Land of Terror

Chapter Twenty-Four

Edgar Rice Burroughs

I SHALL NOT bore you with a detailed description of my attempts to convert one of their canoes into a sailboat. I discovered, after considerable experimenting, that I could harden the wood of the native trees over a bed of hot coals; and, with this make-shift material, I constructed a keel and an outrigger. My only tools were some large shells with sharp edges, a stone knife, a stone chisel, and a hammer of stone. Fortunately for me, the wood was very soft and I worked it into shape before hardening it. I made the keel with a broad flange at the top and fastened it to the bottom of the canoe with fire-hardened, wooden pegs which I knew would expand when wet. For my mast, I spliced length of bamboo to the proper height and then bound three of these together with grass cord. The sail was perhaps the most difficult problem; but I solved it by building a primitive loom and teaching a couple of the women how to weave, using a long, tough grass.

While I was working on the canoe, I became pretty well acquainted with the members of the tribe and their customs. There were about forty families on this island, averaging about four members to the family. There were also twenty-five or thirty slaves—men and women from the white races of the mainland. These slaves attended to practically all of the manual labor; but their life was not a difficult one, and, for the most part, they were well treated.

The men are monogamous and very proud of their bloodline. Under no circumstances will they mate with a white, as they consider the white race far inferior to theirs. I could never quite accustom myself to this reversal of the status of the two races from what I had always been accustomed to; but it really was not as difficult as it might appear, for I must admit that the blacks treated us with far greater toleration here than our dark-skinned races are accorded on the outer crust. Perhaps I was getting a lesson in true democracy.

The canoe upon which I had been working had been drawn up on the seashore about half a mile from the village. Usually, there was a number of villagers hanging around watching me; and Ul-Van was always with me, having been detailed by Ro-Tai to keep a watch on me and prevent me from escaping.

Once, while Ul-Van and I were alone, I saw a canoe approaching in the distance, and called UI-Van’s attention to it. At first he couldn’t see it; but when it came closer, and he could recognize it as a canoe, he showed considerable excitement.

“They are probably Ko-vans,” he said. “It is a raiding party.”

“There are three more canoes coming into sight now behind the first one,” I told him.

“That is bad,” said UI-Van. “We must return to the village at once and warn Ro-Tai.”

When Ul-Van had reported to Ro-Tai, the latter sent boys to the fishing pool and to other parts of the island where he knew his warriors to be; and soon all were congregated in the village.

The women and children were sent into the huts; the men stood about nervously, an unorganized crowd presenting a fine target for the spears of the enemy.

“You are not going to remain here, are you?” I asked Ro-Tai.

“This is our village. We shall remain here and defend it,” he replied.

“Why don’t you go out and meet them’?” I asked. “You could take them by surprise. Send a scout out to see what trail they are taking and then hide your warriors on either side of it; then when the Ko-vans walk into your trap, you can fall upon them in force from both sides. They will be surprised and disorganized, and those whom you do not kill will run back to their canoes as fast as they can go. It is not necessary for you to let them reach your village at all.”

“All my life, I have fought when raiders came,” replied Ro-Tai with dignity; “and I, and my father, and his father before him, have always held the warriors in the village to await attack.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” I said. “As a matter of fact, you have always been doing it in the wrong way. If you’ll let me have ten men, I’ll stop those Ko-Vans before they come anywhere near your village.”

“I believe him,” said one of the principal men of the village. “He has not deceived us yet.”

“His plan is a good one,” said Ul-Van.

“Very well,” said Ro-Tai. “Take ten men and go and see if you can stop the Ko-vans. The rest of us will remain here to fight with them, if you fail.”

“I shall not fail,” I said; then I selected UI-Van and nine other men, and together we started back toward the ocean. I sent one man ahead to reconnoiter, with orders to report back to me as soon as he had discovered what trail the Ko-vans took after they landed.

“They will take this trail,” said UI-Van. “They always do.”

“Do they raid you often?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “They were here only a few sleeps before you came. They killed several of our warriors and stole some of our slaves. Among them was a woman slave that belonged to me. I did not like to lose her for she was very beautiful, and my mate was very fond of her. She said that she was an Amozite, and I have heard from other slaves that the women of Amoz are considered very beautiful. She told my woman that she and her mate lived in a country called Sari.”

“What was her name?” I asked.

Before Ul-Van could reply, my scout came racing back, breathless. “The Ko-vans have landed,” he said. “They are coming along this trail.”

“How many of them are there?” 1 asked.

“About twenty,” he replied.

I posted my men on either side of the trail, well hidden behind trees. Each of the warriors carried two spears and a stone knife. I told them not to move or to make any sound until I gave the signal; then they were to stand up and each hurl one of his spears, immediately charging in to close quarters with his remaining spear.

I climbed a tree from which I could not only see my own men but watch the trail for a short distance along which the Ko-vans were approaching, quite oblivious of the fate that awaited them.

I had not long to wait, for presently a hideously painted warrior came into view; and close behind him, in single file, followed the others. They were armed precisely as were the Ruvans—two spears and a stone knife—and they were of the same race of fine-looking blacks. Only in their war-paint did they differ in appearance from the warriors of Ruva.

Silently I fitted an arrow to my bow and waited until the entire file was well within the ambush. I bent the bow and took careful aim. This was savage warfare, warfare of the Stone Age. Of course, we lacked poison gas, and we couldn’t drop bombs on women and children and hospitals; but in our own primitive way we could do fairly well; and so I released my arrow, and as it sunk deep into the body of the last man in the file, I gave the signal for the Ruvan warriors to attack.

With savage war cries they rose and hurled their spears. The Ko-vans, taken entirely by surprise, were thrown into confusion to which I added by driving half a dozen more arrows into as many of them in rapid succession.

Eleven of the twenty went down in the first onslaught. The remaining nine turned to flee; but the trail was narrow and blocked by the dead and wounded. The survivors stumbled and fell as they attempted to climb over one another and their dead and dying comrades in their mad effort to escape, with the result that they fell easy prey to the Ruvan warriors who rushed in with fiendish yells and speared them to the last man.

As I dropped from the tree, they were driving their spears into the hearts of the wounded. Not a Ko-van escaped. Not one of my men received even so much as a scratch.

Bearing the weapons of the vanquished, we marched back to the village in triumph.

When the villagers saw us, they looked at us in astonishment.

“Was there no fight?” demanded Ro-Tai. “What became of the Ko-vans? Are they following you?”

“The Ko-vans are all dead,” said Ul-Van. “There were twenty of them, and we killed them all.”

“You killed twenty Ko-vans without losing a man?” demanded Ro-Tai. “Such a thing has never happened before.”

“You can thank David,” said Ul-Van. “We did only what he told us to do, and we were victorious.”

Ro-Tai made no comment. With the others, he listened to the account of the victorious warriors, which lost nothing of glory in the telling; but I will admit that every last man of them gave me full credit.

At last, Ro-Tai spoke. “The warriors of Ruva will feast in celebration of the victory over the Ko-vans. Let the slaves prepare food and tu-mal, that the warriors may drink and be happy. Only the warriors of Ruva shall partake of this feast.”

Some of the slaves were detailed to prepare the food and make the tu-mal, an alcoholic drink of some potency. The remaining male slaves were sent to carry the dead Kovans to the sea, where they would be thrown to the fierce denizens of the deep.

As soon as I could get VI-Van’s attention I asked him the name of the slave woman who had been captured by the Ko-vans.

“Amar,” he said. “That was her name.” I couldn’t tell whether I was disappointed or not. From his description, I had thought that it might be Dian, for she was beautiful, she had been born in Amoz, and she had lived with her mate in Sari; but of course many women have been born in Amoz, and many of them have been taken as mates by the men of Sari, and as nearly all Amozite women are beautiful the description might have fitted many besides Dian; and, anyhow, how could Dian be on one of the floating islands? Three sleeps intervened before the feast was ready, for the tu-mal had to ferment, and special foods had to be prepared, many of which cooked for long periods under ground wrapped in pangos leaves and laid upon hot stones.

I returned to my work upon the canoe, and Ul-Van remained with me. He was still very much elated over our victory, which he said was absolutely unprecedented in the memory of any living Ruvan.

“We not only killed them all, and have all their weapons, but we have four fine canoes in addition. Never, never has anything like this happened; and you are the one who did it, David.”

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-Five

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