On to Dunaga

If they hadn't been looking for it, they wouldn't have noticed it. It was not a road, to call it a trail would be generous. It was barely marked by the passage of feet, but it was in roughly the right place and headed roughly the right direction, so they followed it. A few hours later, they saw a defensive wall of thornbushes and guessed they had reached Dunaga - or at least a village that would be able to set them on the way.

Elizabeth consulted the map. "Have we gone far enough to reach Dunaga?" she asked. "In any case, I'll be glad to see people again."

"I agree," replied Johnathan, "it will be nice to hear children laughing again."

As they approached the settlement, Johnathan called out a greeting in Swahili.

A greeting was called back and soon a swarm of curious natives surrounded the travellers, chattering excitedly in Swahili. From the conversation, Jonathan was able to pick out that this was Dunaga, and that this was only the second time Europeans had been seen in Dunaga.

"We appear to have made it!" exclaimed Johnathan. "This is Dunaga and we're only the second group of Europeans to be here."

He then asked the locals if the group could stay in the village for one or two nights.

They were delighed to have guests. As fate would have it, their hunters had been fortunate yesterday and there would be a large meal to honour the travellers.

"Splendid!" exclaimed Johnathan, "They would be delighted to have us stay a couple of nights and will be having a feast in our honour tonight. What say you, Ladies? Shall we partake of their hospitality for a couple of nights, before moving onwards? We could use tomorrow to sneak back and see if we can identify what is pursuing us if you like ..."

"That sounds like a perfect plan to me," said Elizabeth.

The meal was fine, and although the beds were rough, they were nicer than what they had been accustomed to on the road. As they made ready to sleep they made plans for the morrow.

"Hmmm..." said Elizabeth, checking her belongings. "We should have the spyglass and our weapons and water. Perhaps a little lunch. It would be hard to sneak on camels, so I suppose I should wear my walking boots. Have I missed anything?"

"I think not, Elizabeth," replied Johnathan, "I propose that just the two of us should go - Rose and Godfrey should remain here. It will be easier to stalk our pursuers with two rather than four. However, we should decide now, what we intend to do should we meet someone - should we confront them or merely observe them? what do you think Rose? Elizabeth?"

"I favour confronting them if they're a couple of mangy scalawags and simply observing if they're armed and organised," said Elizabeth.

"Sounds like a plan to me!" replied Johnathan, "Shall we then?"

Jonathan and Elizabeth set off early in the morning, working back parallel to their trail to see what they could see. They topped a slight rise and paused to reconnoiter. Elizabeth scanned the horizon with her trusty spyglass, panned left, then right, then jerkily back left. Something had caught her eye. A lump that looked not quite right. She drew Jonathan's attention to it and they both examined it through their lenses. They decided it looked like a small tent or lean-to, erected on the slope of a small rise, much like the one they stood on. That rise, they realized, would give a clear view of the village of Dunaga and would be an ideal spot to spy upon it.

"Damnation!" exclaimed Johnathan, "That means they saw us doubling back after them!"

"I fear we may have a confrontation whether we want one or not," said Elizabeth. "As long as they've seen us, I'm tempted to go forward and see if we can learn anything."

During this exchange they saw no futher motion from the lean-to, and it was borne in on them that they might be unobserved. They were to the side of the lean-to and had not approached it from the front. If their departure had gone unnoticed, they were quite possibly still unknown to the occupant of the camp.

"After you, Sandy," Elizabeth said, graciously. "I'll keep an eye behind us."

"You are too kind," replied Johnathan as he began to cautiously lead the way. "I intend to try and loop round and approach this 'camp' from the side or, perhaps, the rear, Beth; what do you think?"

"It looks like we can come in behind the lean-to. Perhaps when we reach it, one of us should stay out of sight to the rear while the other comes around the front side. It doesn't look like anybody's home, but it couldn't hurt to have back-up for the point man."

"Agreed. Let's go," and so saying Johnathan lead the way, rifle at the ready.

"Sandy," whispered Elizabeth, "Why don't you let me go first. Your gun is bigger, and if we get in a spot, I think you'd have a better chance of rescuing me than I you."

"I'm not sure about that," replied Johnathan, "It hardly seems the proper thing to do ..."

After a hurried, whispered exchange, Johnathan was finally persuaded to allow Beth to do the extra sneaking.

The pair moved up behind the camp. From the rear, they could see that it was simply a tarpulin achored in the side of the dune and pulled back to make a sort of tent. Inside was that looked like a steamer trunk at this distance, but no occupant.

They split up and Beth began to loop to the side, suddenly a voice rang out, "Kindly stop and stay where you are -- both of you." The voice was familar, it sounded like the Colonel only much less vague and bluff. In this voice there was only steel and threat. The two English looked for the source of the voice, but other than being able to identify it as coming from somewhere near the tent, they could not locate the speaker.

"Blast!" cursed Elizabeth under her breath. Her feet frozen in place, she swept the area with her eyes looking for their captor. Seeing nothing immediate, she made eye contact with Johnathan.

"The Colonel?" she asked.

In a low voice pitched for Elizabeth, "I think so," replied Johnathan.

As the game was up Johnathan slowly stood and looked about searching for the source of the voice ...

"Toss that rifle aside, Jonathan old boy," came the voice again. This time, Elizabeth was able to follow the sound of the voice and pick out the figure of the Colonel, lying prone about fifty yards away, on the top of the dune where the tent was set up.

"This is all rather unpleasant, old chap," replied Johnathan as he gently threw his rifle to the floor about 2 yards in front of him.

"It is rather a pity you found me," said the Colonel rising from his position and approaching the pair with his rifle at the ready. "I had hoped to simply follow you in, but now ... now, we'll have to do this in a less pleasant fashion." He came up to where Jonathan's rifle lay in the sand.

"That's decidedly threatening, Colonel," replied Johnathan, "or is that not your real title?"

"No, perfectly legitimate, old boy," said Gascoin. "Never lie when the truth will serve." He leaned down to get the rifle.

Elizabeth, never taking her eyes from the tableau across the camp, used the Colonel's distraction to very slowly move her revolver and knife to handy positions.

"If only I were a better shot," she thought to herself, heart pounding in her throat, "I'd shoot his rifle hand here and now."

The Colonel grabbed the rifle and picked it, holding his own rifle with one hand while he made to sling Jonathan's rifle onto his shoulder. Having slung Jonathan's rifle on his shoulder, the Colonel took a new grip on his rifle. "Into the tent with you both, if you wouldn't mind."

The tent was a smallish affair, and sparingly furnished with a bedroll, a campchair and a steamer trunk of some kind. The Colonel positioned himself near the front and hooked the camp chair over with a foot and sat in it. "Please do sit down, there, on the bedroll."

Elizabeth sighed and perched on the proffered seat. The knife and revolver felt awkward in her sleeves. She crossed her ankles demurely and clasped her hands in her lap, hoping very much to look like a woman with nothing to hide.

With no other choice immediately available, Johnathan sat beside his companion and awaited the Colonel's next pronouncement.

"Now that we're all comfortable," said the Colonel. "You can tell me where you're going."

There was a ling silence. "Come now, don't be foolish. You obviously have a destination in mind, what is. Don't force me to make this unpleasant."

"Colonel, I cannot believe that you have used such underhanded methods as armed kidnapping and following us on the simple off-chance that we might be going somewhere pleasany. Why don't you tell us where we're going and why a villain like yourself is interested in it?" replied Johnathan, his irritation at his helplessness beginning to show.

Now they were much closer, Johnthan took the opportunity to examine the Colonel's rifle, intrigued to see if this was the one that made no noise ...

The rifle itself seemed perfectly ordinary to Jonathan at this juncture. He was rather disturbed by the fact that it was pointed at him, however.

The Colonel continued. "Let's try this another way, shall we? The map. Why don't you just turn that over to me, eh wot?"

"Bit hard old boy," replied Johnthan, "Haven't actually got a map."

"Someone in your party does, I'm certain of that," said the Colonel. "So don't try to pretend it doesn't exist. You have it, I need it. If you give it to me, then you can go your merry way back to old Blighty and we're done. If you don't, your lives may become difficult. And possibly short."

"But our map was stolen at port in Casablanca!" Elizabeth blurted, remembering the bogus map they'd taken such pains to construct. "All we know know is we want to reach Masena. The villagers at Dunaga tell us we took a wrong turn -- Masena is east of Lake Chad and we're more north, as it turns out. Without our map..." she trailed off, dejectedly.

Silently, she offered a little prayer that the ruse would work and she and Johnathan could keep their lies straight.

"And what is in Masena? No, I'm not sure I believe you. After all, someone went to a lot of effort to make a false map and allow it to be stolen," said the Colonel. "I think you had both better hope, for your own sakes, that someone in your party has a map - and one that is true."

"How on EARTH did he know that?" Elizabeth thought to herself. She kept herself from looking at Sandy.

"What is it that you are looking for? What do you want so badly? We don't even know what we might find -- we were just following a map left us by other adventurers."

"That is none of your concern. Simply had over the map and depart quietly," said the Colonel.

"I don't have a map. Johnathan and I were simply on a mission to find out who was following us. Backtracking requires no maps," said Elizabeth.

"Then who does have the map? I suppose I could shoot one of you in the leg, to impress on you the seriousness of your situation and then send the other back for the map, eh wot?"

"I'm sure you could. More to the point, I believe you would. I don't know who has the map. I don't. Shoot me wherever you like -- I can't tell you any more than that."

"What about you, Jonathan old thing? Prepared to let me shoot the lady in the leg? Or perhaps you have an idea about the map?"

"Colonel, unlike you, I am an honourable man and would never consent to shooting Beth while I have breath left in my body," replied Johnathan. "You should also be aware that shooting either of us would only end with your death - or did you not know that Godfrey was following us with his rifle?"

"To resolve this impasse, I suggest that Beth go back and get this map that you seem to so desperately want," he continued, "on the condition that you allow me to go free when the map is given to you."

"Precisely what I originally proposed, old man. Of course." The Colonel stepped aside. "Both of you out, I think I'll sit with my back against something solid while we wait. So off with you, Beth. Then Jonathan you sit there on the stool."

"If you shoot Jonathan -- in the leg or elsewhere -- I shall eat whatever map I find and we will all be the worse for it," said Beth a bit petulantly as she walked back toward the camp, Godfrey and Rose, and perhaps a better idea.

Elizabeth returned to Dunaga and outlined the situation to Rose and Godfrey who were appropriately shocked and apalled.

"There are a few nagging details we don't know," Beth explained to Rose and Godfrey. "For instance, does the Colonel have reinforcements? It didn't appear the camp accommodated more than one man, but we don't know for sure. He spent a little time with us, so he has a pretty good idea of who is in our party and how they're armed..."

"Do you suppose the Dunagans could help us?"

"Sandy was our translator, I'm afraid," said Rose. "The Dunagan's are friendly, but none of us speak their language, or we theirs."

"We can't be sure how many troops the Colonel commands," Elizabeth began. "I don't believe the three of us going in with guns a-blazing would get us anywhere but... in a bad way. We don't have time to fake another map. Besides, the Colonel already sussed the other map as forgery, and he is suspicious. I say we spill a cup of tea over the worst of the map copies we carry, along with blots of food and a series of crumbs. No sense in making it easy for him. Rose and I will deliver it, leaving Godfrey free to help, should we be captured. That should buy us some time between here and our destination to hire an army or ambush the Colonel.

"Actually, I'm beginning to think we're in more of a pickle than just a rogue Colonel. I can't help but wonder if maybe he knew your parents, Rose, or knew of them and their discovery. I can't imagine why else he has hounded us our whole journey, nor why he should know so certainly the planted map was a fake."

"It does seem odd. Do you think, I wonder ..." Rose trailed off. "Could he have been onto us from the beginning do you think? Behind the attempts in England, even?"

"I believe he might have been, Rose," sighed Elizabeth. "He knows far too much to be a casual observer."

"That would mean confederates, then, since there was that poor man who wounded Godfrey and was later killed. And a name, wasn't there a name?"

"There was... I wasn't there, but I remember you telling me. Godfrey -- was it Dervin? Devil? Wait! Devlin! He said 'Devlin' with his last breath!" Elizabeth's eyes sparkled at the accomplishment.

She sighed and the sparkle dimmed. "But we haven't yet met up with a Devlin. Could that be the Colonel's true name? Perhaps Devlin lurks nearby, lending strength and firepower to the Colonel's endeavours."

Elizabeth lowered her voice so Godfrey and Rose could barely hear her. "I worry that someone is spying upon us even as we speak. For safety's sake, I suggest we present a plan out loud and another on the quiet to give us some small element of advantage."

She continued in a normal voice. "Poor Sandy! While I've been blathering on... We must act, and quickly!" She began pacing, alternating between exclamations at one end of her walk and low-voiced suggestions as she drew closest to her companions.

"Perhaps I should travel alone with the map. It shouldn't take more than an hour to exchange the map for Johnathan..."

Quietly: "...Godfrey, you and your best weaponry can follow several minutes behind me. Try to give anyone following me enough time that you're behind him..."

"If we're not back in an hour, come in, guns blazing. This should give you time to find help -- perhaps you can get the natives to understand some sign language..."

"...Rose, you can try to communicate with the natives somehow. It couldn't hurt..."

"...an army might be of use if this Devlin and the Colonel have their own army..."

"...but be very careful and keep yourself armed and safe..."

"...we'll need all the help we can get!"

"...we may need your help if there really is an army."

"Right then," she said, stopping mid-pace and speaking normally, "where is that map?"

"Here," said Rose and she offered one of the copies. "Be safe, Beth."

Beth nodded and began her return trek. She avoided looking back to see if Godfrey was following. Soon, she rounded the dune and saw Jonathan's back framed in the tent opening.

"Deep breath, old girl," said Elizabeth to herself.

She approached cautiously, but not covertly. "Colonel?" she called when she reached the tent. "Rose gave me the map. Perhaps you and Johnathan could come out and we can make the exchange."

A moment later, Jonathan appeared in the entrance and took a few steps out, followed by the Colonel.

Elizabeth kept the map tucked away in a pouch at her waist.

"How shall we go about this, Colonel?"

"Elizabeth, you have no idea, how glad I am to see you again," says Johnathan, "The Colonel here, is a remarkably uninspiring conversationalist ..."

"Poor Johnathan. This shouldn't take long, I should think. Colonel?"

"You have the map?" asked the Colonel.

"Right here," said Elizabeth, patting the pouch. The map crinkled faintly.

"I will put the map here on the sand a few feet in front of me. Let Johnathan stand there," she indicated a place a couple of yards to her left, where Johnathan would act as the third apex of a triangle with she and the Colonel. "You pick up the map and look at it. When you've seen we played true, we will leave. Remember, you have the rifle. We can't outrun that."

"Colonel, I would like my rifle back, if it's not too much trouble," interjected Johnathan, "It's rather important to me - you can keep the ammunition if it makes you feel better ..."

"I'm afraid not, Jonathan old boy. As Elizabeth points out, you can't outrun a rifle and neither can I. I think I'd better hold on to it. Beth, toss the map down. Good. Jonathan off you go to your position, there. Good."

The Colonel stepped up close to the map and dropped to one knee to pick it up.

Elizabeth dropped her revolver from her sleeve and, in one smooth motion, aimed it at the Colonel, trusting Godfrey would be close by should anything go horribly wrong.

"Drop the rifle immediately and step back," she said.

"Foolish girl," snapped the Colonel bringing the rifle up.

Beth fired her first shot, spitting up sand near the Colonel who sneered and raised his gun. Beth's second shot went wide, almost at the same time, the heavier boom of Godfrey's rifle sounded.

As Beth drew her revolver, Johnathan pulled his and shot at the Colonel as quickly as he could

Beth's third shot and Jonathan's first went off at the same moment, missing as the Colonel stepped back and dropped to one knee. His rifle coughed once, a sound no louder than that, and Beth gasped and fell to the ground.

The Colonel dove for his tent as bullets flew up around him as Jonathan emptied his revolver and Godfrey fired again.

"Ouch," thought Beth.

Cursing quietly, Johnathan reloaded as he moved around to the back of the tent in case the Colonel came out that way. Jonathan positioned himself as Beth bled on the sand.

"Moan," moaned Beth.

Johnathan, reliasing how badly hurt Beth was, retraced his steps to the front of the tent, and covering the opening with his revolver dashed over to Beth's unconscious form.

All was quiet as he crouched down by the fallen woman. The Colonel had gone to ground inside the tent and didn't appear to have a clear line of fire to them. The bullet had passed cleanly through Beth's shoulder, but the shock had knocked her out.

A silence descended on the field of battle.

Whilst trying to keep the tent covered with his revolver, Johnthan tried to hoist Beth onto his shoulder to get her back to some cover

Johnathan lifted the girl and began to fall back, doing his best to keep the tent covered. Suddenly, Godfrey's rifle barked again and kicked up some dust around the mouth of the tent.

Johnathan moved even more quickly, and orienting on that sound, soon rejoined Godfrey who was red-faced with anger. "The bounder, shooting a girl like that!"

"Godfrey, see what you can do for her, I'm no medic, I'm afraid," asked Johnathan. "Here give me the rifle and I'll see if I can't pay this villain back."

Johnathan took Godfrey's rifle and took careful aim on the tent, putting a speculative shot through its fabric.

Nothing happened for a long moment, then a voice called out from the tent, "Now what, old man?"

"Rrrr," gurgled Elizabeth.

"Ssh, lie still girl," said Godfrey applying a compress to her wound.

"Godfrey, do you think it's safe to move Beth?" Johnathan asked quietly as he tried to see if he could make out the Colonel, a harsh edge to his voice.

"I think so, sir," said Godfrey. "In fact, I think she's coming round now."

"Give me a gun... No, don't," muttered Beth, her brief attempt to sit up cut off by a wave of dizziness and nausea. She looked around. "Godfrey... Is Sandy well? How bad is the wound?"

"Well enough, Miss. And your wound is clean at least," said Godfrey.

"Oh... Good..." Elizabeth said. She blinked at Godfrey a couple of times.

"Beth, am I glad to hear your voice," said Johnathan, "I thought we'd lost you for a minute there; what poss - never mind we'll talk later. For now, I think it best that Godfrey help you back to the village, while I keep the Colonel's head down."

So saying Johnathan fired another round into the tent, aiming a bit lower this time.

Elizabeth stuck her good hand in the sand for leverage and tried to push herself to a sitting position.

Beth, Godfrey and Jonathan watched the tent where the Colonel was holed up but saw no sign of the blighter.

"I'm certainly not in fighting trim at the moment, but surely I could help load rifles or do something useful...?" said Beth.

"I'm not sure that would help at the moment, Beth," replied Johnathan, "as we have nothing to shoot at ... we know he claims to be an adept hunter, so I suggest that Godfery take you back to the village and I will follow behind keeping a weather eye open for him. What do you think?"

"Very well. To be honest, I'll be just as glad to get back to my doctor's bag," said Beth, with a rueful smile.

The company abandoned their post and hurried back to the village and Lady Rose, who awaited their return anxiously. "I heard shots. Dear heavens, Beth!" She rushed to Beth's side.

"I'm mostly fine, Rose. Really. I could use a cup of sweet tea, though. Could you help me with that, please, while I clean this up?"

"Of course, dear. What happened?" Rose bustled about making tea.

"Oh, thank you. It's good to be among civilised people again," said Beth with a smile. "The short of it is that I thought I had the Colonel dead to rights and it turns out I'm not a very good shot. I didn't even scratch him. He, while not striking the fatal blow I'm sure he could have, did hit me." Beth poured *something* into the wound

Elizabeth rubbed a good dollop of Fyoderich's Anti-Infective Salve on the wound and prevailed upon Rose for help in the bandaging.

"I worry about Sandy alone with that cad," said Elizabeth. "Godfrey, if you'd care to assist him, I think Rose and I will be fine here." She popped a couple of Fyoderich's Healthful Tablets in her mouth and washed them down with the remains of her tea, grimacing a little as they touched her tongue on the way down.

"Yes, Miss," said Godfrey. At that moment, Jonathan rejoined them in camp.

"Jonathan! I was just worrying about you," said Elizabeth, a tad dingy from blood loss.

"Well, he didn't show his nose at all, so far as I could see," said Johnathan, "but now we're in a fine pickle ... if we don't move out now, he could circle round in front of us overnight.

"By the way, Beth," Jonathan said, "did you notice that wooden trunk in the Colonel's camp? it looked very big and I didn't see a pack animal at all ..."

"Nor did I," said Godfrey.

"I do know the trunk your talking about. I hadn't really thought about it, but you're right. I doubt he got that to the middle of the desert without assistance."

"Something to puzzle over I fear," replied Jonathan, "but not now. So, what do we do now? do you feel up to travelling yet Beth? I'd like to put some desert between us and that villain if at all possible; I fear the lengths he might go to ..."

Beth sighed. "Always something to puzzle over."

She brightened visibly. "I'm sore and a little weary, but feeling surprisingly well. A good cup of tea does wonders -- as do Fyoderich's Healthful Tablets. We can get at least some distance from here before I collapse, I should say. Onward!"

The party rapidly gathered their equipment and beasts and bid farewell to the natives. Jonathan thanked the headman for the villagers' excellent hospitality and warned them to stay away from the Colonel, lest his evil magic bewitch the villagers and steal away some of their fine warriors into his service.

They set off. From here, their path led northward into uncharted desert ...

NPCs The Story Timeline
Jeff Berry, nexus@panix.com
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