crews
for these vessels, which naturally included the four Africans and Big
Daniel.  He placed a falconer in the bows of each and had a pair of
murderers mounted in the stems.

All the men in the expedition were heavily armed, and Hal placed three
heavy chests of trade goods in each boat, knives and scissors and small
hand mirrors, rolls of copper wire and Venetian glass beads.

He left Ned Tyler in charge of the Golden Bough with Althuda, and
ordered them to remain anchored well offshore, and await his return,
The distress signal would be a red Chinese rocket.  only if he saw it
was Ned to send the longboats in to find them.

"We may be many days, weeks even," Hal warned.  "Do not lose patience.
Stay on your station as long as you do not have word of us."

Hal took command of the leading boat.  He had Aboli and the other
Africans in his crew.  Big Daniel followed in the second.

Hal explored each of the four mouths.  The water levels seemed low, and
some of the entrances were almost sealed by their sand bars.  He knew
of the danger of crocodiles and would not risk sending men over the
side to drag the boats over the bar.  In the end he chose the river
mouth with the greatest volume of water pouring through it.  With the
onshore morning breeze filling the lug sail and all hands at the oars
they forced their way over the bar into the hot, hushed world of the
swamps.

Tall papyrus plants and stands of mangroves formed a high wall down
each side of the channel so that their vision was limited and the wind
was blanketed from them.  They rowed on steadily, following the twists
of the channel.  Each turn opened the same dreary view.  Hal realized
almost at once how easy it would be to lose his way in this maze and he
marked each branch of the channel with strips of canvas tied to the top
branches of mangrove.

For two days they groped their way westwards, guided only by the
compass and the flow of the waters.  In the pools wallowed herds of the
great grey river-cows which opened cavernous pink jaws and honked at
them with wild laughter as they approached.  At first they steered well
clear of them, but once they became more familiar with them Hal began
to ignore their warning cries and displays of rage, and pushed on
recklessly.

His bravado at first seemed justified and the animals submerged when he
drove straight at them.  Then they came round another bend into a large
green pool.  In the centre was a mud-bank, and on it stood a huge
female hippopotamus and at her flank a new-born calf not much bigger
than a pig.  The cow bellowed at them threateningly as they rowed
towards her, but the men laughed with derision and Hal shouted from the
bows, "Stand aside, old lady, we mean you no harm, but we intend to
pass."

The great beast lowered her head and, grunting belligerently, charged
across the mud in a wild, ungainly gallop that hurled up clods of mud.
As soon as he realized that the brute was in earnest Hal snatched up
the slow-match from the tub at his feet.  "By heavens, she means to
attack US."

He grabbed the iron handle of the falconet and swung it to aim ahead,
but the hippopotamus reached the water and plunged into it at full
tilt, sending up a sheet of spray and disappearing beneath the surface.
Hal swung the barrel of the falconer from side to side, seeking a
chance to fire, but he saw only a ripple on the surface as the animal
swam deep below it.

"It is coming straight for us!"  Aboli shouted.  "Wait until you get a
clear shot, Gundwane!"

Hal peered down, the burning match held ready, and through the clear
green water he saw a remarkable sight.  The hippo was moving along the
bottom in a slow dreamlike gallop, clouds of mud boiling up under her
hoofs with each stride.  But she was still a fathom deep and his shot
could never reach her.

"She has gone beneath us!"  he shouted at Aboli.

"Get ready!"  Aboli warned.  This is how they destroy the canoes of my
people."  The words had barely left his lips when beneath their feet
came a resounding crack as the beast reared up under them, and the
heavy boat with its full complement of ten rowers was lifted high out
of the water.

They were hurled from their benches, and Hal might have been thrown
overboard if he had not grabbed the thwart.  The boat crashed back to
the surface and Hal again seized the tail of the falconer.

The animal's charge would have stove in the hull of any lesser craft,
and would certainly have splintered a native dugout canoe, but the
pinnace was robustly constructed to withstand the ravages of the North
Sea.

Close alongside, the huge grey head burst through the surface, and the
mouth opened like a pink cavern lined with fangs of yellow ivory as
long as a man's forearm.  With a bellow that shocked the crew with its
ferocity the hippopotamus rushed at them with gaping jaws to tear the
timbers out of the boat's side.

Hal swung the falconer until it was almost touching the onrushing head.
He fired.  Smoke and flame shot straight down the gaping throat and the
jaws clashed shut.  The beast disappeared in a swirl, to surface
seconds later halfway back to the mud-bank on which her calf stood,
forlorn and bewildered.

The huge rotund body reared half out of the water in a gargantuan
convulsion then collapsed back and sank away in death, leaving a long
wake of crimson to mark the green waters with its passing.

The rowers wielded their oars with renewed vigour and the boat shot
round the next bend, with Big Daniel's boat close astern.  The hull of
Hal's vessel was leaking fairly heavily, but with one man bailing they
could keep her dry until they had an opportunity to beach her and turn
her over to repair the damage.  They pressed on up the channel.

Clouds of waterfowl rose from the dense stands of papyrus around them
or perched in the branches of the mangroves.  There were herons, duck
and geese that they recognized, together with dozens of other birds
that they had never seen before.  Several times they caught glimpses of
a strange antelope with a shaggy brown coat and spiral horns with pale
tips, which seemed to make the deep swamps its home.  At dusk they
surprised one as it stood on the edge of the papyrus.  With a long and
lucky musket shot, Hal brought it down.  They were astonished to find
that its hoofs were deformed, enormously elongated.  Such feet would
act like the fins of a fish in the water, Hal reasoned, and give it
purchase on the soft footing of mud and reeds.  The antelope's flesh
was sweet and tender and the men, long starved of fresh food, ate it
with relish.

The nights, when they slept on the bare deck, were murmurous, troubled
by great clouds of stinging insects, and in the dawn their faces were
swollen and bloated with red lumps.

On the third day the papyrus began to give way to open flood plains.
The breeze could reach them now, and blew away the clouds of insects
and filled the lug sail they set.  They went on at better speed and
came to where the other branches of the river all joined up to form one
great flow almost three cables" length in width.

The flood plains on each bank of this mighty river were verdant with a
knee-high growth of rich grasses, grazed by huge herds of buffalo.
Their numbers were uncountable, and they formed a moving carpet as far
as Hal could see, even when he shinned up the pinnace's mast.  They
stood so densely upon the plain that large areas of the grasslands were
obscured by their multitudes.  They were tarry lakes and running rivers
of bovine flesh.

The outer fringes of these herds lined the banks of the river and
stared across the water at them, their drooling muzzles lifted high and
their bossed heads heavy with drooping horns.  Hal steered the boat in
closer and fired the falconet into the thick of them.  With that single
discharge he brought down two young cows.  That night, for the first
time, they camped ashore and feasted on buffalo steaks roasted on the
coals.

For many days, they went on following the stately green flow, and the
flood plains on either hand gradually gave way to forests and glades.
The river narrowed, became deeper and stronger and their progress was
slower against the current.  On the eighth evening after leaving the
ship, they went ashore to camp in a grove of tall wild fig trees.

Almost immediately they came upon signs of human habitation.  It was a
decaying stockade, built of heavy logs.  Within its wooden walls were
pens that Hal thought must have been for enclosing cattle or other
beasts.

"Slavers!"  said Aboli bitterly.  "This is where they have chained my
people like animals.  In one of these bomas, perhaps this very one, my
mother died under the weight of her sorrow."

The stockade had been long abandoned but Hal could not bring himself to
camp on the site of so much human misery.  They moved a league upstream
and found a small island on which to bivouac.  The next morning they
went on along the river through forest and grassland innocent of any
further evidence of man.  "The slavers have swept the wilderness with
their net," Aboli said sorrowfully.  "That is why they have abandoned
their factory and sailed away.  It seems that there are no men or women
of our tribe who have survived their ravages.  We must abandon the
search, Gundwane, and turn back."

"No, Aboli.  We go on."

"All around us is the ancient memory of despair and death," Aboli
pleaded.  "These forests are inhabited only by the ghosts of my
people."

"I will decide when we turn back, and that time is not yet come," Hal
told him, for in truth he was becoming fascinated by this strange new
land and the plethora of wild creatures with which it abounded.  He
felt a powerful urge to travel on and on, to follow the great river to
its source.

The next day, from the bows, Hal spied a range of low hillocks a short
distance north of the river.  He ordered them to beach the boats and
left Big Daniel and his seamen to repair the leaks in the hull of the
first caused by the hippopotamus attack.  He took Aboli with him and
they set off to climb the hills for a better view of the country ahead.
They were further off than they had appeared to be, for distances are
deceptive in the clear air and under the bright light of the African
sun.  It was late afternoon when they stepped out onto the crest and
gazed down upon the limitless distances where forests and hills
replicated themselves, rank upon rank and range upon range, like images
of infinity in mirrors of shaded blue.

They sat in silence, awed by the immensity of this wild land.  At last
Hal stood up reluctantly.  "You are right, Aboli.  There are no men
here.  We must return to the ship."

Yet he felt deep within him a strange reluctance to turn his back upon
this tremendous land.  More than ever, he felt drawn to its mystery and
the romance of its vast spaces.

"You will have many strong sons," Sukeena had prophesied.  "Their
descendants will flourish in this land of Africa and make it their
own."

He did not yet love this land.  It was too strange and barbaric, too
alien from all he had known in the gentler climes of the north, but
deeply he felt the magic of it in his blood.  The silence of dusk fell
upon the hills, that moment when all creation held its breath before
the insidious advance of the night.  He took one last look, sweeping
the horizon where, like monstrous chameleons, the hills changed
colour.

Before his eyes they turned sapphire, azure, and the blue of a
kingfisher's back.  Suddenly he stiffened.

He grasped Aboli's arm and pointed.  look!"  he said softly.  From the
foot of the next range a single thin plume of smoke rose out of the
forest and climbed up into the violet evening air.

"Men!"  Aboli whispered.  "You were right not to turn back so soon,
Gundwane."

They went down the hill in darkness and moved through the forest like
shadows.  Hal AT guided them by the stars, fixing his eye upon the
great shining Southern Cross that hung above the hill at the foot of
which they had marked the column of smoke.  After midnight, as they
crept forward with increasing caution, Aboli stopped so abruptly that
Hal almost ran into him in the darkness.

"Listen!"  he said.  They stood in silence for minute after minute.

Then Hal said, "I hear nothing."

"Wait!"  Aboli insisted, and then Hal heard it.  It was a sound once so
commonplace, but one that he had not heard since he had left Good Hope.
It was the mournful lowing of a cow.

"My people are herders," Aboli whispered.  "Their cattle are their most
treasured possessions."  He led Hal forward cautiously until they could
smell the woodsmoke and the familiar bovine odour of the cattle pen.
Hal picked out the puddle of faintly glowing ash that marked the
campfire.

Silhouetted against it was the outline of a sitting man, wrapped in a
kaross.

They lay and waited for the dawn.  However, long before first light the
camp began to stir.  The watchman stood up, stretched, coughed and spat
in the dead coals.  Then he threw fresh wood upon the fire, and knelt
to blow it.  The flames flared and, by their light, Hal saw that he was
but a boy.  Naked except for a loincloth, the lad left the fire and
came close to where they were hidden.  He lifted his loincloth and peed
into the grass, playing games with his urine stream, aiming at fallen
leaves and twigs and chuckling as he tried to drown a scurrying scarab
beetle.

Then he went back to the fire and called out towards the lean-to of
branches and thatch, "The dawn comes.  It is time to let out the
herd."

His voice was high and unbroken, but Hal was delighted to find that he
understood every word the boy had said.  It was the language of the
forests that Aboli had taught him.

Two other lads of the same age crawled out of the hut, shivering,
muttering and scratching, and all three went to the cattle pen.  They
spoke to the beasts as though they, too, were children, rubbed their
heads and patted their flanks.

As the light strengthened Hal saw that these cattle were far different
from those he had known on High Weald.  They were taller and rangier,
with huge humps over their shoulders, and the span of their horns was
so wide as to appear grotesque, the weight almost too much for even
their heavy frames to support.

The boys picked out a cow and pushed her calf away from the udder.

Then one knelt under her belly and milked her, sending purring jets
into a calabash gourd.  Meanwhile, the other two seized a young bullock
and passed a leather thong around its neck.  They drew this tight and
when the restricted blood vessels stood proud beneath the black skin,
one pricked a vein with the sharp point of an arrow head.

The first child came running with the gourd half-filled with milk and
held the mouth of it under the stream of bright red blood that spurted
from the punctured vein.

When the gourd was full, one staunched the small wound in the bullock's
neck with a handful of dust, and turned it loose.  The beast wandered
away, none the worse for the bleeding.  The boys shook the gourd
vigorously, then passed it from one to the other, each drinking deeply
from the mixture of milk and blood as his turn came, smacking his lips
and sighing with pleasure.

So engrossed were they with their breakfast that none noticed Aboli or
Hal until they were grabbed from behind and hoisted kicking and
shrieking in the air.

"Be quiet, you little baboon, Aboli ordered.

"Slavers!"  wailed the eldest child, as he saw Hal's white face.  "We
are taken by slavers!"

"They will eat us," squeaked the youngest.

"We are not slavers!"  Hal told them.  "And we will not harm you."

This assurance merely sent' the the trio into fresh paroxysms of
terror. "He is a devil who can speak the language of heaven."

"He understands all we say.  He is an albino devil."  "He will surely
eat us as my mother warned me."

Aboli held the eldest at arm's length and glared at him.  "What is your
name, little monkey?"

"See his tattoos."  The boy howled in dread and confusion.  "He is
tattooed like the Monomatapa, the chosen of heaven."

"He is a great Mambo!"

"Or the ghost of the Monomatapa who died long ago."

"I am indeed a great chief," Aboli agreed.  "And you will tell me your
name."

"My name is Tweti oh, Monomatapa, spare me for I am but little.  I will
be only a single mouthful for your mighty jaws."

"Take me to your village, Tweti, and I will spare you and your
brothers."

After a while the children began to believe that they would neither be
eaten nor turned into slaves, and they started to smile shyly at Hal's
overtures.  From there it was not long before they were giggling
delightedly to have been chosen by the great tattooed chief and the
strange albino to lead them to the village.

Driving the cattle herd before them, they took a track through the
hills and came out suddenly in a small village surrounded by
rudimentary fields of cultivation, in which a few straggling millet
plants grew.  The huts were shaped like bee-hives and beautifully
thatched, but they were deserted.  Clay pots stood on the cooking fires
before each hut and there were calves in the pens and woven baskets,
weapons and accoutrements scattered where they had been dropped when
the villagers fled.

The three boys squeaked reassurances into the surrounding bush.  "Come
out!  Come.  and see!  It is a great Mambo of our tribe come back from
death to visit us!"

An old crone was the first to emerge timidly from a thicket of elephant
grass.  She wore only a greasy leather skirt, and her one eye socket
was empty.  She had but a single yellow tooth in the front of her
mouth.  Her dangling dugs flapped against her wrinkled belly, which was
scarified with ritual tattoos.

She took one look at Aboli's face, then ran to prostrate herself before
him.  She lifted one of his feet and placed it on her head.  "Mighty
Monomatapa," she keened, "you are the chosen of heaven.  I am a useless
insect, a dung beetle, before your glory."

In singles and pairs, and then in greater numbers, the other villagers
emerged from their hiding places and gathered before Aboli to kneel in
obeisance and pour dust and ashes on their heads in reverence.

"Do not let this adulation turn your head, oh Chosen One," Hal told him
sourly in English.

"I give you royal dispensation," Aboli replied, without smiling.  "You
need not kneel in my presence, nor pour dust on your head."

The villagers brought Aboli and Hal carved wooden stools to sit upon,
and offered them gourds of soured milk mixed with fresh blood, porridge
of millet, grilled wild birds, roasted termites and caterpillars seared
on the coals so that their hairy coverings were burnt off.

"You must eat a little of everything they offer you," Aboli warned Hal,
"or else you will give great offence."

Hal gagged down a few mouthfuls of the blood and milk mixture, while
Aboli swigged back a full gourd.  Hal found the other delicacies a
little more palatable, the caterpillars tasted like fresh grass juice
and the termites were crisp and delicious as roasted chestnuts.

When they had eaten, the village headman came forward on hands and
knees to answer Aboli's questions.  "Where is the town of the
Monomatapa?"

It is two days" march in the direction of the setting sun.

"I need ten good men to guide me."  "As you command, O Mambo."

The ten men were ready within the hour, and little Tweti and his
companions wept bitterly that they were not chosen for this honour but
were instead sent back to the lowly task of cattle-herding.

The trail they followed towards the west led through open forests of
tall, graceful trees interspersed with wide expanses of savannah
grasslands.  They began to encounter more herds of the humped cattle
herded by small naked boys.  The cattle grazed in close and unlikely
truce with herds of wild antelope.  Some of the game were almost
equine, but with coats of strawberry roan or midnight sable, and horns
that swept back like Oriental scimitars to touch their flanks.

Several times in the forests they saw elephants, small breeding herds
of cows and calves.  Once they passed within a cable's length of a
gaunt bull standing under a flat-topped Thorn tree in the middle of the
open savannah.  This patriarch showed little fear of them but spread
his tattered ears like battle standards and raised his curved tusks
high to peer at them with small eyes.

"It would take two strong men to carry one of those tusks," Aboli said,
"and in the markets of Zanzibar they would fetch thirty English pounds
apiece."

They passed many small villages of thatched bee-hive huts, similar to
the one in which Tweti lived.  Obviously, the news of their arrival had
gone ahead of them for the inhabitants came out to stare in awe at
Aboli's tattoos and then to prostrate themselves before him and cover
themselves with dust.

Each of the local chieftains pleaded with Aboli to honour his village
by spending the night in the new hut his people had built especially
for him as soon as they had heard of his coming.  They offered food and
drink, calabashes of the blood and milk mixture and bubbling clay pots
of millet beer.

They presented gifts, iron spear- and axe-heads, a small elephant tusk,
tanned leather cloaks and bags.  Aboli touched each of these to signal
his acceptance then returned them to the giver.

They brought him girls to choose from, pretty little nymphs with
copper-wire bangles on their wrists and ankles, and tiny aprons of
coloured trade beads that barely concealed their pudenda.  The girls
giggled and covered their mouths with dainty pink-palmed hands and
ogled Aboli with huge dark eyes, liquid with awe.  Their plump
pubescent breasts were shining with cow fat and red clay, and their
buttocks were bare and round and joggled with each disappointed pace as
Aboli sent them away.  They looked back at him over a bare shoulder
with longing and reverence.  What prestige they would have enjoyed if
they had been chosen by the Monomatapa.

On the second day they approached another range of hills, but these
were more rugged and their sides were sheer granite.  As they drew
closer they saw that the summit of each hill was fortified with stone
walls.

"Yonder is the great town of the Monomatapa.  It is built upon the hill
tops to resist the attacks of the slavers, and his regiments of
warriors are always at the ready to repel them."

A throng of people came down to welcome them, hundreds of men and women
wearing all their finery of beads and carved ivory jewellery.  The
elders wore headdresses of ostrich feathers and skirts of cow tails.
All the men were armed with spears, and war bows were slung upon their
backs.  They groaned with awe as they saw Aboli's face and flung
themselves down before him so that he could tread upon their quivering
bodies.

Borne along by this throng, they slowly ascended the pathway to the
summit of the highest hill, passing through a series of gateways.  At
each gate part of the crowd about them fell back until, as they
approached the final glacis before the fortress that crowned the
summit, they were accompanied only by a handful of chieftains, warriors
and councillors of the highest rank, wearing all the regalia and finery
of their office.

Even these paused at the final gateway, and one noble ancient with
silver hair and aquiline eye took Aboli by the hand and led him into
the inner courtyard.  Hal shrugged off the councillors who sought to
restrain him and strode into the inner courtyard at Aboli's side.

The floor was of clay that had been mixed with blood and cow dung and
then screeded until it dried like polished red marble.  Huts surrounded
this courtyard, but many times larger than Hal had seen before, and the
thatching was of new golden grass, intricate and splendid.  the doorway
of each hut was decorated by what seemed, at first glance, to be orbs
of ivory, and it was only when they were half-way across the courtyard
that Hal realized they were human skulls, and that tall pyramids formed
of hundreds stood at spaced intervals around the perimeter.

Beside each skull pyramid was planted a tall pole and on the sharpened
point of these stakes a man or woman had been impaled through the anus.
Most of these victims were long dead and stank, but one or two still
twitched or groaned pitifully.

The old man stopped them in the centre of the courtyard.  Hal and Aboli
stood in silence for a while, until a weird cacophony of primitive
musical instruments and discordant human voices issued from the largest
and most imposing hut facing them.  A procession of creatures came
forth into the sunlight.  They crawled and wriggled like insects on the
polished clay surface, and their bodies and faces were daubed with
coloured clay and painted in fantastic patterns.  They were hung with
charms, amulets and magical fetishes, skins of reptiles, bones and
skulls of man and animal, and all the gruesome paraphernalia of the
wizard and the witch.  They whined and howled and gibbered, and rolled
their eyes and chattered their teeth, and beat on drums and twanged
single-stringed harps.

Two women followed them.  Both were stark naked, the first a mature
female with full and bountiful breast, her belly marked with the stria
of childbearing.  The other was a girl, slim and graceful with a sweet
moon face and startlingly white teeth behind full lips.  She was the
loveliest of any that Hal had laid eyes upon since they had entered the
land of the Monomatapa.  Her waist was narrow and her hips full and her
skin was like black satin.  She knelt on hands and knees with her
buttocks turned towards them.  Hal shifted uneasily as the deepest
folds of her privy parts were exposed to his gaze.  Even in these
circumstances of danger and uncertainty he found himself aroused by her
nubility.

"Show no emotion," Aboli warned him softly, without moving his lips.
"As you love life, remain unmoved."

The wizards fell silent and for a space everyone was still.  Then, out
of the hut stooped a massively corpulent figure clad in a leopards king
cloak.  Upon his head was a tall Hat of the same dappled fur, which
exaggerated his already magisterial height.

He paused in the doorway and glared at them.  All the company of
wizards and witches crouching at his feet moaned with amazement and
covered their eyes, as if his beauty and majesty had blinded them.

Hal stared back at him.  It was difficult to follow Aboli's advice to
remain expressionless, for the features of the Monomatapa were tattooed
in exactly the same pattern and style as the face he had known from
childhood, the great round face of Aboli.

Aboli broke the silence.  "I see you, great Mambo.  I see you, my
brother.  I see you, N'Poffio, son of my father."

The Monomatapa's eyes narrowed slightly, but his patterned features
remained as if carved in ebony.  With slow and stately stride he
crossed to where the naked girl knelt and seated himself upon her
arched back as though she were a stool.  He continued to glare at Aboli
and Hal, and the silence drew out.

Suddenly he made an impatient gesture to the woman who stood beside
him.  She took one of her own breasts in her hand and, placing the
engorged nipple between his thick lips, gave him suck.  He drank from
her, his throat bobbing, then pushed her away and wiped his mouth with
the palm of his hand.  Refreshed by this warm draught, he looked to his
principal soothsayer.  "Speak to me of these strangers, Sweswe!"  he
commanded.  "Make me a prophecy, O beloved of the dark spirits!"

The oldest and ugliest of the wizards sprang to his feet and began a
wild gyrating, whirling dance.  He shrieked and leaped high in the air,
shaking the rattle in his hand.  "Treason!"  he screamed, and frothy
spittle splattered from his lips.  "Sacrilege!  Who dares claim blood
ties with the Son of the Heavens?"  He pranced in front of Aboli like a
wizened ape on skinny shanks.  "I smell the stink of treachery!"

He hurled his rattle at Aboli's feet and snatched a cows-tail whisk
from his belt.  "I smell sedition!"  He brandished the whisk, and began
to tremble in every muscle.  "What devil is this who dares to imitate
the sacred Tattoo?"  His eyes rolled back in his skull until only the
whites showed.  "Beware!  For the ghost of your father, the great
Holomima, demands the blood sacrifice!"  he shrieked, and gathered
himself to spring full at Aboli's face to strike him with the
magician's whisk.

Aboli was faster.  The cutlass sprang from the scabbard on his belt as
though it were a living thing.  It flashed in the sunlight as he cut
back-handed.  The wizard's head was severed cleanly from his trunk and
rolled down his back.  It lay on the polished clay gazing with wide
astonished eyes at the sky, and the lips writhing and twitching as they
tried to utter the next wild denunciation.

The headless body stood, for a moment, on trembling legs.  A fountain
of blood from the severed neck spouted high in the air, the whisk fell
from the hand and the body collapsed slowly on top of its own head.

"The ghost of our father Holomima demands the blood sacrifice," said
Aboli softly.  "And lo!  Aboli his son, have given it to him."

No person in the royal enclosure spoke or moved for what seemed half a
lifetime to Hal.  Then the Monomatapa began to shake all over.  His
belly began to wobble and his tattooed jowls danced and shook.  His
face contorted in what seemed a berserker's fury.

Hal placed his hand on the hilt of his cutlass.  "If he is truly your
brother, then I will kill him for you," he whispered to Aboli.  "You
cover my back and we will fight our way out of here."

But the Monomatapa opened his mouth wide and let fly a huge shout of
laughter.  "The tattooed one has made the blood sacrifice that Sweswe
demanded!  "he bellowed.  Then mirth overcame him and for a long while
he could not speak again.  He shook with laughter, gasped for breath,
hugged himself then hooted again.

"Did you see him stand there with no head while his mouth tried still
to speak?"  he roared, and tears of laughter rolled down his cheeks.

The grovelling band of magicians burst out in squeaks and shrieks of
sympathetic glee.  "The heavens laugh!"  they whined.  "And all men are
happy."

Suddenly the Monomatapa stopped laughing.  "Bring me Sweswe's stupid
head!"  he commanded, and the councillor who had led them here bounded
forward to obey.  He retrieved it and knelt before the king to hand it
to him.

The Monomatapa held the head by its matted plaits of kinky hair and
stared into the wide blank eyes.  He began to laugh again.  "What
stupidity not to recognize the blood of kings.  How could you not know
my brother Aboli by his majestic bearing and the fury of his temper?"

He flung the dripping head at the other magicians, who scattered.
"Learn from the stupidity of Sweswel" he admonished them.  "Make no
more false prophecy!  Tell me no more falsehoods!  Begone, all of you!
Or I will ask my brother to make another blood sacrifice."

They fled in pandemonium, and the Monomatapa rose from his live throne
and advanced upon Aboli, a huge and happy grin splitting his fat,
tattooed face.  "Aboli," he said, "my brother who was long dead and who
now lives!"  and he embraced him.

One of the elaborately thatched huts on the perimeter of the courtyard
was placed at their disposal, and a procession of maidens was sent to
them, bearing clay pots of hot water balanced upon their heads for the
two men to bathe.  Still other girls carried trays on which was piled
fine raiment to replace their travel-stained clothing, beaded
loincloths of tanned leather and cloaks of fur and feathers.

When they had washed and changed into this finery, another file of
girls came bearing gourds of beer, a type of mead fermented from wild
honey, and the blended blood and milk.  Others brought platters of hot
food.

When they had eaten, the silver-headed councillor who had taken them
into the presence of the Monomatapa came to them.  With great civility
and every mark of respect he squatted at Aboli's feet.  "Though you
were far too young when last you saw me to remember me now, my name is
Zama. I was the Induna of your father, the great Monomatapa
Holomima."

"It grieves me, Zama, but I remember almost nothing of those days.

I remember my brother N'Pofho.  I remember the pain of the tattoo knife
and the cut of our circumcision that we underwent together.  I remember
that he squealed louder than U Zama looked worried and shook his head
as if to warn Aboli against such levity when speaking of the King, but
his voice was level and calm.  "All this is true, except only that the
Monomatapa never squealed.  I was present at the ceremony of the knife,
and it was I who held your head while the hot iron seared your cheeks
and trimmed the hood from your penis."

"Dimly now I think that I can remember your hands and your words of
comfort.  I thank you for them, Zama."

"You and N'Pofho were twins, born in the same hour.  Thus it was that
your father commanded that both of you were to bear the royal tattoo.
It was new to custom.  Never before had two royal sons been tattooed in
the same ceremony."

"I remember little of my father, except how tall he was and strong.  I
remember how afraid I was at first of the tattoos on his face."

"He was a mighty man and fearsome," Zama agreed.

"I remember the night he died.  I remember the shouting and the firing
of muskets and the terrible flames in the night."

"I was there when the slavemasters came with their chains of sorrow.
"Tears filled the old man's eyes.  "You were so young, Aboli.  I marvel
that you remember these things."  "Tell me about that night."

"As was my custom and my duty, I slept at the portal of your father's
hut.  I was at his side when he was struck by a ball from the slavers"
muskets."  Zama fell silent at the memory, and then he looked up
again'.  "As he lay dying he said to me, "Zama, leave me.  Save my
sons.  Save the Monomatapa!"  and I hurried to obey."

"You came to save me?"  Aboli asked.

"I ran to the hut where you and your brother slept with your mother.  I
tried to take you from her, but your mother would not hand you to me.
"Take N'Pofho!".  she commanded me, for you were always her favourite.
So I seized your brother and we ran together into the night.  Your
mother and I were separated in the darkness.  I heard her screams but I
had the other child in my arms, and to turn back would have meant
slavery for all of us and the extinction of the royal line. Forgive me.
now, Aboli, but I left you and your mother and I ran on, and with
N'Pofho escaped into the hills."

"There is no blame in what you did," Aboli absolved him.

Zama looked around the hut carefully, and then his lips moved but he
uttered no sound.  "It was the wrong choice.  I should have taken you."
His expression changed, and he leaned close rto Aboli as if to say
something more.  Then he drew back reluctantly, as though he had not
the courage to make some dangerous gamble.

He rose slowly to his feet.  "Forgive me, Aboli, son of Holomimal but I
must leave you now."

"I forgive you everything," Aboli said softly.  "I know what is in your
heart.  Think on this, Zama.  Another lion roars on the hill top that
once might have been mine.  My life now is linked to a new destiny."

"You are right, Aboli, and I am an old man.  I no longer have the
strength or the desire to change what cannot be changed."  He drew
himself up.  "The Monomatapa will grant you another audience tomorrow
morning.  I will come for you."  He lowered his voice slightly.
"Please do not try to leave the royal enclosure without the permission
of the King."

When he was gone, Aboli smiled.  "Zama has asked us not to leave.  It
would be difficult to do so.  Have you seen the guards that have been
placed at every entrance?"

"Yes, they are not easy to overlook."  Hal stood up from the carved
ebony stool and crossed to the low doorway of the hut.  He counted
twenty men at the gate.  They were all magnificent warriors, tall and
well muscled, and each was armed with spear and war axe.  They carried
tall shields of dappled black and white ox hide, and their head-dresses
were of cranes" feathers.

"It will be more difficult to leave this place than it was to enter,"
Aboli said grimly.

At sunset there came another procession of young girls bearing the
evening meal.  "I can see why your royal brother carries such a goodly
cargo of fat," Hal remarked, as he surveyed this superabundance of
food.

Once they declared their hunger satisfied, the girls retired with the
platters and pots, and Zama came back.  This time he led two maidens,
one by each hand.  The girls knelt before Hal and Aboli.  Hal
recognized the prettiest and pertest of the two as the girl who had
been the live throne of the Monomatapa.

"The Monomatapa sends these females to you to sweeten your dreams with
the honey of their loins," said Zama and retired.

In consternation Hal watched the pretty one raise her head and smile at
him shyly.  She had a calm sweet face with full lips and huge dark
eyes.  Her hair had been twisted and braided with beads so that the
tresses hung to her shoulders.  Her body was plump and glossy.  Her
breasts and buttocks were naked, only now she wore a tiny beaded apron
in front.

"I see you, Great Lord," she whispered, "and my eyes are dimmed by the
splendour of your presence."  She crept forward like a kitten and laid
her head upon his lap.

"You cannot stay here."  Hal sprang to his feet.  "You must go away at
once."

The girl stared up at him in dismay, and tears filled her dark eyes.
"Do I not please you, Great One?"  she murmured.  "You are very
pretty," Hal blurted, "but-" How could he tell her that he was married
to a golden memory?

"Let me stay with you, lord," the girl pleaded pathetically.  "If you
reject me, I will be sent to the executioner.  I will die with the
sharp stake thrust up through the secret opening of my body to pierce
my bowels.  Please let me live, O Great One.  Have mercy on this
unworthy female, O Glorious White Face."

Hal turned to Aboli.  "What can I do?"

"Send her away."  Aboli shrugged.  "As she says, she is worthless.

You can stop up your ears so that you do not have to listen to her
screaming on the stake."

"Do not mock me, Aboli.  You know I cannot betray the memory of the
woman I love."

"Sukeena is dead, Gundwane.  I also loved her, as a brother, but she is
dead.  This child is alive, but she will not be so by sunset tomorrow
unless you take pity upon her.  Your voW was not anything that Sukeena
demanded of you."

Aboli stooped over the other girl, took her hand and lifted her to her
feet.

"I cannot give you any further help, Gundwane.  You are a man and
Sukeena knew that.  Now that she has gone, she might deem it fitting
that you live the rest of your life like one."

He led his own girl to the rear of the hut, where a pile of soft
karosses was laid and a pair of carved wooden head rests stood side by
side.  He laid her down and dropped the leather curtain that screened
them.

"What is your name?"  Hal asked the girl who crouched at his feet.

"My name is Inyosi, Honey-bee," she answered.  "Please do not send me
to die."  She crawled to him, clasped his legs and pressed her face to
his lower body.

"I cannot," he mumbled.  "I belong to another."  But he wore only the
beaded loincloth and her breath was warm and soft on his belly and her
hands stroked the backs of his legs.

"I cannot," he repeated desperately, but one of Inyosi's little hands
crept up under his loincloth.

"Your mouth tells me one thing, Mighty Lord," she puffed, "but the
great spear of your manhood tells me another."

Hal let out a smothered groan, picked her up in his arms and ran with
her across the floor to where his own pallet of furs had been laid
out.

At first Inyosi was startled by the fury of his passion, but then she
let out a joyous cry and matched him kiss for kiss and thrust for
thrust.

In the dawn, as she prepared to leave him, she whispered, "You have
saved my worthless life.  In return I must attempt to save your
illustrious one."  She kissed him one last time, then murmured with her
lips against his, "I heard the Monomatapa speak to Zama while he
bestrode my back.  He believes that Aboli has returned to claim the
Seat of Heaven from him.  Tomorrow, during the audience to which he has
commanded you and Aboli, he will give the order for his bodyguard to
seize you and hurl you from the cliff top onto the rocks below, where
the hyenas and the vultures wait to devour your corpses."  Inyosi
snuggled against his chest.  "I do not want you to die, my lord.  You
are too beautiful."

Then she rose from the pallet and slipped away silently into the
darkness.  Hal crossed to the hearth and threw a faggot of firewood
upon it.  The smoke rose up through the hole in the centre of the domed
roof and the flames lit the interior with flickering yellow light.

"Aboli?  Are you alone?  We must talk at once," he called!  and Aboli
came out from behind the curtain.

"The girl is asleep, but speak in English."

"Your brother intends to have both of us killed during the audience."

"The girl told you this?"  Aboli asked, and Hal nodded guiltily at the
mention of his infidelity.

Aboli smiled in sympathy.  "So the little Honey-bee saves your life.
Sukeena would rejoice for that.  You need feel no guilt."

"If we attempt to escape, your brother would send an army to pursue us.
We would never reach the river again."  "So do you have a plan,
Gundwane?"

Zama came to lead them to the royal audience.  They stepped out of the
gloom of the great &Zhut into the brilliant African sunlight, and Hal
paused to gaze around the concourse of the Monomatapa.

He could only estimate their numbers, but a full regiment of the royal
bodyguard ringed the open space, perhaps a thousand tall warriors with
the high head-dresses of cranes" feathers turning each into a giant.
The light morning breeze tossed and tumbled the feathers, and the
sunlight glinted on their broad-bladed spears.

Beyond them the nobles of the tribe filled every space and lined the
top of the wall of granite blocks that surrounded the citadel.  A
hundred royal wives clustered about the door to the King's hut.  Some
were so fat and loaded with bangles and ornaments that they could not
walk unaided and leant heavily on their handmaidens.  When they waddled
along their buttocks rolled and undulated like soft bladders filled
with lard.

Zama led Hal and Aboli to the centre of the courtyard and left them
there.  A heavy silence fell on the throng and no one moved, until
suddenly the captain of the bodyguard blew a blast on a spiral kudu
horn and the Monomatapa loomed in the doorway of his hut.

A moaning sigh swept through the gathering and, as one, they threw
themselves full length to the earth and covered their faces.  Only Hal
and Aboli remained standing upright.

The Monomatapa strode to his living throne and sat upon Inyosi's naked
back.

"Speak first!"  Hal breathed from the side of his mouth.  "Don't let
him give the order for our execution."

"I see you, my brother!"  Aboli greeted him, and the courtiers moaned
with horror at this breach of protocol.  "I see you, Great Lord of the
Heavens!"

The Monomatapa showed no sign of having heard.

"I bring you greetings from the ghost of our father, Holomima, who was
the Monomatapa before you."

Aboli's brother recoiled visibly, as though a cobra had reared up
before his face.  "You speak with ghosts?"  His voice trembled
slightly.

"Our father came to me in the night.  He was as tall as a great baobab
tree, and his face was terrible with eyes of fire.

His voice was as the thunder of the heavens.  He came to me to issue a
dire warning."  The congregation moaned with superstitious dread.

"What was this warning?"  croaked the Monomatapa staring at his brother
with awe.

"Our father fears for our lives, yours and mine.  Great danger
threatens us both."  Some of the fat wives screamed, and one fell to
the ground in a fit, frothing at the mouth.

"What danger is this, Aboli?"  The King glanced around him fearfully,
as if seeking an assassin among his courtiers.  "Our father warned me
that you and I are joined in life as we were in birth.  If one of us
prospers, then so does the other."

The Monomatapa nodded.  "What else did our father say?"

"He said that as we are joined in life, so we will be joined in death.
He prophesied that we will die upon the very same day, but that that
day is of our own choosing."

The King's face turned a strange greyish tone and glistened with sweat.
The elders shrieked and those nearest to where he sat drew small iron
knives and slashed their own chests and arms, sprinkling their blood on
the earth to protect him from witchcraft.

"I am deeply troubled by these words that our father uttered," Aboli
went on.  "I wish that I were able to abide with you here in the Land
of Heaven, to protect you from this fate.  But, alas, my father's shade
warned me further that should I stay here another day then I will die
and the Monomatapa with me.  I must leave at once and never return.

That is the only way in which we can both survive the curse."

"So let it be."  The Monomatapa rose to his feet and pointed with a
trembling finger.  "This very day you must be gone."

"Alas, my beloved brother, I cannot leave here without that boon I came
to seek from you."

"Speak, Aboli!  What is it that you lack?"

"I must have one hundred and fifty of your finest warriors to protect
me, for a dreadful enemy lies in wait for me.  Without these soldiers,
then I go to certain death, and my death must portend the death of the
Monomatapa."

"Choose!"  bellowed the Monomatapa.  "Choose of my finest Amadoda, and
take them with you.  They are your slaves, do with them as you wish.
But then get you gone this very day, before the setting of the sun.
Leave my land for ever."

In the leading pinnace Hal shot the bar and rowed out through the
Musela mouth of the delta into the open sea.  Big Daniel followed
closely, and there lay the Golden Bough at her anchor on the ten fathom
shoal where they had left her.  Ned Tyler stood the ship to quarters
and ran out his guns when he saw them approaching.  The pinnaces were
so packed with men that they had only an inch or two of freeboard.
Riding so low in the water, from afar they resembled war canoes.  The
glinting spears and waving head-dresses of the Amadoda strengthened
this impression and Ned gave the order to fire a warning shot across
their bows.  As the cannon boomed out and a tall plume of spray erupted
from the water half a cable's length ahead of the leading boat, Hal
stood up in the bows and waved the croix pott6e.

"Lord love us!"  Ned gasped.  "Tis the Captain we're shooting at."

"I'll not be in a hurry to forget that greeting you gave me, Mister
Tyler," Hal told him sternly, as he came in through the entry port  "I
rate a four-gun salute, not a single gun."

"Bless you, Captain, I had no idea.  I thought you was a bunch of
heathen savages, begging your pardon, sir."

"That we are, Mister Tyler.  That we are!"  And Hal grinned at Ned's
confusion as a horde of magnificent warriors swarmed onto the Golden
Bough's deck.  "Think you'll be able to make seamen of them, Mister
Tyler?"  soon as he had made his offing, Hal turned the bows into the
north once more and sailed up the inland channel between Madagascar and
the mainland.  He was heading for Zanzibar, the centre of all trade on
this coast.  There he hoped to have further news of the progress of the
Holy War on the Horn and, if he were fortunate, to learn something of
the movements of the Gull of Moray.

This was a settling-in time for the Amadoda.  Everything aboard the
Golden Bough was strange to them.  None had ever seen the sea.  They
had believed the pinnaces to be the largest canoes ever conceived by
man, and were overawed by the size of the ship, the height of her masts
and the spread of her sails.

Most were immediately smitten by seasickness, and it took many days for
them to find their sea-legs.  Their bowels were in a turmoil induced by
the diet of biscuit and pickled meat.  They hungered for their pots of
millet porridge and their gourds of blood and milk.  They had never
been confined in such a small space and they pined for the wide
savannah.

They suffered from the cold, for even in this tropical sea the trade
winds were cool and the warm Mozambique current many degrees below the
temperature of the sun-scorched plains of the savannah.  Hal ordered
Althuda, who was in charge of the ship's stores, to issue bolts of sail
canvas to them and Aboli showed them how to stitch petticoats and
tarpaulin jackets for themselves.

They soon forgot these tribulations when Aboli ordered a platoon of men
to follow Jiri and Matesi and Kimatti aloft to set and reef sail.  A
hundred dizzy feet above the deck and the rushing sea, swinging on the
great pendulum of the mainmast, for the first time in their lives these
warriors who had each killed their lion were overcome by terror.

Aboli climbed up to where they clung helplessly to the shrouds and
mocked them.  "Look at these pretty virgins.  I thought at first there
might be a man among them, but I see they should all squat when they
piss."  Then he stood upright on the swaying yard and laughed at them.
He ran out to the end of it and there performed a stamping, leaping war
dance.  One of the Amadoda could abide his mockery no longer.  he
loosed his death grip on the rigging and shuffled out along the yard to
where Aboli stood with hands on hips.

"One man among them!"  Aboli laughed and embraced him.  During the next
week three of the Amadoda fell from the rigging while trying to emulate
this feat.  Two dropped into the sea but before Hal could wear the ship
around and go back to pick them up the sharks had taken them.  The
third man struck the deck and his was the most merciful end.  After
that there were no more casualties, and the Amadoda, each one
accustomed since boyhood to climbing the highest trees for honey and
birds" eggs, swiftly became adept top-mast men

When Hal ordered bundles of pikes to be brought up from the hold and
issued to the Amadoda they howled and danced with delight, for they
were spearmen born.  They delighted in the heavy-shafted pikes with
their deadly iron heads.  Aboli adapted their tactics and fighting
formation to the Golden Bough's cramped deck spaces.  He showed them
how to form the classical Roman Testudo, their shields overlapping and
locked like the scales of an armadillo.  With this formation they could
sweep the deck of an enemy ship irresistibly.

Hal ordered them to set up a heavy mat of oakum under the forecastle
break to act as a butt.  Once the Amadoda had learned the weight and
balance of the heavy pikes they could hurl them the length of the ship
to bury the iron heads full length in the mat of coarse fibres.  They
plunged into these exercises with such gusto that two of their number
were speared to death before Aboli could impress upon them that these
were mock battles and should not be fought to the death.

Then it was time to introduce them to the English longbow.  Their own
bows were short and puny in comparison and they looked askance at this
six-foot weapon, dubiously tried the massive draw weight and shook
their heads.  Hal took the bow out of their hands and nocked an arrow.
He looked up at the single black and white gull that floated high above
the mainmast.  "If I bring down one of those birds will you eat it
raw?"  he asked, and they roared with laughter at the joke.

"I will eat the feathers as wellP shouted a big cocky one named Ingwe,
the Leopard.  In a fluid motion Hal drew and loosed.  The arrow arced
up, its flight curving across the wind, and they shouted with amazement
as it pierced the gull's snowy bosom and the wide pinions folded.  The
bird tumbled down in a tangle of wings and webbed feet, and struck the
deck at Hal's feet.  An Amadoda snatched it up, and the transfixed
carcass was passed from hand to hand amid astonished jabbering.

"Do not ruffle the feathers," Hal cautioned them.  "You will spoil
Ingwe's dinner for him."

From that moment their love of the longbow was passionate and within
days they had developed into archers of the first water.  When Hal
towed an empty water keg at a full cable's length behind the ship, the
Amadoda.  shot at it, first individually then in massed divisions like
English archers.  When the keg was heaved back on deck it was bristling
like a porcupine's back, and they retrieved seven out of every ten
arrows that had been shot.

In one area alone the Amadoda.  showed no aptitude.  at serving the
great bronze culver ins  Despite all the threats and mockery that Aboli
heaped upon them, he could not get them to approach one with anything
less than superstitious awe.  Each time a broadside boomed they howled,
"It is witchcraft.  It is the thunder of the heavens."

Hal drew up a new watch-bill, in which the battle stations of the crew
were rearranged to have the white seamen serving the batteries and the
Amadoda handling the sails and making up the boarding-party.

A standing bank of high clouds twenty leagues ahead of their bows
marked the island of Zanzibar.  A fringe of coconut palms ringed the
white beach of the bay, but the massive walls of the fortress were even
whiter, dazzling as the ice slopes of a glacier in the sunlight.  The
citadel had been built a century before by the Portuguese and until
only a decade previously it had assured that nation's domination of the
trade routes of the entire eastern shores of the African continent.

Later the Omani Arabs, under their warrior king Ahmed El Grang the
Left-handed, had sailed in with their war dhows, attacked the
Portuguese and had driven out their garrison with great slaughter.
This loss had signalled the beginning of the decline of Portuguese
influence on the coast, and the Omanis had usurped their place as the
foremost trading nation.

Hal examined the fort through the lens of his telescope and noted the
banner of Islam flying above the tower, and the serried ranks of cannon
along the tops of the walls.  Those weapons could hurl heated shot onto
any hostile vessel that attempted to enter the bay.

He felt a thrill of foreboding along his spine as he contemplated the
fact that if he enlisted with the forces of the Prester, he would
become the enemy of Ahmed El Grang.  One day those huge cannon might be
firing upon the Golden Bough.  In the meantime he must make the most of
this last opportunity to enter the Omani camp as a neutral and to
gather all the intelligence that came his way.

The harbour was crowded with small craft, mostly the dhows of the
Mussulmen from India, Arabia and Muscat.  There were two tall ships
among this multitude.  one flew a Spanish flag and the other was
French, but Hal recognized neither.

All these traders were drawn to Zanzibar by the riches of Africa, the
gold of Sofala, the gum arabic, ivory, and the endless flood of
humanity into its slave market.  This was where seven thousand men,
women and children were offered for sale each season when the trade
winds brought the barques in from around the Cape of Good Hope and from
all the vast basin of the Indian Ocean.

Hal dipped his ensign in courtesy to the fortress, then conned the
Golden Bough towards the anchorage under top sails.  At his order the
anchor splashed into the clear water and the tiny sliver of canvas was
whipped off her and furled by Aboli's exuberant Amadoda.  Almost
immediately the ship was besieged by a fleet of little boats, selling
every conceivable commodity from fresh fruit and water to small boys.
These last were ordered by their masters to bend over the thwarts, lift
their robes and display their small brown buttocks for the delectation
of the seamen at the Golden Bough's rail.

"Pretty jig-jig boys," the whore masters crooned in pidgin English.

"Sweet bums like ripe mangoes."

"Mister Tyler, have a boat lowered," Hal ordered.  "I'm going ashore.
I will take Althuda and Master Daniel with me and ten of your best
men."

They rowed across to the stone landing steps below the fortress walls,
and Big Daniel went ashore first to plough open a passage through the
throng of merchants, who swarmed down to the water's edge to offer
their wares.  On their last visit he had escorted Sir Francis ashore so
he led the way.  His seamen formed in a phalanx around Hal and they
marched through the narrow streets.

They passed through bazaars and crowded souks where the merchants
displayed their stocks.  Traders and seamen from the other vessels in
the harbour picked over the piles of elephant tusks, and cakes of
fragrant golden gum arabic, bunches of ostrich feathers and rhinoceros
horns.  They haggled over the price of the carpets from Muscat and the
stoppered porcupine quills filled with grains of alluvial gold from
Sofala and the rivers of the African interior.  The slavemasters
paraded files of human beings for potential buyers to examine their
teeth, and palpate the muscles of the males or lift the aprons of the
young females to consider their sweets.

From this area of commerce, Big Daniel led them into a sector of the
town where the buildings on each side of the lanes almost touched each
other overhead and blocked out the light of day, The stench of human
faeces from the open sewers, which ran down to the harbour, almost
suffocated them.

Big Daniel stopped abruptly in front of an arched mahogany door, carved
with intricate Islamic motifs and studded with iron spikes, and heaved
on the dangling bell rope  Within minutes they heard the bolts on the
far side being pulled back and the huge door creaked open.  Half a
dozen small brown faces peered out at them, boys and girls of mixed
blood and of all ages between five and ten years.

"Welcome!  Welcome!"  they chirruped in quaintly accented English.

"The blessing of Allah the All Merciful be upon you, English milord.
May all your days be golden and scented with wild jasmine."

A little girl seized Hal by the hand and led him through into the
interior courtyard.  A fountain tinkled in the centre and the air was
filled with the scent of frangipani and yellow tamarind flowers.  A
tall figure, clad in flowing white robes and gold-corded Arabian
head-dress, rose from the pile of silk carpets where he had been
reclining.

"Indeed, I add a thousand welcomes to those of my children, my good
Captain, and may Allah shower you with riches and blessing," he said,
in a familiar and comforting Yorkshire accent.  "I watched your fine
ship anchor in the bay, and I knew you would soon call upon me."  He
clapped his hands, and from the back of the house emerged a line of
slaves each bearing trays that contained coloured glasses of sherbet
and coconut milk and little bowls of sweetmeats and roasted nuts.

The consul sent Big Daniel and his seamen through to the servants"
quarters at the rear of the house.  "They will be given refreshment,"
he said.

Hal cast Big Daniel a significant look, which the boatswain interpreted
accurately.  There would be no liquor in this Islamic household, but
there would be women and the seamen had to be protected from
themselves.  Hal kept Althuda beside him.  There might be call for him
to draw up documents or to take down notes.

The consul led them to a secluded corner of the courtyard.  "Now, let
me introduce myself, I am William Grey, His Majesty's consul to the
Sultanate of Zanzibar."

"Henry Courtney, at your service, sir."

"I knew a Sir Francis Courtney.  Are you by chance related?"

"My father, sir."

"Ah!  An honourable man.  Please give him my respects when next you
meet."

"Tragically he was killed in the Dutch war."

"My condolences, Sir Henry.  Please be seated."  A pile of beautifully
patterned silk carpets had been set close at hand for Hal.  The consul
sat opposite him.  Once he was comfortable, a slave brought Grey a
water-pipe.  "A pipeful of Mang is a sovereign remedy for distempers of
the liver and for the malaria which is a plague in these climes.  Will
you join me, sir?"  Hal refused this offer, for he knew of the tricks
the Indian hemp flowers played upon the mind, and the dreams and
trances with which it could ensnare the smoker.

While he puffed at his pipe, Grey questioned him cunningly as to his
recent movements and his future plans, and Hal was polite but evasive.
Like a pair of duel lists they sparred and waited for an opening.  As
the water bubbled in the tall glass bowl of the pipe and the fragrant
smoke drifted across the courtyard Grey became more affable and
expansive.

"You live in the style of a great sheikh."  Hal tried a little flattery
and Grey responded with gratification.

"Would you find it difficult to believe that fifteen years ago I was
merely a lowly clerk in the employment of the English East India
Company?  When my ship was wrecked on the corals of Sofala, I came
ashore here as a castaway."  He shrugged and made a gesture that was
more Oriental than English.  "As you say, Allah has smiled on me."

"You have embraced Islam?"  Hal did not allow his expression to show
the repugnance he felt for the apostate.  "I am a true believer in the
one God, and in Muhammad his Prophet."  Grey nodded.  Hal wondered how
much his decision to convert had rested on political and practical
considerations.  Grey, the Christian, would not have prospered in
Zanzibar as Grey, the Mussulman, so obviously had.

"Most Englishmen who call at Zanzibar have one thing in mind," Grey
went on.  "They have come here for trade, and usually to acquire a
cargo of slaves.  I regret that this is not the best season for
slaving.  The trade winds have brought in the dhows from Further India
and beyond.  They have already carried away the best specimens, and
what is now left in the market is the dregs.  However, in my own
barracoon I have two hundred prime creatures, the best you will find in
a thousand miles of sailing."

"Thank you, sir, but I am not interested in slaving," Hal declined.

"That, sir, is a regrettable decision.  I assure you there are great
fortunes still to be made in the trade.  The Brazilians and the
Caribbean sugar planters are crying out for labour to work their
fields."

"Thank you again.  I am not in the market."  Now it was clear to Hal
how Grey had made his own fortune.  The post of consul was secondary to
that of agent and middleman to European traders calling in at
Zanzibar.

"Then there is another highly profitable area in which I could be of
assistance to you."  Grey paused delicately.  "I observed your ship
from my rooftop when you anchored and could not but notice that she is
well armed.  One might be forgiven for believing her to be a
man-of-war."  Hal nodded noncommittally, and Grey continued, "You may
not know that the Sultan of Oman, Beloved of Allah, Ahmed El Grang, is
at war with the Emperor of Ethiopia."

"I had heard so."

"A war is raging on land and sea.  The Sultan has issued Letters of
Marque to ships who wish to join his forces.  These commissions have
been, in the main, restricted to Mussulman captains.  However, I have
great influence at the Sultan's court.  I may be able to obtain a
commission for you.  Of course, such a boon does not come cheaply.  It
would cost two hundred pounds for me to obtain an Omani Letter of
Marque for you, sir."

Hal was about to refuse with indignation this offer to join the pagan
in the war against Christ and his followers, but instinct warned him
not to repudiate it out of hand.  "There might be profits to be made,
then, sir?"  he asked thoughtfully.

"Indeed.  There are vast riches to be snapped up.  The empire of the
Prester is one of the most ancient citadels of the Christian faith.

For well over a thousand years the gold and offerings of the pilgrims
and worshippers have been piling up in the treasure houses of the
churches and monasteries.  The Prester himself is as rich as any
European sovereign.  They say there is over twenty tons of gold in his
treasury, at the sum, Grey was breathing heavily with avarice at the
picture he had conjured up in his own mind.

"You would be able to obtain a commission for me from the Sultan?  "Hal
leaned forward with assumed eagerness.  indeed, sir.  Not a month past
I was able to obtain a commission for a Scotsman."  A sudden thought
occurred to Grey, and his face lit up.  "If I did the same for you,
perhaps you could join forces with him.  With two fighting ships such
as yours you would be a squadron powerful enough to take on anything
the navy of the Prester could send against you.  "The thought excites
me."  Hal smiled encouragingly, trying not to show too much interest.
He had guessed who the Scotsman must be.  "But tell me, who is this man
of whom you speak?"

"A fine gentleman and a great mariner," Grey replied enthusiastically.
"He sailed from Zanzibar not five weeks back, bound for the Horn."

"Then I may be able to come up with him and join my ship to his," Hal
mused aloud.  "Give me his name and station, sir."

Grey glanced around the courtyard in a conspiratorial fashion, then
lowered his voice.  "He is a nobleman of high rank, the Earl of
Cumbrae."  Grey leaned back and slapped his knees to emphasize the
enormity of his disclosure.  "There, sir!  And what do you think of
that?"

"I am greatly amazed!"  Hal did not have to cover his excitement.  "But
do you truly believe that you can obtain a commission for me also?

And, if so, how long will the business take?"

"Things are never swiftly done in Arabia."  Grey became evasive again.
"But they can always be speeded up with a little baksheesh.  Say an
extra two hundred pounds, that is four hundred in all, and I should be
able to place the commission in your hands by tomorrow evening.
Naturally, I would need to have your payment in advance."

"It is a great deal of money."  Hal frowned.  Now that he knew where
the Buzzard was headed, he wanted to rush back to the Golden Bough
immediately and set off in pursuit.  But he restrained the impulse.  He
must gather every scrap of information from Grey.

"Yes, it is," Grey agreed.  "But think on the return it will bring.
Twenty tons of pure gold for the man bold enough to seize it from the
Prester's treasury.  And that's not all.  There are also the jewels and
other treasures sent in tribute to the empire over a thousand years,
the treasures of the Coptic churches the relics of Jesus Christ and the
Virgin, of the apostles and the saints.  The ransom they could command
is without limit."  Grey's eyes shone with greed.  "They say-" He broke
off and lowered his voice again.  "They do say, that the Prester John
is the guardian of the Holy Grail itself."

"The Holy Grail."  Hal went pale with awe, and Grey was delighted to
see the reaction he had evoked.

"Yes!  Yes!  The Holy Grail!  The precious cup for which Christians
have searched since the Crucifixion."  Hal shook his head and stared at
Grey in unfeigned amazement.  He was moved by a strange sense of dejdvu
that rendered him speechless.  The prophecies of both his father and
Sukeena flashed across his mind.  He knew, deep in his heart, that this
was part of the destiny they had foretold for him.

Grey took his silence and the shake of his head for scepticism.  "I
assure you, sir, that the Holy Grail is the most poignant reason that
the Great Mogul and Ahmed El Grang have attacked the empire of
Ethiopia.  I have had this from the Sultan's own lips.  He also is
convinced that the relic is in the care of the Prester.  One of the
mightiest ayatollahs of Islam has prophesied this and has given him the
word of Allah that if he can wrest the Grail from the Prester his
dynasty will be invested with power untold, and will herald the triumph
of Islam over all the false religions of the world."

Hal stared at him aghast.  His thoughts were in wild confusion and he
was no longer certain of himself or of anything around him.  It took a
vast effort to put aside such a terrible prospect as the subjugation of
Christianity and to reassemble his thoughts.

"Where is this relic kept hidden?"  he asked huskily.  "Nobody but the
Prester and his monks know for certain.  Some say at Aksum or at
Gander, and others say that it is secreted in a monastery in the high
mountains."

"Perhaps it has already fallen into the hands of El Grang or the Mogul?
Perhaps the war is already lost and won?"  Hal suggested.

"No!  No!"  Grey was vehement.  "A dhow arrived from the Gulf of Aden
this very morning.  The news it brings is less than eight days old.  It
seems that the victorious armies of Islam have been checked at Mitsiwa.
There has arisen within the Christian ranks a mighty general.

They call this warrior Nazet, and though he is but a stripling the
armies of Tigre and Galla flock to his standard."  It seemed to Hal,
from the relish with which Grey recounted these setbacks to the cause
of Islam, that the consul was backing both horses.  "Nazet has driven
back the armies of El Grang and the Mogul.  They confront each other
before Mitsiwa, gathering themselves for the final battle, which will
decide the war.  It is far from over yet.  I earnestly counsel you, my
young friend, that once you have in your hand the Letter of Marque that
I shall procure for you, you should make all haste to sail to Mitsiwa
in time to share the spoils."

"I must think on all you have told me."  Hal rose from the pile of
carpets.  "If I decide to avail myself of your generous offer, I will
return tomorrow with the four hundred pounds to purchase my commission
from the Sultan."

"You will always be welcome in my home," Grey assured him.

Let me back to the ship as fast as you like," Hal snapped at Big
Daniel, the moment the *-Gtall carved doors closed behind them.  "I
want to sail on this evening's tide."

They had not reached the first bazaar when Althuda caught at Hal's arm.
"I must go back.  I have left my journal in the courtyard."

"I am in desperate haste, Althuda.  The Buzzard is already more than a
month ahead of us, but I know now for certain where I must search for
him."

"I must retrieve my journal.  Go on ahead to the ship.  I will not be
long behind you.  Send the boat back for me, and have them wait at the
harbour steps.  I will be there before you sail."  4DO not fail me,
Althuda.  I cannot delay."

Reluctantly Hal let him go, and hurried on after Big Daniel.  As soon
as he reached the Golden Bough, he sent the longboat to wait for
Althuda at the landing, and gave the orders to ready the ship for sea.
Then he went down to his cabin and spread on his desk under the stern
windows those charts and sailing directions for the Gulf of Aden and
the Red Sea that he had inherited from Llewellyn.

He had studied these almost daily ever since he had been aboard the
GoLden Bough, so he had no difficulty in placing all the names Grey had
mentioned in his discourse.  He plotted his course to round the tip of
the Great Horn and sail down the Gulf of Aden, through the narrows of
the Bah El Mandeb and into the southern reaches of the Red Sea.  There
were hundreds of tiny islands scattered off the Ethiopian coast,
perfect lairs for the privateer and the corsair.

He would have to avoid the fleets of the Mogul and the Omani until he
had reached the Christian court of the Prester and obtained his
commission from him.  He could not attack the Mussulmen before he had
that document in his hands or he risked the same fate as his father, of
being accused of piracy on the high seas.

Perhaps he would be able to link up with the Christian army commander
General Nazet, of whom Grey had spoken, and place the Golden Bough at
his disposal.  In any event, he reasoned that the transport fleet of
the Mussulman army would be gathered in these crowded seas in huge
numbers, and they would fall easy prey to a swift frigate boldly
handled.  Grey was right in one respect.  there would be fortune and
glory to be won in the days ahead.

He heard the bell sound the end of the watch, left his charts and went
up on deck.  He saw at a glance, from the ship's changed attitude to
the tide, that the ebb had set in.

Then he looked across the harbour and, even at that distance,
recognized the figure of Althuda at the head of the landing steps.  He
was in deep conversation with Stan Sparrow, who had taken the longboat
back to wait for him.

"Damn him," Hal muttered.  "He is wasting time in idle chatter."  He
turned all his attention to the affairs of the ship, and watched his
topmast men going aloft, quick and surefooted, to set the sails.  When
he looked back at the shore again he saw that the longboat was coming
in against the ship's side below where he stood.

As soon as it touched, Althuda came up the ladder.  He stood in front
of Hal and said with a serious expression, "I have come to fetch
Zwaantie and my son," he said solemnly.  "And to bid you farewell."

"I do not understand."  Hal was aghast.

"Consul Grey has taken me into his service as a writer.  "I intend to
remain with my family here in Zanzibar," Althuda replied.

"But why, Althuda?  Why?"

"As you know well, both Sukeena and I were raised by our mother as
followers of Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah.  You are intent on waging
war on the armies of Islam in the name of the Christian God.  I can no
longer follow you."  Althuda turned away and went to the forecastle.
He returned a few minutes later leading Zwaantie and carrying little
Bobby.  Zwaantie was weeping silently, but she did not look at Hal.
Althuda stopped at the head of the ladder and gazed at him.

"I regret this parting, but I cherish the memory of the love you bore
my sister.  I call down the blessing of Allah upon you," he said, then
followed Zwaantie down into the longboat.  Hal watched them row across
to the quay and climb the stone steps.  Althuda.  never looked back,
and he and his little family disappeared in the throng of white robed
merchants and their slaves.

Hal felt so saddened that he did not realize that the longboat had
returned until, with a start, he saw that it had already been hoisted
aboard and that Ned Tyler waited by the whipstall for his orders.

"Up anchor, if you please, Mister Tyler.  Set the top sails and steer
for the channel."

Hal took one last look back at the land.  He felt bereaved, for Althuda
had severed his last tenuous link to Sukeena "She is gone," he
whispered.  "Now she is truly gone."

Resolutely he turned his back on the white citadel and looked ahead to
where the Usambara mountains on the African mainland lay low and blue
upon the horizon.

"Lay the ship on the larboard tack, Mister Tyler.  Set all plain
sail.

Course is north by east to clear Pemba Island.  Mark it on the traverse
board."  he wind held fair, and twelve days later they cleared Cape
Guardafui, at the tip of the IXT great rhino horn of Africa, and before
them opened the Gulf of Aden.  Hal ordered the change of course and
they steered down into the west.

The harsh red rock cliffs and hills of the Gulf of Aden were the jaws
of Africa.  They sailed into them with the last breezes of the trades
filling their canvas.  The heat was breathtaking, and without the wind
would have been insupportable.  The sea was a peculiarly vivid blue,
which reflected off the snowy bellies of the terns that wheeled across
the wake.

Ahead the rocky shores constricted into the throat of the Bah El
Mandeb.  In daylight they passed through the rock-bound narrows into
the maw of the Red Sea and Hal shortened sail, for these were
treacherous waters, dotted with hundreds of islands and sown with reefs
of fanged coral.  To the east lay the hot lands of Arabia, and to the
west the shores of Ethiopia and the empire of the Prester.

They began to encounter other shipping in these congested waters.  Each
time the lookout hailed the quarterdeck, Hal went aloft himself,
longing to see the top sails of a square-rigged ship come up over the
horizon, and to recognize the set of the Gull of Moray.  But each time
he was disappointed.  They were all dhows that fled from their tall and
ominous profile, seeking shelter in the sanctuary of the shoal waters
where the Golden Bough dared not follow.

Swiftly Hal learned how inaccurate were the charts that he had found in
Llewellyn's desk.  Some of the islands they passed were not shown and
others were depicted leagues off their true position.  The marked
soundings were mere fictions of the cartographer's imagination.  The
nights were moonless and Hal dared not press on among these reefs and
islands in the darkness.  At dusk he anchored for the night in the tee
of one of the larger islands.

"No lights," he warned Ned Tyler, "and keep the hands quiet."

"There is no keeping Aboli's men quiet, Captain.  They gabble like
geese being ate by a fox."

Hal grinned.  "I will speak to Aboli."

When he came up on deck again at the beginning of the first dog watch,
the ship was silent and dark.  He made his rounds, stopping for a few
minutes to speak to Aboli who was the watch-keeper.  Then he went to
stand alone by the rail, gazing up at the heavens, lost in wonder at
the glory of the stars.

Suddenly he heard an alien sound and, for a moment, thought that it
came from the ship.  Then he realized that it was human voices speaking
a language that he did not know.  He moved swiftly to the stern and the
sounds were closer and clearer.  He heard the creak of rigging and the
squeak and splash of oars.

He ran forward again and found Aboli.  "Assemble an armed
boarding-party.  Ten men," he whispered.  "No noise.  Launch the
longboat."

It took only minutes for Aboli to carry out the order.  As the boat
touched the water they dropped into it and pulled away.  Hal was at the
tiller and steered into the darkness, groping towards the unseen
island.

After several minutes he whispered, "Avast heaving!"  and the rowers
rested on their oars.  The minutes drifted by, then suddenly close at
hand they heard something clatter on a wooden deck, and an exclamation
of pain or annoyance.  Hal strained his eyes in that direction and saw
the pale set of a small lateen sail against the starlight.

"All together.  Give way!"  he whispered, and the boat shot forward.
Aboli stood in the bows with a grappling hook and line.  The small dhow
that emerged abruptly out of the darkness dead ahead was not much
taller at the rail than the longboat.  Aboli hurled the hook over her
side and leaned back on the line.

"Secured!"  he grunted.  "Away you go, lads."

The crew dropped the oars and, with a bloodcurdling chorus of yells,
swarmed up onto the deck of the strange craft.  They were met by
pathetic cries of dismay and terror.  Hal lashed the tiller over,
seized the hooded lantern and rushed up after his men to restrain their
belligerence.  When he opened the shutter of the lantern and flashed it
around he found that the crew of the dhow had already been subdued, and
were spreadeagled on the deck.  There were a dozen or so half-naked
dark-skinned sailors, but among them an elderly man dressed in a
full-length robe whom Hal at first took to be the captain.

"Bring that one here," he ordered.  When they dragged the captive to
him, Hal saw that he had a flowing beard, which reached almost to his
knees, and a cluster of Coptic crosses and rosaries dangling down onto
his chest.  The square mitre on his head was embroidered with gold and
silver thread.

"All right!"  he cautioned the men who held him.  "Treat him gently.
He's a priest."  They released their prisoner with alacrity.  The
priest rearranged his robes and brushed out his beard with his
fingertips, then drew himself up to his full height and regarded Hal
with frosty dignity.

"Do you speak English, Father?"  Hal asked.  The man stared back at
him.  Even in the uncertain lantern light, his gaze was cold and
piercing.  He showed no sign of having understood.

Hal switched into Latin.  "Who are you, Father?"

"I am Fasilides, Bishop of Aksum, confessor to his Christian Majesty
Iyasu, Emperor of Ethiopia," he replied, in fluent, scholarly Latin.

"I humbly beg your forgiveness, your grace.  I mistook this ship for an
Islamic marauder.  I crave your blessing."  Hal went down on one knee.
Perhaps I am pouring too much oil, he thought, but the Bishop seemed to
accept this as his due.  He made the sign of the cross over Hal's head,
then laid two fingers on his brow.

"In no mine patris, et filii, et spirit us sancti," he intoned and gave
Hal his ring to kiss.  He seemed sufficiently mollified for Hal to
press the advantage.

"This is a most providential encounter, your grace."  Hal rose to his
feet again, "I am a Knight of the Temple of the Order of St.  George
and the Holy Grail.  I am on a voyage to place my ship and its company
at the disposal of the Prester John, the Most Christian Emperor of
Ethiopia, in his holy war against the forces of Islam.  As His
Majesty's confessor, perhaps you could lead me to his court."

"It may be possible to arrange an audience," said Fasilides
importantly.

However, his aplomb was shaken and his manner much improved when the
dawn light revealed the power and magnificence of the Golden Bough, and
he became even more amenable when Hal invited him aboard and offered to
convey him on the rest of his journey.

Hal could only guess at why the Bishop of Aksum should be creeping
around the islands at midnight in a small, smelly fishing dhow, and
Fasilides became remote and haughty again when questioned.  "I am not
at liberty to discuss affairs of state, either temporal or
spiritual."

Fasilides brought his two servants aboard with him, and one of the
fishermen from the dhow to act as a pilot for Hal.  Once on board the
Golden Bough, he settled comfortably into the small cabin adjoining
Hal's.  With a local pilot on board Hal was able to head on towards
Mitsiwa with all dispatch, not even deigning to shorten sail when the
sun set that evening.

He invited Fasilides to dine with him and the good Bishop showed a deep
affinity for Llewellyn's wine and brandy.  Hal kept his glass filled to
the brim, a feat that called for sleight of hand.  Fasilides" dignity
lowered in proportion to the level in the brandy decanter, and he
answered Hal's questions with less and less reserve.  "The Emperor is
with General Nazet at the monastery of St.  Luke on the hills above
Mitsiwa.  I go to meet him there," he explained.

"I have heard that the Emperor has won a great victory over the pagan
at Mitsiwa?"  Hal prompted him.

"A great and wonderful victory!"  Fasilides enthused.  "In the Easter
season, the pagan crossed the narrows of the Bah El Mandeb with a
mighty army, then drove northwards up the coast seizing all the ports
and forts.  Our Emperor Caleb, father of Iyasu, fell in battle and much
of our army was scattered and destroyed.  The war dhows of El Grang
fell upon our fleet in Adulis Bay and captured or burned twenty of our
finest ships.  Then when the pagan arrayed a hundred thousand men
before Mitsiwa it seemed that God had forsaken Ethiopia."  Fasilides"
eyes filled with tears and he had to take a deep draught of the good
brandy to steady himself.  "But He is the one God and true to his
people, and he sent us a warrior to lead our shattered army.  Nazet
came down from the mountains, bringing the army of the Amhara to join
our forces here on the coast, and bearing in the vanguard the sacred
Tabernacle of Mary Mother of God.  This talisman is like a thunderbolt
in Nazet's hand.  Before its advance the pagan was hurled back in
confusion."

"What is this talisman of which you speak, your grace?  Is it a sacred
relic?"  Hal asked.

The bishop lowered his voice and reached across the table to grip Hal's
hand and stare into his eyes.  "It is a relic of Jesus Christ, the most
powerful in all Christendom."  He stared into Hal's face with a
fanatical fervour so intense that Hal felt his skin crawl with
religious awe.  "The Tabernacle of Mary contains the Cup of Life, the
Holy Grail that Christ used at the Last Supper.  The same chalice in
which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of the Saviour as he hung
upon the Cross."

"Where is the Tabernacle now?"  Hal's voice was husky, and he returned
Fasilides" grip with such strength that the old man winced.  "Have you
seen it?  Does it truly exist?"

"I have prayed over the Tabernacle that contains the sacred chalice,
although none may view or lay hands upon the chalice itself."

"Where is this holy thing?"  Hal's voice rose with excitement.  "I have
heard of it all my life.  The chivalric order of which I am a Knight is
based upon this fabulous cup.  Where may I find it and worship before
it?"

Fasilides seemed to sober at Hal's excitement, and he drew back,
freeing his hand from Hal's grip.  "There are things which cannot be
disclosed."  Once again he became remote and unapproachable.  Hal
realized that it would be unwise to pursue the subject further, and he
sought some other topic to thaw the Bishop's frozen features.

"Tell me of the fleet engagement at Adulis Bay," Hal suggested.  "As a
sailor, my concerns lie heavily upon the seas.  Was there a tall ship
similar to this one fighting with the squadrons of Islam?"

The Bishop unbent a little.  "There were many ships on both sides.

Great storms of gunfire and terrible slaughter."  "A square-rigged
ship, flying the red croix pattge?"  Hal insisted.  "Did you have
report of such a one?"  But it was cleat that the Bishop did not know a
frigate from a quinquereme.

He shrugged.  "Perhaps the admirals and the generals will be able to
answer these questions when we reach the monastery of St.  Luke," he
suggested.

The following afternoon they sailed past the entrance to Adulis Bay,
steering inshore of the island of Dahlak at the mouth of the bay.  In
this much Fasilides had been accurate in his report.  The roads were
crowded with shipping.  A forest of mast and rigging was outlined
against the brooding red hills that Tinged the bay.  From each masthead
flew the banners of Islam and the pennants of Omani and the Great
Mogul.

Hal ordered the Golden Bough hove to, and he climbed to the main yard
and sat there for an hour with the telescope held to his eye.  It was
not possible to count the number of ships at anchor in the bay, and the
waters seethed with small boats ferrying the stores and provisions of a
great army to the shore.  Of one thing only Hal was certain, when he
returned to the deck and ordered sail to be set once more.  there was
no square-rigged ship in Adulis Bay.

The shattered remnants of the Emperor Iyasu's fleet lay off Mitsiwa.
Hal anchored well clear of these burned and battered hulks, and
Fasilides sent one of his servants ashore in the longboat.  "He must
find out if Nazet's headquarters are still at the monastery, and if
they are we must arrange horses for us to travel there."

While they waited for the servant to return, Hal made arrangements for
his temporary absence from the Golden Bough.  He decided to take only
Aboli with him, and to leave command of the ship to Ned Tyler.

"Do not remain at anchor, for this is a lee shore, and you will be
vulnerable if the Buzzard should find you here," he warned Ned.
"Patrol well off the coast, and look upon every sail as that of an
enemy.  If you should encounter the Gull of Moray you are, under no
circumstances, to offer battle.  I shall return as swiftly as I am
able.  My signal will be a red Chinese rocket.  When you see that, send
a boat to pick me up from the shore."

Hal fretted out the rest of that day and night but at first light the
masthead hailed the deck.  "Small dhow coming out from the bay.
Heading this way."

Hal heard the cry in his cabin and hurried on deck.  Even without his
telescope he recognized Fasilides" servant standing on the open deck of
the small craft.  He sent for the Bishop.  When Fasilides came on deck
he was showing the effects of the previous evening's tippling, but he
and the servant spoke rapidly in the Geez language.  He turned to Hal.
"The Emperor and General Nazet are still at the monastery.  Horses are
waiting for us on the beach.  We can be there by noon.  My servant has
brought clothing for you and your servant that will make you less
conspicuous."

In his cabin Hal donned the breeches of fine cotton that were cut full
as petticoats and taken in at the ankles.  The boots were of soft
leather with pointed upturned toes.  Over the cotton shirt he wore an
embroidered dolman tunic that reached half-way down his thighs.  The
Bishop's servant showed him how to wind the long white cloth around his
head to form the haik turban.  Over the head cloth he fitted the
burnished steel onion-shaped helmet, spiked on top and engraved and
inlaid with Coptic crosses.

When he and Aboli came back on deck the crew gawked at them, and
Fasilides nodded approval.  "Now none will recognize you as a Frank."

The longboat deposited them on the beach below the cliffs, where an
armed escort was waiting for them.  The horses were Arabians with long
flowing manes and tails, the large nostrils and fine eyes of the breed.
The saddles were carved from a single block of wood and decorated with
brass and silver, the saddle-cloths and reins stiff with metal-thread
embroidery.

"It is a long ride to the monastery," Fasilides warned them.  "We must
waste no time."

They climbed the cliff path and came out onto the level ground that lay
before Mitsiwa.

"This is the field of our victory!"  Fasilides crowed, and stood in his
stirrups to make a sweeping gesture that encompassed the grisly plain.
Although the battle had taken place weeks before, the carrion birds
still hovered over the field like a dark cloud, and the jackals and
pariah dogs snarled over piles of bones and chewed at the sun blackened
flesh that still clung to them.  The flies were blue in the air like
swarming bees.  They crawled on Hal's face and tried to drink from his
eyes and tickled his nostrils.  Their white maggots swarmed and
wriggled so thickly in the rotting corpses that they appeared to move
as though they still lived.

The human scavengers were also at work across the wide battlefield,
women and their children in long dusty robes, their mouths and noses
covered against the stench.  Each carried a basket to hold their
gleanings of buttons, small coins, jewellery, daggers and the rings
they tore from the skeletal fingers of the corpses.

"Ten thousand enemy dead!"  Fasilides said triumphantly, and led them
on a track that left the battlefield and skirted the walled town of
Mitsiwa.  "Nazet is too much a warrior to have our army bottled up
behind those walls, he said.  "From those heights Nazet commands the
terrain."  He pointed ahead to the first folds and peaks of the
highlands.

Beyond the town on the open ground below the bleak hills the victorious
army of Emperor Iyasu was encamped.  It was a sprawling city of leather
tents and hastily built huts and lean-tos of stone and thatch that
stretched five leagues from the sea to the hills.  The horses, camels
and bullocks stood in great herds amongst the rude dwellings, and a
cloud of shifting dust and blue smoke from the fires of dried dung
blotted out the blue of the sky.  The ammonia cal stink of the animal
lines, the smoke and the stench of rubbish dumps rotting in the sun,
the dunghills and the latrine pits, the ripe odour of carrion and
unwashed humanity under the desert sun rivalled the effusions of the
battlefield.

They passed squadrons of cavalry on magnificent chargers with trailing
manes and proudly arched tail plumes.  The riders were clad in weird
armour and fanciful costume of rainbow colours.  They were armed with
bow and lance and long-barrelled jezails with curved and jewelled
butts.

The artillery parks were scattered over a league of sand and rock, and
there were hundreds of cannon.  Some of the colossal siege guns were
shaped like dolphins and dragons on carriages drawn by a hundred
bullocks each.  The ammunition wagons, loaded with kegs of black powder
were drawn up in massed squares.

Regiments of foot-soldiers marched and counter marched  They had added
to their own diverse and exotic uniforms the plunder of the battlefield
so that no two men were dressed alike.  Their shields and bucklers,
were square, round and oblong, made from brass, wood or rawhide.  Their
faces were hawklike and dark, and their beards were silver as beach
sand, or sable as the wings of the carrion crows that soared above the
camp.

"Sixty thousand men," said Fasilides.  "With the Tabernacle and Nazet
at their head, no enemy can stand before them."

The whores and camp-followers who were not scavenging the battlefield
were almost as numerous as the men.  They tended the cooking fires or
lolled in the sparse shade of the baggage wagons.  The Somali women
were tall and mysteriously veiled, the Galla girls bare-breasted an,
bold-eyed.  Some picked out Hal's virile broad-shouldered figure and
shouted unintelligible invitations to him, making their meanings plain
by the lewd gestures that accompanied them.

"No, Gundwane," Aboli muttered in his ear.  "Do not even think about
it, for the Galla circumcise their women.  Where you might expect a
moist and oleaginous welcome, you would find only a dry, scarred
pit."

So dense was this array of men, women and beasts that their progress
was reduced to a walk.  When the faithful recognized the Bishop, they
flocked to him and fell to their knees in the path of his horse to beg
his blessing.

At last they forged their way out of this morass of humanity, and
spurred up the steep track into the hills.  Fasilides led them at a
gallop, his robes swirling about his wiry figure and his beard
streaming out over his shoulder.  At the crest he reined in his steed
and pointed to the south.  "There!"  he cried.  "There is Adulis Bay,
and there before the port of Zulla lies the army of Islam."  Hal shaded
his eyes against the desert glare, and saw that the dun cloud of smoke
and dust was shot through with sparks of reflected sunlight from the
artillery trains and the weapons of another vast army.

"How many men does El Grang command in his legions?"  "That was my
mission when you found me to find the answer to that question from our
spies."

"How many, then?"  Hal persisted, and Fasilides laughed.  "The answer
to that question is for the ears of General Nazet alone" he said, and
spurred his horse.  They climbed higher along the rough track, and came
up onto the next ridge.

"There!"  Fasilides pointed ahead.  "There stands the monastery of St.
Luke."

It clung to a rugged hill top.  The walls were high and their harsh
square outline unrelieved by ornament, column or architrave.  One of
the Bishop's outriders blew a blast on a ram's horn, and the single
massive wooden gate swung open before them.  They galloped through into
the courtyard, and dismounted before the keep.  Grooms ran forward to
take their horses and lead them away.

"This way!"  Fasilides ordered, and strode through a narrow doorway
into the warren of passageways and staircases beyond.  Their boots
clattered on the stone paving and echoed in the corridors and smoky
halls.

Abruptly they found themselves in a dark, cavernous chapel, whose domed
ceiling was lost in the gloom high overhead.  Hundreds of flickering
candles and the glow from suspended incense burners illuminated the
hanging tapestries of saints and martyrs, the tattered banners of the
monastic orders and the painted and bejewelled icons.

Fasilides knelt at the altar, on which stood a silver Coptic cross, six
feet tall.  Hal knelt beside him but Aboli stood behind them, his arms
folded over his chest.

"God of our fathers, Lord of hosts!"  the Bishop prayed, in Latin for
Hal's benefit.  "We give thanks for your bounty and for the mighty
victory over the pagan which you have vouchsafed us.  We commend this
your servant, Henry Courtney, to your care.  May he prosper in the
service of the one true God, and may his arms prevail against the
unbelievers."

Hal had barely time to complete his genuflections and his amens before
the Bishop was up and away again, leading him to a smaller shrine off
the nave.

"Wait here!"  he said.  He went directly to the vividly coloured
woollen wall-hanging behind the smaller altar and drew it aside to
reveal a low, narrow doorway.  Then he stooped through the opening and
disappeared.

When Hal looked around the shrine, he saw that it was more richly
furnished than the bleak, gloomy chapel.  The small altar was covered
with foil of yellow metal that might have been brass but which shone
like pure gold in the candle-light.  The cross was decorated with large
coloured stones.  Perhaps these were merely glass, but it seemed to Hal
that they had the lustre of emerald, ruby and diamond.  The shelves
that rose to the vaulted roof were loaded with offerings from wealthy
and noble penitents and supplicants.  Some must have stood untouched
for centuries for they were thickly coated with dust and cobwebs so
that their true nature was hidden.  Five monks in grubby, ragged habits
knelt at prayer before the statue of a black-featured Virgin Mary with
a little black Jesus in her arms.  They did not look up from their
devotions at his intrusion.

Hal and Aboli stood together, leaning against a stone column at the
back of the shrine, and time stretched out.  The air was heavy and
oppressive with incense and antiquity.  The soft chanting of the monks
was hypnotic.  Hal felt sleep coming over him in waves and it was an
effort to fight it off and keep his eyes from closing.

Suddenly there came the patter of running feet from beyond the
wall-hanging.  Hal straightened as a small boy appeared from under the
curtain and, with all the exuberance of a puppy, rushed into the
shrine.  He skidded to a halt on the paving.  He was four or five years
of age, dressed in a plain white cotton shift and his feet were bare.
His head was covered with shining black curls that danced as he looked
about the shrine eagerly.  His eyes were dark, and as large as those of
the saints pictured in the stylized portraits that hung on the stone
walls behind him.

He saw Hal, ran to where he stood and stopped in front of him.  He
stared at Hal with such solemnity that Hal was enchanted by the pretty
elf, and went down on one knee so that they could study each other at
the same level.

The boy said something in the language that Hal could now recognize as
Geez.  It was obviously a request but Hal could not even guess at the
substance of it.  "You too!"  Hal laughed, but the child was serious
and asked the question again.  Hal shrugged, and the boy stamped his
foot and asked the third time.

"Yes!"  Hal nodded vigorously.  The boy laughed delightedly and clapped
his hands.  Hal straightened up but the child opened his arms and gave
a command that could mean only one thing.  "You want to be picked up?"
Hal stooped and gathered him in his arms where the boy stared into his
eyes then spoke again, pointing so passionately at Hal's face that he
almost impaled one eye with his little finger.

"I cannot understand what you're saying, little one," Hal said
gently.

Fasilides had come up silently behind him and now said solemnly, "His
Most Christian Majesty, Iyasu, King of Kings, Ruler of Galla and
Amhara, Defender of the Faith of Christ Crucified, remarks that your
eyes are of a strange green colour unlike any he has seen before."

Hal stared into the angelic features of the imp he held in his arms.
"This is the Prester John?"  he asked in awe.  "Indeed," replied the
bishop.  "You have also promised to take him for a sail on your tall
ship, which I have described to him."

"Would you inform the Emperor that I would be deeply honoured to have
him as a guest aboard the Golden Bough?"  Suddenly Iyasu wriggled down
from Hal's arms, seized his hand and dragged him towards the concealed
doorway.  Beyond the opening they went down a long passageway lit with
torches in iron brackets on the stone walls.  At the end of the passage
were two armed guards, but the Emperor squeaked an order and they stood
aside and saluted His tiny Majesty.  Iyasu led Hal into a long
chamber.

Narrow embrasures were set high up in the walls, and through these the
brilliant desert sunlight beamed down in solid golden shafts.  A long
table ran the length of the chamber, and seated at it were five men.
They stood up and bowed deeply to Iyasu, then looked keenly at Hal.

They were all warriors that much was clear from their bearing and their
attire.  they wore chain-mail and cuirass, and some had steel helmets
on their heads, and tunics over the armour, which were emblazoned with
crosses or other heraldic devices.

At the far end of the table stood the youngest and most simply dressed
yet the most impressive and commanding of all.  Hal's eye was drawn
immediately to this slim, graceful figure.

Iyasu drew Hal impatiently towards him, chattering in Geez, and the
warrior watched them with a steady, frank gaze.  Although he gave the
illusion of height, he was in fact a head shorter than Hal.  A shaft of
sunlight from one of the high embrasures backlit him, surrounding him
with a golden aura in which the dust motes danced and swirled.

"Are you "General Nazet?"  Hal asked in Latin, and the General nodded.
Around his head was a huge bush of crisp curls, like a dark crown or a
halo.  He wore a white tunic over the shirt of chain-mail, but even
under that bulky covering his waist was narrow and his back straight
and supple.

"I am indeed General Nazet."  His voice was low and husky, yet
strangely musical to the ear.  Hal realized with a shock how young he
was.  His skin was flawless, the dark translucent amber of gum arabic.
No trace of beard or moustache marred his sleek jawline or the proud
curl of his full lips.  His nose was straight and narrow, the nostrils
finely chiselled.

"I am Henry Courtney," said Hal, "the English Captain of the Golden
Bough."

"Bishop Fasilides has told me this," said the General.  "Perhaps you
would prefer to speak your own language."  Nazet switched into English.
"I must admit that my Latin is not as fluent as yours, Captain."

Hal gaped at him, for the moment at a loss, and Nazet smiled.  "My
father was ambassador to the palace of the Doge in Venice.  I spent
much of my childhood in your northern latitudes and learned the
languages of diplomacy, French, Italian and English."

"You astound me, General," Hal admitted, and while he gathered his
wits, he noticed that Nazet's eyes were the colour of honey and his
lashes long, thick and curled as those of a girl.  He had never felt
sexually attracted to another male before.  Now, however, as he looked
on those regal features and fine golden skin, and stared into those
lustrous eyes, he became aware of a pressure in his chest that made it
difficult for him to draw the next breath.

"Please be seated, Captain."  Nazet indicated the stool beside him.
They sat so close together that he could smell the odour of the other
man's body.  Nazet wore no perfume, and it was a natural, warm, musky
smell that Hal found himself savouring deeply.  Guiltily, he
acknowledged how unnatural was this sinful attraction he felt, and drew
back from the General as far as the hard, low stool would allow him.

The Emperor scrambled into General Nazet's lap and patted his smooth
golden cheek, gabbling something in a high, childish voice at which the
General laughed softly and replied in Geez, without taking his eyes off
Hal's face.

Tasilides tells me that you have come to Ethiopia to offer your
services in the cause of the Most Christian Emperor."

"That is so.  I have come to petition His Majesty to grant me a Letter
of Marque, so that I may employ my ship against the enemies of
Christ."

"You have arrived at a most propitious time."  Nazet nodded.  "Has
Fasilides told you of the defeat that our navy suffered at Adulis
Bay?"

"He has also told me of your magnificent victory at Mitsiwa."

Nazet showed no false pride at the compliment.  "The one
counterbalances the other," he said.  "If El Grang commands the sea, he
can bring in endless reinforcements and stores from Arabia and the
territory of the Mogul to replenish his wasted army.  Already he has
made good all the losses I inflicted upon him at Mitsiwa.  I am waiting
for reinforcements to arrive from the mountains, so I am not ready to
attack him again where he lies at Zulla.  Every day he is fed from the
sea and grows stronger."

Hal inclined his head.  "I understand your predicament."  There was
something about the General's voice that troubled him.  as Nazet became
more agitated its timbre altered.  Hal had to make an effort to
consider the words and not the speaker.

"A new menace now besets me," Nazet went on.  "El Grang has taken into
his service a foreign ship of greater force than any we can send out to
meet it."  Hal felt a prickle of anticipation run down the back of his
neck and the hairs rise upon his forearms.

"What manner of ship is this?  "he asked softly.

"I am no sailor, but my admirals tell me that it is a square-rigged
ship of the frigate class."  Nazet looked keenly at Hal.  "It must be
similar to your own vessel."

"Do you know the name of the captain?"  Hal demanded, but Nazet shook
his head.

"I know only that he is inflicting terrible losses on our transport
dhows that I rely on to bring supplies down from the north."

"What flag does he fly?"  Hal persisted.

Nazet spoke rapidly to one of the officers in Geez, then turned back to
him.  "This ship flies the pennant of Omani, but also a red cross of
unusual shape on a white ground."

"I think I know this marauder," said Hal grimly, "and I will pit my own
vessel against his at the first opportunity that is, if His Most
Christian Majesty will grant me a commission to serve as a privateer in
his navy."

"At Fasilides" urging, I have already ordered the court scribes to
draft your commission.  We need only agree the terms and I shall sign
it on the Emperor's behalf."  Nazet rose from the stool.  "But come,
let me show you in detail the position of our forces and those of El
Grang."  He led the way to the far side of the chamber, and the other
senior officers rose with him.  They surrounded the circular table on
which, Hal saw, had been built a clay model of the Red Sea and the
surrounding territories.  It was executed in graphic detail, and
realistically painted.  Each town and port was clearly shown, tiny
carved ships sailed upon the blue waters while regiments of cavalry and
foot were represented by model figures carved in ivory and painted in
splendid uniform.

As they studied this soberly, the Emperor dragged up a stool and
climbed onto it so that he could reach the models.  With squeals of
glee and the childish imitations of neighing horses and firing cannon,
he began to move the figures about the board.  Nazet reached out to
restrain him, and Hal stared at the hand.  It was slim and smooth and
dainty, with long, tapered fingers, the nails pearly pink.  Suddenly
the truth dawned on him and, before he could prevent himself, he
blurted out in English, "Mother Mary, you're a woman!"  Nazet glanced
up at him, and her amber cheeks darkened with annoyance.  "I advise you
not to disparage me on account of my gender, Captain.  As an
Englishman, you might remember the military lesson a woman handed out
to you at OrleansI."

The retort rose to Hal's lips, "Yes, but that was more than two hundred
years ago and we burned her for her troubles!"  but he managed to stop
himself and instead tried to make his tone placatory.

"I meant no offence, General.  It only enhances the admiration I had
already conceived for your powers of leadership."

Nazet was not so easily mollified and her manner became brisk and
businesslike as she explained the tactical and strategic positions of
the two armies and pointed out to him where he might best employ the
GoLden Bough.  She no longer looked at him directly, and the line of
those full soft lips had hardened.  "I will expect you to place
yourself under MY direct command, and to that end I have ordered
Admiral Senec to draw up a simple set of signals, rockets and lanterns
by night and flags and smoke by day, through which I can pass my orders
from the shore to you at sea.  Do you have any objection to that?"

No, General, I do not."

"As to your share of the prize money, two-thirds will accrue to the
Imperial exchequer, and the balance to you and your crew."

"It is customary for the ship to retain half of the prize, Hal
demurred.

"Captain," said Nazet coldly, "in these seas the custom is set by His
Most Christian Majesty."

"Then I must concur."  Hal smiled ironically, but received no
encouragement to further levity from Nazet.

"Any warlike stores or provisions you may capture will be purchased by
the exchequer, and likewise any enemy vessels will be purchased by the
navy."

She looked away from him as a scribe entered the chamber and bowed
before handing her a document written on stiff yellow parchment.  Nazet
glanced swiftly through it then took up the quill that the scribe
handed her, filled in the blanks in the script and signed at the foot,
"Judith Nazet', and added a cross behind her name.

As she sanded the wet ink she said, "It is written in Geez, but I will
have a translation prepared for you when next we meet.  In the
meantime, I give you my assurance that this letter sets out exactly the
terms we have discussed."  She rolled the document, secured it with a
ribbon and handed it to Hal.

"Your assurance is sufficient for me."  Hal slipped the rolled document
into the sleeve of his tunic.

"I am certain you are eager to rejoin your ship, Captain.  I will
detain you no longer."  With that dismissal, she seemed to forget his
existence and turned her full attention back to her commanders and the
clay panorama of the battlefield on the tabletop in front of her.

"You spoke of a series of signals, General."  Despite her
Uncompromising manner, Hal found himself strangely reluctant to leave
her presence.  He was drawn to her in the way a compass needle seeks
the north.

She did not look up at him again but said, "Admiral Senec will have a
signal book sent out to your ship before you sail.  Bishop Fasilides
will see you to where your horses are waiting.  Farewell, Captain."

As Hal strode down the long stone passageway alongside the Bishop he
said quietly, "The Tabernacle of Mary is here in this monastery.  Am I
right in believing that?"

Fasilides stopped dead in his tracks and stared at him.  "How did you
know?  Who told you?"

"As a devout Christian I should like to look upon such a sacred object,
"said Hal.  "Can you grant me that wish?"  Fasilides tugged nervously
at his beard.  "Perhaps.  We shall see.  Come with me."  He led Hal to
where Aboli still waited and then both of them followed him through
another maze of stairways and passages, then stopped before a doorway
guarded by four priests in robes and turbans.

"Is this man of yours a Christian?"  he asked as he looked at Aboli,
and Hal shook his head.  "Then he must remain here."

The Bishop took Hal's arm and led him to the door.  He spoke softly in
Geez to one of the priests, and the old man took a huge black key from
under his robe and turned the lock.  Fasilides drew Hal into the crypt
beyond.

Surrounded by a forest of burning candles in tall, many branched brass
holders, the Tabernacle stood in the centre of the paved floor.

Hal felt an overwhelming sense of awe and grace come upon him.  He knew
that this was one of the supreme moments of his life, perhaps even the
reason for his birth and existence.

The Tabernacle was a small chest that stood on four legs, carved like
the paws of a lion.  There were four carrying handles.  Its square body
was covered with a tapestry of silver and gold embroidery that had the
patina of great age upon it.  On each end of the lid knelt a miniature
golden statue of an angel, with head bowed and hands clasped in prayer.
It was a thing of exquisite beauty.

Hal fell to his knees in the same attitude as the golden angels.  "Lord
God of Hosts, I have come to do your bidding, as you commanded," he
began to pray aloud.  After a long while, he crossed himself and rose
to his feet.

"May I see the chalice?"  he asked deferentially, but Fasilides shook
his head.

"Not even I have seen it.  It is too holy for the eyes of mortal man.
It would blind you."

The Ethiopian pilot guided the Golden Bough southwards in the night
under top sails alone.  With a leadsman taking soundings they crept up
into the lee of Dahlak Island off the mouth of Adulis Bay.

Anxiously Hal listened in the darkness to the chant of the leadsman,
"No bottom with this line!"  and minutes later, "No bottom with this
line!"  and then the plop of the lead as it was swung out ahead of the
bows and hit the surface.  Suddenly the chant altered and the
leadsman's voice took on a sharper tone.  "By the deep, twenty!"

"Mister Tyler!"  Hal barked.  "Take another reef in your top sails.
Stand by to let the anchor go!"

"By the mark, ten!  "The leadsman's next cry was sharper still.

"Furl all your canvas.  Let go your anchor!"

The anchor went down and the Golden Bough glided on a short distance
before she snubbed up on the cable.

"Take the deck, Mister Tyler," Hal said.  "I am going aloft."  He went
up the shrouds from deck to the top of the mainmast without a pause,
and was pleased that his breathing was merely deep and even when he
reached the canvas crow's nest.

"I see you, Gundwane!"  Aboli greeted him, and made room for him in the
canvas nest.  Hal settled beside him and looked first to the land.
Dahlak Island was a darker mass in the dark night, but they were a full
cable's length clear of her rocks.  Then he looked to the west and saw
the sweep of Adulis Bay, clearly outlined by the fires of El Grang's
army encamped along the shoreline around the little port of Zulla.  The
waters of the bay sparkled with the riding lanterns of the anchored
fleet of Islam.  He tried to count those lights but gave up when the
tally reached sixty-four.  He wondered if one of those was the Gull of
Moray, and felt his guts contract at the thought.

He turned to look into the east and saw the first pale promise of the
dawn silhouette the rugged peaks of Arabia, from which came El Grang's
transport dhows laden with men, horses and provisions to swell his
legions.

Then, below the dawn on the dark sea, he saw the riding lanterns of
other ships winking like fireflies as they sailed in on the night
breeze towards Adulis Bay.

"Can you count them, Aboli?"  he asked, and Aboli chuckled.

"My eyes are not as sharp as yours, Gundwane.  Let us say merely that
there are many, and wait for the dawn to disclose their true numbers,"
he murmured.

They waited in the silence of old companions, and both felt the chill
of the coming dawn warmed away by the promise of battle that the day
must bring, for this narrow sea swarmed with the ships of the enemy.

The eastern sky began to glow like an ironsmith's forge.  The rocks of
the island close at hand showed pale through the gloom, painted white
by the dung of the sea birds that for centuries had roosted upon them.
From their rocky perches the birds launched into flight.  In staggered
arrowhead formations they flew across the red dawn sky uttering wild,
haunting cries.  Looking up at them Hal felt the morning wind brush his
cheek with cool fingers.  It was blowing out of the west as he had
relied upon it to do.  He had the flotilla of small dhows under his
lee, and at his mercy.

The rising sun flared upon the mountain tops and set them aflame.  Far
out beyond the low rocks of the island a sail glinted on the dark ting
waters, and then another and, as the circle of their vision expanded, a
dozen more.

Hal slapped Aboli lightly on the shoulder.  "It is time to go to work,
old friend, "he said, and slid down the shrouds.  As his feet hit the
deck he called to the helm, "Up anchor, Mister Tyler.  All hands aloft
to set sail."

Released from restraint the Golden Bough spread her canvas and wheeled
away.  The waters rustling under her bows and her wake creaming behind
her, she sped out from her ambush behind Dahlak Island.

The light was bright enough by now for Hal to make out clearly his
quarry scattered across the wind-flecked waters ahead.  He looked
eagerly for the piled canvas of a tall ship among them, but saw only
the single lateen sails of the Arabian dhows.

The closest of these vessels seemed unalarmed by the Golden Bough's
appearance, her high pyramid of sails standing right across the
entrance to Adulis Bay.  They held their course and, as the frigate
bore down upon the nearest of them, Hal saw the crew and passengers
lining the dhow's side and peering across at them.  Some had scampered
up the stubby mast and were waving a greeting.

Hal stopped beside the helm and said to Ned Tyler, "Tis likely that
they have seen only one other ship like ours in these waters and that's
the Gull.  They take us for an ally."  He looked up to where his
topmast men hung in the rigging, ready to handle the great mass of
canvas.  Then he looked back along the deck, where the gunners were
fussing over the culver ins and the powder boys were scurrying up from
below decks with their deadly burdens.

"Mister Fisher!"  he called.  "Load one battery on each side with ball,
all the others with chain and grape, if you please."  Big Daniel
grinned, with black and rotten teeth, and knuckled his brow.  Hal
wanted simply to disable the enemy vessels, not sink or burn them. Even
the smallest and poorest of those craft must be worth a great deal to
the exchequer of His Most Christian Majesty, if he could capture them
and deliver them to Admiral Senec at Mitsiwa.  The battery on each side
loaded with ball would be held in reserve.

The first dhow was so close ahead that Hal could see the expressions on
the faces of her crew.  They were a dozen or so sailors, dressed in
ragged and faded robes and haik turbans.  Most were still smiling and
waving but the old man at the tiller in the stern was looking about
wildly, as if to seek some providential escape from the tall hull that
was racing down upon his little vessel.

"Break out our colours, if you please, Mister Tyler," Hal ordered, and
watched the croix pott6e unfurl alongside the white Coptic cross of the
Empire on its royal blue ground.  The dismay on the faces of the dhow's
crew as they saw the cross of their doom spread before their eyes was
pathetic to behold and Hal gave his next order.  "Run out your guns,
Master Daniel!"  The Golden Bough's gun ports crashed back and the hull
reverberated to the rumble of the guns as the culver ins poked out
their bronze muzzles.

"I'll pass the chase close to starboard.  Fire as you bear, Master
DanielP Big Daniel raced to the bows and took command of the number-one
starboard battery.  Hal saw him move swiftly from gun to gun to check
their laying, inserting the wedges to lower the aim.  They would be
firing almost directly down into the dhow as they swept past her.

The Golden Bough rushed down silently upon the little craft, and Hal
said quietly to the helm, "Slowly bring her up a point to larboard."

As they realized the menace of the gaping guns, the crew of the dhow
fled from the rail and flung themselves down behind the stubby little
mast or crouched behind the bales and casks that cluttered her deck.

The first battery fired together in one smoking, thunderous discharge
and every shot struck home.  The base of the mast was blown away in a
storm of white wood splinters and her riggings crashed down to hang
over side in an untidy tangle of rope and canvas.  The old man at the
tiller disappeared, as though turned to air by a wizard's spell.  He
left only a red smear on the torn planking.

"Avast firing!"  Hal bellowed, to make himself heard in the ear-numbing
aftermath of the gunfire.  The dhow was crippled.  her bows were
already swinging away before the wind, the tiller shot away and her
mast gone overboard.  The Golden Bough left her rolling in her wake.

"Hold your course, Mister Tyler."  The Golden Bough tore straight at
the flotilla of small craft strewn across the blue waters ahead.  These
had seen the merciless treatment of the first dhow and the Imperial
colours flying at the frigate's masthead, and now every one put his
helm hard up and came around before the wind.  Goose-winged, they fled
before the Golden Bough's charge.

"Steer for the vessel dead ahead!"  said Hal quietly, and Ned Tyler
brought the frigate around a point.  The dhow Hal had chosen was one of
the largest in sight, and its open deck was crowded with men.  There
must be at least three hundred packed into her, Hal estimated.  It was
a short voyage across the narrow sea, and her captain had taken a risk.
she was carrying far more troops than was prudent.

A thin shout of defiance reached Hal's ears as they closed the range.
"Allah Akbar!  God is great!"  Steel war helmets glinted on the heads
of the Omani troops, and they brandished their long, curved scimitars.
There came an untidy volley of musket fire, aimed at the frigate, the
popping of the jezails and puffs of gunsmoke along the dhow's side.  A
lead ball thudded into the mast above Hal's head.

"Every man aboard her is a soldier," Hal said aloud.  He did not have
to add that if they were allowed to reach the western shore of the sea
they would march against Judith Nazet.  "Give her a volley of ball.

Sink her, Master Daniel!"

The heavy iron cannonballs raked the troopship from deck to keel and
split her like kindling under the axe.  The sea rushed in through her
torn belly.  She capsized and the water was suddenly filled with the
bobbing heads of struggling, drowning men.

"Steer for that vessel with the silver pennant."  Hal did not look back
but tore through the fleet like a barracuda into a shoal of flying
fish.  Not one could outrun him.  With her mountain of white sails
driving her, the Golden Bough flew upon them as if they were at anchor,
and her guns crashed out in flame and smoke.  Some of the little ships
burst open and sank, others were left in the frigate's wake with mast
snapped away and sails dragging alongside.  Some of the sailors threw
themselves overboard at the moment that the culver ins came to beat
upon them.  They preferred the sharks to the blast of guns.

Several ran for the nearest island and tried to anchor in the shoal
waters where the Golden Bough could not follow.  Others deliberately
ran aground, and their crews dived overboard to swim and wade to the
beach.

Only those ships furthest to the east and closest to the Arabian coast
had the head start to run from the frigate's charge.  Hal looked
asterric and saw the water behind him dotted with the floundering hulls
of those he had overtaken.  Every mile he chased the survivors
eastwards was a mile further from Mitsiwa.

"None of those will come back in a hurry!"  he said grimly, as he
watched them fly in confusion.  "Mister Tyler, please be good enough to
wear the ship around and lay her close hauled on the starboard tack."

This was the Golden Bough's best point of sailing.  "There is no dhow
built in all Arabia that can point higher into the wind than my darling
can," Hal said aloud, as he saw twenty sail to windward trying to
escape by beating up into the west.  The Golden Bough tore back into
the scattered fleet, and now some of the dhows dropped their wide
triangular main sail as they saw him coming and screamed to Allah for
mercy.

Hal checked the frigate as he came alongside each of these, bringing
her head to the wind as he launched a boat and sent a prize crew,
comprising one white seaman and six of his Amadoda, to board the
surrendered ship.  "If there is nothing of value in her cargo, take off
her crew and put a torch to her."

By late that afternoon, Hal had five large dhows on tow behind the
Golden Bough, and another seven sailing in company with him, under
jury-rigging and with his prize crews aboard, as they headed back
towards Mitsiwa.  Every one of the captured vessels was heavily laden
with vital provisions of war.  Behind him, the sky was dulled with the
smoke of the burning hulls and the sea was littered with the
wreckage.

General Nazet sat on her black Arabian stallion and watched from the
cliff tops as this untidy flotilla straggled into Mitsiwa Roads.  At
last she closed her telescope and remarked to Admiral Senec beside her,
"I see why you call him El Tazar!  This Englishman is a barracuda,
indeed."  Then she turned away her face so that he could not see the
thoughtful smile that softened her handsome features.  El Tazar.  It is
a good name for him, she thought, and then, irrelevantly, another
notion occurred to her.  I wonder if he is as fierce a lover as he is a
warrior.  It was the first time since God had chosen her to lead his
legions against the pagan that she had looked at any man through a
woman's eyes.

Colonel Cornelius Schreuder dismounted in front of the spreading tent
of shimmering red &C and yellow silk.  A groom took his horse and he
paused to look around the encampment.  The royal tent stood on a small
knoll overlooking Adulis Bay.  Up here the sea breeze cooled the air
and made it possible to breathe.  On the plain below, where the army of
Islam was bivouacked around the port of ZuIla, the stones crackled in
the heat and shimmered in the mirage.

The bay was crowded with shipping, but the tall masts of the Gull of
Moray dominated all others.  The Earl of Cumbrae's ship had come in
during the night, and now Schreuder heard his voice raised in argument
within the silken tent.  His lips twitched in a smile that lacked
humour, and he adjusted the hang of the golden sword at his side before
he strode to the flap of the tent.  A tall subahdar bowed to him.  All
the troops of Islam had come to know him well.  in the short time he
had served with them, Schreuder's feats of daring had become legend in
the Mogul's army.  The officer ushered him into the royal presence.

The interior of the tent was commodious and sumptuously furnished.

The entire floor was thickly covered with gorgeously coloured silk
carpets and silken draperies formed a double skin that kept out the
sun's heat.  The low tables were of ivory and rare wood, and the
vessels upon them were of solid gold.

The Great Mogul's brother, the Maharajah Sadiq Khan Jahan, sat in the
centre on a pile of silk cushions.  He wore a tunic of padded yellow
silk and striped pantaloons of red and gold.  The slippers on his feet
were scarlet with long, curling toes and buckles of gold.  His turban
was yellow and secured above his brow by an emerald the size of a
walnut.  He was close-shaven, with only a kohl line of fine moustache
upon his petulant upper lip.  Across his lap was a scimitar in a
scabbard so richly encrusted with jewels that the sparkle of them
pricked the eye.  On one gloved hand he held a falcon, a magnificent
Saker of the desert.  He lifted the bird and kissed its beak as
tenderly as if it had been a beautiful woman or rather, Schreuder
thought bleakly, as if it were one of his pretty dancing boys.

A little behind him, on another pile of cushions, sat Ahmed El Grang,
the Left Hand of Allah.  He was so wide-shouldered as to seem deformed,
and his neck was thick and corded with muscle.  He wore a steel war
helmet and his beard was dyed with henna, red as that of the Prophet.
His massive chest was covered with a steel cuirass, and there were
bracelets of steel upon his wrists.  His brows beetled and his eyes
were as cold and implacable as those of an eagle.

Behind this ill-matched pair sat a host of courtiers and officers, all
richly dressed.  Before the Prince knelt a translator who, his forehead
pressed to the ground, was trying to keep up with the Buzzard's flood
of invective.

The Buzzard stood before the Prince with his fists bunched on his hips.
On his head was his beribboned bonnet, and his beard was more bushy and
fiery than the dyed, barbered curls that covered El Grang's chin. He
wore half armour above his plaid.  He turned with relief when Schreuder
entered the tent and made deep and respectful obeisance, first to the
Prince and then to El Grang.

"Jesus love you, Colonel.  I need you now to talk some sense into these
two lovely laddies.  This ape."  " Curnbrae spurned the grovelling
translator with his boot.  "This ape is blethering away, and making a
nonsense of what I'm telling them."  He knew that Schreuder had spent
many years in the Orient, and that Arabic was one of the languages in
which he was fluent.

"Tell them that I came here to take prizes, not to match my Gull
against a ship of equal force and have her shot away beneath my feed"
the Buzzard instructed him.  "They want me to do battle with the Golden
Bough."

"Explain the matter to me more fully," Schreuder invited.  "That way I
may be able to assist you."

"The Golden Bough has arrived in these waters we must presume under the
command of young Courtney," the Buzzard told him.

Schreuder's face darkened at the name.  "Will we never be rid of
him?"

"It seems not."  Cumbrae chuckled.  "In any event, he is flying the
white cross of the Empire, and whaling into El Grang's transports with
a vengeance.  He has sunk and captured twenty-three sail in the last
week, and no Mussulman captains will put out to sea while he is in the
offing.  Single-handed he is blockading the entire coast of Ethiopia."
He shook his head in reluctant admiration.  "From the Cliffs above
Tenwera, I watched him fall upon a flotilla of El Grang's war dhows. He
cut them to pieces.  By Jesus, he handles his ship as well as Franky
ever could.  He sailed circles around those Mussulmen and shot them out
of the water.  The entire fleet of Allah the All Merciful is all
bottled up in port, and El Grang is starved of reinforcements and
stores.  The Mussulmen call young Courtney El Tam, the Barracuda, and
not one will go out to face him."

Then his grin faded and he looked lugubrious.  "The Golden Bough is
bright and clean of weed.  My Gulf has been at sea for nigh on three
years.  Her timbers are riddled with shipworm.  I would guess that,
even on my best point of sailing, the Golden Bough has at least three
knots of speed on me."

"What do you want me "to tell his highness!"  Schreuder asked
scornfully.  "That you are afraid to meet young Courtney?"  , "I am
afraid of no man living or dead, for that matter.  But there is no
profit in it for me.  Hal Courtney has nothing I want, but if it comes
to a single-ship fight, he could do me and my Gull fearful damage.  If
they want me to fight him they will have to sweeten my cup a little."

Schreuder turned back to the Prince and explained this to him in
carefully chosen diplomatic terms.  Sadiq Khan Jahan stroked his falcon
as he listened expressionlessly, and the bird ruffled out its feathers
and hooded its yellow eyes.  When Schreuder had finished, the Prince
turned to El Grang.  "What did you say they called this red-bearded
braggart?"

"They call him the Buzzard, your highness," El Grang replied
hoarsely.

"A name well chosen, for it seems he prefers to pick out the eyes of
the weak and the dying and scavenge the leavings of fiercer creatures
rather than to kill for himself.  He is no falcon."

El Grang nodded agreement, and the Prince turned back to Schreuder.
"Ask this noble bird of prey what payment he demands for fighting El
Tazar."

"Tell the pretty boy I want a lakh of rupees in gold coin, and I want
it in my hands before I leave port," Cumbrae replied, and even
Schreuder gasped at the audacity.  One lakh was a hundred thousand
rupees.  The Buzzard went on amiably, "You see, I have got the Prince
with his bum in the air and his pantaloons round his ankles.  I intend
to tup him full length, but not the way he likes it."

Schreuder listened to the Prince's reply, then turned back to Cumbrae.
"He says that you could build twenty ships like the Gull for a lakh."

"That may be so, but it won't buy me a pair of balls to replace the
ones that Hal Courtney shoots away."

The Prince smiled at this response.  "Tell the Buzzard he must have
lost them long ago, but he makes a fine eunuch.  I could always find a
place for him in my harem."

The Buzzard guffawed at the insult, but shook his head.  "Tell the
pretty pederast, no gold and the Buzzard flies away."

The Prince and El Grang whispered to each other, gesticulating.  At
last, they seemed to reach a decision.

"I have another proposition that the bold captain might find more to
his taste.  The risk he takes will not be so great, but he will receive
the lakh he demands."  The Prince rose to his feet, and all his court
fell upon their knees and pressed their foreheads to the ground.  "I
will leave Sultan Ahmed El Grang to explain this to you in secrecy."

He retired through the curtains at the back of the tent, and all his
retinue went with him, leaving only the two Europeans and the Sultan in
the cavern of silk.

El Grang gestured to both men to come closer and to sit in front of
him.  "What I have to say is for the ears of no other living soul."
While he arranged his thoughts, he fingered the old lance wound that
ran in a ridge of raised scar tissue from below his ear, down under the
high collar of his tunic.  half his vocal cords had been severed by
that old injury.  He began to speak, in his hoarse, wheezing voice.
"The Emperor was slain before Suakin and his infant son Iyasu has
inherited the crown of Prester John.  His armies were in disarray when
there arose a female prophet who proclaimed that she had been chosen by
the Christian God to lead his armies.  She came down from the mountains
leading fifty thousand fighting men and carrying before her a religious
talisman that they call the Tabernacle of Mary.  Her armies, inspired
by religious fanaticism, were able to check us at Mitsiwa."

Both Schreuder and Cochran nodded.  This was nothing new.  "Now, Allah
has given me the opportunity to seize both this talisman and the person
of the infant Emperor."  El Grang sat back and lapsed into silence,
watching the faces of the two white men shrewdly.

"With the Tabernacle and the Emperor in your hands, the armies of Nazet
would dissolve like snow in the summer sun," Schreuder said softly.

El Grang nodded.  "A renegade monk has come in to us, and offered to
lead a small party commanded by a bold man to the place where both the
talisman and the Emperor are hidden.  Once the child and the Tabernacle
have been captured, I will need a fast, powerful ship to carry them to
Muscat before Nazet can make an attempt to rescue them from us."  He
turned to Schreuder and said, "You, Colonel, are the bold man I need.
If you succeed your payment will also be a lakh."

Then El Grang looked at Cochran.  "Yours is the fast ship to carry them
to Muscat.  When you deliver them there, there will be another lakh for
you."  He smiled coldly.  "This time I will pay you to fly from El
Tazar, rather than confront him.  Are your balls big and heavy enough
for that task, my brave Buzzard?"

The Golden Bough ran southwards, her sails glowing in the last rays of
the sun, like a tower of gold.

"The Gull of Moray lies at anchor in Adulis Bay," Fasilides" spies had
brought the report, "and her captain is ashore.  They say he sits in
council with El Grang."  But that intelligence was two days" stale.

"Will the Buzzard still be there?"  Hal fretted to himself, and studied
his sails.  The Golden Bough could carry not another stitch of canvas,
and every sail was drawing sweetly.  The hull sliced through the water,
and the deck vibrated beneath his feet like a living creature.  If I
find her still at anchor, we can board her even in darkness, Hal
thought, and strode down the deck, checking the tackle of his guns. The
white seamen knuckled their foreheads and grinned at him, while the
squatting ranks of Amadoda grinned and crossed their chests with their
open right hand in salute.  They were like hunting dogs with the scent
of the stag in their nostrils.  He knew that they would not flinch when
he laid the Golden Bough alongside the Gull and led them onto her
deck.

The sun dipped towards the horizon and quenched its flames in the sea.
The darkness descended and the outline of the land melted into it.

Moonrise in two hours, Hal thought, as he stopped by the binnacle to
check the ship's heading.  We will be into Adulis Bay by then.  He
looked up at Ned Tyler, whose face was lit by the compass lantern.

"Hoist our new canvas," he ordered, and Ned repeated the order through
the speaking trumpet.  The new canvas was laid out on the deck, the
sheets already reeved into the clews and earing cringles, but it took
an hour Of hard, dangerous work before her white canvas was brought
down and stowed away, and the sails that were daubed with pitch were
hoist to the yards and unfurled.

Black was her hull, and black as midnight her canvas.  The Golden Bough
would show no flash in the moonlight when they sailed into Adulis Bay
to take unawares the anchored fleet of Islam.

Let the Buzzard be there, Hal prayed silently.  Please, God, let him
not have sailed.

Slowly the bay opened to them, and they saw the lanterns of the enemy
fleet like the lights of a large town.  Beyond them the watch fires of
El Grang's host reflected off the belly of the low cloud of dust and
smoke.

"Lay the ship on the larboard tack, Mister Tyler.  Steer into the bay."
The ship came around and bore swiftly towards the anchored fleet.

"Take a reef in your mains.  Furl all your top-hamper, please, Mister
Tyler."  The ship's rush slowed and the rustle of the bow wave dwindled
as they went in under fighting canvas.

Hal walked towards the bows and Aboli stood up out of the darkness.
"Are your archers ready?"  Hal asked.

Aboli's teeth flashed in the gloom.  "They are ready, Gundwane."

Hal made them out now, dark shapes crouched along the ship's rail
between the culver ins their bundles of arrows laid out on the deck.

"Keep them under your eye!"  Hal cautioned him.  If the Amadoda had one
fault in battle it was that they could be carried away by their blood
lust.

As he went on to Big Daniel's station in the waist, he was checking
that all the burning slow-match was concealed in the tubs and that the
glowing tips would not alert a watchful enemy.  "Good evening, Master
Daniel.  Your men have never been in a night battle.  Keep a tight
rein. Don't let them start firing wildly."

He went back to the helm, and the ship crept on into the bay, a dark
shadow on the dark waters.  The moon rose behind them and lit the scene
ahead with a silvery radiance, so that Hal could discern the shapes of
the enemy fleet.  He knew that his own ship was still invisible.

On they glided, and they were close enough now to hear the sounds from
the moored vessels ahead, voices singing, praying and arguing.  Someone
was hammering a wooden mallet, and there was the creak of oars and the
slotting of rigging as the dhows rolled gently at anchor.

Hal was straining his eyes to pick out the masts of the Gull of Moray,
but he knew that if she were in the bay he would not be able to spot
her until the first broadside lit the darkness.

"A large dhow dead ahead," he said quietly to Ned Tyler.  "Steer to
pass her close to starboard."

"Ready, Master Daniel!"  He raised his voice.  "On the vessel to
starboard, fire as you bead."  They crept up to the anchored dhow and,
as she came fully abeam, the Golden Bough's full broadside lit the
darkness like sheet lightning and the thunder of the guns stunned their
ear-drums and echoed off the desert hills.  In that brief eye-searing
illumination Hal saw the masts and hulls of the entire enemy fleet
brightly lit, and he felt the lead of disappointment heavy in his
guts.

"The Gull has gone," he said aloud.  Once again, the Buzzard had eluded
him.  There will be another time, he consoled himself.  Firmly he put
the distracting thought from his mind, and turned his full attention
back to the battle that was opening like some hellish pageant before
him.

The moment that first broadside tore into the quarry, Aboli did not
have to wait for an order.  The deck was lit by the flare of many
bright flames as the Amadoda lit their fire-arrows.  On each cane
shaft, tied behind the iron arrowhead, was a tuft of unravelled hemp
rope that had been soaked in pitch, which spluttered and then burned
fiercely when touched with the slow-match, The archers loosed their
arrows, which sailed up in a high, flaming parabola and dropped down to
peg into the timbers of an anchored vessel.  As the screams of terror
and agony rose from the shot-shattered hull, the Golden Bough glided on
deeper into the mass of shipping.

"Two vessels a point on either side of your bows," Hal told the
helmsman.  "Steer between them."

As they passed them close on either hand, the ship heeled first to one
side and then to the other as her broadsides thundered out in quick
succession, and a rain of rite-arrows fell from the sky upon the
stricken vessels.

Behind them the first dhow was ablaze, and her flames lit the bay,
brilliantly illuminating the quarry to the Golden Bough's gunners as
she ran on amongst them.

"El Tazar!"  As Hal heard the terrified Arab voices screaming his name
from ship to ship, he smiled grimly and watched their panic-stricken
efforts to cut their anchor cables and escape his terrible approach.
Now five dhows were burning, and drifted out of control into the
crowded anchorage.

Some enemy vessels were firing wildly, blazing away without making any
attempt to lay their aim on the frigate.  Stray cannonballs, aimed too
high, howled overhead, while others, aimed too low, skipped across the
surface of the water and crashed into the friendly ships anchored
alongside them.

The flames jumped from ship to ship and the whole sweep of the bay was
bright as day.  Once again Hal looked for the Gull's tall masts.  If
she were here, by this time the Buzzard would have set sails and his
silhouette would be unmistakable.  But he was nowhere in sight, and Hal
turned back angrily to the task of wreaking as much destruction as he
could upon the fleet of Islam.

Behind them one of the blazing hulls must have been loaded with several
hundred tons of black powder for El Grang's artillery.  It went up in a
vast tower of black smoke, shot through with flaring red flames as
though the devil had flung open the doors of hell.  The rolling column
of smoke went on mounting into the night sky until its top was no
longer visible and seemed to have reached into the heavens.  The blast
swept through the fleet striking down those vessels closest to it and
shattering their timbers or rolling them over on their backs.

The wind from the explosion roared over the frigate and, for a moment,
her sails were taken aback and she began to lose steerage way.  Then
the offshore night breeze took over and filled them once more.  She
bore onwards, deeper into the bay and into the heart of the enemy
fleet.

Hal nodded with grim satisfaction each time one of the Golden Bough's
salvoes crashed out.  They were one sudden shock of thunder and a
single flare of red flame as every gun fired at the same instant.  Even
Aboli's Arnadoda launched their flights of arrows in a single flaming
cloud.  In contrast, there was never such a wild discordant banging of
uncontrolled shot as stuttered from the enemy ships.

El Grang's shore batteries began to open up as their sleep-groggy
gunners stumbled to their colossal siege guns.  Each discharge was like
a separate clap of thunder, belittling even the roar of the frigate's
massed volleys.  Hal smiled each time one of their mighty muzzle
flashes tore out from the rock-walled redoubts across the bay.  The
shore gunners could not possibly pick out the black sails of the Golden
Bough in the confusion and smoke.  They fired into their own fleet and
Hal saw at least one enemy ship smashed to planks by a single ball from
the shore.

"Stand by to go about!"  Hal gave the order in one of the fleeting
moments of quiet.  The shore was coming up fast, and they would soon be
landlocked in the depths of the bay.  The topmast men handled the sails
with perfect timing, and the bows swung through a wide.  arc then
steadied as they pointed back towards the open sea.

Hal walked forward in the brilliant light of the burning ships and
raised his voice so that the men could hear him.  "I doubt not that El
Grang will long remember this night."  They cheered him even as they
heaved on the gun tackles and nocked their arrows.  "The Bough and Sir
Hal!"

Then a single voice sang out, "El Tazar!"  and they all took up the cry
so heartily that El Grang and the Prince must have heard them as they
stood before the silken tent on the knoll above the bay and looked down
upon their shattered fleet.

"El Tazar!  El Tazar!"

Hal nodded at the helm.  "Take us out, please, Mister Tyler."  As they
wove their way through the burning hulks and floating wreckage, and
drew slowly out towards the entrance a single shot fired from one of
the drifting dhows smashed in through the gunwale, and tore across the
open deck.  Miraculously it passed between one of the gun crews and a
group of the half-naked archers without touching them.  But Stan
Sparrow was standing at the far rail, commanding a gun battery, and the
hot iron ball took off both his legs neatly, just above the knees.

Instinctively Hal started forward to succour him, but then he checked
himself.  As captain, the dead and wounded were not his concern, but he
felt the agony of loss.  Stan Sparrow had been with him from the
beginning.  He was a good man and a shipmate.

When they carried Stan away, they passed close by where Hal stood.

He saw that Stan's face was ivory pale, and that he was drained of
blood.  He was sinking fast but he saw Hal and, with a great effort,
lifted his hand to touch his forehead.  "They was good times, Captain,"
he said, and his hand dropped.

"God speed, Master Stan," Hal said, and while they carried him below,
he turned to look back into the bay, so that in the light of the
burning ships no man might see his distress.

Long after they had run out of the bay and turned away northwards
towards Mitsiwa, the night skies behind them glowed with the inferno
they had created.  The captains of divisions came one at a time to make
their battle reports.  Though Stan Sparrow was the only man killed,
three others had been wounded by musket fire from the dhows as they
sailed past, and another man's leg had been crushed in the recoil of an
overshot ted culverin.  It was a small price to pay, Hal supposed, and
yet, though he knew it to be weakness, he mourned Stan Sparrow.

Although he was exhausted and his head ached from the din of battle and
the powder smoke, Hal was too wrought-up for sleep and his mind was in
a turmoil of emotion and racing thoughts.  He left the helm to Ned
Tyler and went to stand alone in the bows to let the cool night air
soothe him.

He was still alone there as the dawn began to break and the GoLden
Bough headed in towards Mitsiwa roads, and the first to see the three
red Chinese rockets soar up into the sky from the heights of the cliffs
above the bay.

It was a signal from Judith Nazet, an urgent recall.  He felt his pulse
quicken with dread as he turned and bellowed to Aboli, who had the
watch, "Hoist three red lanterns to the masthead!"

Three red lights was an acknowledgement of her signal.  She has heard
the guns and seen the flames, he thought.  She wishes to have my report
of the battle.  Somehow he knew that it was not so but he hoped to
quieten the sudden sense of dread that assailed him.

It was fully light as they nosed in towards the shore.  Hal was still
in the bows and the first to spot the boat that darted out from the
beach to meet them.  From two cables' length away he recognized the
slim figure standing beside the single mast.  He felt his heart leap
and his sadness fall away, replaced by a sense of eager anticipation.

Judith Nazet's head was bare and the dark halo of her hair framed her
face.  She wore armour and a sword was buckled at her side, a steel
helmet under her arm.

Hal strode back to the quarterdeck and gave his order to the helm.
"Round her up and heave to!  Let the boat come alongside."

Judith Nazet came through the entry port with a lithe and graceful
urgency, and Hal saw that her marvelous features were stricken.  "I
give thanks to God for bringing you back so swiftly," she said, in a
voice that trembled with some strong emotion.  "A terrible catastrophe
has overtaken us.  I can hardly find words to describe it to you."

They had muffled the horses" hoofs with leather boots so they made
little sound on the rocky earth.  The priest rode close beside him, but
Cornelius Schreuder had taken the precaution of securing a light steel
chain around the man's waist and the other end around his own wrist.
The priest had a shifty eye and a ferrety face that Schreuder trusted
not at all.

They rode in double file along the narrow valley, and although the moon
had risen an hour before the rocky sides still threw the sun's heat
into their faces.  Schreuder had selected the fifteen most trustworthy
men from his regiment, and all were mounted on fast horses.

The tack had been carefully muffled and their weapons wrapped in cloth
so they made no sound in the night.

The priest held up his hand suddenly.  "Stop here!"  Schreuder repeated
the order in a whisper.

"I must go forward to see if the way is clear," said the priest.

"I will go with you."  Schreuder dismounted and shortened his grip on
the chain.  They left the rest of the band in the bottom of the wadi
and crawled up the steep side.

"There is the monastery."  The priest pointed at the massive square
bulk that squatted on the hills above them, blotting out half the stars
from the night sky.  "Flash twice and then twice again, "he said.

Schreuder aimed the small lantern towards the walls of the monastery
and flipped open the shutter that screened the flame.  Twice, and then
again, he flashed the signal, and they waited.  Nothing happened.

"If you are playing with me, I will hack off your head with the back of
my sword," Schreuder growled, and felt the little priest shiver beside
him.

"Flash again!"  he pleaded, and Schreuder repeated the signal.
Suddenly a weak speck of light glimmered briefly on the top of the
wall.  Twice it showed, and then was extinguished.

"We can go on," whispered the priest excitedly, but Schreuder
restrained him.

"What have you told those within the monastery who will help us to
enter?"

"They have been told that we are spiriting away the Emperor and the
Tabernacle to a safe place to save him from an assassination plot by a
great noble of the Galla faction who seeks to take the crown of Prester
John from him."

"A good plan," Schreuder murmured, and urged the priest down the bank
to where the horses waited.  Their guide led them onwards, and they
climbed another deep ravine until they were beneath the massive,
looming walls.

"Leave the horses here," whispered the priest.  His voice was
tremulous.

Schreuder's men dismounted and handed their reins to two comrades, who
had been delegated as horse-holders.  Schreuder assembled the raiding
party and led them after the priest to the wall.  A rope-ladder dangled
down from the heights, and in the darkness Schreuder could not see to
the top of it.

"I have kept my side of the bargain," muttered the priest.  "Another
will meet you at the top.  Do you have the reward that I was
promised?"

"You have done well," Schreuder agreed readily.  "It is in my
saddle-bags.  One of my men will see you back to the horses and give it
to you."  He passed the end of the chain to his lieutenant.  "Look
after him well, Ezekiel," he said in Arabic, so the priest could
understand.  "Give him the reward he has earned."

Ezekiel led the man away, and Schreuder waited a few minutes until
there was a grunt of shock and surprise out of the darkness and the
soft rush of air escaping through a severed windpipe.  Ezekiel returned
silently, wiping his dagger on a fold of his turban.

"That was neatly done," said Schreuder.

"My knife is sharp," said Ezekiel, and slid the blade back into its
sheath.

Schreuder stepped onto the bottom rung of the ladder and began to
climb.  Fifty feet up he reached a narrow embrasure cut back into the
wall.  It was just wide enough to squeeze his shoulders through.
Another priest waited for him in the tiny stone cell beyond.

One after the other Schreuder's men followed him up and slid over the
lintel, until all of them were crowded into the room.

"Lead us to the infant first!"  Schreuder ordered the priest, and
placed his hand on his bony shoulder.  His men followed along the dark,
winding passageways, each gripping the shoulder of the man in front.

They twisted and turned through the dark labyrinth, until at last they
descended a spiral staircase and saw a glimmer of light ahead.  It grew
stronger as they crept towards it until they reached a doorway, on
either side of which torches guttered in their brackets.  Two guards
lay huddled on the threshold, with their weapons laid beside them.

"Kill them!"  Schreuder whispered to Ezekiel.

"They are dead already," said the priest.  Schreuder touched one with
his foot.  the guard's arm flopped over lifelessly and the empty bowl
that had held the poisoned mead rolled from his hand.

The priest tapped a signal on the door, and the locking bar was lifted
on the far side.  The door swung open and a nursemaid stood on the
other side with a child in her arms, her eyes huge with terror in the
light of the torches.

"Is this the one?"  Schreuder lifted the fold of blanket and peered
into the child's sweet brown face.  His eyes were closed in sleep, and
the dark curls were damp with perspiration.

"This is the one," the priest confirmed.

Schreuder took a firm grip on the nursemaid's arm, and drew her out
beside him.  "Now lead me to the other thing he said softly.

They went on, deeper into the maze of dark halls and narrow corridors,
until they reached another heavy studded door before which lay the
bodies of four priests, contorted in the agony of their poisoned
deaths.  The guide knelt beside one and groped in his robes.  When he
stood again he had in his hands a massive iron key.  He fitted it to
the lock and stood back.

Schreuder called Ezekiel to him in a whisper and placed the nursemaid
in his hands.  "Guard her well!"  Then he stepped up to the door and
seized the bronze handle.  As it swung open, the traitorous priest and
even the band of raiders shrank back from the brilliance of the light
that flooded out from the stone-walled crypt.  After the darkness the
glow of a hundred candles was dazzling.

Schreuder stepped over the threshold, then even he faltered and came to
an uncertain halt.  He gazed upon the Tabernacle in its suit of radiant
tapestry.  The angels upon the lid seemed to dance in the wavering
light, and he was struck with a sense of religious awe.  Instinctively
he crossed himself.  He tried to step forward to lay hold of one of the
handles of the chest but it was as though he had encountered an
invisible barrier that held him back.  His breathing was hoarse and his
chest felt constricted.  He was filled with an irrational urge to turn
and run, and he recoiled a pace before he could check himself.  Slowly
he backed out of the crypt.

"Ezekiel!"he said hoarsely.  "I will take care of the woman and the
child.  With Mustapha to help you, do you take hold of the chest."

The two Muslims suffered from no religious qualms, they stepped forward
eagerly and seized the handles.  The Tabernacle was surprisingly light,
almost weightless.  They bore it effortlessly between them.

"Our horses will be waiting at the main gate," Schreuder told their
guide in Arabic.  "Take us there!"  They moved swiftly through the dark
passages.  Once they ran "unexpectedly into another white-robed priest,
who was shuffling around an angle in the corridor towards them.

In the uncertain light of the torches he saw the Tabernacle in the
hands of the two armed soldiers, screamed with horror at the sacrilege
and fell to his knees.  Schreuder had the woman's arm in his left hand
and the naked Neptune sword in his right.  He killed the kneeling
priest with a single thrust through his ribs.

They all listened quietly for a while, but there was no outcry.

"Lead on!"  Schreuder ordered.

Their guide stopped again suddenly.  "The gate is only a short distance
ahead.  There are three men in the guardroom beside it."  Schreuder
could make out the glow of their lamp falling through the open doorway.
"I must leave you here."

"Go with GOd."  said Schreuder ironically, and the man darted away.

"Ezekiel, lay down the chest.  Go forward and deal with the guards."
Three of them crept down the passage, while Schreuder kept the
nursemaid in his grasp.  Ezekiel slipped into the guardroom.  There was
silence for a moment and then the clatter of something falling to the
stone floor.

Schreuder winced, but all was quiet again, and Ezekiel came back.  "It
is done!"

"You grow old and clumsy," Schreuder chided him, and led them to the
massive door.  It took three of them to lift the great wooden beams
that locked it, then Ezekiel wound the handle of the primitive winch
wheel and the door trundled open.

"Keep close together now!"  Schreuder warned, and led them in a running
group across the bridge and out onto the rocky track.  He paused in the
moonlight and whistled once softly.  There was the soft thudding of
muffled hoofs, as the horse-holders left the rocks where they had been
concealed.  Ezekiel lifted the Tabernacle onto the pack saddle of the
spare horse, and lashed it securely in place.  Then each man seized the
reins of his own mount and swung up into the saddle.  Schreuder reached
down and lifted the sleeping child out of the arms of his nursemaid.
The boy squawked drowsily but Schreuder hushed him and settled him
firmly on the pommel of his saddle.

"GO!"  he ordered the nursemaid.  "You are no longer needed."

"I cannot leave my baby."  The woman's voice was high and agitated.

Schreuder leaned down again and, with a thrust of the Neptune sword,
killed the nursemaid cleanly.  He left her lying beside the track and
led the raiding party away down the mountainside.

"One of the priests from the monastery were able to follow the
blasphemers when they fled," Judith Nazet explained to Hal.  Even in
the face of disaster her lips was firm and her eyes calm and steady.

He admired her fortitude, and saw how she had been able to take command
of a broken army and turn it victorious.

"Where are they now?"  Hal demanded.  He was so shaken by the dreadful
news that it was difficult to think clearly and logically.

"They rode directly from the monastery to Tenwera.  They reached there
just before dawn, three hours ago, and there was a great ship waiting
for them, anchored in the bay."

"Did they describe this vessel to you?"  Hal demanded.  "Yes, it was
the privateer that has the commission of the Mogul.  The one we spoke
of before, at our last meeting.  The same one that has caused such
havoc among our fleet of transports."

"The Buzzard!"  Hal exclaimed.

"Yes, that is what he is called even by his allies."  Judith nodded.
"While my people watched from the cliffs, a small boat took both the
Emperor and the Tabernacle out to where this ship was anchored.  As
soon as they were aboard the Buzzard weighed anchor and set out to
sea."

"Which direction?"

"When he was out of the bay, he turned south."

"Yes, of course."  Hal nodded.  "He will have been ordered to take
Iyasu and the Tabernacle to Muscat, or even to India, to the realm of
the Great Mogul."

"I have already sent one of our fastest ships to follow him.  It was
only an hour or so behind him and the wind is light.  It is a small
dhow and could never attack such a powerful ship as his.  But if God is
merciful it should still be shadowing him."

"We must follow at once."  He turned away and called urgently to Ned

Tyler.  "Bring her around, and lay her on the opposite tack.  Set all
sail, every yard of canvas you can cram onto her.  Course is
south-south-east for the Bah El Mandeb."

He took Judith's arm, the first time he had ever touched her, and led
her down to his cabin.  "You are weary," he said.  "I can see it in
your eyes," "No, Captain," she replied.  "It is not weariness you see,
but sorrow.  If you cannot save us, then all is lost.  A king, a
country, a faith."

"Please sir," she insisted.  "I will show you what we must do."  He
opened the chart in front of her.  "The Buzzard might sail straight
across to the western coast of Arabia.  If he does that then we have
lost.  Even in this ship I cannot hope to catch him before he reaches
the other shore."

The early-morning sun shone in through the stern windows, and cruelly
showed up the marks of anguish chiselled into her lovely face.  It was
a terrible thing for Hal to see the pain his words had caused, and he
looked down at the chart to spare her.

"However, I do not believe that that is what he will do.  If he sails
directly to Arabia, the Emperor and the Tabernacle would have a
dangerous and difficult overland journey to reach either Muscat or
India."  He shook his head.  "No.  He will sail south through the Bah
El Mandeb."

Hal placed his finger on the narrow entrance to the Red Sea.  "If we
can reach there before he does, then he cannot avoid us.  The Bah is
too narrow.  We must be able to catch him there."

"God grant it!  "Judith prayed.

"I have a long account to settle with the Buzzard," Hal said grimly. "I
ache in every part of my body and soul to have him under my guns."

Judith looked up at him in consternation.  "You cannot fire upon his
ship."

"What do you mean?"  He stared back at her.

"He has the Emperor and the Tabernacle on board with him.  You cannot
risk destroying either of those."

As he realized the truth of what she had said Hal felt his spirits
quail.  He would have to run down the Gull of Mora and close with her
while the Buzzard fired his broadsides into the Golden Bough and he
could make no reply.  He could imagine the terrible punishment they
would have to endure, the cannonballs ripping through the hull of his
ship and the slaughter on her decks, before they could board the
Gull.

The Golden Bough ran on into the south.  At the end of the forenoon
watch Hal assembled all the men in the waist of the ship and told them
of the task he demanded of them.  "I will not hide it from you, lads.
The Buzzard will be able to have his way with us, and we will not be
able to fire back."  They were silent and sober-faced.  "But think how
sweet it will be when we go aboard the Gull and take the steel to
them."

They cheered him then, but there was fear in their eyes when he sent
them back to trim the sails and coax every inch of speed out of the
ship in her flight towards the Bah El Mandeb.

"You promise them death, and they cheer you," Judith Nazet said softly,
when they were alone.  "Yet you call me a leader of men."  He thought
he heard more than respect in her tone.

Half-way through the first dog watch there was a hail from the
masthead.  "Sail ho!  Full on the bow!"

Hal's pulse raced.  Could they have caught the Buzzard so soon?  He
snatched the speaking trumpet from its bracket.  "Masthead!  What do
you make of her?"

"Lateen rig!"  His heart sank.  "A small ship.  On the same course as
we are."

Judith said quietly.  "It could be the one I sent to follow the
Gull."

Gradually they gained on the other vessel, and within half an hour it
was hull up from the deck.  Hal handed his telescope to Judith and she
studied it carefully.  "Yes.  It is my scout."  She lowered the glass.
"Can you fly the white cross to allay their fears, then take me close
enough to speak to her?"

They passed her so closely that they could look down onto her single
deck.  Judith shouted a question in Geez, then listened to the faint
reply.

She turned back to Hal, her eyes bright with excitement.  "You were
right.  They have been following the Gull since dawn.  Until only a few
hours ago they had her top sails in sight but then the wind
strengthened and she pulled away from them."

"What course was she on when last they saw her?"

"The same course she has held all this day," Judith told him.  "Due
south, heading straight for the narrows of the Bah."

Though he entreated her to go down to his cabin and rest, Judith
insisted on staying beside him on the quarterdeck.  They spoke little,
for both were too tense and fearful, but slowly there came over them a
feeling of companionship.  They took comfort from each other, and drew
on a mutual reserve of strength and determination.

Every few minutes Hal looked up at his funereal black sails, then
crossed to the binnacle.  There was no order he could give the helm,
for Ned Tyler was steering her fine as she could sail.

A charged and poignant silence lay heavy on the ship.  No man shouted
or laughed.  The off-duty watch did not doze in the shade of the main
sail as was their usual practice but huddled in small silent groups,
alert to every move he made and to every word he uttered.

The sun made its majestic circle of the sky and drooped down to touch
the far western hills.  Night came upon them as stealthily as an
assassin, and the horizon blurred and melded with the darkening sky,
then was gone.

In the darkness he felt Judith's hand on his arm.  It was smooth and
warm, yet strong.  "We have lost them, but it is not your fault," she
said softly.  "No man could have done more."

"I have not yet failed," he said.  "Have faith in God and trust in
me."

"But in darkness?  Surely the Buzzard would not show a light, and by
dawn tomorrow he will be through the Bah and into the open sea."

He wanted to tell her that all of this had been ordained long ago, that
he was sailing south to meet a special destiny.  Even though this might
seem fanciful to her, he had to tell her.  "Judith," he said, then
paused as he sought the right words.

"Deck!"  Aboli's voice boomed out of the darkness high above.  It had a
timbre and resonance to it that made Hal's skin prickle and the hairs
at the back of his neck stand.

"Masthead!"he bellowed back.  "A light dead ahead!"

He placed one arm.  around Judith's shoulders and she made no move to
pull away from him.  Instead, she leaned closer.

"There is the answer to your question," he whispered.  "God has
provided for us," she replied.

"I must go aloft."  Hal dropped his arm from around her shoulders.

"Perhaps we are too hasty, and the devil is playing us tricks."  He
strode across to Ned.  "Dark ship, Mister Tyler.  I'll keel haul the
man who shows a light.  Silent ship, no sound or voice."  He went to
the mainmast shrouds.

Hal climbed swiftly until he had joined Aboli.  "Where is this light?"
He scanned the darkness ahead.  "I see nothing."

"It has gone, but it was almost dead ahead."  "A star in your eye,
Aboli?"

"Wait, Gundwane.  It was a small light and far away."

The minutes passed slowly, and then suddenly Hal saw it.  Not even a
glimmer, but a soft luminescence, so nebulous that he doubted his eyes,
especially as Aboli beside him had shown no sign of seeing it.  Hal
looked away to rest his eyes then turned back and saw in the darkness
that it was still there, too low for a star, a weird unnatural glow.

"Yes, Aboli.  I see it now."  As he spoke it became brighter, and Aboli
exclaimed also.  Then it died away again.  "it could be a strange
vessel, not the Gull."

"Surely the Buzzard would not be so careless as to show a running
light."

"A lantern in the stern cabin?  The reflection from his binnacle?"

"Or one of his sailors enjoying a quiet pipe?

"Let us pray that it is one of those.  It is where we could expect the
Buzzard to be," said Hal.  "We will keep after it until moonrise."

They stayed together, peering ahead into the night.  Sometimes the
strange light showed as a distinct point, at others it was a faint
amorphous glow, and often it disappeared.  Once it was gone completely
for a terrifying half hour, before it shone again perceptibly
stronger.

"We are gaining," Hal dared whisper.  "How far off now, do you
reckon?"

"A league, said Aboli, "maybe less."

"Where is the moon?"  Hal looked into the east, "Will it never rise?"

He saw the first iridescence beyond the dark mountains of Arabia and,
shyly as a bride, the moon unveiled her face.  She laid down a silver
path upon the waters, and Hal felt his breath lock in his chest and
every sinew of his body drawn tight as a bowstring.

Out of the darkness ahead appeared a lovely apparition, soft as a cloud
of op aline mist.

"There she is!"  he whispered.  He had to draw a deep breath to steady
his voice.  "The Gull of Moray dead ahead."

He grasped Aboli's arm.  "Do you go down and warn Ned Tyler and Big
Daniel.  Stay there until you can see the Gull from the deck, then come
back."

When Aboli was gone he watched the shape of the Gull's sails firm and
harden in the moonlight, and he felt fear as he had seldom known it in
his life, fear not only for himself but for the men who trusted him and
the woman on the deck below and the child aboard the other ship.  How
could he hope to lay the Golden Bough alongside the Gull while she
fired her broadsides into them, and they could make no reply?  How many
must die in the next hour and who would be among them?  He thought of
Judith Nazet's proud slim body torn by flying grape.  "Do not let it
happen, Lord God.  You have taken from me already more than I can
bear.

How much more?  How much more will you ask of me?"

He saw the light again on board the other ship.  It glowed from the
tall windows in her stern.  Were there candles burning in there?  He
stared until his eyes ached, but there was no single source to the
emanation of light.

There was a light touch on his arm.  He had not heard Aboli climb back
to him.  "The Gull is in sight from the deck, "he told Hal softly.

Hal could not leave the masthead yet, for he felt a sense of religious
dread as he stared at the strange light in the Gull's stern.

"Tis no lamp or lantern or candle, Aboli," he said.  "Tis the
Tabernacle of Mary that glows in the darkness.  A beacon to guide me to
my destiny."

Aboli shivered beside him.  "Tis true that it is a light not of this
world, a fairy light, such as I have never seen before."  His voice
shook.  "But how do you know, Gundwane?  How can you be so sure that it
is the talisman that burns so?"

"Because I know," said Hal simply, and as he said it the light died
away before their eyes, and the Gull was dark.  Only her moonlit sails
towered before them.

"It was a sign,"Aboli murmured.

"Yes, it was a sign," said Hal, and his voice was strong and serene
once again.  "God has given me a sign."

They climbed down to the deck, and Hal went directly to the helm.
"There she is, Mister Tyler."  They both looked ahead to where the
Gull's canvas shone in the moonlight.

"Aye, there she is, Captain."

"Douse the light in the binnacle.  Lay me alongside the Gull, if you
please.  Have four spare helmsmen standing by to take the whipstall
when the others are killed."

"Aye, Sir."  Hal went forward.  Big Daniel's figure emerged out of the
darkness.  "Grappling irons, Master Daniel?"

"All ready, Captain.  Me and ten of my strongest men will heave
them."

"Nay, Daniel, leave that to John Lovell.  I have better work for you
and Aboli.  Come with me."

He led Daniel and Aboli back to where Judith Nazet stood at the foot of
the mainmast.

"The two of you will go with General Nazet.  Take ten of your best
seamen.  Do not get caught up in the fighting on deck.  Swift as you
can, get down to the Gull's stern cabin.  There you will find the
Tabernacle and the child.  Bring them out.  Nothing must turn you aside
from that purpose.  Do you understand?"

"How do you know where they are holding the Emperor and the Tabernacle?
"Judith Nazet asked quietly.

"I know," Hal said, with such finality that she was silent.  He wanted
to order her to stay in a safe place until the fight was over, but he
knew she would refuse and besides which there was no safe place when
two ships of such force were locked in mortal combat.

"Where will you be, Gundwane?"Aboli asked softly.

"I shall be with the Buzzard," Hal said, and left them without another
word.

He went towards the bows, pausing as he reached each of the divisions
who crouched below the gunwale, and speaking softly to their
boatswains.  "God love you, Samuel Moone.  We might have to take a shot
or two before we board her, but think of the pleasure that waits you on
the Gull's deck."

To Jiri he said, "This will be such a fight as you will boast of to
your grandchildren."

He had a word for each, then stood once more in the bows and looked
across at the Gull.  She was a cable's length ahead now, sailing on
serenely under her moon, radiant canvas.

"Lord, keep us hidden from them," he whispered, and looked up at his
own black sails, a tall dark pyramid against the stars.

Slowly, achingly slowly they closed the gap.  She cannot elude us now,
Hal thought, with grim satisfaction.  We are too close.

Suddenly there came a wild scream of terror from the Gull's masthead.
"Sail ho!  Dead astern!  The Golden Bough!"  Then all was shouting and
confusion on the other ship's deck.  There was the savage beat of a
drum calling the Buzzard's crew to battle quarters, and the rush of
many feet on her planking.  A loud series of crashes as her gun ports
were flung open, and then the squeal and rumble as the guns were run
out.  From twenty points along her dark rail came the glow of
slow-match burning, and the glint of their reflection from steel.

"Light the battle lamps!"  Hal heard the Buzzard's bellows of rage as
he drove his panicky crew to their stations, then clearly his order to
the helm.  "Hard to larboard!  Lay the bastards under our broadside!

We'll give them such a good sniff of gunsmoke that they'll fart it in
the devil's face when we send them down to hell."

The Gull's battle lanterns flared, as she lit up to give her gunners
light to work.  In their yellow glow Hal glimpsed the Buzzard's bush of
red hair.

Then the silhouette of the Gull altered rapidly as she came around. Hal
nodded, the Buzzard had acted instinctively but unwisely.  In his
position Hal would have stood off and shot the Golden Bough to a wreck
while she was unable to reply.  Now he would have to be fortunate and
quick to get off one steady broadside before the Golden Bough was upon
him.

Hal grinned.  The Buzzard was the victim of his own iniquity.  Probably
it had not even entered his calculations that Hal would hold his fire
on account of a child and an ancient relic.  If he were in the same
position as Hal, the Buzzard would have blazed away with all his
cannon.

As the Gull came slowly around, the Golden Bough flew at her and, for a
moment, Hal thought they might be alongside her before her guns could
bear.

They closed the last hundred yards and Ned had already given the order
to shorten to fighting sail, when the Gull turned through the last few
degrees of arc and all her guns were aimed straight at where Hal
stood.

Looking directly into the Gull's battery, Hal's eyeballs were seared by
the brilliant crimson glow as she fired her broadside into the Golden
Bough at point-blank range.

A tempest of disrupted air struck them so viciously that Hal was hurled
backwards and thought that he had been hit by a ball.  The deck around
him dissolved into a buzzing storm of splinters and the knot of Amadoda
nearest him were struck squarely and blown into nothingness.  The
Golden Bough heeled over sharply to the weight of shot that tore
through her, and the choking fog of gunsmoke drifted over her shattered
hull.

The terrible silence that followed the thunder of the broadside was
marred only by the screams and groans of the wounded and the dying.

Then the wall of gunsmoke was blown aside, and from across the narrow
gap of water came the cheering of the other crew.  "The Gull and
Cumbrae!"  and Hal heard the rumble of the gun trains as they were run
in-board to be reloaded.

How many of my lads are dead?  he wondered.  A quarter?  Half?  He
looked back at his own decks, but the darkness hid from his eyes the
torn timbers and the heaps of dead and dying.

From across the water he heard the thudding of ramrods forcing powder
and shot down the barrels of the guns.  "Faster!"  he whispered.

"Faster, my darling.  Close the gap and do not make us face another
such blast."

He heard the squeal of the tackle and the rumble as one of the swiftest
gun crews completed loading before the others and ran out its culverin.
The two ships were now so close together that Hal saw the monstrous
gaping barrel come poking out through its gun port  With the muzzle
almost touching the Golden Bough's side it roared again, and timbers
shattered and men screamed as the heavy ball tore through them.

Then before any more of the Gull's guns could be run out, the two ships
came together with a rending, grinding crash.  In the light of the
Gull's battle lanterns Hal saw the grappling hooks hurled over her side
and heard them clatter on her deck.  He did not hesitate but sprang to
the gunwale and leaped across the narrow strip of water as the two
hulls surged alongside each other.  He landed lightly as a cat among
the nearest of the Buzzard's gun crews and killed two men before they
could draw their cutlasses.

Then a wave of his boarders followed him over her side, led by the
Amadoda armed with pike and axe.  Within seconds the Gull's upper deck
was transformed into a battlefield.  Men fought chest to chest and hand
to hand, shouting and yelling with rage and terror.

"El Tazar!"  roared the men of the Golden Bough, to be answered by,
"The Gull and Cumbrae!"  as they came together.

Hal found himself confronted by four men simultaneously and was driven
back to the rail before John Lovell tore into them from behind and
killed one with a thrust between the shoulder-blades.  Hal killed
another as he hesitated and the other two broke and ran.  Hal had a
moment to look about him.  He saw the Buzzard on the far side of the
deck, roaring with rage, the great claymore swinging high above his
head as he hacked down the men in front of him.

Then from the corner of his eye Hal caught the glint of Judith Nazet's
steel helmet and, towering on each side of her, the forms of Aboli and
Big Daniel.  They drove across the deck and disappeared down the
companionway to the stern cabin.  That moment of distraction might have
cost Hal his life for a man stabbed at him with a pike, and he turned
only just in time to avoid the thrust.  Then he was in the midst of the
fight again as it swayed back and forth across the deck.

He put down another man with a thrust in the belly, then looked about
for the Buzzard.  He saw him in the waist, and shouted at him,
"Cumbrae, I am coming for you!"  But in the uproar the Buzzard did not
look round at him, and Hal started towards him cutting a path for
himself through the mob of fighting men.

At that moment one of the main shrouds was cut loose by a swinging axe
that missed the head at which it was aimed, and the battle lantern that
was suspended from it came crashing to the deck at Hal's feet.  He
sprang back from the blaze of burning oil that roared up into his face
then gathered himself and leapt through the flames to reach the
Buzzard.

He landed on the far side and looked about him swiftly, but the Buzzard
had disappeared and instead two of his sailors charged at Hal.  He took
them on and slashed through the sinews of an extended sword arm as one
lunged at him.  Then, in the same movement, he changed cut to thrust
and drove his point deeply into the second man's throat.

He recovered and glanced back over his shoulder.  The flames from the
shattered lantern had taken hold and were lighting the deck brightly.
Streamers of fire were running up the dangling shroud towards the
rigging.  Through the dancing flames he saw Judith Nazet leap out of
the entrance to the stern companionway.  She was followed closely by
Big Daniel carrying the Tabernacle of Mary, balanced easily on his
shoulder as though it were light as a down filled bolster.  The golden
angels on its lid sparkled in the light of the flames.

A sailor rushed at Judith with his pike, and Hal shouted with horror as
the gleaming spearhead struck her full in the side under her raised
arm.  It tore through the thin cotton of her tunic, but glanced
harmlessly off the shirt of steel chain-mail beneath the cloth.  Judith
whirled like an angry panther, and her blade flashed as she aimed at
his face.  Such was the fury of her blow that the point came out of the
back of the pirate's skull, and the man dropped at her feet.

Judith's fierce dark eyes met Hal's across the teeming deck.

"Iyasu!"  she shouted.  "He is gone!"  The flames were leaping up
between them, and Hal yelled through them, "Go with Daniel!  Get off
this ship!  Take the Tabernacle to safety on the Golden Bough.  I will
find Iyasu."

She neither argued nor hesitated but ran, with Daniel beside her, to
the rail and leaped across onto the Golden Bough's deck.  Hal started
to fight his way towards the companionway to reach the lower decks
where the child must be hidden, but a phalanx of Amadoda led by Jiri
swept across the deck and cut him off.  The black warriors had locked
their shields together into the solid carapace of the testudo and, with
their pikes thrust through the gaps, the pirates could not stand before
their charge.

In every battle there comes a moment when its outcome is decided and as
the Gull's sailors scattered before that rush of howling, prancing
warriors it had come.  The Buzzard's men were beaten.

"I must find Iyasu and get him off the Gull before the flames reach the
powder magazine," Hal told himself, and turned towards the break in the
forecastle as his easiest access to the lower decks.  At that moment a
bellow stopped him dead.

The Buzzard stood on high, lit by the dancing yellow light of the
flames.  "Courtney!"  he roared.  "Is this what you are searching
for?"

His head was bared and his tangled red locks tumbled about his face. In
his right hand he held his claymore, and in his left he carried Iyasu.
The child was screaming with terror as the Buzzard lifted him high.  He
wore only a thin nightshirt, which had tucked up above his waist, and
his slender brown legs kicked frantically in the air.

"Is this what you are looking for?"  the Buzzard bellowed again, and
lifted the child high above his head.  "Then come and fetch the
brat."

Hal bounded forward, cutting two men out of his way, before he reached
the foot of the forecastle ladder.  The Buzzard watched him come.  He
must have known that he was beaten, with his ship in flames and his
crew being cut down and hurled overboard by the rush of the pike men
but he grinned like a gargoyle.  "Let me show you a fine little trick,
Sir Henry.  It's called catch the hairn on the steel.t With a sweep of
his thick hairy arm he threw the child fifteen feet straight up in the
air, and then held the point of the claymore beneath him as he
dropped.

"No!"  Hal screamed wildly.

At the last instant before the child was impaled on the point the
Buzzard flicked aside the sword and Iyasu fell back unscathed into his
grasp.

"Parley!"  Hal shouted.  "Give me the child unharmed and you can go
free, with all your booty."

"What a bargain!  But my ship is burned and my booty with it."

"Listen to me," Hal pleaded.  "Let the boy go free."

"How can I refuse a brother Knight?"  the Buzzard asked, still
spluttering with laughter.  "You shall have what you ask.  There!  I
set the little black bastard free.  "With another mighty swing of his
arm he hurled Iyasu far out over the ship's side.  The child's shirt
fluttered around his little body as he fell.  Then, with only a soft
splash, the dark sea swallowed him.

Behind him Hal heard Judith Nazet scream.  He dropped his sword to the
deck and with three running strides reached the rail and dived head
first over the side.  He struck the water and knifed deep, then turned
for the surface.

Looking up from twenty feet deep, the water was clear as mountain air.
He could see the weed-fouled bottom of the Gull drifting past him, and
the reflection of the flames from the burning ship dancing on the
surface ripple.  Then, between him and the firelight, he saw a small
dark shape.  The tiny limbs were struggling like a fish in a net and
silver bubbles streamed from Iyasu's mouth as he turned end over end in
the wake of the hull.

Hal struck out with arms and legs and reached him before he was whirled
away.  Holding him to his chest he shot to the surface, and lifted the
child's face clear.

Iyasu struggled feebly, coughing and choking, then he let out a thin,
terrified wail.  "Blow it all out of you," said Hal, and looked
around.

Big Daniel must have recalled his men, then cut the grappling lines to
get the Golden Bough away from the burning hull.  The two ships were
drifting apart.  The seamen from the Gull were leaping over her sides
as the heat of the flames washed over them and her main sail caught
fire.  The Gull began to sail with flaming canvas and no hand on her
helm.  She bore down slowly on where Hal trod water, and he struck out
desperately with one hand, dragging Iyasu out of her path.

For a long, dreadful minute it seemed that they would be trodden under,
then a fluke of the wind pushed the bows across a point and she passed
less than a boat's length from them.

With amazement Hal saw that the Buzzard still stood alone on the break
of the forecastle.  The flames surrounded him, but he did not seem to
feel their heat.  His beard began to smoke and blacken, but he looked
down at Hal and choked with laughter.  He gasped for breath then opened
his mouth to shout something to him, but at that moment the Gull's
foresail sheets burned clean through and the huge spread of canvas came
floating down, covering the Buzzard.  From under that burning shroud
Hal heard one last terrible shriek and then the flames leapt high, and
the stricken Gull bore away her master on the wind.

Hal watched him go until the swells of the ocean intervened and he lost
sight of the burning ship.  Then a freak wave lifted him and the child
high.  The Gull was a league off, and at that instant the flames must
have reached her powder magazine for she blew up with a devastating
roar, and Hal felt the waters constrict his chest as the force of the
explosion was transmitted through them.  He watched still as burning
timbers were hurled high into the night sky then fell to quench in the
dark waters.  Darkness and silence descended again.

There was neither sight nor sign of the Golden Bough in the night.

The child was weeping piteously, and Hal had no word of Geez to comfort
him, so he held his head clear and spoke to him in English.  "There's a
good strong lad.  You have to be brave, for you are born an Emperor,
and I know for certain that an Emperor never cries."  But Hal's boots
and sodden clothing were drawing him down, and he had to swim hard to
resist.  He kept the two of them afloat for the rest of that long
night, but in the dawn he knew that he was near the end of his strength
and the child was shivering and whimpering softly in his arms.  "Not
long now, Iyasu, and it will be bright day," he croaked through his
salt-scalded throat, but he knew that neither of them could last that
long.

"Gundwane!"  He heard a well-beloved voice call to him, but he knew it
was delirium and he laughed aloud.  "Don't play tricks on me now," he
said, "I do not have the stomach for it.  Let me be in peace."

Then, out of the darkness, he saw a shape emerge, heard the splash of
oars pulling hard towards him, and the voice called again,
"Gundwane!"

"Aboli!  his voice cracked.  "I am here!"  Those great black hands
reached down and seized him, lifted him and the child over the side of
the longboat.  As soon as he was aboard Hal looked about him.  With all
her lanterns lit, the Golden Bough lay hove to half a league across the
water but Judith Nazet sat before him in the stern sheets and she took
the child from Hal and wrapped him in her cloak.  She crooned to Iyasu
and spoke soothingly to him in Geez, while the crew pulled back towards
the ship.  Before they reached the GoLden Bough Iyasu was asleep in her
arms.

"The Tabernacle?"  Hal asked Aboli hoarsely.  "Is it safe?"  "It is in
your cabin,"Aboli assured him, and then dropped his voice.  "All of
this is as your father foretold.  At last the stars must set you free,
for you have fulfilled the prophecy."

Hal felt a deep sense of Mfilment come over him, and the desperate
weariness slid from his shoulders like a discarded mantle, He felt
light and free as though released from some long, onerous penance.  He
looked across at Judith, who had been watching him.  There was
something in her dark gaze that he could not fathom, but she dropped
her eyes before he could read it clearly.  Hal wanted to move closer to
her, to touch her, speak to her and tell her about these strange,
powerful feelings that possessed him, but four ranks of rowers
separated them in the small, crowded boat.

As they approached the Golden Bough her crew were in the rigging and
they cheered him as the longboat latched onto her chains.  Aboli
offered Hal a hand to help him climb the ladder to the deck but Hal
ignored it and went up alone.  He paused as he saw the long line of
canvas shrouded corpses laid out in the waist, and the terrible damage
that the Gull's gunfire had wrought to his ship.  But this was not the
time to brood on that, he thought.  They would send the dead men over
side and mourn them later, but now was the hour of victory.  Instead he
looked around the grinning faces of his crew.  "Well, you ruffians paid
out the Buzzard and his cutthroats in a heavier coin than they
bargained for.  Mister Tyler, break out the rum barrel and give a
double ration to every hand aboard to toast the Buzzard on his way to
hell.  Then set a course back to Mitsiwa roads."

He took the child from Judith Nazet's arms and carried him down to the
stern cabin.  He laid him on the bunk, and turned to Judith who stood
close beside him.  "He is a sturdy lad, and has come to little harm. We
should let him sleep."

"Yes" she said quietly, looking up at him with that same inscrutably
dark gaze.  Then she took his hand and led him to the curtained alcove
where the Tabernacle of Mary stood.

"Will you pray with me, El Tazar?"  she asked, and they knelt
together.

"We thank you, Lord, for sparing the life of our Emperor, your tiny
servant, Iyasu.  We thank you for delivering him from the wicked hands
of the blasphemer.  We ask your blessing upon his arms in the conflict
that lies ahead.  When the victory is won, we beseech you, Lord, to
grant him a long and peaceful reign.  Make him a wise and gentle
monarch.  For thy name's sake, Amen!"

"Amen!"  Hal echoed, and made to rise, but she restrained him with a
hand on his arm.

"We thank you also, Lord God, for sending to us your good and faithful
Henry Courtney, without whose valour and selfless service the godless
would have triumphed.  May he be fully rewarded by the gratitude of all
the people of Ethiopia, and by the love and admiration that your
servant, Judith Nazet, has conceived towards him."

Hal felt the shock of her words reverberate through his whole body and
turned to look at her, but her eyes were closed.  He thought that he
had misheard her, but then her grip on his arm tightened.  She stood
and drew him up with her.

Still without looking at him she led him out of the main cabin to the
small adjoining one, closed the door and bolted it.

"Your clothes are wet," she said, and, like a handmaiden, began to
undress him.  Her movements were calm and slow.  She touched his chest
when it was bared and ran her long brown fingers down his flanks.  She
knelt before him to loosen his belt and peel down his breeches.  When
he was completely naked she stared at his manhood with a dark profound
gaze, but without touching him there.  She rose to her feet, took his
hand and led him to the hard wooden bunk.  He tried to pull her down
beside him, but she pushed away his hands.

Standing before him she began to undress.  She unlaced the chain-mail
shirt, which fell to the deck around her feet.  Beneath the heavy,
masculine, warlike garb, her body was a paradox of femininity.  Her
skin was a translucent amber.  Her breasts were small, but the nipples
were hard, round and dark red as ripe berries.  Her lean hips were
sculpted into the sweet sweep of her waist.  The bush of curls that
covered her mount of Venus was crisp and a lustrous black.

At last she came to where he lay, and stooped over and kissed deeply
into his mouth.  Then she gave an urgent little cry and with a lithe
movement fell upon him.  He was astonished by the strength and
suppleness of her body as he reached up and cleaved to her.

In the late afternoon of that hot, dreamlike day, they were aroused by
the crying of the child in the cabin next door.  Judith sighed but rose
immediately.  While she dressed she watched him as though she wished to
remember every detail of his face and body.  Then, as she laced her
armour she came to stand over him, "Yes, I do love you.  But, in the
same fashion as he chose you, God has singled me out for a special
task.  I must see the boy Emperor safely installed upon the throne of
Prester John in Aksurn."  She was silent a while longer, then said
softly, "If I kiss you again, I may lose my resolve.  Goodbye, Henry
Courtney.  I wish with all my heart that I were a common maid and that
it could have been otherwise."  She strode to the door and went to wait
upon her King.

Hal anchored off the beach in Mitsiwa roads and lowered the longboat.
Reverently Daniel Fisher placed the Tabernacle of Mary on its
floorboards.  Judith Nazet, in full armour and war helmet, stood in the
bows holding the hand of the little boy beside her.  Hal took the
tiller and ten seamen rowed them in through the low surf towards the
beach.

Bishop Fasilides and fifty war captains waited for them on the red
sands.  Ten thousand warriors lined the cliffs above.  As they
recognized their general and their monarch, they began to cheer and the
cheering swept away across the plain, until it was carried by fifty
thousand voices to echo along the desert hills.

Those regiments that had lost heart and were already on the road back
to the mountains and the far interior, believing themselves deserted by
their General and their Emperor, heard the sound and turned back.  Rank
upon rank, column upon column, a mighty confluence, the hoofs of their
horses raising a tall cloud of red dust, their weapons sparkling in the
sunlight and their voices swelling the triumphant chorus, they came
pouring back out of the hills.

Fasilides came forward to greet lyasu, as he stepped ashore, hand in
hand with Judith.  The fifty captains knelt in the sand, raised their
swords and called down God's blessings upon him.  Then they crowded
forward and competed fiercely for the honour of bearing the Tabernacle
of Mary upon their shoulders.  Singing a battle hymn, they wound in
procession up the cliff path.

Judith Nazet mounted her black stallion with its golden chest armour
and its crest of ostrich feathers.  She wheeled the horse and urged
him, rearing and prancing, to where Hal stood at the water's edge.

"If the battle goes with us, the pagan will try to escape by sea.
Visit the wrath and the vengeance of Almighty God upon him with your
fair ship," she ordered.  "If the battle goes against us, have the
Golden Bough waiting here at this place to take the Emperor to
safety."

"I will be here waiting for you, General Nazet."  Hal looked up at her
and tried to give the words a special emphasis.

She leaned down from the saddle and her eyes were dark and bright
behind the steel nose-piece of her helmet, but he could not be sure
whether the brightness was warrior ferocity or the tears of the lost
lover.

"I will wish all the days of my life that it could have been otherwise,
El Tazar."  She straightened up, wheeled the stallion away and went up
the cliff path.  The Emperor Iyasu turned in Bishop Fasilides" arms and
waved back at Hal.  He called something in Geez, and his high, piping
voice carried down faintly to where Hal stood at the water's edge, but
he understood not a word of it.

He waved back and shouted, "You too, lad!  You too!"  The Golden Bough
put out to sea and, beyond the fifty-fathom line with their heads bared
in the stark African sunlight, they committed their dead to the sea.
There were forty-three in those canvas shrouds, men of Wales and Devon
and the mysterious lands along the Zambere River, all comrades now for
ever.

Then Hal ran the ship back into the shallow protected waters where he
put every man to work repairing the battle damage and recharging the
powder magazine with the munitions that General Nazet sent out from the
shore.

On the third morning he woke in the darkness to the sound of the guns.
He went on deck immediately.  Aboli was standing by the lee rail.  "It
has begun, Gundwane.  The General has pitted her army against El Grang
in the final battle."

They stood together at the rail and looked towards the dark shore,
where the far hills were lit by the hellish flashes of the battlefield
and a vast pall of dust and smoke climbed slowly into the windless sky
and billowed out into the anvil shape of a tall tropical thunderhead.

"If El Grang is beaten, he will try to escape with all his army across
the sea to Arabia," Hal told Ned Tyler and Aboli, as they listened to
the ceaseless pandemonium of the cannon.  "Weigh anchor and put the
ship on a southerly course.  We will go down to meet the fugitives as
they try to escape from Adulis Bay."

It was past noon when the Golden Bough took up her station off the
mouth of the bay and shortened sail.  The sound of the guns never
ceased and Hal climbed to the masthead and focused his telescope on the
wide plain beyond Zulla where the two great hosts were locked in the
death struggle.

Through the curtains of dust and smoke he could make out the tiny
shapes of the horsemen as they charged and counter-charged, wraithlike
in the dust of their own hoofs.  He saw the long flashes of the great
guns, pale red in the sunlight, and the snaking regiments of
foot-soldiers winding through the red fog like dying serpents, their
spearheads glistening like the reptiles" scales.

Slowly the battle rolled towards the shoreline and Hal saw a charge of
cavalry sweep along the top of the cliffs and tear into a loose, untidy
formation of infantry.  The sabres rose and fell and the foot-soldiers
scattered before them.  Men began to hurl themselves from the cliffs
into the sea below.

"Who are they?"  Hal fretted.  "Whose horses are those?"  And then
through the lens he made out the white cross of Ethiopia at the head of
the mass of horsemen as they raced on towards Zutla.

"Nazet has beaten them," said Aboli.  "El Grang's army is in rout!"

"Put a leadsman to take soundings, Mister Tyler.  Take us in closer."

The Golden Bough glided silently into the mouth of the bay, cruising
only a cable's length offshore.  From the masthead Hal watched the dun
clouds of war roll ponderously towards the beach, and the rabble of El
Grang's defeated army streaming back before the Ethiopian cavalry
squadrons.

They threw down their weapons and stumbled down to the water's edge to
find any vessel to take them off, A motley armada of dhows of every
size and condition, packed with fugitives, set out from the beaches
around the blazing port of Zulla towards the opening of the bay.

"Sweet heavens!"  laughed Big Daniel.  "They are so thick upon the
water that a man might cross from one side of the bay to the other over
their crowded hulls without wetting his feet."

"Run out your guns, please, Master Daniel, and let us see if we can wet
more than their feet for them," Hal ordered.  The Golden Bough ploughed
into this vast fleet and the little boats tried to flee, but she
overhauled them effortlessly and her guns began to thunder.  One after
the other they were shattered and capsized, and their cargoes of
exhausted, defeated troops hurled into the water.  Their armour bore
them down swiftly.

It was such a terrible massacre that the gunners no longer cheered as
they ran out the guns, but served them in grim silence.  Hal walked
along the batteries, and spoke to them sternly.  "I know how you feel,
lads, but if you spare them now, you may have to fight them again
tomorrow, and who can say that they will give you quarter if you ask
for it then?"

He, also, was sickened by the slaughter, and longed for the setting of
the sun, or any other chance to cease the carnage.  That opportunity
came from an unlooked-for direction.

Aboli left his station at the starboard battery of cannon and ran back
to where Hal paced his quarterdeck.  Hal looked up at him sharply, but
before he could snap a reprimand, Aboli pointed out over the starboard
bow.

"That ship with the red sail.  The man in the stern.  Do you see him,
Gundwane?"

Hal felt the prickle of apprehension on his arms and the cold sweat
sliding down his back as he recognized the tall figure standing and
leaning back against the tiller arm.  He was clean-shaven now, the
spiked moustaches were gone.  He wore a turban of yellow, and the
heavily embroidered dolman of an Islamic grandee over baggy white
breeches and soft knee-high boots, but his pale face stood out like a
mirror among the dark-bearded men around him.  There may have been
others with the same wide set of shoulders and tall athletic figure,
but none with the same sword upon the hip, in its scabbard of embossed
gold.

"Bring the ship about, Mister Tyler.  Heave to alongside that dhow with
the red sail," Hal ordered.

Ned looked where he pointed then swore.  "Son of a bawd, that's
Schreuder!  May the devil damn him to hell."  The Arab crew ran to the
side of the dhow as the tall frigate bore down upon them.  They jumped
overboard and tried to swim back towards the beach, choosing the sabres
of the Ethiopian cavalry rather than the gaping culver ins of the
Golden Bough's broadside.  Schreuder stood alone in the stern and
looked up at the frigate with his cold, unrelenting expression.  As
they drew closer, Hal saw that his face was streaked with dust and
powder soot, and that his clothing was torn and soiled with the muck of
the battlefield.

Hal strode to the rail and returned his stare.  They were so close that
Hal had hardly to raise his voice to make himself heard.  "Colonel
Schreuder, sir, you have my sword."

"Then, sir, would you care to come down and take it from me?"
Schreuder asked.

"Mister `;47/' Tyler, you have the con in my absence.  Take me closer to the
dhow so that I may board her.

"This is madness, Gundwane,"Aboli said softly.

"Make sure neither you nor any man intervenes, Aboli," Hal said, and
went to the entry port  As the little dhow bobbed close alongside, he
slid down the ladder and jumped across the narrow gap of water, landing
lightly on her single deck.

He drew his sword and looked to the stern.  Schreuder stepped away from
the tiller bar and shrugged out of the stiff dolman tunic.

"You are a "romantic fool, Henry Courtney," he murmured, and the blade
of the Neptune sword whispered softly from its scabbard.

"To the death?"  Hal asked, as he drew his own blade.  "Naturally."
Schreuder nodded gravely.  "For I am going to kill you."

They came together with the slow grace of two lovers beginning a
minuet.  Their blades met and flirted as they circled, tap and brush
and slither of steel on steel, their feet never still, points held high
and eyes locked.

Ned Tyler held the frigate fifty yards off, keeping that interval with
deft touches of helm and trim of her shortened sails.  The men lined
the near rail.  They were quiet and attentive.  Although few understood
the finer points of style and technique, they could not but be aware of
the grace and beauty of this deadly ritual.

"An eye for his eyes!"  Hal seemed to hear his father's voice in his
head.  "Read in them his soul!"

Schreuder's face remained gravel but Hal saw the first shadow in his
cold blue eyes.  It was not fear, but it was respect.  Even with these
light touches of their blades, Schreuder had evaluated his man.
Remembering their previous encounters, he had not expected to be met
with such strength and skill.  As for Hal he knew that, if he lived
through this, he would never again dance so close to death and smell
its breath as he did now.

Hal saw it in his eyes, the moment before Schreuder opened his attack,
stepping in lightly and then driving at him with a rapid series of
lunges.  He moved back, checking each thrust but feeling the power in
it.  He hardly heard the excited growl of the watchers on the deck of
the frigate above them, but he watched Schreuder's eyes and met him
with the high point.  The Dutchman drove suddenly for his throat, his
first serious stroke, and the moment Hal blocked he disengaged fluidly
and dropped on bent right knee and cut for Hal's ankle, the Achilles
stroke intended to cripple him.

Hal vaulted lightly over the flashing golden blade but felt it tug at
the heel of his boot.  With both feet in the air he was momentarily out
of balance and Schreuder straightened and like a striking cobra turned
the angle of his blade and went for Hal's belly.  Hal sprang back but
felt it touch him, no pain from that razor edge but just a tiny snick.
He bounced back off his left foot, and aimed for one of Schreuder's
blue eyes.  He saw the surprise in that eye, but then Schreuder rolled
his head and the point slit his cheek.

They backed and circled, both men bleeding now.  Hal felt the warm
wetness soaking through the front of his shirt, and a scarlet snake ran
slowly down past the corner of Schreuder's thin lips and dripped from
his chin.

"First blood was mine, I think, sir?"  Schreuder asked.

"It was, sir."  Hal conceded.  "But whose will be the last?"  And the
words were not past his lips before Schreuder attacked in earnest.
While the watchers on the Golden Bough howled and danced with
excitement, he drove Hal step by step from the stern to the bows of the
dhow and pinned him there, with their blades locked, and forced his
back against the gunwale.  They stood like that with their blades
crossed in front of their faces, and their eyes only a hand's span
apart.  Their breath mingled and Hal watched the drops of sweat form on
Schreuder's upper lip as he strained to hold him like that.

Deliberately Hal swayed backwards, and saw the gleam of triumph in the
blue eyes so close to his own, but his back was loaded like a longbow
taking the weight of the archer's draw.  He unleashed and, with the
strength of his legs, arms and upper body, hurled Schreuder backwards.
With the impetus of that movement Hal went on the attack and, their
blades rasping and clashing together, he forced Schreuder back down the
open deck to the stern.

With the tiller arm digging into his spine, Schreuder could retreat no
further.  He caught up Hal's blade and with all the power of his wrist
forced him into the prolonged engagement, the ploy with which he had
killed Vincent Winterton and a dozen others before him.  Their swords
swirled and shrilled together, a silver whirlpool of molten sunlight
that held them apart yet locked them together.

On it went, and on.  The sweat streamed down both their faces, and
their breath came in short, urgent grunts.  It was death to the first
man to break.  Their wrists seemed forged from the same steel as their
blades, and then Hal saw something in Schreuder's eyes that he had
never dreamed of seeing there.  Fear, Schreuder tried to break the
circle and lock up the blades as he had with Vincent, but Hal refused
and forced him on and on.  He felt the first weakness in Schreuder's
iron sword arm, and saw the despair in his eyes.

Then Schreuder broke, and Hal was on him in the same instant that his
point dropped and his guard opened.  He hit him hard in the centre of
his chest and felt the point go home, strike bone, and the hilt thrill
in his hand.

The roar from the men on the deck of the frigate broke over them like a
wave of storm-driven surf.  In the moment that Hal felt the surge of
triumph and the live feeling of his blade buried deep in his opponent's
flesh, Schreuder reared back and raised the gold-inlaid blade of the
Neptune sword to the level of his eyes in which the sapphire lights
were beginning to fade, and lunged.

The forward movement forced Hal's blade deeper into his body, but as
the point of the Neptune sword flashed towards his chest Hal had no
defence.  He released his grip on the hilt of his own sword, and sprang
back, but he could not escape the reach of the golden sword or its
gimlet sharp point.

Hal felt the hit, high in the left side of his chest, and as he reeled
back felt the blade slip out of his flesh.  With an effort he kept his
feet, and the two men confronted each other, both hard hit but Hal
disarmed and Schreuder with the Neptune sword still clutched in his
right hand.

"I think I have killed you, sir,"Schreuder whispered.  "Perhaps.  But I
know I have killed you, sir," Hal answered him.

"Then I will make certain of my side of it," Schreuder grunted, and
took an unsteady pace towards him, but the strength went out of his
legs.  He sagged forward and fell to the deck.

Painfully Hal went down on one knee beside his body.  With his left
hand he clutched his own chest wound, but with his right he prised open
Schreuder's dead fingers from the hilt of the Neptune sword and with it
in his own hand rose to face the towering deck of the GoLden Bough.

He held the gleaming sword high, and they cheered him wildly.  The
sound of it echoed weirdly in Hal's ears and he blinked uncertainly as
the brilliant African sunlight faded and his eyes were filled with
shadows and darkness.

His legs gave way under him and he sat down heavily on the deck of the
dhow, bowed forward over the sword in his lap.

He felt but did not see the frigate bump against the dhow as Ned Tyler
brought her alongside, and then Aboli's hands were on his shoulders and
his voice was deep and close as he lifted Hal in his arms.

"It is over now, Gundwane.  All of it is done."

Ned Tyler took the ship deeper into the bay and anchored her in the
calm waters off the port of Zulla where now the white cross of Ethiopia
flew above the shot-battered walls.

Hal lay for fourteen days on the bunk in the stern cabin, attended only
by Aboli.  On the fifteenth day Aboli and Big Daniel lifted him into
one of the oak chairs and carried him up onto the deck.  The men came
to him one at a time with a touch of the forehead and a
self-consciously muttered greeting.

Under his eye they made the ship ready for sea.  The carpenters
replaced the timbers that had been shot away, and the sail makers re
sewed the torn sails.  Big Daniel plunged over side and swam under the
hull to check for damage beneath the waterline.  "She's tight and sweet
as a virgin's slit," he shouted up to the deck as he surfaced on the
other side.

There were many visitors from the shore.  Governors and nobles and
soldiers coming with gifts to thank Hal, and to stare at him in awe.
As he grew stronger, Hal was able to greet them standing on his
quarterdeck.  They brought news as well as gifts.

"General Nazet has borne the Emperor back to Aksum in triumph," they
told him.

Then, many days later, they said, "Praise God, the Emperor has been
crowned in Aksum.  Forty thousand people came to his coronation."  Hal
stared longingly at the far blue mountains, and that night slept
little.

Then in the morning Ned Tyler came to him.  "The ship is ready for sea,
Captain."

"Thank you, Mister Tyler."  Hal turned from him and left him standing
without orders.

Before he reached the companionway to the stern cabin, there came a
hail from the masthead.  "There is a boat putting out from the pard."
Eagerly Hal strode back to the rail.  He scanned the passengers,
searching for a slim figure in armour with a dark halo of curls around
a beloved amber face.  He felt the lead of disappointment weight his
limbs when he recognized only Bishop Fasilides" lanky frame and his
white beard blowing over his shoulder.

Fasilides came in through the entry port and made the sign of the
Cross. "Bless this fine ship, and all the brave men who sail in her."
The rough seamen bared their heads and went down on their knees.  When
he had blessed each, Fasilides came to Hal.  "I come as a messenger
from the Emperor."

"God bless him!"  Hal answered.

"I bring his greetings and his thanks to you and your men."

He turned to one of the priests who followed him and took from him the
heavy gold chain he carried.  "On the Emperor's behalf I bestow upon
you the order of the Golden Lion of Ethiopia."  He placed the chain
with its jeivelled medallion around Hal's neck.  "I bring with me the
prize monies that you have earned from your gallant war upon the pagan,
together with the reward that the Emperor personally sends you."

From the dhow they brought up a single small wooden chest.  It was too
heavy to be carried up the side, and it took four strong seamen on the
block and tackle to lift it to the Golden Bough's deck.

Fasilides lifted the lid of the chest and the sparkle of gold within
was dazzling in the sunlight.

"Well, my lads!"  Hal called to his men.  "You will have the price of a
flagon of beer in your purse when next we dock in Plymouth harbour."

"When will you sail?"  Fasilides wanted to know.

"All is in readiness," Hal replied.  "But tell me, what news of General
Nazet?"

Fasilides looked at him shrewdly.  "No news.  After the coronation she
disappeared, and the Tabernacle of Mary with her.  Some say she has
gone back into the mountains, whence she came."

Hal's face darkened.  "I will sail on tomorrow morning's tide, Father.
And I thank you and the Emperor for your charity and your blessings."

The following morning Hal was on deck two hours before sunrise, and all
the ship was awake.  The excitement that always attonded departure
gripped the Golden Bough.  Only Hal was unaffected by it.  The sense of
loss and betrayal was heavy upon him.  Though she had made no promise,
he had hoped with all his heart that Judith Nazet might come.  Now, as
he made his final tour of inspection of the ship, he steadfastly
refrained from looking back towards the shore.

Ned came to him.  "The tide has turned, Captain!  And the wind stands
fair to weather Dahlak Island on a single tack."

Hal could delay no longer.  "Up anchor, Mister Tyler.  Set all plain
sail.  Take us south to Elephant Lagoon.  We have some unfinished
business thereabouts."

Ned Tyler and Big Daniel grinned at the prospect of reclaiming their
share of the treasure that they knew was hidden there.

The canvas billowed out from her yards and the Golden Bough shook
herself and came awake.  Her bows swung round and steadied as they
pointed at the entrance to the open sea.

Hal stood, his hands clasped behind his back, and stared straight
ahead.  Aboli came to him then with a cloak over his arm, and when Hal
turned to him he shook it out and lifted it high for his appraisal.
"The croix pattge, the same as your father wore at the beginning of
every voyage."

"Where did you get that, Aboli?"

"I had it made for you in Zulla while you lay wounded.  You have earned
the right to wear it."  He spread it over Hal's shoulders, and stood
back to appraise him.  "You look like your father did on the first day
I saw him."  Those words gave Hal such pleasure as to lighten his
sombre mood.

"Deck!"  The hail from the lookout rang out of the lightening sky.

"Masthead?"  Hal threw his head back and looked up.  "Signal from the
shore!"

Hal turned quickly with the cloak swirling about him.

Above the walls of Zulla three bright red lights hung in the dawn sky,
and as he watched they floated gracefully back to earth.

"Three Chinese rockets!"  Aboli said.  "The recall signal."  "Put the
ship about, please, Mister Tyler," said Hal, and went to the rail as
the ship swung round.

"Boat putting out from the pard" came Aboli's hail.

Hal peered ahead and, out of the gloom, saw the shape of a small dhow
coming to meet them.  As the range closed and the light strengthened,
he felt his heart leap and his breath come shorter.

In the bows stood a figure in unfamiliar garb, a woman who wore a blue
caftan and a head cloth of the same colour.  As the boat drew alongside
she lifted the cloth from her head and Hal saw the glorious dark crown
of her hair.

He was waiting for her at the entry port  When Judith Nazet stepped
onto the deck, he greeted her awkwardly.  "Good morrow, General
Nazet."

"I am a general no longer.  Now I am only a common maid named Judith."
.

"You are welcome, Judith."

"I came as soon as I was able."  Her voice was husky and uncertain.
"Now at last Iyasu is crowned, and the Tabernacle has gone back to its
resting place in the mountains."

"I had despaired of you," he said.

"No, El Tazar.  Never do that," she answered him.

With surprise, Hal saw that the dhow was already on its way back to the
shore.  It had unloaded no baggage.  "You have brought nothing with
you?  "he asked.

"Only my heart, "she replied softly.  "I am southward bound," he said.
"Wherever you go, my lord, I go also."

Hal turned to Ned Tyler.  "Bring the ship round.  Lay her on the other
tack.  Course to clear Dahlak Island, and then south for the Bah El
Mandeb.  Full and by, Mister Tyler."

"Full and by it is, Captain."  Ned grinned widely and winked at Big
Daniel.

As the Golden Bough ran out to meet the dawn, Hal stood tall on her
quarterdeck, his left hand resting lightly on the sapphire in the
pommel of the Neptune Sword.  With his other arm he reached out and
drew Judith Nazet Closer to him.  She came willingly.

Courtney Series

Birds Of Prey 1

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Written by Administrator

Posted on 15.04.11

Birds Of Prey [047-142-011-4.7]

By: Wilbur Smith

Category: fiction naval history

Synopsis:

FROM A STORYTELLER AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS POWERS COMES A MAGNIFICENT TALE
OF HIGH SEAS AND HIGH ADVENTURE.

It is 1667 and the mighty naval war between the Dutch and the English
still rages.  Sir Francis Courtney and his son Hal, in their fighting
caravel, are on patrol off Southern Africa, lying in wait for a galleon
of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient laden with
spices, timber and gold....


Last printing: 06/02/02
`;47/' ISBN: 0-2844-109-7638-1
Author's Note

Although this story is set
in the mid-seventeenth century, the galleons and caravels in which my
characters find themselves are more usually associated with the
sixteenth century.  Seventeenth-century ships often bore a strong
resemblance to those of the sixteenth century, but as their names may
be unfamiliar to the general reader, I have used the better-known, if
anachronistic, terms to convey an accessible impression of their
appearance.  Also, for the sake of clarity, I have simplified
terminology in respect of firearms and, as it exists as such in common
idiom, I have occasionally used the word "cannon" as a generic.

The boy clutched at the rim of the canvas bucket in which he crouched
sixty feet AT above the deck as the ship went about.  The mast canted
over sharply as she thrust her head through the wind.  The ship was a
caravel named the Lady Edwina, after the mother whom the boy could
barely remember.

Far below in the pre-dawn darkness he heard the great bronze culver ins
slat against their blocks and come up with a thump against their
straining tackle.  The hull throbbed and resonated to a different
impulse as she swung round and went plunging away back into the west.
With the south-east wind now astern she was transformed, lighter and
more limber, even with sails reefed and with three feet of water in her
bilges.

It was all so familiar to Hal Courtney.  He had greeted the last five
and sixty dawns from the masthead in this manner.  His young eyes, the
keenest in the ship, had been posted there to catch the first gleam of
distant sail in the rose of the new day.

Even the cold was familiar.  He pulled the thick woollen Monmouth cap
down over his ears.  The wind sliced through his leather jerkin but he
was inured to such mild discomfort.  He gave it no heed and strained
his eyes out into the darkness.  "Today the Dutchmen will come," he
said aloud, and felt the excitement and dread throb beneath his ribs.

High above him the splendour of the stars began to pale and fade, and
the firmament was filled with the pearly promise of new day.  Now, far
below him, he could make out the figures on the deck.  He could
recognize Ned Tyler, the helmsman, bowed over the whipstall, holding
the ship true; and his own father stooping over the binnacle to read
the new course, the lantern lighting his lean dark features and his
long locks tangling and whipping in the wind.

With a start of guilt Hal looked out into the darkness; he should not
be mooning down at the deck in these vital minutes when, at any moment,
the enemy might loom close at hand out of the night.

By now it was light enough to make out the surface of the sea rushing
by the hull.  It had the hard iridescent shine of new-cut coal.

By now he knew this southern sea so well; this broad highway of the
ocean that flowed eternally down the eastern coast of Africa, blue and
warm and swarming with life.  Under his father's tutelage he had
studied it so that he knew the colour, the taste and run of it, each
eddy and surge.

One day he also would glory in the title of Nautonnier Knight of the
Temple of the Order of St.  George and the Holy Grail.  He would be, as
his father was, a Navigator of the Order.  His father was as determined
as Hal himself to bring that about, and, at seventeen years of age, his
goal was no longer merely a dream.

This current was the highway upon which the Dutchmen must sail to make
their we stings and their landfall on the mysterious coast that still
lay veiled out there in the night.  This was the gateway through which
all must pass who sought to round that wild cape that divided the Ocean
of the Indies from the Southern Atlantic.

This was why Sir Francis Courtney, Hal's father, the Navigator, had
chosen this position, at 34 degrees 25 minutes south latitude, in which
to wait for them.  Already they had waited sixty-five tedious days,
beating monotonously back and forth, but today the Dutchmen might come,
and Hal stared out into the gathering day with parted lips and
straining green eyes.

A cable's length off the starboard bow he saw the flash of wings high
enough in the sky to catch the first rays of the sun, a long flight of
gannets coming out from the land, snowy chests and heads of black and
yellow.  He watched the leading bird dip and turn, breaking the
pattern, and twist its head to peer down into the dark waters.  He saw
the disturbance below it, the shimmer of scales and the seething of the
surface as a shoal came up to the light.  He watched the bird fold its
wings and plunge downwards, and each bird that followed began its dive
at the same point in the air, to strike the dark water in a burst of
lacy foam.

Soon the surface was thrashed white by the diving birds and the
struggling silver anchovies on which they gorged.  Hal turned away his
gaze and swept the opening horizon.

His heart tripped as he caught the gleam of a sail, a tall ship
square-rigged, only a league to the eastward.  He had filled his lungs
and opened his mouth to hail the quarterdeck before he recognized her.
It was the Gull of Moray, a frigate, not a Dutch East Indiaman.  She
was far out of position, which had tricked Hal.

The Gull of Moray was the other principal vessel in the blockading
squadron.  The Buzzard, her captain, should be lying out of sight below
the eastern horizon.  Hal leaned out over the edge of the canvas crow's
nest and looked down at the deck.  His father, fists on his hips, was
staring up at him.

Hal called down the sighting to the quarterdeck, "The Gull hull up to
windward!"  and his father swung away to gaze out to the east.  Sir
Francis picked out the shape of the Buzzard's ship, black against the
darkling sky, and raised the slender brass tube of the telescope to his
eye.  Hal could sense anger in the set of his shoulders and the way in
which he slammed the instrument shut and tossed his mane of black
hair.

Before this day was out words would be exchanged between the two
commanders.  Hal grinned to himself With his iron will and spiked
tongue, his fists and blade, Sir Francis struck terror into those upon
whom he turned them even his brother Knights of the Order held him in
awe.  Hal was thankful that this day his father's temper would be
directed elsewhere than at him.

He looked beyond the Gull of Moray, sweeping the horizon as it extended
swiftly with the coming of day.  Hal needed no telescope to aid his
bright young eyes besides, only one of these costly instruments was
aboard.  He made out the others" sails then exactly where they should
be, tiny pale flecks against the dark sea.  The two pinnaces
maintaining their formation, beads in the necklace, were spread out
fifteen leagues on each side of the Lady Edwina, part of the net his
father had cast wide to ensnare the Dutchmen.

The pinnaces were open vessels, with a dozen heavily armed men crowded
into each.  When not needed they could be broken down and stowed in the
Lady Edwina's hold.  Sir Francis changed their crews regularly, for
neither the tough West Country men nor the Welsh nor the even hardier
ex-slaves that made up most of his crew could endure the conditions
aboard those little ships for long and still be fit for a fight at the
end of it.

At last the full steely light of day struck as the sun rose from the
eastern ocean.  Hal gazed down the fiery path it threw across the
waters.  He felt his spirits slide as he found the ocean empty of a
strange sail.  just as on the sixty-five preceding dawns, there was no
Dutchman in sight.

Then he looked northwards to the land mass that crouched like a great
rock sphim, dark and inscrutable, upon the horizon.  This was the
Agulhas Cape, the southernmost tip of the African continent.

"Africa!"  The sound of that mysterious name on his own lips raised
goose pimples along his arms and made the thick dark hair prickle on
the back of his neck.

"Africa!"  The uncharted land of dragons and other dreadful creatures,
who ate the flesh of men, and of darkskinned savages who also ate men's
flesh and wore their bones as decoration.

"Africa!"  The land of gold and ivory and slaves and other treasures,
all waiting for a man bold enough to seek them out, and, perhaps, to
perish in the endeavour.  Hal felt daunted yet fascinated by the sound
and promise of that name, its menace and challenge.

Long hours he had pored over the charts in his father's cabin when he
should have been learning by rote the tables of celestial passages, or
declining his Latin verbs.  He had studied the great interior spaces,
filled with drawings of elephants and lions and monsters, traced the
outlines of the Mountains of the Moon, and of lakes and mighty rivers
confidently emblazoned with names such as "Khoikhoi', and "Camdeboo',
"Sofala" and "the Kingdom of Prester John'.  But Hal knew from his
father that no civilized man had ever travelled into that awesome
interior and wondered, as he had so many times before, what it would be
like to be the first to venture there.  Prester John particularly
intrigued him.  This legendary ruler of a vast and powerful Christian
empire in the depths of the African continent had existed in the
European mythology for hundreds of years.  Was he one man, or a line of
emperors?  Hal wondered.

Hal's reverie was interrupted by shouted orders from the quarterdeck,
faint on the wind, and the feel of the ship as she changed course.
Looking down, he saw that his father intended to intercept the Gull of
Moray.  Under top sails only, and with all else reefed, the two ships
were now converging, both running westward towards the Cape of Good
Hope and the Atlantic.  They moved sluggishly they had been too long in
these warm southern waters, and their timbers were infested with the
Toredo worm.  No vessel could survive long out here.  The dreaded
shipworrns grew as thick as a man's finger and as long as his arm, and
they bored so close to each other through the planks as to honeycomb
them.  Even from his seat at the masthead Hal could hear the pumps
labouring in both vessels to lower the bilges.  The sound never ceased:
it was like the beating of a heart that kept the ship afloat.  It was
yet another reason why they must seek out the Dutchmen: they needed to
change ships.  The Lady Edwina was being eaten away beneath their
feet.

As the two ships came within hailing distance the crews swarmed into
the rigging and lined the bulwarks to shout ribald banter across the
water.

The numbers of men packed into each vessel never failed to amaze Hal
when he saw them in a mass like this.  The Lady Edwina was a ship of
170 tons burden, with an overall length of little more than 70 feet,
but she carried a crew of a hundred and thirty men if you included
those now manning the two pinnaces.  The Gull was not much larger, but
with half as many men again aboard.

Every one of those fighting men would be needed if they were to
overwhelm one of the huge Dutch East India galleons.  Sir Francis had
gathered intelligence from all the corners of the southern ocean from
other Knights of the Order, and knew that at least five of these great
ships were still at sea.  So far this season twenty-one of the
Company's galleons had made the passage and had called at the tiny
victualling station below the towering Tafelberg, as the Dutch called
it, or Table Mountain at the foot of the southern continent before
turning northwards and voyaging up the Atlantic towards Amsterdam.

Those five tardy ships, still straggling across the Ocean of the
Indies, must round the Cape before the southeasterly trades fell away
and the wind turned foul into the north-west.  That would be soon.

When the Gull of Moray was not cruising in the guerre de course, which
was a euphemism for privateering, Angus Cochran, Earl of Cumbrae,
rounded out his purse by trading for slaves in the markets of
Zanzibar.

Once they had been shackled to the ring bolts in the deck of the long
narrow slave hold, they could not be released until the ship docked at
the end of her voyage in the ports of the Orient.  This meant that even
those poor creatures who succumbed during the dreadful tropical passage
of the Ocean of the Indies must lie rotting with the living in the
confined spaces of the "tween decks.  The effluvium of decaying
corpses, mingled with the waste odour of the living, gave the slave
ships a distinctive stench that identified them for many leagues down
wind.  No amount of scouring with even the strongest lyes could ever
rid a slaver of her characteristic smell.

As the Gull crossed upwind, there were howls of exaggerated disgust
from the crew of the Lady Edwina.  "By God, she stinks like a
dung-heap."

"Did you not wipe your backsides, you poxy vermin?  We can smell you
from here!"  one yelled across at the pretty little frigate.  The
language bawled back from the Gull made Hal grin.  Of course, the human
bowels held no mysteries for him, but he did not understand much of the
rest of it, for he had never seen those parts of a woman to which the
seamen in both ships referred in such graphic detail, nor knew of the
uses to which they could be put, but it excited his imagination to hear
them so described.  His amusement was enhanced when he imagined his
father's fury at hearing it.

Sir Francis was a devout man who believed that the fortunes of war
could be influenced by the god-fearing behaviour of every man aboard.

He forbade gambling, blasphemy and the drinking of strong spirits.

He led prayers twice a day and exhorted his seamen to gentle and
dignified behaviour when they put into port although Hal knew that this
advice was seldom followed.  Now Sir Francis frowned darkly as he
listened to his men exchange insults with those of the Buzzard but, as
he could not-have half the ship's company flogged to signal his
disapproval, he held his tongue until he was in easy hail of the
frigate.

In the meantime he sent his servant to his cabin to fetch his cloak.
What he had to say to the Buzzard was official and he should be in
regalia.  When the man returned, Sir Francis slipped the magnificent
velvet cloak over his shoulders before he lifted his speaking trumpet
to his lips.  "Good morrow, my lord!"

The Buzzard came to his rail and lifted one hand in salute.  Above his
plaid he wore half-armour, which gleamed in the fresh morning light,
but his head was bare, his red hair and beard bushed together like a
haystack, the curls dancing on the wind as though his head was on fire.
"Jesus love you, Franky!"  he bellowed back, his great voice easily
transcending the wind.

"Your station is on the eastern flank!  "The wind and his anger made
Sir Francis short.  "Why have you deserted it?"  The Buzzard spread his
hands in an expressive gesture of apology.  "I have little water and am
completely out of patience.  Sixty-five days are enough for me and my
brave fellows.  There are slaves and gold for the taking along the
Sofala coast."  His accent was like a Scottish gale.

"Your commission does not allow you to attack Portuguese shipping."

"Dutch, Portuguese or Spanish," Cumbrae shouted back.  "Their gold
shines as prettily.  You know well that there is no peace beyond the
Line.  " "You are well named the Buzzard," Sir Francis roared in
frustration, "for you have the same appetite as that carrion bird!"
Yet what Cumbrae had said was true.  There was no peace beyond the
Line.

A century and a half ago, by Papal Bull Inter Caetero of 25 September
1493, the Line had been drawn down the mid-Atlantic, north to south, by
Pope Alexander VI to divide the world between Portugal and Spain.  What
hope was there that the excluded Christian nations, in their envy and
resentment, would honour this declaration?  Spontaneously, another
doctrine, was born: "No peace beyond the Line!"  It became the
watchword of the privateer and the corsair.  And its meaning extended
in their minds to encompass all the unexplored regions of the oceans.

Within the waters of the northern continent, acts of piracy, rapine and
murder whose perpetrator previously would have been hunted down by the
combined navies of Christian Europe and hanged from his own yard-arm
were condoned and even applauded when committed beyond the Line.  Every
embattled monarch signed Letters of Marque that, at a stroke, converted
his merchantmen into privateers, ships of war, and sent them out
marauding on the newly discovered oceans of the expanding globe.

Sir Francis Courtney's own letter had been signed by Edward Hyde, Earl
of Clarendon, the Lord Chancellor of England, in the name of His
Majesty King Charles II.  It sanctioned him to hunt down the ships of
the Dutch Republic, with which England was at war.

"Once you desert your station, you forfeit your rights to claim a share
of any prize!"  Sir Francis called across the narrow strip of water
between the ships, but the Buzzard turned away to issue orders to his
helmsman.

He shouted to his piper, who stood at the ready, "Give Sir Francis a
tune to remember us by!"  The stirring strains of "Farewell to the
Isles" carried across the water to the Lady Edwina, as the Buzzard's
topmast men clambered like monkeys high into the rigging, and loosed
the reefs.  The Gull's top-hamper billowed out.  The main sail filled
with a boom like the discharge of cannon, she heeled eagerly to the
south-easter and pressed her shoulder into the next blue swell,
bursting it asunder.

As the Buzzard pulled away rapidly he came back to the stern rail, and
his voice lifted above the skirling of the pipes and the whimper of the
wind.  "May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ shield you, my revered
brother Knight."  But on the Buzzard's lips it sounded like
blasphemy.

With his cloak, which was quartered by the crimson croix pat tie of the
Order, billowing and flapping from his wide shoulders, Sir Francis
watched him go.

Slowly the ironic cheering and heavy banter of the men died away.  A
sombre new mood began to infect the ship as the company realized that
their forces, puny before, had been more than halved in a single
stroke.  They had been left alone to meet the Dutchmen in whatever
force they might appear.  The seamen that crowded the Lady Edwina's
deck and rigging were silent now, unable to meet each other's eyes.

Then Sir Francis threw back his head and laughed.  "All the more for us
to share!"  he cried, and they laughed with him and cheered as he made
his way to his cabin below the poop deck.

For another hour Hal stayed at the masthead.  He wondered how long the
men's buoyant mood could last, for they were down to a mug of water
twice a day.  Although the land and its sweet rivers lay less than half
a day's sailing away, Sir Francis had not dared detach even one of the
pinnaces to fill the casks.  The Dutchmen might come at any hour, and
when they did he would need every man.

At last a man came aloft to relieve Hal at the lookout.  "what is there
to see, lad?"  he asked, as he slipped into the canvas crow's nest
beside Hal.

"Precious little," Hal admitted, and pointed out the tiny sails of the
two pirmaces on the distant horizon.  "Neither carries any signals,"
Hal told him.  "Watch for the red flag it'll mean they have the chase
in sight."

The sailor grunted.  "You'll be teaching me to fart next."  But he
smiled at Hal in avuncular fashion the boy was the ship's favourite.

Hal grinned back at him.  "God's truth, but you need no teaching,
Master Simon.  I've heard you at the bucket in the heads.  I'd rather
face a Dutch broadside.  You nigh crack every timber in the hull."

Simon let out an explosive guffaw, and punched Hal's shoulder.  "Down
with you, lad, before I teach you to fly like an albatross."

Hal began to scramble down the shrouds.  At first he moved stiffly, his
muscles cramped and chilled after the long vigil, but he soon warmed up
and swung down lithely.

Some of the men on the deck paused at their labours on the pumps, or
with palm and needle as they repaired win dripped canvas, and watched
him.  He was as robust and broad-shouldered as a lad three years older,
and long in limb he already stood as tall as his father.  Yet he still
retained the fresh smooth skin, the unlined face and sunny expression
of boyhood.  His hair, tied with a thong behind his head, spilled from
under his cap and glistened blueblack in the early sunlight.  At this
age his beauty was still almost feminine, and after more than four
months at sea since they had laid eyes on a woman some, whose fancy lay
in that direction, watched him lasciviously.

Hal reached the main yard and left the security of the mast.  He ran
out along it, balancing with the ease of an acrobat forty feet above
the curling rush of the bow wave and the planks of the main deck.

Now every eye was on him-.  it was a feat that few aboard would care to
emulate.

"For that you have to be young and stupid," Ned Tyler growled, but
shook his head fondly as he leaned against the whipstall and stared
up.

"Best the little fool does not let his father catch him playing that
trick."

Hal reached the end of the yard and without pause swung out onto the
brace and slid down it until he was ten feet above the deck.  From
there he dropped to land lightly on his hard bare feet, flexing his
knees to absorb the impact on the scrubbed white planks.

He bounced up, turned towards the stern and froze at the sound of an
inhuman cry.  It was a primordial bellow, the menacing challenge of
some great predatory animal.

Hal remained pinned to the spot for only an instant then instinctively
spun away as a tall figure charged down upon him.  He heard the fluting
sound in the air before he saw the blade and ducked under it.  The
silver steel flashed over his head and his attacker roared again, a
screech of fury.

Hal had a glimpse of his adversary's face, black and glistening, a cave
of a mouth lined with huge square white teeth, the tongue as pink and
curled as a leopard's as he screamed.

Hal danced and swayed as the silver blade came arcing back.  He felt a
tug at the sleeve of his jerkin as the sword point split the leather,
and fell back.

"Ned, a blade!"  he yelled wildly at the helmsman behind him, never
taking his eyes off those of his assailant.  The pupils were black and
bright as obsidian, the iris opaque with fury, the whites engorged with
blood.

Hal leaped aside at the next wild charge, and felt on his cheek the
draught of the blow.  Behind him he heard the scrape of a cutlass drawn
from the boatswain's scabbard, and the weapon slide across the deck
towards him.  He stooped smoothly and gathered it up, the hilt coming
naturally to his hand, as he went into the guard stance and aimed the
point at the eyes of his attacker.

In the face of Hal's menacing blade, the tall man checked his next rush
and when, with his left hand, Hal drew from his belt his ten-inch dirk
and offered that point also, the mad light in his eyes turned cold and
appraising.  They circled each other on the open deck below the
mainmast, their blades weaving, touching and tapping lightly, as each
sought an opening.

The seamen on the deck left their tasks even those on the handles of
the pumps and came running to form a ring around the swordsmen as
though they watched a cockfight, their faces alight with the prospect
of seeing blood spurt.  They growled and hooted at each thrust and
parry, and urged on their favourites.

"Hack out his big black balls, young Hal!"  "Pluck the cockerel's saucy
tail feathers for him."  Aboli stood five inches taller than Hal, and
there was no fat on his lean, supple frame.  He was from the eastern
coast of Africa, of a warrior tribe highly prized by the slavers. Every
hair had been carefully plucked from his pate, which gleamed like
polished black marble, and his cheeks were adorned with ritual tattoos,
whorls of raised cicatrices that gave him a terrifying appearance.  He
moved with a peculiar grace, on those long muscular legs, swaying from
the waist like some huge black cobra.  He wore only a petticoat of
tattered canvas, and his chest was bare.  Each muscle in his torso and
upper arms seemed to have a life of its own, serpents slithering and
coiling beneath the oiled skin.

He lunged suddenly, and with a desperate effort Hal turned the blade,
but.  almost in the same instant Aboli reversed the blow, aiming once
more at his head.  There was such power in his stroke that Hal knew he
could not block it with cutlass alone.  He threw up both blades,
crossing them, and trapped the Negro's high above his head.  Steel rang
and thrilled on steel, and the crowd howled at the skill and grace of
the parry.

But at the fury of the attack Hal gave a pace, and another then another
as Aboli pressed him again and again, giving him no respite, using his
greater height and superior strength to counter the boy's natural
ability.

Hal's face mirrored his desperation.  He gave more readily now and his
movements were uncoordinated: he was tired and fear dulled his
responses.  The cruel watchers turned against him, yelling for blood,
urging on his implacable opponent.

"Mark his pretty face, Aboli!"  "Give us a look at his guts!"

Sweat greased Hal's cheeks and his expression crumpled as Aboli drove
him back against the mast.  He seemed much younger suddenly, and on the
point of tears, his lips quivering with terror and exhaustion.  He was
no longer counter-attacking.  Now it was all defence.  He was fighting
for his life.

Relentlessly Aboli launched a fresh attack, swinging at Hal's body,
then changing the angle to cut at his legs.  Hal was near the limit of
his strength, only just managing to fend off each blow.

Then Aboli changed his attack once more: he forced Hal to overreach by
feinting low to the left hip, then shifted his weight and lunged with a
long right arm.  The shining blade flew straight through Hal's guard
and the watchers roared as at last they had the blood they craved.

Hal reeled sideways off the mast and stood panting in the sunlight,
blinded by his own sweat.  Blood dripped slowly onto his jerkin but
from a nick only, made with a surgeon's skill.

"Another scar for you each time you fight like a woman!"  Aboli scolded
him.

With an expression of exhausted disbelief, Hal raised his left hand,
which still held the dirk, and with the back of his fist wiped the
blood from his chin.  The tip of his earlobe was neatly split and the
quantity of blood exaggerated the severity of the wound.

The spectators bellowed with derision and mirth.

"By Satan's teeth!"  one of the coxswains laughed.  "The pretty boy has
more blood than he has guts!"

At the gibe, a swift transformation came over Hal.  He lowered his dirk
and extended the point in the guard position, ignoring the blood that
still dripped from his chin.  His face was blank, like that of a
statue, and his lips set and blanched frosty white.  From his throat
issued a low growl, and he launched himself at the Negro.

He exploded across the deck with such speed that Aboli was taken by
surprise and driven back.  When they locked blades he felt the new
power in the boy's arm, and his eyes narrowed.  Then Hal was upon him
like a wounded wildcat bursting from a trap.

Pain and rage put wings on his feet.  His eyes were pitiless and his
clenched jaws tightened the muscles of his face into a mask that
retained no trace of boyishness.  Yet his fury had not robbed him of
reason and cunning.  All the skill that the lad had accumulated, over
hundreds of hours and days upon the practice deck, suddenly
coalesced.

The watchers bayed as this miracle took place before their eyes.  It
seemed that, in that instant, the boy had become a man, had grown in
stature so that he stood chin to chin and eye to eye with his dark
adversary.

It cannot last, Aboli told himself, as he met the attack.  His strength
cannot hold out.  But this was a new man he confronted, and he had not
yet recognized him.

Suddenly he found himself giving ground he will tire soon but the twin
blades that danced before his eyes seemed dazzling and ethereal, like
the dread spirits of the dark forests that had once been his home.

He looked into the pale face and burning eyes and did not know them. He
felt a superstitious awe assail him, which slowed his right arm. This
was a demon, with a demon's unnatural strength.  He knew that he was in
danger of his life.

The next coup sped at his chest, glancing through his guard like a
sunbeam.  He twisted aside his upper body, but the thrust raked under
his raised left arm.  He felt no pain but heard the rasp of the razor
edge against his ribs, and the warm flood of blood down his flank.  And
he had ignored the weapon in Hal's left fist and the boy used either
hand with equal ease.

At the edge of his vision he saw the shorter, stiffer blade speed
towards his heart and threw himself back to avoid it.  His heel caught
in the tail of the yard brace, coiled on the deck, and he went
sprawling.  The elbow of his sword arm slammed into the gunwale,
numbing it to the fingertips, and the cutlass flew from his fingers.

On his back, Aboli looked up helplessly and saw death above him in
those terrifying green eyes.  This was not the face of the child who
had been his ward and special charge for the last decade, the boy he
had cherished and trained and loved over ten long years.  This was a
man who would kill him.  The bright point of the cutlass started down,
aimed at his throat, with the full weight of the lithe young body
behind it.

"Henry!"  A stern, authoritative voice rang across the deck, cutting
through the hubbub of the blood-crazed spectators.

Hal started, and stood still with the point against Aboli's throat.  A
bemused expression spread across his face, like that of an awakening
dreamer, and he looked up at his father on the break of the poop.

"Avast that tomfoolery.  Get you down to my cabin at once.

Hal glanced around the deck, at the flushed, excited faces surrounding
him.  He shook his head in puzzlement, and looked down at the cutlass
in his hand.  He opened his fingers and let it drop to the planks.  His
legs turned to water under him and he sank down on top of Aboli and
hugged him as a child hugs his father.

"Aboli!"  he whispered, in the language of the forests that the black
man had taught him and which was a secret no other white man on the
ship shared with them.  "I have hurt you sorely.  The blood!  By my
life, I could have killed you Aboli chuckled softly and answered in the
same language, "It was past time.  At last you have tapped the well of
warrior blood.  I thought you would never find it.  I had to drive you
hard to it."

He sat up and pushed Hal away, but there was a new light in his eyes as
he looked at the boy, who was a boy no longer.  "Go now and do your
father's bidding!"

Hal stood up shakily and looked again round the circle of faces, seeing
an expression in them that he did not recognize: it was respect mingled
with more than a little fear.

"What are you gawking at?"  bellowed Ned Tyler.  "The play is over.  Do
you have no work to do?  Man those pumps.  Those topgallants are
luffing.  I can find mastheads for all idle hands."  There was the
thump of bare feet across the deck as the crew rushed guiltily to their
duties.

Hal stooped, picked up the cutlass, and handed it back to the
boatswain, hilt first.

"Thank you, Ned.  I had need of it."

"And you put it to good use.  I have never seen that heathen bested,
except by your father before you."

Hal tore a handful of rag from the tattered hem of his canvas
pantaloons, held it to his ear to staunch the bleeding, and went down
to the stern cabin.

Sir Francis looked up from his log-book, his goose quill poised over
the page.  "Do not look so smug, puppy," he grunted at Hal.  "Aboli
toyed with you, as he always does.  He could have spitted you a dozen
times before you turned it with that lucky coup at the end."

When Sir Francis stood up there was hardly room for them both in the
tiny cabin.  The bulkheads were lined from deck to deck with books,
more were stacked about their feet and leather-bound volumes were
crammed into the cubby-hole that served his father as a bunk.  Hal
wondered where he found place to sleep.

His father addressed him in Latin.  When they were alone he insisted on
speaking the language of the educated and cultivated man.  "You will
die before you ever make a swordsman, unless you find steel in your
heart as well as in your hand.  Some hulking Dutchman will cleave you
to the teeth at your first encounter."  Sir Francis scowled at his son,
"Recite the law of the sword."

"An eye for his eyes," Hal mumbled in Latin.

"Speak up, boy!"  Sir Francis's hearing had been dulled by the blast of
culver ins over the years a thousand broadsides had burst around his
head.  At the end of an engagement, blood would be seen dripping from
the ears of the seamen beside the guns and for days after even the
officers on the poop heard heavenly bells ring in their heads.

"An eye for his eyes," Hal repeated roundly, and his father nodded.

"His eyes are the window to his mind.  Learn to read in them his
intentions before the act.  See there the stroke before it is
delivered.  What else?"

"The other eye for his feet," Hal recited.

"Good."  Sir Francis nodded.  "His feet will move before his hand.

What else?"

"Keep the point high."

"The cardinal rule.  Never lower the point.  Keep it aimed at his
eyes."

Sir Francis led Hal through the catechism, as he had countless times
before.  At the end, he said, "Here is one more rule for you.  Fight
from the first stroke, not just when you are hurt or angry, or you
might not survive that first wound."

He glanced up at the hourglass hanging from the deck above his head.
"There is yet time for your reading before ship's prayers."  He spoke
in Latin still.  "Take up your Livy and translate from the top of page
twenty-six."

For an hour Hal read aloud the history of Rome in the original,
translating each verse into English as he went.  Then, at last, Sir
Francis closed his Livy with a snap.  "There is improvement.  Now,
decline the verb dur are

That his father should choose this one was a mark of his approval.

Hal recited it in a breathless rush, slowing when he came to the future
indicative.  Vurabo.  I shall endure."

That word formed the motto of the Courtney coat-of arms and Sir Francis
smiled frostily as Hal voiced it.

"May the Lord grant you that grace."  He stood up.  "You may go now but
do not be late for prayers."

Rejoicing to be free, Hal fled from the cabin and went bounding up the
companionway.

Aboli was squatting in the lee of one of the hulking bronze culver ins
near the bows.  Hal knelt beside him.  "I wounded you."

Aboli made an eloquent dismissive gesture.  "A chicken scratching in
the dust wounds the earth more gravely."

Hal pulled the tarpaulin cloak off Aboli's shoulders, seized the elbow
and lifted the thickly muscled arm high to peer at the deep slash
across the ribs.  "None the less, this little chicken gave you a good
pecking," he observed drily, and grinned as Aboli opened his hand and
showed him the needle already threaded with sail maker yarn.  He
reached for it, but Aboli checked him.

"Wash the cut, as I taught you."

"With that long black python of yours you could reach it yourself," Hal
suggested, and Aboli emitted his long, rolling laugh, soft and low as
distant thunder.

"We will have to make do with a small white worm."

Hal stood and loosed the cord that held up his pantaloons.  He let them
drop to his knees, and with his right hand drew back his foreskin.

"I christen you Aboli, lord of the chickens!"  He imitated his own
father's preaching tone faithfully, and directed a stream of yellow
urine into the open wound.

Although Hal knew how it stung, for Aboli had done the same many times
for him, the black features remained impassive.  Hal irrigated the
wound with the very last drop and then hoisted his breeches.  He knew
how efficacious this tribal remedy of Aboli's was.  The first time it
had been used on him he had been repelled by it, but in all the years
since then he had never seen a wound so treated mortify.

He took up the needle and twine, and while Aboli held the lips of the
wound together with his left hand, Hal laid neat sail maker stitches
across it, digging the needle point through the elastic skin and
pulling his knots up tight.  When he was done, he reached for the pot
of hot tar that Aboli had ready.  He smeared the sewn wound thickly and
nodded with satisfaction at his handiwork.

Aboli stood up and lifted his canvas petticoats.  "Now we will see to
your ear," he told Hal, as his own fat penis overflowed his fist by
half its length.

Hal recoiled swiftly.  "It is but a little scratch, he protested, but
Aboli seized his pigtail remorselessly and twisted his face upwards.

At the stroke of the bell the company crowded into the waist of the
ship, and stood silent And bare-headed in the sunlight even the black
tribesmen, who did not worship exclusively the crucified Lord but other
gods also whose abode was the deep dark forests of their homes.

When Sir Francis, great leather-bound Bible in hand, intoned
sonorously, "We pray you, Almighty God, deliver the enemy of Christ
into our hands that he shall not triumph..  ."  his eyes were the only
ones still cast heavenward.  Every other eye in the company turned
towards the east from where that enemy would come, laden with silver
and spices.

Half-way through the long service a line squall came boring up out of
the east, wind driving the clouds in a tumbling dark mass over their
heads and deluging the decks with silver sheets of rain.  But the
elements could not conspire to keep Sir Francis from his discourse with
the Almighty, so while the crew huddled in their tar-daubed canvas
jackets, with hats of the same material tied beneath their chins, and
the water streamed off them as off the hides of a pack of beached
walrus, Sir Francis missed not a beat of his sermon.  "Lord of the
storm and the wind," he prayed, "succour us.  Lord of the battle4 me be
our shield and buckler..."

The squall passed over them swiftly and the sun burst forth again,
sparkling on the blue swells and steaming on the decks.

Sir Francis clapped his wide-brimmed cavalier hat back on his head, and
the sodden white feathers that surmounted it nodded in approval.
"Master Ned, run out the guns."

It was the proper course to take, Hal realized.  The rain squall would
have soaked the priming and wet the loaded powder.  Rather than the
lengthy business of drawing the shot and reloading, his father would
give the crews some practice.

"Beat to quarters, if you please."

The drum-roll echoed through the hull, and the crew ran grinning and
joking to their stations.  Hal plunged the tip of a slow-match into the
charcoal brazier at the foot of the mast.  When it was smouldering
evenly, he leapt into the shrouds and, carrying the burning match in
his teeth, clambered up to his battle station at the masthead.

On the deck he saw four men sway an empty water cask up from the hold
and stagger with it to the ship's side.  At the order from the poop,
they tossed it over and left it bobbing in the ship's wake.  Meanwhile
the gun crews knocked out the wedges and, heaving at the tackles, ran
out the culver ins  On either side of the lower deck there were eight,
each loaded with a bucketful of powder and a ball.  On the upper deck
were ranged ten demi-culver ins five on each side, their long barrels
crammed with grape.

The Lady Edwina was low on iron shot after her two year-long cruise,
and some of the guns were loaded with water-rounded flint marbles
hand-picked from the banks of the river mouths where the watering
parties had gone ashore.  Ponderously she came about, and settled on
the new tack, beating back into the wind.  The floating cask was still
two cables" length ahead but the range narrowed slowly.  The gunners
strode from cannon to cannon, pushing in the elevation wedges and
ordering the training tackles adjusted.  This was a specialized task:
only five men aboard had the skill to load and lay a gun.

In the crow's nest, Hal swung the long-barrelled falconer on its swivel
and aimed down at a length of floating kelp that drifted past on the
current.  Then with the point of his dirk he scraped the damp, caked
powder out of the pan of the weapon, and carefully repacked it with
fresh powder from his flask.  After ten years of instruction by his
father, he was as skilled as Ned Tyler, the ship's master gunner, in
the esoteric art.  His rightful battle station should have been on the
gundeck, and he had pleaded with his father to place him there but had
been answered only with the stern retort, "You will go where I send
you."  Now he must sit up here, out of the hurly-burly, while his
fierce young heart ached to be a part of it.

Suddenly he was startled by the crash of gunfire from the deck below, A
long dense plume of smoke billowed out and the ship heeled slightly at
the discharge.  A moment later a tall fountain of foam rose
dramatically from the surface of the sea fifty yards to the right and
twenty beyond the floating cask.  At that range it was not bad
shooting, but the deck erupted in a chorus of jeers and whistles.

Ned Tyler hurried to the second culverin, and swiftly checked its lay.
He gestured for the men on the tackle to train it a point left then
stepped forward and held the burning match to the touch hole.  A
fizzling puff of smoke blew back and then, from the gaping muzzle, came
a shower of sparks, half-burned powder and clods of damp, caked muck.
The ball rolled down the bronze barrel and fell into the sea less than
half-way to the target cask.  The crew howled with derision.

The next two weapons misfired.  Cursing furiously, Ned ordered the
crews to draw the charges with the long iron corkscrews as he hurried
on down the line.

"Great expense of powder and bullet!"  Hal recited to himself the words
of the great Sir Francis Drake for whom his own father had been
christened spoken after the first day of the epic battle against the
Armada of Philip 11, King of Spain, led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
All that long day, under the dun fog of gunsmoke, the two great fleets
had loosed their mighty broadsides at each other, but the barrage had
sent not a single ship of either fleet to the bottom.

"Fright them with cannon," Hal's father had instructed him, "but sweep
their decks with the cutlass," and he voiced his scorn for the rowdy
but ineffectual art of naval gunnery.  It was impossible to aim a ball
from the plunging deck of one ship to a precise point on the hull of
another- accuracy was in the hands of the Almighty rather than those of
the master gunner.

As if to illustrate the point, after Ned had fired every one of the
heavy guns on board six had misfired and the nearest he had come to
striking the floating cask was twenty yards.  Hal shook his head sadly,
reflecting that each of those shots had been carefully laid and aimed.
In the heat of a battle, with the range obscured by billowing smoke,
the powder and shot stuffed in haste into the muzzles, the barrels
heating unevenly and the match applied to pan by excited and terrified
gunners, the results could not be even that satisfactory.

At last his father looked up at Hal.  "Masthead!"  he roared.

Hal had feared himself forgotten.  Now, with a thrill of relief, he
blew on the tip of the smouldering slow-match in his hand.  It glowed
bright and fierce.

From the deck Sir Francis watched him, his expression stern and
forbidding.  He must never let show the love he bore the boy.  He must
be hard and critical at all times, driving him on.  For the boy's own
sake nay, for his very life he must force him to learn, to strive, to
endure, to run every step of the course ahead of him with all his
strength and all his heart.  Yet, without making it apparent, he must
also help, encourage and assist him.  He must shepherd him wisely,
cunningly towards his destiny.  He had delayed calling upon Hal until
this moment, when the cask floated close alongside.

If the boy could shatter it with the small weapon where Ned had failed
with the great cannon, then his reputation with the crew would be
enhanced.  The men were mostly boisterous ruffians, simple illiterates,
but one day Hal would be called upon to lead them, or others like them.
He had made a giant stride today by be sting Aboli before them all.
Here was a chance to consolidate that gain.  "Guide his hand, and the
flight of the shot, oh God of the battle-line!"  Sir Francis prayed
silently, and the ship's company craned their necks to watch the lad
high above them.

Hal hummed softly to himself as he concentrated on the task, conscious
of the eyes upon him.  Yet he did not sense the importance of this
discharge and was oblivious of his father's prayers.  It was a game to
him, just another chance to excel.  Hal liked to win, and each time he
did so he liked it better.  The young eagle was beginning to rejoice in
the power of his wings.

Gripping the end of the long brass monkey tail, he swivelled the
falconer downwards, peering over the yard long barrel, lining up the
notch above the pan with the pip on the muzzle end.

He had learned that it was futile to aim directly at the target.  There
would be a delay of seconds from when he applied the slow-match, to the
crash of the shot, and in the meantime ship and cask would be moving in
opposite directions.  There was also the moment when the discharged
balls were in flight before they struck.  He must gauge where the cask
would be when the shot reached it and not aim for the spot where it had
been when he pressed the match to the pan.

He swung the pip of the foresight smoothly over the target, and touched
the glowing end of the match to the pan.  He forced himself not to
flinch away from the flare of burning powder nor to recoil in
anticipation of the explosion but to keep the barrels swinging gently
in the line he had chosen.

With a roar that stung his eardrums the falconer bucked heavily against
its swivel, and everything disappeared in a cloud of grey smoke.
Desperately he craned his head left and right, trying to see around the
smoke, but it was the cheers from the decks below that made his heart
leap, reaching him even through his singing ears.  When the wind
whisked away the smoke, he could see the ribs of the shattered cask
swirling and tumbling astern in the ship's wake.  He hooted with glee,
and waved his cap at the faces on the deck far below.  Aboli was at his
place in the bows, coxswain and gun captain of the first watch.  He
returned Hal's beatific grin and beat his chest with one fist, while
with the other he brandished the cutlass over his bald head.

The drum rolled to end the drill and stand down the crew from their
battle stations.  Before he dropped down the shrouds Hal reloaded the
falconet carefully and bound a strip of tar-soaked canvas around the
pan to protect it from dew, rain and spray.

As his feet hit the deck he looked to the poop, trying to catch his
father's eye and glean his approbation.  But Sir Francis was deep in
conversation with one of his petty officers.  A moment passed before he
glanced coldly over his shoulder at Hal.  "What are you gawking at,
boy?  There are guns to be reloaded."

As he turned away Hal felt the bite of disappointment, but the rowdy
congratulations of the crew, the rough slaps across his back and
shoulders as he passed down the gundeck, restored his smile.

When Ned Tyler saw him coming he stepped back from the breech of the
culverin he was loading and handed the ramrod to Hal.  "Any oaf can
shoot it, but it takes a good man to load it," he grunted, and stood
back critically to watch Hal measure a charge from the leather powder
bucket.  "What weight of powder?"  he asked, and Hal gave the same
reply he had a hundred times before.

"The same weight as that of the round shot."

The black powder comprised coarse granules.  There had been a time
when, shaken and agitated by the ship's way or some other repetitive
movement, the three essential elements, sulphur, charcoal and
saltpetre, might separate out and render it useless.  Since then the
process of "coming" had evolved, whereby the fine raw powder was
treated with urine or alcohol to set it into a cake, which was then
crushed in a ball mill to the required size of granules.  Yet the
process was not perfect and a gunner must always have an eye for the
condition of his powder.  Damp or age could degrade it.  Hal tested the
grains between his fingers and tasted a dab.  Ned Tyler had taught him
to differentiate between good and degenerate powder in this way.  Then
he poured the contents of the bucket into the muzzle, and followed it
with the oakum wadding.

Then he tamped it down with the long wooden-handled ramrod.  This was
another crucial part of the process: tamped too firmly, the flame could
not pass through the charge and a misfire was inevitable, but not
tamped firmly enough, and the black powder would burn without the power
to hurl the heavy projectile clear of the barrel.  Correct tamping was
an art that could only be learned from prolonged practice, but Ned
nodded as he watched Hal at work.

It was much later when Hal scrambled up again into the sunlight.  All
the culver ins were loaded and secured behind their ports and Hal's
bare upper body was glistening with sweat from the heat of the cramped
gundeck and his labours with the ramrod.  As he paused to wipe his
streaming face, draw a breath and stretch his back, after crouching so
long under the cramped head space of the lower deck, his father called
to him with heavy irony, "Is the ship's position of no interest to you,
Master Henry?"

With a start Hal glanced up at the sun.  It was high in the heavens
above them: the morning had sped away.  He raced to the companionway,
dropped down the ladder, burst into his father's cabin, and snatched
the heavy backstaff from its case on the bulkhead.  Then he turned and
ran back to the poop deck.

"Pray God, I'm not too late," he whispered to himself, and glanced up
at the position of the sun.  It was over the starboard yard-arm.  He
positioned himself with his back to it and in such a way that the
shadow cast by the main sail would not screen him, yet so that he had a
clear view of the horizon to the south.

Now he concentrated all his attention on the quadrant of the backstaff.
He had to keep the heavy instrument steady against the ship's motion.
Then he must read the angle that the sun's rays over his shoulder
subtended onto the quadrant, which gave him the sun's inclination to
the horizon.  It was a juggling act that required strength and
dexterity.

At last he could observe noon passage, and read the sun's angle with
the horizon at the precise moment it reached its zenith.  He lowered
the backstaff with aching arms and shoulders, and hastily scribbled the
reading on the traverse slate.

Then he ran down the ladder to the stern cabin, but the table of
celestial angles was not on its shelf.  In distress he turned to see
that his father had followed him down and was watching him intently.
No word was exchanged, but Hal knew that he was being challenged to
provide the value from memory.  Hal sat at his father's sea-chest,
which served as a desk, and closed his eyes as he reviewed the tables
in his mind's eye.  He must remember yesterday's figures and
extrapolate from them.  He massaged his swollen ear-lobe, and his lips
moved soundlessly.

Suddenly his face lightened, he opened his eyes and scribbled another
number on the slate.  He worked for a nimite longer, translating the
angle of the noon sun into degrees of latitude.  Then he looked up
triumphantly.  "Thirty-four degrees forty-two minutes south
latitude."

His father took the slate from his hand, checked his figures, then
handed it back to him.  He inclined his head slightly in agreement.
"Close enough, if your sun sight was true.  Now what of your
longitude?"

The determination of exact longitude was a puzzle that no man had ever
solved.  There was no timepiece, hourglass or clock that could be
carried aboard a ship and still be sufficiently accurate to keep track
of the earth's majestic revolutions.  Only the traverse board, which
hung beside the compass binnacle, could guide Hal's calculation.  Now
he studied the pegs that the helmsman had placed in the holes about the
rose of the compass each time he had altered his heading during the
previous watch.  Hal added and averaged these values, then plotted them
on the chart in his father's cabin.  It was only a crude approximation
of longitude and, predictably, his father demurred.  "I would have
given it a touch more of east, for with the weed on her bottom and the
water in her bilges she pays off heavily to leeward but mark her so in
the log."

Hal looked up in astonishment.  This was a momentous day indeed.  No
other hand but his father's had ever written in the leather-bound log
that sat beside the Bible on the lid of the sea-chest.

While his father watched, he opened the log and, for a minute, stared
at the pages filled with his father's elegant, flowing script, and the
beautiful drawings of men, ships and landfalls that adorned the
margins.  His father was a gifted artist.  With trepidation Hal dipped
the quill in the gold inkwell that had once belonged to the captain of
the Heerlycke Nacht, one of the Dutch East India Company's galleons
that his father had seized.  He wiped the superfluous drops from the
nib, test they splatter the sacred page.  Then he trapped the tip of
his tongue between his teeth and wrote with infinite care: "One bell in
the afternoon watch, this 3rd day of September in the year of our Lord
Jesus Christ 1667.  Position 34 degrees 42 minutes South, 20 degrees 5
minutes East.  African mainland in sight from the masthead bearing due
North.  "Not daring to add more, and relieved that he had not marred
the page with scratchings; or splutterings, he set aside the quill and
sanded his well formed letters with pride.  He knew his hand was fair
though perhaps not as fair as his father's, he conceded as he compared
them.

Sir Francis took up the pen he had laid aside and leaning over his
shoulder wrote: "This forenoon Ensign Henry Courtney severely wounded
in an unseemly brawl."  Then, beside the entry he swiftly sketched a
telling caricature of Hal with his swollen ear sticking out lopsidedly
and the knot of the stitch like a bow in a maiden's hair.

Hal gagged on his own suppressed laughter, but when he looked up he saw
the twinkle in his father's green eyes.  Sir Francis laid one hand on
the boy's shoulder, which was as close as he would ever come to an
embrace, and squeezed it as he said, "Ned Tyler will be waiting to
instruct you in the lore of rigging and sail trimming.  Do not keep him
waiting."  it was late when Hal made his way forward along the upper
deck, it was still light enough for him to pick his way with ease over
the sleeping bodies of the off-duty watch.  The night sky was filled
with stars, such an array as must dazzle the eyes of any northerner.
This night Hal had no eyes for them.  He was exhausted to the point
where he reeled on his feet.

Aboli had kept a place for him in the bows, under the lee of the
forward cannon where they were out of the wind.  He had spread a
straw-filled pallet on the deck and Hal tumbled gratefully onto it.
There were no quarters set aside for the crew, and the men slept
wherever they could find a space on the open deck.  In these warm
southern nights they all preferred the topsides to the stuffy lower
deck.  They lay in rows, shoulder to shoulder, but the proximity of so
much stinking humanity was natural to Hal, and even their snoring and
mutterings could not keep him long from sleep.  He moved a little
closer to Aboli.  This was how he had slept each night for the last ten
years and there was comfort in the huge figure beside him.

"Your father is a great chief among lesser chieftains, Aboli murmured.
"He is a warrior and he knows the secrets of the sea and the heavens.
The stars are his children."

"I know all this is true," Hal answered, in the same language.

"It was he who bade me take the sword to you this day," Aboli
confessed.

Hal raised himself on one elbow, and stared at the dark figure beside
him.  "My father wanted you to cut me?"  he asked incredulously.

"You are not as other lads.  If your life is hard now, it will be
harder still.  You are chosen.  One day you must take from his
shoulders the great cloak of the red cross.  You must be worthy of
it."

Hal sank back on his pallet, and stared up at the stars.  "What if I do
not want this thing?"  he asked.

"It is yours.  You do not have a choice.  The one Nautonnier Knight
chooses the Knight to follow him.  It has been so for almost four
hundred years.  Your only escape from it is death."

Hal was silent for so long that Aboli thought sleep had overcome him,
but then he whispered, "How do you know these things?"

"From your father."

"Are you also a Knight of our Order?"

Aboli laughed softly.  "My skin is too dark and my gods are alien.

I could never be chosen."

"Aboli, I am afraid."

"All men are afraid.  It is for those of us of the warrior blood to
subdue fear."

"You will never leave me, will you, Aboli?"

"I will stay at your side as long as you need me."  "Then I am not so
afraid."

Hours later Aboli woke him with a hand on his shoulder from a deep and
dreamless sleep.  "Eight bells in the middle watch, Gundwane."  He used
Hal's nickname: in his own language it meant "Bush Rat'.  It was not
meant pejoratively, but was the affectionate name he had bestowed on
the four-year-old who had been placed in his care over a decade
before.

Four o'clock in the morning.  It would be light in an hour.  Hal
scrambled up and, rubbing his eyes, staggered to the stinking bucket in
the heads and eased himself.  Then, fully awake, he hurried down the
heaving deck, avoiding the sleeping figures that cluttered it.

The cook had his fire going in the brick-lined galley and passed Hal a
pewter mug of soup and a hard biscuit.  Hal was ravenous and gulped the
liquid, though it scalded his tongue.  When he crunched the biscuit he
felt the weevils in it pop between his teeth.

As he hurried to the foot of the mainmast he saw the glow of his
father's pipe in the shadows of the poop and smelled a whiff of his
tobacco, rank on the sweet night air.  Hal did not pause but went up
the shrouds noting the change of tack and the new setting of the sails
that had taken place while he slept.

When he reached the masthead and had relieved the lookout there, he
settled into his nest and looked about him.  There was no moon and, but
for the stars, all was dark.  He knew every named star, from the mighty
Sirius to tiny Mintaka in Orion's glittering belt, They were the
ciphers of the navigator, the signposts of the sky, and he had learned
their names with his alphabet.  His eye went, unbidden, to pick out
Regulus in the sign of the Lion.  It was not the brightest star in the
zodiac, but it was his own particular star and he felt a quiet pleasure
at the thought that it sparkled for him alone.  This was the happiest
hour of his long day, the only time he could ever be alone in the
crowded vessel, the only time he could let his mind dance among the
stars and his imagination have full rein.

His every sense seemed heightened.  Even above the whimper of the wind
and the creak of the rigging he could hear his father's voice and
recognize its tone if not the words, as he spoke quietly to the
helmsman on the deck far below.  He could see his father's beaked nose
and the set of his brow in the ruddy glow from the pipe bowl as he drew
in the tobacco smoke.  It seemed to him that his father never slept.

He could smell the iodine of the sea, the fresh odour of kelp and salt.
His nose was so keen, purged by months of sweet sea air, that he could
even whiff the faint odour of the land, the warm, baked smell of Africa
like biscuit hot from the oven.

Then there was another scent, so faint he thought his nostrils had
played a trick on him.  A minute later he caught it again, just a
trace, honey-sweet on the wind.  He did not recognize it and turned his
head back and forth, questing for the next faint perfume, sniffing
eagerly.

Suddenly it came again, so fragrant and heady that he reeled like a
drunkard smelling the brandy pot, and had to stop himself crying aloud
in his excitement.  With an effort he kept his mouth closed and, with
the aroma filling his head, tumbled from the crow's nest, and fled down
the shrouds to the deck below.  He ran on bare feet so silently that
his father started when Hal touched his arm.

"Why have you left your post?"

"I could not hail you from the masthead they are too close.  They might
have heard me also."

"What are you babbling about, boy?"  His father came angrily to his
feet.  "Speak plainly."

"Father, do you not smell it?"  He shook his father's arm urgently.

"What is it?"  His father took the pipe stern from his mouth.  "What is
it that you smell?"

"Spice!"  said Hal.  "The air is full of the perfume of spice."

They moved swiftly down the deck, Ned Tyler, Aboli and Hal, shaking the
off-duty watch awake, cautioning each man to silence as they shoved him
towards his battle stations.  There was no drum to beat to quarters.
Their excitement was infectious.  The waiting was over.  The Dutchman
was out there somewhere close, to windward in the darkness.  They could
all smell his fabulous cargo now.

Sir Francis extinguished the candle in the binnacle so that the ship
showed no lights, then passed the keys of the arms chests to his
boatswains.  They were kept locked until the chase was in sight for the
dread of mutiny was always in the back of every captain's mind.  At
other times only the petty officers carried cutlasses.

In haste the chests were opened and the weapons passed from hand to
hand.  The cutlasses were of good Sheffield steel, with plain wooden
hilts and basket guards.  The pikes had six-foot shafts of English oak
and heavy hexagonal iron heads.  Those of the crew who lacked skill
with the sword chose either these robust spears or the boarding axes
that could lop a man's head from his shoulders at a stroke.

The muskets were racked in the black powder magazine.  They were
brought up, and Hal helped the gunners load them with a handful of lead
pellets on top of a handful of powder.  They were clumsy, inaccurate
weapons, with an effective range of only twenty or thirty yards.  After
the lock was triggered, and the burning match mechanically applied, the
weapon fired in a cloud of smoke, but then had to be reloaded.  This
operation took two or three vital minutes, during which the musketeer
was at the mercy of his foes.

Hal preferred the bow; the famous English longbow that had decimated
the French knights at Agincourt.  He could loose a dozen shafts in the
time it took to reload a musket.  The longbow carried fifty paces with
the accuracy to strike a foe in the centre of the chest and with the
power to spit him to the backbone, even though he wore a breastplate.
He already had two bundles of arrows lashed to the sides of the crow's
nest, ready to hand.

Sir Francis and some of his petty officers strapped on their half
armour, light cavalry cuitasses and steel pot helmets.  Sea salt had
rusted them and they were dented and battered from other actions.

In short order the ship was readied for battle, and the crew armed and
armoured.  However, the gun ports were closed and the demi-culver ins
were not run out.  Most of the men were hustled below by Ned and the
other boatswains, while the rest were ordered to lie flat on the deck
concealed below the bulwarks.  No slow-match was lit the glow and smoke
might alert the chase to her danger.  However, charcoal braziers
smouldered at the foot of each mast, and the wedges were knocked out of
the gun ports with muffled wooden mallets so that the sound of the
blows would not carry.

Aboli pushed his way through the scurrying figures to where Hal stood
at the foot of the mast.  Around his bald head he wore a scarlet cloth
whose tail hung down his back, and thrust into his sash was a cutlass.
Under one arm he carried a rolled bundle of coloured silk.  "From your
father."  He thrust the bundle into Hal's arms.  "You know what to do
with them!"  He gave Hal's pigtail a tug.  "Your father says that you
are to remain at the masthead no matter which way the fight goes.  Do
you hear now?"

He turned and hurried back towards the bows.  Hal grimaced rebelliously
at his broad back, but climbed dutifully into the shrouds.  When he
reached the masthead he scanned the darkness swiftly, but as yet there
was nothing to see.  Even the aroma of spice had evaporated.  He felt a
stab of concern that he might only have imagined it, "It is only that
the chase has come out of our wind," he reassured himself.  "She is
probably abeam of us by now."

He attached the banner Aboli had given him to the signal halyard, ready
to fly it at his father's order.  Then he removed the cover from the
pan of the falconer.  He checked the tension of the string before
setting his longbow into the rack beside the bundles of yard-long
arrows.  Now there was nothing to do but wait.  Below him the ship was
unnaturally quiet, not even a bell to mark the passage of the hours,
only the soft song of the sails and the muted accompaniment of the
rigging.

The day came upon them with the suddenness that in these African seas
he had come to know so well.  Out of the dying night rose a tall bright
tower, shining and translucent as an ice-covered alp.  a great ship
under a mass of gleaming canvas, her masts so tall they seemed to rake
the last pale stars from the sky.

"Sail ho!"  he pitched his voice so that it would carry to the deck
below but not to the strange ship that lay, a full league away, across
the dark waters.  "Fine on the larboard beam!"

His father's voice floated back to him.  "Masthead!  Break out the
colours!"  Hal heaved on the signal halyard, and the silken bundle
soared to the masthead.  There it burst open and the tricolour of the
Dutch Republic streamed out on the southeaster, orange and snowy white
and blue, Within moments the other banners and long pennants burst out
from the head of the mizzen and the foremast, one emblazoned with the
cipher of the VOC, die Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the United
East India Company.  The regalia was authentic, captured only four
months previously from the Heerlycke Nacht.  Even the standard of the
Council of Seventeen was genuine.  There would scarce have been time
for the captain of the galleon to have learned of the capture of his
sister ship and so to question the credentials of this strange
caravel.

The two ships were on converging courses even in darkness Sir Francis
had judged well his interception.  There was no call for him to alter
course and alarm the Dutch captain.  But within minutes it was clear
that the Lady Edwina, despite her worm-riddled hull, was faster through
the water than the galleon.  She must soon begin to overtake the other
ship, which he must avoid at all costs.

Sir Francis watched her through the lens of his telescope, and at once
he saw why the galleon was so slow and ungainly: her mainmast was
jury-rigged, and there was much other evidence of damage to her other
masts and rigging.  He realized that she must have been caught in some
terrible storm in the eastern oceans which would also account for her
belated arrival off her landfall on the Agulhas Cape.  He knew that he
could not alter sail without alarming the Dutch captain, but he had to
pass across her stern.  He had prepared for this.  he signed to the
carpenter, at the rail, who with his mate lifted a huge canvas drogue
and dropped it over the stern.  Like the curb on a head, strong
stallion it bit deep in the water and pulled up the Lady Edwina
sharply.  Again Sir Francis judged the disparate speeds of the two
vessels, and nodded with satisfaction.

Then he looked down his own deck.  The majority of the men were
concealed below decks or lying under the bulwarks where they were
invisible even to the lookouts at the galleon's masthead.  There was no
weapon in sight, all the guns hidden behind their ports.  When Sir
Francis had captured this caravel she had been a Dutch trader,
operating off the west African coast.  In converting her to a
privateer, he had been at pains to preserve her innocent air and
prosaic lines.  Only a dozen or so men were visible on the decks and in
the rigging, which would be normal for a sluggish merchantman.

As he looked up again the banners of the Republic and the Company broke
out at the Dutchman's mastheads.  Only a trifle tardily she was
acknowledging his salute.

"She accepts us," Ned grunted, as he held the Lady Edwina stolidly on
course.  "She likes our sheep's clothing."  "Perhaps!"  Sir Francis
replied.  "And yet she cracks on more sail."  As they watched, the
galleon's royals and topgallants bloomed against the morning sky.

"There!"  he exclaimed a moment later.  "She is altering course,
sheering away from us.  The Dutchman is a cautious fellow."

"Satan's teeth!  just sniff herV Ned whispered, almost to himself, as a
trace of spices scented the air.  "Sweet as a virgin, and twice as
beautiful."

"It's the richest smell you'll ever have in your nostrils."  Sir
Francis spoke loudly enough for the men on the deck below to hear him.
"There lies fifty pounds a head in prize money if you have the notion
to fight for it."  Fifty pounds was ten years of an English workman's
wages, and the men stiffed and growled like hunting hounds on the
leash.

Sir Francis went forward to the poop rail and lifted his chin to call
softly up to the men in the rigging, "Make believe that those
cheese-heads over there are your brothers.  Give them a cheer and a
brave welcome."

The men aloft howled with glee, and waved their bonnets at the tall
ship as the Lady Edwina edged in under her stern.  atinka van de Velde
sat up and frowned at Zelda, her old nurse.  "Why have you woken me so
early?"  she demanded petulantly, and tossed the tumble of golden curls
back from her face.  Even so freshly aroused from sleep, it was rosy
and angelic.  Her eyes were of a startling violet colour, like the
lustrous wings of a tropical butterfly.

"There is another ship near us.  Another Company ship.  The first we
have seen in all these terrible stormy weeks.  I had begun to think
there was not another Christian soul left in all the world," Zelda
whined.  "You are always complaining of boredom.  It might divert you
for a while."

Zelda was pale and wan.  Her cheeks, once fat, smooth and greased with
good living, were sunken.  Her great belly was gone, and hung in folds
of loose skin almost to her knees.  Katinka could see it through the
thin stuff of her nightgown.

She has puked away all her fat and half her flesh, Katinka thought,
with a twinge of disgust.  Zelda had been prostrated by the cyclones
that had assailed the Standvastigheid and battered her mercilessly ever
since they had left the Trincomalee coast.

Katinka threw back the satin bedclothes and swung her long legs over
the edge of the gilded bunk.  This cabin had been especially furnished
and redecorated to accommodate her, a daughter of one of the omnipotent
Zeventien, the seventeen directors of the Company.  The decor was all
gilt and velvet, silken cushions and silver vessels.  A portrait of
Katinka by the fashionable Amsterdam artist Pieter de Hoogh hung on the
bulkhead opposite her bed, a wedding present from her doting father.
The artist had captured her lascivious turn of head.  He must have
scoured his paint pots to reproduce so faithfully the wondrous colour
of her eyes and their expression, which was at once both innocent and
corrupt.

"Do not wake my husband," she cautioned the old woman as she flung a
gold-brocade wrap over her shoulders and tied the jewelled belt around
her hourglass waist.  Zelda's eyelid drooped in conspiratorial
agreement.  At Katinka's insistence the Governor slept in the smaller,
less grand cabin beyond the door that was locked from her side.  Her
excuse was that he snored abominably, and that she was indisposed by
the mal-de-mer.  In truth, caged in her quarters all these weeks, she
was restless and bored, bursting with youthful energy and aflame with
desires that the fat old man could never extinguish.

She took Zelda's hand and stepped out onto the narrow stern gallery.
This was a private balcony, ornately carved with cherubs and angels,
looking out over the ship's wake and hidden from the vulgar eyes of the
crew.

It was a morning dazzling with sunlit magic, and as she filled her
lungs with the salt tang of the sea she felt every nerve and muscle of
her body quiver with the impetus of life.  The wind kicked creamy
feathers from the tops of the long blue swells, and played with her
golden curls.  It ruffled the silk over her breasts and belly with the
caress of a lover's fingers.  She stretched and arched her back
sensuously like a sleek, golden cat.

Then she saw the other ship.  It was much smaller than the galleon but
with pleasing lines.  The pretty flags and pennants that streamed from
her masts contrasted with the pile of her white sails.  She was close
enough for Katinka to make out the figures of the few men that manned
her rigging.  They were waving a greeting, and she could see that some
were young and clad only in short petticoats.

She leaned over the rail and stared across.  Her husband had commanded
that the crew of the galleon observe a strict dress code while she was
aboard, so the figures on this strange ship fascinated her.  She folded
her arms over her bosom and squeezed her breasts together, feeling her
nipples harden and engorge.  She wanted a man.  She burned for a man,
any man, just as long as he was young and hard and raging for her.  A
man like those she had known in Amsterdam before her father had
discovered her taste for strong game and sent her out to the Indies, to
a safe old husband who had a high position in the Company and even
higher prospects.  His choice had been Petrus Jacobus van de Velde who,
now that he was married to Katinka, was assured of the next vacancy on
the Company's board, where he would join the pantheon of the
Zeventien.

"Come inside, Lieveling."  Zelda tugged at her sleeve.  "Those ruffians
over there are staring at you."

Katinka.  shrugged off Zelda's hand, but it was true.  They had
recognized her as a female.  Even at this distance their excitement was
almost palpable.  Their antics had become frenzied and one strapping
figure in the bows took a double handful of his own crotch and thrust
his hips towards her in a rhythmic and obscene gesture.

"Revolting!  Come insideV Zelda insisted.  "The Governor will be
furious if he sees what that animal is doing."

"He should be furious that he cannot perform as nimbly," Katinka
replied angelically.  She pressed her thighs tightly together the
better to savour the sudden moist warmth at their juncture.  The
caravel was much closer now, and she could see that what the seaman was
offering her was bulky enough to overflow his cupped hands.  The tip of
her pink tongue dabbed at her pouting lips.

"Please, mistress."

"In a while," Katinka demurred.  "You were right, Zelda.

This does amuse me.  "She raised one white hand and waved back at the
other ship.  Instantly the men redoubled their efforts to hold her
attention.

"This is so undignified," Zelda moaned.

"But it's fun.  We'll never see those creatures again, and being always
dignified is so dull."  She leaned further out over the rail and let
the front of her gown bulge open.

At that moment there was a heavy pounding on the door to her husband's
cabin.  Without further urging Katinka fled from the gallery, rushed to
her bunk and threw herself upon it.  She pulled the satin bedclothes up
to her chin, before she nodded at Zelda, who lifted the cross bar and
dropped into an ungainly curtsy as the Governor burst in.

He ignored her and, belting his robe around his protruding belly,
waddled to the bunk where Katinka.  lay.  Without his wig his head was
covered by sparse silver bristles.

"My dear, are you well enough to rise?  The captain has sent a message.
He wishes us to dress and stand to.  There is a strange vessel in the
offing, and it is behaving suspiciously."

Katinka stifled a smile as she thought of the suspicious behaviour of
the strange seamen.  Instead she made a brave but pitiful face.  "My
head is bursting, and my stomach, -" "My poor darling."  Petrus van de
Velde, Governor-elect of the Cape of Good Hope, bent over her.  Even on
this cool morning his jowls were basted with sweat, and he reeked of
last evening's dinner, Javanese curried fish, garlic and sour rum.

This time her stomach truly churned, but Katinka.  offered her cheek
dutifully.  "I may have the strength to rise," she whispered, "if the
captain orders it."

Zelda rushed to the bedside and helped her sit up, and then lifted her
to her feet, and with an arm around her waist, led her to the small
Chinese screen in the corner of the cabin.  Seated on the bench
opposite, her husband was afforded only vague glimpses of shining
white skin from behind the painted silk panels, even though he craned
his head to see more.

"How much longer must this terrible journey last?"  Katinka
complained.

"The captain assures me that, with this wind holding fair, we should
drop anchor in Table Bay within ten days."

"The Lord give me strength to survive that long."

"He has invited us to dine today with him and his officers," replied
the Governor.  "It is a pity, but I will send a message that you are
indisposed."

Katinka's head and shoulders popped up over the screen.  "You will do
no such thing!"  she snapped.  Her breasts, round and white and smooth,
quivered with agitation.

One of the officers interested her more than a little.  He was Colonel
Cornelius Schreuder, who, like her own husband, was en route to take up
an appointment at the Cape of Good Hope.  He had been appointed
military commander of the settlement of which Pettus van de Velde would
be Governor.  He wore pointed moustaches and a fashionable van Dyck
beard, and bowed to her most graciously each time she went on deck.
His legs were well turned, and his dark eyes were eagle bright and gave
her goose pimples when he looked at her.  She read in them more than
just respect for her position, and he had responded most gratifyingly
to the sly appraisal she had given him from under her long eyelashes.

When they reached the Cape, he would be her husband's subordinate.

Hers also to command and she was sure that he could relieve the
monotony of exile in the forsaken settlement at the end of the world
that was to be her home for the next three years.

"I mean," she changed her tone swiftly, "it would be churlish of us to
decline the captain's hospitality, would it not?"

"But your health is more important," he protested.

"I will find the strength."  Zelda slipped petticoats over her head,
one after another, five in all, each fluttering with ribbons.

Katinka came from behind the screen and raised her arms.  Zelda lowered
the blue silk dress over them and drew it down over the petticoats.
Then she knelt and carefully tucked up the skirts on one side to reveal
the petticoats beneath, and the slim ankles clad in white silk
stockings.  It was the very latest fashion.  The Governor watched her,
entranced.  If only the other parts of your body were as big and busy
as your eyeballs, Katinka thought derisively, as she turned to the long
mirror and pirouetted before it.

Then she screamed wildly and clutched her bosom as, from the deck
directly above them, there came the sudden deafening roar of gunfire.
The Governor screamed as shrilly and flung himself from the bench onto
the Oriental carpets that covered the deck.

"Through the lens of the telescope Sir Courtney read the name off her
gilded transom.  "The Standvastigheid.  the Resolution."  He lowered
the glass and grunted, "A name which we will soon put to the test!"

As he spoke a long bright plume of smoke spurted from the ship's upper
deck, and a few seconds later the boom of the cannon carried across the
wind.  Half a cable's length ahead of their bows, the heavy ball
plunged into the sea, making a tall white fountain.  They could hear
drums beating urgently in the other ship, and the gun ports in her
lower decks swung open.  Long barrels prodded out.

"I marvel that he waited so long to give us a warning shot," Sir
Francis drawled.  He closed the telescope, and looked up at the sails.
"Put up your helm, Master Ned, and lay us under his stern."  The
display of false colours had won them enough time to duck in under the
menace of the galleon's crushing broadside.

Sir Francis turned to the carpenter, who stood ready at the stern rail
with a boarding axe in his hands.  "Cut her loose!"  he ordered.

The man raised the axe above his head and swung it down.  With a crunch
the blade sliced into the timber of the stern rail, the drogue line
parted with a whiplash crack and, free of her restraint, the Lady
Edwina bounded forward, then heeled as Ned put up the helm.

Sir Francis's manservant, Oliver, came running with the red-quartered
cloak and plumed cavalier hat.  Sir Francis donned them swiftly and
bellowed at the masthead, "Down with the colours of the Republic and
let's see those of England!"  The crew cheered wildly as the Union flag
streamed out on the wind.

They came boiling up from below decks, like ants from a broken nest,
and lined the bulwarks, roaring defiance at the huge vessel that
towered over them.  The Dutchman's decks and rigging swarmed with
frantic activity.

The cannon in the galleon's ports were training around, but few could
cover the caravel as she came flying down on the wind, screened by the
Dutchman's own high counter.

A ragged broadside thundered out across the narrowing gap but most of
the shot fell wide by hundreds of yards or howled harmlessly overhead.
Hal ducked as the blast of a passing shot lifted the cap from his head
and sent it sailing away on the wind.  A neat round hole had appeared
miraculously in the sail six feet above him.  He flicked his long hair
out of his face, and peered down at the galleon.

The small company of Dutch officers on the quarterdeck were in
disarray.  Some were in shirtsleeves, and one was stuffing his
night-shirt into his breeches as he came up the companion-ladder.

One officer caught his eye in the throng: a tall man in a steel helmet
with a van Dyck beard was rallying a company of musketeers on the
foredeck.  He wore the gold-embroidered sash of a colonel over his
shoulder, and from the way he gave his orders and the alacrity with
which his men responded seemed a man to watch, one who might prove a
dangerous foe.

Now at his bidding the men ran aft, each carrying a murderer, one of
the small guns especially used for repelling boarders.  There were
slots in the galleon's stern rail into which the iron pin of the
murderer would fit, allowing the deadly little weapon to be traversed
and aimed at the decks of an enemy ship as it came alongside.  When
they had boarded the Heerlycke Nacht Hal had seen the execution the
murderer could wreak at close range.  It was more of a threat than the
rest of the galleon's battery.

He swivelled the falconet, and blew on the slow-match in his hand.

To reach the stern the file of Dutch musketeers must climb the ladder
from the quarterdeck to the poop.  He aimed at the head of the ladder
as the gap between the two ships closed swiftly; The Dutch colonel was
first up the ladder, sword in hand, his gilded helmet sparkling bravely
in the sunlight.  Hal let him cross the deck at a run, and waited for
his men to follow him up.

The first musketeer tripped at the head of the ladder and sprawled on
the deck, dropping his murderer as he fell.  Those following were
bunched up behind him, unable to pass for the moment that it took him
to recover and regain his feet.  Hal peered over the crude sights of
the falconet at the little knot of men.  He pressed the burning tip of
the match to the pan, and held his aim deliberately as the powder
flared.  The falconet jumped and bellowed and, as the smoke cleared he
saw that five of the musketeers were down, three torn to shreds by the
blast, the others screaming and splashing their blood on the white
deck.

Hal felt breathless with shock as he looked down at the carnage.  He
had never before killed a man, and his stomach heaved with sudden
nausea.  This was not the same as shattering a water cask.  For a
moment he thought he might vomit.

The Dutch colonel at the stern rail looked up at him.  He lifted his
sword and pointed it at Hal's face.  He shouted something up at Hal,
but the wind and the continuous roll of gunfire obliterated his words.
But Hal knew that he had made a mortal enemy.

This knowledge steadied him.  There was no time to reload the falconer,
it had done its work.  He knew that that single shot had saved the
lives of many of his own men.  He had caught the Dutch musketeers
before they could set up their murderers to scythe down the boarders.
He knew he should be proud, but he was not.  He was afraid of the Dutch
colonel.

Hal reached for the longbow.  He had to stand tall to draw it.  He
aimed his first arrow down at the colonel.  He drew to full reach, but
the Dutchman was no longer looking at him: he was commanding the
survivors of his company to their positions at the galleon's stern
rail.

His back was turned to Hal.

Hal held off a fraction, allowing for the wind and the ship's movement.
He loosed the arrow and watched it flash away, curling as the wind
caught it.  For a moment he thought it would find its mark in the
colonel's broad back, but the wind thwarted it.  It missed by a hand's
breadth and thudded into the deck timbers where it stood quivering. The
Dutchman glanced up at him, scorn curling his spiked moustaches. He
made no attempt to seek cover, but turned back to his men.

Hal reached frantically for another arrow, but at that instant the two
ships came together, and he was almost catapulted over the rim of the
crow's nest.

There was a grinding, crackling uproar, timbers burst, and the windows
in the galleon's stern galleries shattered at the collision.  Hal
looked down and saw Aboli in the bows, a black colossus as he swung a
boarding grapnel around his head in long swooping revolutions then
hurled it upwards, the line snaking out behind.

The iron hook skidded across the poop deck, but when Aboli jerked it
back it lodged firmly in the galleon's stern rail.  One of the Dutch
crew ran across and lifted an axe to cut it free.  Hal drew the fl
etchings of another arrow to his lips and loosed.  This time his
judgement of the windage was perfect and the arrowhead buried itself in
the man's throat.  He dropped the axe and clutched at the shaft as he
staggered backwards and collapsed.

Aboli had seized another grapnel and sent that up onto the galleon's
stern.  It was followed by a score of others, from the other
boatswains.  In moments the two vessels were bound to each other by a
spider's web of manila lines, too numerous for the galleon's defenders
to sever though they scampered along the gunwale with hatchets and
cutlasses.

The Lady Edwina had not fired her culver ins  Sir Francis had held his
broadside for the time when it would be most needed.  The shot could do
little damage to the galleon's massive planking, and it was far from
his plans to mortally injure the prize.  But now, with the two ships
locked together, the moment had come.

"Gunners!"  Sir Francis brandished his sword over his head to attract
their attention.  They stood over their pieces, smoking slow-match in
hand, watching him.  "Now!"  he roared, and slashed his blade
downwards.

The line of culver ins thundered in a single hellish chorus.  Their
muzzles were pressed hard against the galleon's stern, and the carved,
gilded woodwork disintegrated in a cloud of smoke, flying white
splinters and shards of stained glass from the windows.

It was the signal.  No command could be heard in the uproar, no gesture
seen in the dense fog that billowed over the locked vessels, but a
wild chorus of warlike yells rose from the smoke and the Lady Edwina's
crew poured up into the galleon.

They boarded in a pack through the stern gallery, like ferrets into a
rabbit warren, climbing with the nimbleness of apes and swarming over
the gunwale, screened from the Dutch gunners by the rolling cloud of
smoke.  Others ran out along the Lady Edwina's yards and dropped onto
the galleon's decks.  " Franky and St.  George!"  Their war-cries came
up to Hal at the masthead.  He saw only three or four shot down by the
murderers at the stern before the Dutch musketeers themselves were
hacked down and overwhelmed.  The men who followed climbed unopposed to
the galleon's poop.  He saw his father go across, moving with the speed
and agility of a much younger man.

Aboli stooped to boost him over the galleon's rail and the two fell in
side by side, the tall Negro with the scarlet turban and the cavalier
in his plumed Hat, cloak swirling around the battered steel of his
cuirass.

"Franky and St.  George!"  the men howled, as they saw their captain in
the thick of the fight, and followed him, sweeping the poop deck with
ringing, slashing steel.

The Dutch colonel tried to rally his few remaining men, but they were
beaten back remorselessly and sent tumbling down the ladders to the
quarterdeck.  Aboli and Sir Francis went down after them, their men
clamouring behind them like a pack of hounds with the scent of fox in
their nostrils.

Here they were faced with sterner opposition.  The galleon's captain
had formed up his men on the deck below the mainmast, and now their
musketeers fired a close-range volley and charged the Lady Edwina's men
with bared steel.  The galleon's decks were smothered with a struggling
mass of fighting men.

Although Hal had reloaded the falconer, there was no target for him.
Friend and foe were so intermingled that he could only watch helplessly
as the fight surged back and forth across the open deck below him.

Within minutes it was apparent that the crew of the Lady Edwina were
heavily outnumbered.  There were no reserves Sir Francis had left no
one but Hal aboard the caravel.  He had committed every last man,
gambling all on surprise and this first wild charge.  Twenty-four of
his men were leagues away across the water, manning the two pinnaces,
and could take no part.  They were sorely needed now, but when Hal
looked for the tiny-scout vessels he saw that they were still miles
out.  Both had their gaff main sails set, but were making only snail's
progress against the southeaster and the big curling swells.  The fight
would be decided before they could reach the two embattled ships and
intervene.

He looked back at the deck of the galleon and to his consternation,
realized that the fight had swung against them.  His father and Aboli
were being driven back towards the stern.  The Dutch colonel was at the
head of the counter-attack, roaring like a wounded bull and inspiring
his men by his example.

From the back ranks of the boarding-party broke a small group of the
Lady Edwina's men, who had been hanging back from the fight.  They were
led by a weasel of a man, Sam Bowles, a forecastle lawyer, whose
greatest talent lay in his ready tongue, his skill at arguing the
division of spoils and in brewing dissension and discontent among his
fellows.

Sam Bowles darted up into the galleon's stern and dropped over the rail
to the Lady Edwina's deck, followed by four others.

The interlocked ships had swung round ponderously before the wind, so
that now the Lady Edwina was straining at the grappling lines that held
them together.  In panic and terror, the five deserters fell with axe
and cutlass upon the lines.  Each parted with a snap that carried
clearly to Hal at the masthead.

"Avast that!  "he screamed down, but not one man raised his head from
his treacherous work.

"Father!"  Hal shrieked towards the deck of the other ship.  "You'll be
stranded!  Come back!  Come back!"

His voice could not carry against the wind or the noise of battle.

His father was fighting three Dutch seamen, all his attention locked
onto them.  Hal saw him take a cut on his blade, and then riposte with
a gleam of steel.  One of his opponents staggered back, clutching at
his arm, his sleeve suddenly sodden red.

At that moment the last grappling line parted with a crack, and the
Lady Eduna was free.  Her bows swung clear swiftly, her sails filled
and she bore away, leaving the galleon wallowing, her flapping sails
taken all aback, making ungainly sternway.

Hal launched himself down the shrouds, his palms scalded by the speed
of the rope hissing through them.  He hit the deck so hard that his
teeth cracked together in his jaws and he rolled across the planks.

In an instant he was on his feet, and looking desperately around him.
The galleon was already a cable's length away across the blue swell,
the sounds of the fighting growing faint on the wind.  Then he looked
to his own stern and saw Sam Bowles scurrying to take the helm.

A fallen seaman was lying in the scupper, shot down by a Dutch
murderer.  His musket lay beside him, still unfired, the match
spluttering and smoking in the lock.  Hal snatched it up and raced back
along the deck to head off Sam Bowles.

He reached the whipstall a dozen paces before the other man and rounded
on him, thrusting the gun's gaping muzzle into his belly.  "Back, you
craven swine!  Or I'll blow your traitor's guts over the deck."

Sam recoiled, and the other four seamen backed up behind him, staring
at Hal with faces still pale and terrified from their flight.

"You can't leave your shipmates.  We're going back!"  Hal screamed, his
eyes blazing green with wild rage and fear for his father and Aboli. He
waved the musket at them, the smoke from the match swirling around his
head.  His forefinger was hooked around the trigger.  Looking into
those eyes, the deserters could not doubt his resolve and retreated
down the deck.

Hal seized the whipstall and held it over.  The ship trembled under his
feet as she came under his command.  He looked back at the galleon, and
his spirits quailed.  He knew that he could never drive the Lady Edwina
back against the wind with this set of sail: they were flying away from
where his father and Aboli were fighting for their lives.  At the same
moment Bowles and his gang realized his predicament.  "Nobody ain't
going back, and there's naught you can do about it, young Henry."  Sam
cackled triumphantly.  "You'll have to get her on the other tack, to
beat back to your daddy, and there's none of us will handle the sheets
for you.  Is there, lads?  We have you strapped!"

Hal looked about him hopelessly.  Then, suddenly, his jaw clenched with
resolution.  Sam saw the change in him and turned to follow his gaze.
His own expression collapsed in consternation as he saw the pinnace
only half a league ahead, crowded with armed sailors.

"Have at him, lads!"  he exhorted his companions.  "He has but one shot
in the musket, and then he's ours!"

"One shot and my sword!  " Hal roared, and tapped the hilt of the
cutlass on his hip.  "God's teeth, but I'll take half of you with me
and glory in it."

"All together!"  Sam squealed.  "He'll never get the blade out of its
sheath."

"Yes!  Yes!"  Hal shouted.  "Come!  Please, I beg you for the chance to
have a look at your cowardly entrails."

They had all watched this young wildcat at practice, had seen him
fight Aboli, and none wanted to be at the front of the charge.  They
growled and shuffled, fingered their cutlasses and looked away.

"Come on, Sam Bowles!"  Hal challenged.  "You were quick enough from
the Dutchman's deck.  Let's see how quick you are to come at me now."

Sam steeled himself and then, grimly and purposefully, started forward,
but when Hal poked the muzzle of the musket an inch forward, aiming at
his belly, he pulled back hurriedly and tried to push one of his gang
forward.

"Have at him, lad!"  Sam croaked.  Hal changed his aim to the second
man's face, but he broke out of Sam's grip and ducked behind his
neighbour.

The pinnace was close ahead now they could hear the eager shouts of the
seamen in her.  Sam's expression was desperate.  Suddenly he fled. Like
a scared rabbit he shot down the ladder to the lower deck, and in an
instant the others followed him in a panic-stricken mob.

Hal dropped the musket to the deck, and used both hands on the
whipstall.  He gazed forward over the plunging bows, judging his moment
carefully, then threw his weight against the lever and spun the ship's
head up into the wind.

She lay there hove to.  The pinnace was nearby and Hal could see Big
Daniel Fisher in the bows, one of the Lady Edwina's best boatswains.
Big Daniel seized his opportunity, and shot the small boat alongside.
His sailors latched onto the trailing grappling lines that Sam and his
gang had cut, and came swarming up onto the caravel's deck.

"Daniel!"  Hal shouted at him.  "I'm going to wear the ship around. Get
ready to train her yards!  We're going back into the fight!"

Big Daniel flashed him a grin, his teeth jagged and broken as a
shark's, and led his men to the yard braces.  Twelve men, fresh and
eager, Hal exulted, as he prepared for the dangerous manoeuvre of
bringing the wind across the ship's stern rather than over her bows. If
he misjudged it, he would dismast her, but if he succeeded in bringing
her round, stern first to the wind, he would save several crucial
minutes in getting back to the embattled galleon.

Hal put the whipstall hard alee, but as she struggled wildly to feel
the wind come across her stern, and threatened to gybe with all
standing, Daniel paid off the yard braces to take the strain.  The
sails filled like thunder, and suddenly she was on the other tack,
clawing up into the wind, tearing back to join the fight.

Daniel hooted and lifted his cap, and they all cheered him, for it had
been courageously and skilfully done.  Hal hardly glanced at the
others, but concentrated on holding the Lady Edwina close hauled,
heading back for the drifting Dutchman.  The fight must still be raging
aboard her, for he could hear the faint shouts and the occasional pop
of a musket.  Then there was a flash of white off to leeward, and he
saw the gaff sail of the second pinnace ahead the crew waving wildly to
gain his attention.  Another dozen fighting men to join the muster, he
thought.  Was it worth the time to pick them up?  Another twelve sharp
cutlasses?  He let the Lady Edwina drop off a point, to head straight
for the tiny vessel.

Daniel had a line ready to heave across and, within seconds, the second
pinnace had disgorged her men and was on tow behind the Lady Edwina.

"Daniel!"  Hal called him.  "Keep those men quiet!  No sense in warning
the cheese-heads we're coming."

"Right, Master Hal.  We'll give "em a little surprise."  "Batten down
the hatches on the lower decks!  We have a cargo of cowards and
traitors hiding in our holds.  Keep "em.  locked down there until Sir
Francis can deal with them."

Silently the Lady Edwina steered in under the galleon's tumble home
Perhaps the Dutchmen were too busy to see her coming in under
shortened sail for not a single head peered down from the rail above as
the two hulls came together with a jarring grinding impact.  Daniel and
his crew -hurled grappling irons over the galleon's rail, and
immediately stormed up them, hand over hand.

Hal took only a moment to lash the whipstall hard over, then raced
across the deck and seized one of the straining lines.  Close on Big
Daniel's heels, he climbed swiftly and paused as he reached the
galleon's rail.  With one hand on the line and both feet planted firmly
on the galleon's timbers, he drew his cutlass and clamped the blade
between his teeth.  Then he swung himself up and, only a second behind
Daniel, dropped over the rail.

He found himself in the front rank of the fresh boarding party.  With
Daniel beside him, and the sword in his right fist he took a moment to
glance around the deck.  The fight was almost over.  They had arrived
with only seconds to spare for his father's men were scattered in tiny
clusters across the deck, surrounded by its crew and fighting for their
lives.  Half their number were down, a few obviously dead.  A head,
hacked from its torso, leered up at Hal from the scupper where it
rolled back and forth in a puddle of its own blood.  With a shudder of
horror, Hal recognized the Lady Edwina's cook.

Others were wounded, and writhed, rolled and groaned on the deck.  The
planks were slick and slippery with their blood.  Still others sat
exhausted, disarmed and dispirited, their weapons thrown aside, their
hands clasped over their heads, yielding to the enemy.

A few were still fighting.  Sir Francis and Aboli stood at bay below
the mainmast, surrounded by howling Dutchmen, hacking and stabbing.
Apart from a gash on his left arm, his father seemed unhurt perhaps the
steel cuirass had saved him from serious injury and he fought with all
his usual fire.  Beside him, Aboli was huge and indestructible, roaring
a war-cry in his own tongue when he saw Hal's head pop over the rail.

Without a thought but to go to their aid, Hal started forward.  "For
Franky and St.  George!"  he screamed at the top of his lungs, and Big
Daniel took up the cry, running at his left hand.  The men from the
pinnaces were after them, shrieking like a horde of raving madmen
straight out of Bedlam.

The Dutch crew were themselves almost spent, a score were down, and of
those still fighting many were wounded.  They looked over their
shoulders at this latest phalanx of bloodthirsty Englishmen rushing
upon them.  The surprise was complete.  Shock and dismay was on every
tired and sweat-lathered face.  Most flung down their weapons and, like
any defeated crew, rushed to hide below decks.

A few of the stouter souls swung about to face the charge, those around
the mast led by the Dutch colonel.  But the yells of Hal's
boarding-party had rallied their exhausted and bleeding shipmates, who
sprang forward with renewed resolve to join the" attack.  The Dutchmen
were surrounded.

Even in the confusion and turmoil Colonel Schreuder recognized Hal, and
whirled to confront him, aiming a cut, backhanded, at his head.  His
moustaches bristled like a lion's whiskers, and the blade hummed in his
hand.  He was miraculously unhurt and seemed as strong and fresh as any
of the men that Hal led against him.  Hal turned the blow with a twist
of his wrist and went for the counter-stroke.

In order to meet Hal's charge the colonel had turned his back on Aboli,
a foolhardy move.  As he trapped Hal's thrust and shifted his feet to
lunge, Aboli rushed at him from behind.  For a moment Hal thought he
would run him through the spine, but he should have guessed better.
Aboli knew the value of ransom as well as any man aboard: a dead enemy
officer was merely so much rotting meat to throw overboard to the
sharks that followed in their wake but a captive was worth good gold
guilders.

Aboli reversed his grip, and brought the steel basket of the cutlass
hilt cracking into the back of the colonel's skull.  The Dutchman's
eyes flew wide open with shock, then his legs buckled under him and he
toppled face down on the deck.

As the colonel went down, the last resistance of the galleon's crew
collapsed with him.  They threw down their weapons, and those of the
Lady Edwina's crew who had surrendered leapt to their feet, wounds and
exhaustion forgotten.  They snatched up the discarded weapons and
turned them on the beaten Dutchmen, herding them forward, forcing them
to squat in ranks with their hands clasped behind their heads,
dishevelled and forlorn.

Aboli seized Hal in a bear-hug.  "When you and Sam Bowles set sail, I
thought it was the last we would see of you," he panted.

Sir Francis came striding towards his son, thrusting his way through
the milling, cheering pack of his seamen.  "You deserted your post at
the masthead!"  He scowled at Hal as he bound a strip of cloth around
the nick in his upper arm and knotted it with his teeth.

"Father," Hal stammered, "I thought, -" "And for once you thought
wisely!"  Sir Francis's dark expression cracked and his green eyes
sparkled.  "We'll make a warrior of you yet, if you remember to keep
your point up on the riposte.  This great cheese-head," he prodded the
fallen colonel with his toe, "was about to skewer you, until Aboli
tapped his noggin."  Sir Francis slipped his sword back into its
scabbard.  "The ship is not yet secure.  The lower decks and holds are
crawling with them.  We'll have to drive them out.  Stay close to Aboli
and me!"  "Father, you're hurt, "Hal protested.

"And perhaps I would have been more sorely wounded had you come back to
us even a minute later than you did."

"Let me see to your wound."

"I know the tricks Aboli has taught you would you piss on your own
father?"  He laughed, and clapped Hal on the shoulder.  "Perhaps I'll
give you that pleasure a little later."  He turned and bellowed across
the deck, "Big Daniel, take your men below and winkle out those
cheese-heads who are hiding there.  Master John, put a guard on the
cargo hatches.  See to it there is no looting.  Fair shares for all!
Master Ned, take the helm and get this ship on the wind before she
flogs her canvas to rags."

Then he roared at the others, "I'm proud of you, you rascals!  A good
day's work.  You'll each go home with fifty gold guineas in your
pocket.  But the Plymouth lassies will never love you as well I do!"

They cheered him, hysterical with the release from desperate action and
the fear of defeat and death.

"Come on!"  Sir Francis nodded to Aboli and started for the ladder that
led down into the officers" and passengers" quarters in the stern.

Hal followed at a run as they crossed the deck, and Aboli grunted over
his shoulder, "Be on your mettle.  There are those below who would be
happy to stick a dirk between your ribs."

Hal knew where his father was going, and what would be his first
concern.  He wanted the Dutch captain's charts, log and sailing
directions.  They were more valuable to him than all the fragrant
spices and precious metals and bright jewels the galleon might be
carrying.  With those in his hands he would have the key to every Dutch
harbour and fort in the Indies.  He would read the sailing orders of
the spice convoys and the manifest of their cargoes.  To him they were
worth ten thousand pounds in gold.

Sir Francis stormed down the ladder and tried the first door at the
bottom.  It was locked from within.  He stepped back and charged.  At
his flying kick, the door flew open and crashed back on its hinges.

The galleon's captain was crouched over his desk, his cropped pate wig
less and his clothing sweat-soaked.  He looked up in dismay, blood
dripping from a cut on his cheek onto his silken shirt, its wide
fashionable sleeves slashed with green.

At the sight of Sir Francis, he froze in the act of stuffing the ship's
books into a weighted canvas bag, then snatched it up and rushed to the
stern windows.  The casements and glass had been shot away by the Lady
Edwina's culver ins and they gaped open, the sea breaking and swirling
under her counter.  The Dutch captain lifted the bag to hurl it through
the opening but Sir Francis seized his raised arm and flung him
backwards onto his bunk.  Aboli grabbed the bag, and Sir Francis made a
courteous little bow.  "You speak English?"he demanded.

"No English," the captain snarled back, and Sir Francis changed
smoothly into Dutch.  As a Nautonnier Knight of the Order he spoke most
of the languages of the great seafaring nations, French, Spanish
andpo-rtuguese, as well as Dutch.  "You are my prisoner, Mijnheer.
What is your name?"

Timberger, captain of the first class, in the service of the VOC.  And
you, Mijnheer, are a corsair," the captain retorted.

"You are mistaken, sir!  I sail under Letters of Marque from His
Majesty King Charles the second.  Your ship is now a prize of war."

"You flew false colours," the Dutchman accused.

Sir Francis smiled bleakly.  "A legitimate ruse of war."  He made a
dismissive gesture and went on, "You are a brave man, Mijnheer, but the
fight is over now.  As soon as you give me your word, you will be
treated as my honoured guest.  The day your ransom is paid, you will go
free."

The captain wiped the blood and sweat from his face with his silken
sleeve, and an expression of resignation dulled his features.  He stood
and handed his sword hilt first to Sir Francis.

"You have my word.  I will not attempt to escape."

"Nor encourage your men to resistance?"  Sir Francis prompted him.

The captain nodded glumly.  "I agree."

"I will need your cabin, Mijnheer, but I will find you comfortable
quarters elsewhere."  Sir Francis turned his attention eagerly to the
canvas bag and dumped its contents on the desk.

Hal knew that, from now on, his father would be absorbed in his
reading, and he glanced at Aboli on guard in the doorway.  The Negro
nodded permission at him, and Hal slipped out of the cabin.  His father
did not see him go.

Cutlass in hand, he moved cautiously down the narrow corridor.  He
could hear the shouts and clatter from the other decks as the crew of
the Lady Edwina cleared out the defeated Dutch seamen and herded them
up onto the open deck.  Down here it was quiet and deserted.  The first
door he tried was locked.  He hesitated then followed his father's
earlier example.  The door resisted his first onslaught, but he backed
off and charged again.  This time it burst open and he went flying
through into the cabin beyond, off balance and skidding on the
magnificent Oriental rugs that covered the deck.  He sprawled on the
huge bed that seemed to fill half the cabin.

As he sat up and gazed at the splendour that surrounded him, he was
aware of an aroma more heady than any spice he had ever smelt.  The
boudoir odour of a pampered woman, not merely the precious oils of
flowers, procured by the perfumer's art, but blended with these the
more subtle scents of skin and hair and a healthy young female body.
It was so exquisite, so moving that when he stood his legs felt
strangely weak under him, and he snuffed it up rapturously.  It was the
most delicious smell that had ever set his nostrils a-quiver.

Sword in hand he gazed around the cabin, only vaguely aware of the
rich tapestries and silver vessels filled with sweetmeats, dried fruits
and potpourri.  The dressing table against the port bulkhead was
covered with an array of cut glass cosmetic and perfume bottles with
stoppers of chased silver.  He moved across to it.  Laid out beside the
bottles was a set of silver-backed brushes and a tortoiseshell comb.
Trapped between the teeth of the comb was a single strand of hair, long
as his arm, fine as a silk thread.

Hal lifted the comb to his face as though it were a holy relic.  There
was that entrancing odour again, that giddy woman's smell.  He wound
the hair about his finger and freed it from the teeth of the comb, then
reverently tucked it into the pocket of his stained and sweat-stinking
shirt.

At that moment there came a soft but heartbreaking sob from behind the
gaudy Chinese screen across one end of the cabin.

"Who's there?"  Hal challenged, cutlass poised.  "Come out or I'll
thrust home."

There was another sob, more poignant than the last.  "By all the
saints, I mean it!"  Hal stalked towards the screen.

He slashed at the screen, slicing through one of the painted panels. At
the force of the blow it toppled and crashed to the deck.  There was a
terrified shriek, and Hal stood gaping at the wondrous creature who
knelt, cowering, in the corner of the cabin.

Her face was buried in her hands, but the mass of shining hair that
tumbled to the deck glowed like freshly minted gold escudos, and the
skirts spread around were the blue of a swallow's wings.

"Please, madam!"  Hal whispered.  "I mean you no ill.  Please do not
cry."  His words had no effect.  Clearly they were not understood and,
inspired by the moment, Hal switched into Latin.  "You need not fear-
You are safe.  I will not harm you.

The shining head lifted.  She had understood.  He looked into her face,
and it was as though he had received a charge of grape shot in the
centre of his chest.  The pain was so intense that he gasped aloud.

He had never dreamed that such beauty could exist.

"Mercy!"  she whispered pitifully in Latin.  "Please do not harm me."
Her eyes were liquid and brimming, but her tears served only to enhance
their magnitude and intensify their iridescent violet.  Her cheeks were
blanched to the translucent lustre of alabaster, and the tears upon
them gleamed like tiny seed pearls.

"You are beautiful," Hal said, still in Latin.  His voice sounded like
that of a victim on the rack, breathless and agonized.  He was tortured
by emotions that he had never dreamed existed.  He wanted to protect
and cherish this woman, to keep her for ever for himself, to love and
worship her.  All the words of chivalry, which, until he looked upon
her, he had read and mouthed but never truly understood, rushed to his
tongue demanding utterance, but he could only stand and stare.

Then he was distracted by another soft sound from behind him.  He spun
round, cutlass at the ready.  From under the satin sheets that trailed
over the edge of the huge bed crawled a porcine figure.  The back and
belly were so well larded as to wobble with every movement the man
made.  Rolls of fat swaddled the back of his neck and hung down his
pendulous jowls.  "Yield yourself!"  Hal bellowed, and prodded him with
the point of the blade.  The Governor screamed shrilly and collapsed on
the deck.  He wriggled like a puppy.

"Please do not kill me.  I am a rich man," he sobbed, also in Latin. "I
will pay any ransom."

"Get up!"  Hal prodded him again, but Petrus van de Velde had only
enough strength and courage to reach his knees.  He knelt there,
blubbering.

"Who are you?"

"I am the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and this lady is my
wife."

These were the most terrible words Hal had ever heard spoken.  He
stared at the man aghast.  The wondrous lady he already loved with his
very life was married and to this grotesque burlesque of a man who
knelt before him.

"My father-in-law is a director of the Company, one of the richest and
most powerful merchants in Amsterdam.  He will pay he will pay
anything.  Please do not kill us."

The words made little sense to Hal.  His heart was breaking.  Within
moments he had gone from wild elation to the depths of the human
spirit, from soaring love to plunging despair.

But the Governor's words meant more to Sir Francis Courtney, who stood
now in the entrance to the cabin with Aboli at his back.

"Please calm yourself, Governor.  You and your wife are in safe hands.
I will make the arrangements for your ransom with all despatch."  He
swept off his plumed cavalier Hat, and bent his knee towards Katinka.
Even he was not entirely proof against her beauty.  "May I introduce
myself, madam?  Captain Francis Courtney, at your command.  Please take
a while to compose yourself.  At four bells that is in an hour's time I
would be obliged if you would join me on the quarterdeck.  I intend to
hold a muster of the ship's company."  the ships were under sail, the
little caravel under studding-sails and top sails only, the great
galleon with her mainsail set.  They sailed in close company on a
north-easterly heading, away from the Cape and on a closing course with
the eastern reaches of the African mainland.  Sir Francis looked down
paternally upon his crew in the galleon's waist.

"I promised you fifty guineas the man as your prize," he said, and they
cheered him wildly.  Some were stiff and crippled with their wounds.
Five were laid on pallets against the rail, too weak from loss of blood
to stand but determined not to miss a word of this ceremony.  The dead
were already stitched in their canvas shrouds, each with a Dutch
cannonball at his feet, and laid out in the bows.  Sixteen Englishmen
and forty-two Dutch, comrades in the truce of death.  None of the
living now gave them a thought.

Sir Francis held up one hand.  They fell silent and crowded forward so
as not to miss his next words.

"I lied to you," he told them.  There was a moment of stunned disbelief
and then they groaned and muttered darkly.  "There is not a man among
you .. ."  he paused for effect "..  . but is the richer by two hundred
pounds for this day's work!"

The silence persisted as they stared incredulously at him, and then
they went mad with joy.  They capered and howled, and whirled each
other around in a delirious jig.  Even the wounded sat up and crowed.

Sir Francis smiled down on them benignly for a while as he let them
give vent to their joy.  Then he waved a sheaf of manuscript pages over
his head and they fell silent again.  "This is the extract I have made
of the ship's manifest!"  "Read it!"  they pleaded.

The recital went on for almost half an hour, for they cheered each item
of the bill of lading that he translated from the Dutch as he read
aloud.  Cochineal and pepper, vanilla and saffron, cloves and cardamom
with a total weight of forty-two tons.  The crew knew that, weight for
weight and pound for pound, those spices were as precious as bars of
silver.  They were hoarse with shouting, and Sir Francis held up his
hand again.  "Do I weary you with this endless list?  Have you had
enough?"

"No!"  they roared.  "Read on!"

"Well, then, there are a few sticks of timber in her holds.

Balu and teak and other strange wood that has never been seen north of
the equator.  Over three hundred tons."  They feasted on his words with
shining eyes.  "There is still more, but I see that I weary you.  You
want no more?"

"Read it to us!"  they pleaded.

"Finest Chinese blue and white ceramic ware, and silk in bolts.  That
will please the ladies!"  They bellowed like a herd of bull elephants
in musth at the mention of women.  When they reached the next port,
with two hundred pounds in each purse, they could have as many women,
of whatever quality and comeliness their fancies ordered.

"There is also gold and silver, but that is boarded over in sealed
steel chests in the bottom of the main hold, with three hundred tons of
timber on top of it.  We will not get our hands on it until we reach
port and unload the main cargo."

"How much gold?"  they pleaded.  "Tell us how much silver."

"Silver in coin to the value of fifty thousand guilders.  That's over
ten thousand good English pounds.  Three hundred ingots of gold from
the mines of Kollur on the Krishna river in Kandy, and the Good Lord
alone knows what those will bring in when we sell them in London."

Hal hung in the mainmast shrouds, a vantage point from which he could
look down on his father on the quarterdeck.  Hardly a word of what he
was saying made sense to Hal, but he realized dimly that this must be
one of the greatest prizes ever taken by English sailors during the
course of this war with the Dutch.  He felt dazed and lightheaded,
unable to concentrate on anything but the greater treasure he had
captured with his own sword, and which now sat demurely behind his
father, attended by her maid.  Chivalrously Sir Francis had placed one
of the carved, cushioned chairs from the captain's cabin on the
quarterdeck for the Dutch governor's wife.  Now Petrus van de Velde
stood behind her, splendidly dressed, wearing high rhine graves of soft
Spanish leather that reached to his thighs, bewigged and beribboned,
his corpulence covered with the medallions and silken sashes of his
office.

To his surprise Hal found that he hated the man bitterly, and lamented
that he had not skewered him as he crawled from under the bed, and so
made the angel who was his wife into a tragic widow.

He imagined devoting his life to playing Lancelot to her Guinevere.  He
saw himself humble and submissive to her every whim but inspired to
deeds of outstanding valour by his pure love for her.  At her behest,
he might even undertake a knightly errand to search for the Holy Grail
and place the sacred relic in her beautiful white hands.  He shuddered
with pleasure at the thought, and stared down longingly at her.

While Hal daydreamed in the rigging, the ceremony on the deck below him
drew to its conclusion.  Behind the Governor were ranked the Dutch
captain and the other captured officers.  Colonel Cornelius Schreuder
was the only one without a Hat, for a bandage swathed his head. Despite
the blow Aboli, had dealt him his eye was still keen and unclouded and
his expression fierce as he listened to Sir Francis list the spoils.

"But that is not all, lads!"  Sir Francis assured his crew.  "We are
fortunate enough to have aboard, as our honoured guest, the new
Governor of the Dutch settlement of the Cape of Good Hope."  With an
ironic flourish he bowed to van de Velde, who glowered at him: now that
his captors had realized his value and position, he felt more secure.

The Englishmen cheered, but their eyes were on Katinka, and Sir Francis
obliged them by introducing her.  "We are also fortunate to have with
us the Governor's lovely wife-" He broke off as the crew sounded their
appreciation of her beauty.

"Coarse peasant cattle," van de Velde growled and laid his hand
protectively upon Katinka's shoulder.  She gazed upon the men with
wide violet eyes, and her beauty and innocence shamed them into an
embarrassed silence.

"Mevrouw van de Velde is the only daughter of Burgher Hendrik Coetzee,
the stadhouder of the City of Amsterdam, and the Chairman of the
governing board of the Dutch East India Company."

The crew stared at her in awe.  Few understood the importance of such
an exalted personage, but the manner in which Sir Francis had recited
these titles had impressed them.

"The Governor and his wife will be held on board this ship until their
ransom is paid.  One of the captured Dutch officers will be despatched
to the Cape of Good Hope with the ransom demand to be transmitted by
the next Company ship to the Council in Amsterdam."

The crew goggled at the couple as they considered this, then Big Daniel
asked, "How much, Sir Francis?  What is the amount of the ransom you
have set?"

"I have set the Governor's ransom at two hundred thousand guilders in
gold coin."

The ship's company was stunned, for such a sum surpassed their
understanding.

Then Daniel bellowed again, "Let's have a cheer for the captain, lads!"
And they yelled until their voices cracked.

Sir Francis walked slowly down the ranks of captured Dutch seamen.
There were forty-seven, eighteen of them wounded.  He examined the face
of each man as he passed: they were rough stock, coarse-featured and
unintelligent of expression.  It was obvious that none had any ransom
value.  They were, rather, a liability, for they had to be fed and
guarded, and there was always the danger that they might recover their
courage and attempt an insurrection.

"The sooner we are rid of them the better," he murmured to himself,
then addressed them aloud in their own language.  "You have done your
duty well.  You will be set free and sent back to the fort at the Cape.
You may take your ditty bags with you, and I will see to it that you
are paid the wages owing you before you go."  Their faces brightened.
They had not expected that.  That should keep them quiet and docile, he
thought, as he turned away to the ladder down to his newly acquired
cabin, where his more illustrious prisoners were waiting for him.

"Gentlemen!"  he greeted them, as he entered and took his seat behind
the mahogany desk.  "Would you care for a glass of Canary wine?"

Governor van de Velde nodded greedily.  His throat was dry and although
he had eaten only half an hour previously his stomach growled like a
hungry dog.  Oliver, Sir Francis's servant, poured the yellow wine into
the long-stemmed glasses and served the sugared fruits he had found in
the Dutch captain's larder.  The captain made a sour face as he
recognized his own fare, but took a large gulp of the Canary.

Sir Francis consulted the pile of manuscript on which he had made his
notes, then glanced at one of the letters he had found in the captain's
desk.  It was from an eminent firm of bankers in Holland.  He looked up
at the captain and addressed him sternly.  "I wonder that an officer of
your service and seniority with the VOC should indulge in trade for his
own account.  We both know it is strictly forbidden by the
Seventeen."

The captain looked as though he might protest, but when Sir Francis
tapped the letter he subsided and glanced guiltily at the Governor, who
sat beside him.

"It seems that you are a rich man, Mijnheer.  You will hardly miss a
ransom of two hundred thousand guilders."  The captain muttered and
scowled darkly, but Sir Francis went on smoothly, "If you will pen a
letter to your bankers, the matter can be settled as between gentlemen,
just as soon as I receive that amount in gold."  The captain inclined
his head in acquiescence.

"Now, as to the ship's officers," Sir Francis went on, "I have examined
your enlistment register."  He drew the book towards him and opened it,
"It seems that they are all men without high connections or financial
substance."  He looked up at the captain.  "Is that the case?"

"That is true, Mijnheer."

"I will send them to the Cape with the common seamen.  Now it remains
to decide to whom we shall entrust the ransom demand to the Council of
the Company for Governor van de Velde and his good lady and, of course,
your letter to your bankers."

Sir Francis looked up at the Governor.  Van de Velde stuffed another
candied fruit into his mouth and replied around it, "Send Schreuder."

"Schreuder?"  Sir Francis riffled through the papers until he found the
colonel's commission.  "Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, the newly
appointed military commander of the fort at Good Hope?"  ja, that one."
Van de Velde reached for another sweetmeat.  "His rank will give him
more standing when he presents your demand for my ransom to my
father-in-law," he pointed out.

Sir Francis studied the man's face as he chewed.  He wondered why the
Governor wanted to be rid of the colonel.  He seemed a good man and
resourceful; it would make more sense to keep him at hand.  However,
what van de Velde said of his status was true.  And Sir Francis sensed
that Colonel Schreuder might play the devil if he were kept captive
aboard the galleon for any length of time.  Much more trouble than he's
worth, he thought, and said aloud, "Very well, I will send him."

The Governor's sugar-coated lips pouted with satisfaction.  He was
fully aware of his wife's interest in the dashing colonel.  He had been
married to her for only a few years, and yet he knew for a certainty
that she had taken at least eighteen lovers in that time, some for only
an hour or an evening.

Her maid, Zelda, was in the pay of van de Velde and reported to him
each of her mistress's adventures, taking a deep vicarious pleasure in
relating every salacious detail.

When van de Velde had first become aware of Katinka's carnal appetite,
he had been outraged.  However, his initial furious remonstrations had
had no effect upon her and he learned swiftly that over her he had no
control.  He could neither protest too much nor send her away for on
the one hand he was besotted by her, and on the other her father was
too rich and powerful.  The advancement of his own fortune and status
depended almost entirely upon her.  In the end his only course of
action had been, as far as possible, to keep temptation and opportunity
from her.  During this voyage he had succeeded in keeping her a virtual
prisoner in her quarters, and he was sure that, had he not done so, his
wife would have already sampled the colonel's wares, which were
ostentatiously on display.  With him sent off the ship .  her choice of
diversion would be severely curtailed and, after a prolonged fast, she
might even become amenable to his own sweaty advances.

"Very well," Sir Francis agreed, "I will send Colonel Schreuder as your
emissary."  He turned the page of the almanac on the desk in front of
him.  "With fair winds, and by the grace of Almighty God, the round
trip from the Cape to Holland and back here to the rendezvous should
not occupy more than eight months.  We can hope that you might be free
to take up your duties at the Cape by Christmas."

"Where will you keep us-until the ransom is received?  My wife is a
lady of quality and delicate disposition."

"In a safe place, and in comfort.  That I assure you, sir."  "Where
will you meet the ship returning with our ransom monies?  "At
thirty-three degrees south latitude and four degrees thirty minutes
east."

"Where, pray, might that be?"

"Why, Governor van de Velde, at the very spot upon the ocean where we
are at this moment."  Sir Francis would not be tricked so readily into
revealing the whereabouts of his base.

In a misty dawn the galleon dropped anchor in the gentler waters behind
a rocky headland of the African coast.  The wind had dropped and begun
to veer.  The end of the summer season was at hand; they were fast
approaching the autumnal equinox.  The Lady Edwina, her pumps pounding
ceaselessly, came alongside and, with fenders of matted oakum between
the hulls, she made fast to the larger vessel.

At once the work of clearing her out began.  Blocks and tackle had
already been rigged from the galleon's yards.  They took out the guns
first.  The great bronze barrels on their trains were swayed aloft.
Thirty seamen walked away with the tackle and then lowered each
culverin to the galleon's deck.  Once these guns were sited, the
galleon would have the firepower of a ship of the line and would be
able to attack any Company galleon on better than equal terms.

Watching the cannon come on board, Sir Francis realized that he now had
the force to launch a raid on any of the Dutch trading harbours in the
Indies.  This capture of the Standvastigheid was only a beginning. From
here he planned to become the terror of the Dutch in the Ocean of the
Indies, just as Sir Francis Drake had scourged the Spanish on their own
main in the previous century.

Now the powder kegs were lifted out of the caravel's magazine.  Few
remained filled after such a long cruise and the heavy actions she had
fought.  However, the galleon still carried almost two tons of
excellent quality gunpowder, sufficient to fight a dozen battles, or to
capture a rich Dutch entrept on the Trincomalee or Javanese coast.

When the furniture and stores had been brought across, water casks and
weapons chests, brine barrels of pickled meats, bread bags and barrels
of flour, the pirmaces were also hoisted aboard and broken down by the
carpenters.  They were stowed away in the galleon's main cargo hold on
top of the stacks of rare oriental timbers.  So bulky were they and so
heavily laden with her own cargo was the galleon that to accommodate
their bulk the hatch coamings had to be left off the main holds until
the prize was taken into Sir Francis's secret base.

Stripped to her planks, the Lady Edwina rode high in the water when
Colonel Schreuder and the released Dutch crew were ready to board her.
Sir Francis summoned the colonel to the quarterdeck and handed him back
his sword and the letter addressed to the Council of the Dutch East
India Company in Amsterdam.  It was stitched in a canvas cover, the
seams sealed with red wax, and tied with ribbon.  It made an impressive
-bundle, which Colonel Schreuder placed firmly under his arm.

"I hope we meet again, Mijnheer," Schreuder said ominously to Sir
Francis.

"In eight months from now I will be at the rendezvous," Sir Francis
assured.  "Then I shall be delighted to see you again, as long as you
have the two hundred thousand gold guilders for me."

"You miss my meaning, "said Cornelius Schreuder grimly.  "I assure you
I do not," responded Sir Francis quietly.  Then the colonel looked to
the break in the poop where Katinka van de Velde stood at her husband's
side.  The deep bow that he made towards them and the look of longing
in his eyes were not for the Governor alone.  "I shall return with all
haste to end your suffering," he told them.

"God be with you," said the Governor.  "Our fate is in your hands."

"You will be assured of my deepest gratitude on your return, my dear
Colonel," Katinka whispered, in a breathless little girl's voice, and
the colonel shivered as though a bucket of icy water had been poured
down his back.  He drew himself to his full height, saluted her, then
turned and strode to the galleon's rail.

Hal was waiting at the port with Aboli and Big Daniel.  The colonel's
eyes narrowed and he stopped in front of Hal and twirled his moustache.
The ribbons on his coat fluttered in the breeze, and the sash of his
rank shimmered as he touched the sword at his side.

"We were interrupted, boy," he said softly, in good unaccented English.
"However, there will be a time and a place for me to finish the
lesson."

"Let us hope so, sir."  Hal was brave with Aboli at his side.  "I am
always grateful for instruction."

For a moment they held each other's eyes, and then Schreuder dropped
over the galleon's side to the deck of the caravel.  Immediately the
lines were cast off and the Dutch crew set the sails.  The Lady Edwina
threw up her stern like a skittish colt and heeled to the press of her
canvas.  Lightly she turned away from the land to make her offing.

"We also will get under way, if you please, Master Ned!"  Sir Francis
said.  "Up with her anchor."

The galleon bore away from the African coast, heading into the south.
From the masthead where Hal crouched the Lady Edwina was still in plain
view.  The smaller vessel was standing out to clear the treacherous
shoals of the Agulhas Cape, before coming around to run before the wind
down to the Dutch fort below the great table-topped mountain that
guarded the south-western extremity of the African continent.

As Hal watched, the silhouette of the caravel's sails altered
drastically.  He leaned out and shouted down, "The Lady Edwina is
altering course."

"Where away?"  his father yelled back.

"She's running free," Hal told him.  "Her new course looks to be due
west."

She was doing precisely what they expected of her.  With the
south-easter well abaft her beam, she was now heading directly for Good
Hope.

"Keep her under your eye."

As Hal watched her, the caravel dwindled in size until her white sails
merged with the tossing manes of the wind driven white horses on the
horizon.

"She's gone!"  he shouted at the quarterdeck.  "Out of sight from
here!"  Sir Francis had waited for this moment before he brought the
galleon around onto her true heading.  Now he gave the orders to the
helm that brought her around towards the east, and she went back on a
broad reach parallel with the African coast.  "This seems to be her
best point of sailing," he said to Hal, as his son came down to the
deck after being relieved at the masthead.  "Even with her
jury-rigging, she's showing a good turn of speed.  We must get to know
the whims and caprice of our new mistress.  Make a cast of the log,
please."

With the glass in hand, Hal timed the wooden log on its reel, dropped
from the bows on its journey back along the hull until it reached the
stern.  He made a quick calculation on the slate, and then looked up at
his father.  "Six knots through the water."

"With a new mainmast she will be good for ten.  Ned Tyler has found a
spar of good Norwegian pine stowed away in her hold.  We will step it
as soon as we get into port."  Sir Francis looked delighted: God was
smiling upon them.  "Assemble the ship's company.  We will ask God's
blessing on her and rename her."

They stood bare-headed in the wind, clutching their caps to their
breasts, their expressions as pious as they could muster, anxious not
to attract the disfavour of Sir Francis.

"We thank you, Almighty God, for the victory you have granted us over
the heretic and the apostate, the benighted followers of the son of
Satan, Martin Luther."

"Amen!"  they cried loudly.  They were all good Anglicans, apart from
the black tribesmen among them, but these Negroes cried, "Amen!"  with
the rest.  They had learned that word their first day aboard Sir
Francis's ship.

"We thank you also for your timely and merciful intervention in the
midst of the battle and your deliverance of us from certain defeat.  -"
Hal shuffled in disagreement, but without looking up.  Some of the
credit for the timely intervention was his, and his father had not
acknowledged this as openly.

"We thank you and praise your name for placing in our hands this fine
ship.  We give you our solemn oath that we will use her to bring
humiliation and punishment upon your enemies.  We ask your blessing
upon her.  We beg you to look kindly upon her, and to sanction the new
name which we now give her.  From henceforth she will become the
Resolution."

His father had simply translated the galleon's Dutch name, and Hal was
saddened that this ship would not bear his mother's name.  He wondered
if his father's memory of his mother was at last fading, or if he had
some other reason for no longer perpetuating her memory.  He knew,
though, that he would never have the courage to ask, and he must simply
accept this decision.

"We ask your continued help and intervention in our endless battle
against the godless.  We thank you humbly for the rewards you have so
bountifully heaped upon us.  And we trust that if we prove worthy you
will reward our worship and sacrifice with further proof of the love
you bear us."

This was a perfectly reasonable sentiment, one with which every man on
board, true Christian or pagan, could be in full accord.  Every man
devoted to God's work on earth was entitled to his rewards, and not
only in the life to come.  The treasures that fitted the Resolution's
holds were proof and tangible evidence of his approval and
consideration towards them.

"Now let's have a cheer for Resolution and all who sail in her."  and
Sir Francis They cheered until they were boars silenced them at last.
He replaced his broad-brimmed Hat and gestured for them to cover their
heads.  His expression became stern and forbidding.  "There is one more
task we have to perform now," he told them, and looked at Big Daniel.
"Bring the prisoners on deck, Master Daniel."

Sam Bowles was at the head of the forlorn file that came up from the
hold, blinking in the sunlight.  They were led facing the ship's
company.  aft and forced to kneel, Sir Francis read their names from
the sheet of parchment he held up.  "Samuel Bowles.  Edward Broom.
Peter Law.  Peter Miller.  John Tate.  You kneel before your shipmates
accused of cowardice and desertion in the face of the ene