TREASON IN THE AIR.
Strong as we felt in the might of
our name and nation, we were too well skilled in the
game of war to allow ourselves to be lulled into a
blind security. Day after day, night after night,
we kept a sharp look-out, expecting the forces of
the Bakoni and their allies to fall upon us in overwhelming
numbers. But they did not; which went to show
that something of the terror of our name had travelled
to the Chief of the Blue Cattle; nor, indeed, did
I doubt but that messengers would follow shortly after
us with gifts, and desiring to konza to Umzilikazi,
even as had done all other nations within our reach.
At length we drew near to Ekupumuleni,
and our hearts were light, for the thoughts of all
of us were full of the richness of the country which
lay awaiting our possession; and as we returned to
the home of our wandering nation, the dryness of the
land struck us as quite cheerless not
that it was so really, but only by comparison with
the green, well-watered region we had just left.
Having sent messengers on to announce
our arrival, we entered the great kraal, singing
lustily the praises of the King. Umzilikazi was
seated in his wonted place, at the upper end of the
great open circle, and as we flung our weapons to
the ground and, tossing our right hands aloft, roared
the Bayete, I could see that pleased expression
I knew so well steal over his face.
“Greeting, son of Ntelani,”
he said, as bending low, I drew near. “Seat
thyself, and tell me what thou hast seen and done.”
This I did, and the Great Great One
took snuff and listened. Then he ordered those
women and boys whom he had taken as bearers to be brought
Crouching low to the earth they came,
those poor slaves, their eyes starting from their
heads in fear. They had never seen anything like
this the splendour of our huge kraal
and its shapeliness and strength; so different to
their own town, which, though far larger, was utterly
without shape or design the stature and
strength, and fierce bearing of our warriors, who
had mustered in crowds to witness our return, and
above all, the proud majesty of our King, and the roaring
volume of praises which went up from every throat
to hail his appearance. They bent low to the
very earth, trembling with fear.
“It is good, it is good,”
said the King, eyeing them between pinches of snuff.
“These are right well-made specimens, albeit
somewhat light of skin. I ordered thee to take
no captives, Untuswa, yet the impi needed bearers
for its goods, and thou hast chosen the pick and flower
of the girls. Ah! ah! Untuswa; thou hast
ever an eye for all that is best in that way.”
“Yeh-bo Nkulu ’nkulu!”
I cried, delighted that I had pleased the King.
“I will choose the best, Untuswa.
After that thou canst take the two that will suit
thee; the remainder I will otherwise dispose of.”
Then the King dismissed us, ordering
cattle to be slain for us to feast on, and we departed
from his presence uttering shouts of bonga.
When I gained my hut I found Nangeza,
my principal wife, awaiting me with ill-concealed
“Welcome, Untuswa,” she
said. “And so upon the news you bring it
depends whether we move onward or no?”
“Who am I, to seek to interpret
the mind of the King?” I answered darkly, for
Nangeza was ever trying to wring out of me what went
on in the secret councils of the izinduna,
and even in my private conferences with the Great
Great One himself. This was all very well while
I was unringed and a thoughtless boy, but now things
were different. The less women had to say to
such matters the better; but although I could see
this now, Nangeza never could be brought to do so.
She would show an evil temper at such times, and hint
that she had been the making of me that
I had been ready enough to take counsel of her in
times past, but that now I was somebody I thought I
could do without her. Then she would bid me
beware, saying that, even as she had made me, it might
still be within her power to unmake me. Now of
this sort of talk, Nkose, I began to have more
than enough. Nangeza might be the inkosikazi she
deserved that but she should not be the
[Inkosikazi means Chieftainess.
The principal wife of a man of rank.]
She was now a tall, fine, commanding
woman, and as fearless and ready of wit as she had
been when a girl, yet with the lapse of time she had
become too commanding had developed an expression
of hardness which does not become a woman. She
had slaves to wait on her, and had little or no hard
work to do herself. Moreover, by this time, I
had two other wives, those two girls whom I had promised
to lobola for when they had surprised me and
Nangeza together; and I had kept my word. They
were soft-hearted, merry, laughing girls, who never
dreamed that the second fighting induna of
the King’s army ought to take his commands from
women; wherefore it not unfrequently befell that I
preferred their huts to that of Nangeza, my inkosikazi.
A woman of Nangeza’s disposition
could not be other than a jealous woman. She
hated my other two wives. She had borne me one
child, a daughter, whereas the other two had each
borne me a son, and she feared lest I should name
one of these as my successor, and as chief son, thus
conferring precedence over any she might hereafter
bear me. You white people, Nkose, think
that we Zulus keep our women in the lowest subjection.
Well, we do not allow them to rule us, yet now and
again we find one who tries hard to do so, and gives
a great amount of trouble before we can convince her
that it is not to be done; and Nangeza was one of
these. And of her I was even then beginning to
have more than enough.
Now she sullenly acquiesced in my
reticence, for I would not unfold one word of the
King’s counsels. But she gave me a very
dark look and turned away muttering. Yet during
my absence events of the gravest moment had been transpiring.
In the evening Umzilikazi sent for
me. I found him alone in his hut, and as I sat
opposite him it seemed as though I were once more the
inceku and shield-bearer, and that the dread
ordeal which had terminated in the winning of my head-ring
and the King’s Assegai had been all a dream.
“What think you, Untuswa?”
said the King at first. “Is it for good
or for ill that we leave Ekupumuleni, `The Place of
Rest,’ and depart for this new land?”
“It is for good, Great Great
One. The land is better one than this.
There is more room in it for a new nation to become
mighty and rich.”
“Yet there are some who would
remain here, some who shake a doleful head over the
prospect of going farther.”
“Those who shake their heads
against the will of the King may happen to shake them
off, O Elephant.”
“Ha! Thou sayest well,
son of Ntelani. They may happen to shake them
off ah! ah! they may.”
Now Umzilikazi spoke in that soft
and pleasant voice of his, and I thought that trouble
was gathering for somebody. Then as his keen
eyes, half-closed, were fixed upon mine, piercing
through and through my brain, I did not sit at ease,
for I had been absent many moons, and certain powerful
enemies of mine had not. Then he went on, still
speaking in that soft and terrible voice.
“There are those who have reason
to love Ekupumuleni, for it is not too far from the
land of their birth. Good. Ekupumuleni
shall indeed be their resting-place their
Now I knew that ill awaited somebody,
and strangely, too, at that moment, I remembered Nangeza’s
dark looks and words. Yet how could the shadow
of coming ill affect me? I aspired to be nothing
but a fighting leader! My mind was the mind
of the King. I cared nothing for intriguing
or plotting. I only asked to lead my shields
against the enemies of the King. The occupation
I favoured most was that of fighting.
Then Umzilikazi went on to talk about
this new land, and of the chief and people who owned
the blue cattle.
“There will be spoil for all,
for all who deserve it,” he said; “and
these slaves you have brought back please me well.
Whau, Untuswa! How is it that a man like
you, and a fighting captain, has but three wives only
three?” he asked, laughing at me.
“I care not for such, Great
Great One. I desire only to wield the King’s
Assegai in battle,” I said.
“That is well. In a few
days we shall see. Go now, Untuswa.”
I saluted and left the King.
As I passed the gate of the isigodhlo, or
royal enclosure, which gate was only wide enough to
admit one man at a time, I met my father, Ntelani,
entering. Not a word had the King let fall on
the matter of my father, and this meeting, which was
a surprise to both of us, seemed an evil omen; for
now that I wore the head-ring, and had become great,
and commanded the King’s troops, my father was
more jealous than ever, and hated me more. We
exchanged greetings, and then in the darkness I made
my way to old Masuka’s hut.
I pushed the wicker door open and
crept in. The old witch-doctor was awake, and,
seated by his fire, looked more like a big black spider
than a man, such a skin-and-bone old skeleton had
“I have seen you, Untuswa,” he said, looking
“Greeting, father,” I replied.
“Au!” he said,
handing me snuff. “And have you brought
back cow and calf from the land of the Blue Cattle,
Untuswa? The cow, whose milk keeps the life
in my old frame, is dead a lion killed her.”
“No cattle did I bring from
the land of the Bakoni, father, though it will not
be a long time before we go and take all of it,”
I replied; “but there is a red cow in milk among
my herd. Tomorrow she and her calf shall be
driven in among your beasts, my father.”
The old man looked pleased.
He loved cattle, and although by now he was one of
the wealthiest among us, yet he never lost an opportunity
of adding to his herds; but if any man gave him a
cow he did not ask for more; unlike our own izanusi,
who were wont to go on asking and asking until they
had obtained ten or twelve beasts. Now I, each
time that I was enriched by increase in my herd, or
took spoil from an enemy, never failed to send a head
or two to old Masuka; but from me our own izanusi
got nothing wherefore they hated me.
But the old Mosutu had been the means of saving my
life and making me great; wherefore I grudged him
not such gifts from time to time.
When the King had caused Isilwana,
the head isanusi, to be killed, for failing
to cure a man who was wounded by the poisoned arrows
of the mountain tribes, he had desired to put Masuka
in his place; but the old man begged permission to
refuse, saying that his muti [Medicine, or
charm] would be of no avail if worked with others.
So Umzilikazi, not sorry to set up a rivalry between
the witch-doctors, had allowed him to go his own way;
and since the rain-making, the old Mosutu had stood
higher in the King’s favour than ever.
“That is well, my son,”
he replied, “but delay not to send the cow with
morning light, for by nightfall it may be that she
will never be sent.”
“Hau!” I cried. “What
mean you, my father?”
“You are brave, Untuswa, and
I have made you great. It is a pity that such
should die young.”
“What mean you, my father?”
I cried again, seeing a deadly meaning in his words.
He gazed at me for a moment, then
bending forward spoke low in the Sesutu tongue, which
by this time he had taught me; and as I listened my
horror became greater and greater, for it seemed as
though a wide and black pit of darkness yawned at
my feet, and I must either spring over it or into
it. Verily, the enemies at work within a man’s
kraal are more to be feared than any outside.
I must warn the King this very night. Yet,
was it too late?
“Even now I hear steps which
seek thee, son of Ntelani,” he ended. “Yet
go to meet them. I know not if thou wilt return.”
Obedient to the old man’s injunction,
I rose, and now I, too, heard steps in the silence
of the night. With a heavy foreboding of trouble,
I crept through the door of the hut, and stood upright.
“The King desires speech of
thee, son of Ntelani,” said a voice, as a man
came in sight. I recognised him as one of the
izinceku or household attendants, and I thought
there was something of malice and mischief in his
tone. But I lost no time in gaining the isigodhlo.
Now, the royal house was of great
size, nearly twice that of the largest of any other.
I approached, singing in a low voice the King’s
praises, to give notice that I was coming; then, disarming,
I entered. The Great Great One was alone.
A fire burning in the centre lighted up the interior
brightly, and in its blaze I could see upon the royal
countenance a look I did not like. But still
less did I like what immediately followed.
“Thou dog and whelp of a dog!”
hissed the King, as, with the rapidity of lightning,
he dropped aside his skin robe and hurled a casting
assegai at me. It grazed my head with a vicious
“zip!” and buried itself in the side of
the house, where it stuck quivering.
I did not move. Not a word did
I speak, yet I felt that death and myself were closely
shoulder to shoulder once more.
“Well, dog! Hast thou
no word to say?” went on Umzilikazi, his hand
gripping another casting spear.
“Yes, I have a `word,’
Great Great One. My life is ever in the hand
of the King. But now I know of no reason why
it should be taken,” I answered boldly.
“No reason? Au!
Can a nation serve two Kings, Untuswa, my dog?”
“Now have the dreams of the
Elephant been bad now have the ears of the
Great Great One been filled with dark and false things.
Moreover, I know well that it was not really in thy
mind to slay me, Father; else had yon spear been buried
in something very different to the grass wall of the
house,” I ended, with my usual boldness, which
was so great as sometimes to astonish myself nearly
as much as it did those who witnessed it. But
it was in the minds of men that I should never now
be slain by order of the Great Great One, because
I held the King’s Assegai. Yet upon this
I did not put overmuch trust.
“You have a ready tongue, Untuswa,
and a ready wit,” said Umzilikazi, no longer
wrathfully. “The word is true, and well
said, for I could hardly miss a man at that distance,
even though there are some who think it is time to
find a new King.”
These last words were spoken low.
I had heard enough from old Masuka not to require
to ask their meaning. Yet I spoke in surprise
and disgust, at the thought that such a thing should
“What is your thought on the
matter, Untuswa?” said the King softly, eyeing
me with his head on one side.
“Au! that is not a question
to ask of me, Great Great One; for was I not on my
way hither to point out those who think thus?”
He started eagerly.
“Can you do this, Untuswa? Can you point
“I can, Great Great One.
Shall I silently call together the slayers?
The pool beyond Ncwelo’s kraal is not far,
and the moon will not take long to sink now.
In the morning its water shall be red.”
“Ha! The pool beyond Ncwelo’s?”
muttered the King. “Wait. Call not
together the slayers, for I will see these evil-doers
with my own eyes, will hear their treachery with my
own ears. You and I will go forth together,
Untuswa; then on the morrow they shall behold their
“How many men shall I bring
for safeguard, Father?” I said. “Ten,
perhaps, or more?”
“No men shalt thou bring, Untuswa.
Thou and I will go forth together and witness the
doings of these wizards, these abatagati, who
meet at night.”
I looked anxious, for this was a serious adventure. The risks were enormous.
Of the exact number of conspirators we were in ignorance, but we, being only
two, would be sure to find ourselves at a great disadvantage in the event of
discovery. Again, if any harm befell the King, should not I be held responsible
for it? So I said
“May I not go alone and bring back word, Black
I fancied Umzilikazi looked suspicious.
“Not so, Untuswa,” he
said. “I will satisfy my own eyes, my own
ears, and then Hearken now. Take
thy weapons, for it is time to start. Walk in
front of me until we are without the gates. If
we meet any man, harm him not. But any man who
recognises the King, with the first words of royal
greeting which pass his lips, slay him instantly and
without a word, be he whom he may. I would not
be known to have moved in this matter.”
Umzilikazi took a broad-bladed spear
in his hand and a black shield, of smaller size than
those used in war. It happened that I was armed
in like manner, except that I had a large knobstick
as well. Thus equipped, we started upon our