Read CHAPTER IV - THE BATTLE RAGES of Tahara Among African Tribes, free online book, by Harold M. Sherman, on

“Hold ’em, Dan, I’m with you!”

Dan heard the cry, and at the same moment saw one of his attackers drop with an arrow through the chest.

Dick Oakwood was at home in the saddle and now he drove furiously at the remaining Arab, who was almost on top of Dan with scimiter upraised ready to deliver a fatal blow.

Dan reached for an arrow. But his quiver was empty!

The boy’s only weapon was a flint knife, and that was almost useless in fighting a foe armed with a razor-edged sword.

Dan gave a despairing shout for help as he saw Dick Oakwood galloping toward him, and dodged the blow of the scimiter, missing it by such a close margin that the steel whizzed past his ear with a swishing sound.

“Attaboy, Dan!”

At Dick’s cry of encouragement, Dan saw the Arab suddenly reel back in the saddle, fling up both arms and slump to the ground in a heap. Dick had no weapon but the rope, but he had learned to use the lariat as well as any cowboy.

The loop had dropped over the Bedouin’s body, and as Dick wheeled his horse the Arab was dragged from the saddle and pulled across the desert until he was stunned and helpless.

At this, Dan let out a great shout of relief.

“Hooray, Dick! Fine work!” and he started hot-foot for safety, helping the wounded Kurt as best he could.

They were far from safe, however, for though the two Arabs were disposed of, there were others who had seen what was going on and were heading that way.

Dick rode up to his friends and bending low in the saddle, he seized Kurt under the arms.

“Help me give him a lift, Dan,” he cried, and the next moment Kurt was lifted bodily upon the horse ahead of Dick, while the latter directed his friend:

“Grab the stirrup, Dan! Now run like blazes! There they come!”

Dan snatched at the stirrup and as Dick urged his horse to flight he seemed to be flying through the air. Every time he raised his foot for a forward step, he was pulled ahead by the rush of the horse and his flight was a series of leaps that carried him forward like a kangaroo.

“Gee whizz!” he gasped. “This is grand if I can keep it up! I feel like a giant grasshopper!”

Over his head whizzed the bullets of the galloping Arabs, who were joining in the chase, and the cliffs ahead seemed very far away.

Dick encouraged his friend to keep up.

“Watch your step, Dan. Keep going for a minute longer and you’re safe!”

The dust rose about them in a cloud. Dan’s mouth was parched and dry. His lips seemed to be cracking and his eyes full of grit, but he hung to the stirrup for all he was worth, struggling desperately to keep from falling.

It was like the end of a Marathon run, with every ounce of his strength put forth by sheer will power to keep from giving up the race. But the difference was that if he should lose the race, he would lose his life as well.

Half dazed and almost blinded by the dust, Dan suddenly felt the horse stop and he plunged forward in a heap. “This is my finish,” he thought. “I’m a goner, sure!”

He lay there panting, expecting in the next moment to feel a bullet crash into his body, but instead, he was picked up by friendly hands and revived with splashes of cool water over his face and head.

“Quick! Give him a drink!” he heard Dick command and the next instant a gourd of water was put to his lips and Dan gulped it eagerly.

“Where are we?” he asked, wiping his eyes and looking around in a half daze.

“At the Big Spring,” said Dick. “We’re safe here, but only for a few minutes. The Taharans are standing off the Arabs with their bows and arrows at the last line of defense.”

While he spoke Dick was busily engaged in washing the dirt from Kurt’s bleeding shoulder.

“Quick, a piece of cloth!” he said. “This needs a bandage.”

A strip was put into his hands and as Dick finished tying up the wound he was surprised to see the girl, Veena, standing beside him with more of the cloth which she had woven.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

“I am trying to help, O Master.”

“But I gave orders for all the old folks, children and women to take refuge up there back of the cliffs.”

“Forgive me, O Master! I saw the fighting on the plain, and I could not stay up there in safety. I had to come down to do my share.”

“Your share?”

“Yes.” Veena touched meaningly the bow and quiver of arrows, that hung over her shoulder. “I can send an arrow straight as any man in the tribe.”

“But women are not supposed to go into battle.”

“Why not? If the enemy feels an arrow in his body, does he stop to ask whether a man shot it or a woman?”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” cried Dan Carter, who had caught the drift of this reply. “Talk about your modern girl! Why this Stone-Age maiden belongs to the Twentieth Century!”

Veena blushed. She knew nothing about either “Stone-Age” or “Twentieth Century” but she guessed that Dan was praising her and the color mounted to the fair skin of her cheeks, while her blue eyes smiled with pleasure.

“Please let me stay, O Master,” she begged.

But Dick was not so easily led. “Nothing doing! Go back up the cliff. And get a move on! You’re supposed to be with Queen Vanga. This is no place for girls!”

Veena might have argued with anybody else, but Tahara, the king and god of the tribe, was not to be contradicted. Hastily she turned away and ran like a deer to the trail that led up the cliffs.

“We’ve got to clear out of here right away,” said Dick.

“The archers are not able to hold back the Arabs any longer,” Dan agreed.

“That’s right. By this time they must have shot away all their arrows.”

From the second line of defense, the Taharans were seen retreating, singly or in pairs, while the Arabs, grown more cautious now, hesitated to rush them, fearing another surprise.

“We can’t hold the spring any longer,” said Dick, and he gave the order for a general retreat. In a few minutes, the trails were covered with tribesmen, running nimbly to the rocky slopes.

They mounted them lightly as goats, and Dan Carter, though he was a good climber, had to do his best to keep up with the slowest.

As for Dick, he remained among the last. The horse he had captured was at the spring with its muzzle deep in the cool water.

Dick hurried to pull it away before it could injure itself by drinking too much, and swinging into the saddle he brought up the rear of his retreating forces.

Among all the footpaths that led to the top of the cliffs, there was only one that a horseman could ascend, and even that required a sure-footed horse and a steady and fearless rider.

Dick stopped at the foot of the cliffs and turned in his saddle to shake his fist at the pursuing Arabs, then dug his heels in the horse’s flanks and sent it up the steep incline. As he reached the top, the grade was almost as steep as the roof of a house and the stones underfoot went rattling down the cliff side.

A few bullets sang through the air and flattened on the rocks beside him, but there was no volley of rifle shots, for at that moment the majority of the Arabs and their mounts were trying to quench their thirst at the spring.

As Dick reached the top of the cliffs and put his horse to a trot on the level stretch, he was greeted with wild shouts of joy by his followers. They had not seen a man on horseback until the Arabs raided them and it seemed like a superhuman feat to bestride a four legged beast and drive it up a cliff side.

“Tahara, hal! Tahara!” they shouted.

Raal ran toward his hero and cried, “Tell us what to do, O Master! Never have we seen such demons, with sticks that speak like thunder and dart out fire. But we do not fear them! You are our king and our leader and with you we shall conquer.”

“They’re rooting for you, Dick!” cried Dan Carter.

“Yes, and I’ve got to save them now.”

Dick rode to the edge of the cliff and looked over. The Arabs had taken possession of the spring and quenched their thirst. The horses and camels were all watered and refreshed and the invaders lolled about, stuffing themselves with dates, figs and the other fruits they found there.

If they were planning to attack the stronghold of the tribe on the cliffs it was clear that they expected to wait until they were thoroughly rested. Perhaps the next morning would be the time for the assault.

As Dick watched them, sitting on his horse, a bullet suddenly sang close to his ear and a second later the report of a rifle rang out. Some sniper had taken careful aim, hoping to bring down the leader of the Taharans, and Dick realized how careless he had been in exposing himself.

He wheeled his horse away from the edge and Dan hurried to him.

“Hurt, Dick?”

“Not a scratch, Dan!”

“That’s lucky. Lucky for you and all of us. We would be lost without you.”

“We may be, anyhow. Dan, how can we fight off those raiders? They are armed with guns, old style single-shot, Arab guns, to be sure, but at that, they are more than a match for stone hatchets and spears.”

“Or even bows and arrows,” agreed Dan. “Looks as though we were up against it.”

“Well, there’s one thing we can do. Defend the cliffs and keep them from coming any farther.”

“Yes, we can roll rocks down on them if they start to climb, and if any get to the top, we can fight them off before they get a foothold.”

Raal and Kulki approached followed by the old chief of the Gorols, Wabiti. Evidently they wanted a council and Dick asked them to say what was on their minds.

“Advise me, O mighty warriors!” he said.

Raal spoke first. “I say, do not wait. We are many and we are brave. Let us sweep down upon them from the cliff and destroy them.”

“Yes, but you forget the sticks that speak like thunder and carry death,” said Wabiti.

Kulki spoke out: “No matter, some of us must perish, but the rest will fight on. I say, wait until it is dark, then my Gorol braves will slip up on them and kill. We Gorols are dark-skinned and cannot be seen in the night like the pale Taharans.”

“That is good advice,” said Dick.

But the old Chief Wabiti spoke up, shaking his gray head dolefully:

“Our enemies use strong magic. Their thunder sticks hurl death and they ride on fire-breathing monsters that travel like the wind. We can do nothing against them without even stronger magic.”

“That’s all bunk,” snorted Dan.

But Wabiti went on, “Nothing but magic will save us. If only the Great Gorol, the Ape-god had not been destroyed, he would save us.”

“I like Kulki’s advice better,” said Dick. “And I like Raal’s valiant words. We will gather the strong warriors among the Taharans and the Gorols and tonight when it is dark we will attack the Arab camp with arrows and spears. If we fight like men we can drive them off. No other magic is needed.”

“Tahara, hal!” cried Kulki. “Tahara, good!”

“We fight and win,” shouted Raal.

“Attaboy!” Dan cried.

Only Wabiti was not satisfied. He went away, shaking his head in gloomy thought and wandered in the forest, muttering invocations to the Ape-god of his fathers. Among the rocks he came upon a shelter which had been built of boughs for the old Queen Vanga by her maidens, and the two former rulers talked bitterly of the evils that had come to their tribes since they had ceased to reign.

While Dick Oakwood and Dan were busy with Raal and Kulki, organizing the forces of the two tribes for a night attack on the invaders, the two old leaders, shorn of their power, sat in the dark forest, plotting and grumbling.

“The old ways are the best,” muttered Wabiti. “It brought nothing but misfortune when our Great Gorol was broken to bits.”

“The old ways are the only right ways,” said Vanga, her sharp features screwed into a grimace of hatred. “Once our tribe had a wise man, a one-eyed witch-doctor named Cimbula, who could always help us when the gods were angry. Now we have Tahara, but as for me, I like Cimbula better. His single eye glowed like fire and terrified all the tribe. But he treated me with respect and his magic was strong.”

Vanga spoke sharply to her handmaidens, “Don’t sit there doing nothing! You, Veena, bring a basket of fruit and a gourd of honey and crushed grapes for my friend the great Chief Wabiti.”

“I hear, I obey,” said the girl obediently and went to fetch them.

“As for you others,” Vanga ordered, “scatter in the mountains. Call aloud for Cimbula and look in all the caves where he may be hiding. Perhaps he can save us yet.”

So while the old chieftain and the ex-queen plotted, the women and girls searched among the wilds of the Gorol Land mountains calling in their plaintive, shrill voices, “Cimbula! Come out of hiding, O mighty magic worker!”

The witch-doctor heard the call, but was in no hurry to answer.

Since he had been driven out of the tribe when Dick Oakwood was crowned, the treacherous medicine man had lurked in the high hills, biding his time.

With only one disciple, a youth named Keltan to bring him food and act as spy among the tribesmen, Cimbula brooded over his loss of power and planned revenge.

“Go, Keltan,” he directed his slave, “ask who wants Cimbula and why? But do not say that you know where I am to be found. Just learn what you can and bring me word in secret.”

Through the forest rang the faint, high-pitched call, “Cimbula! Return to us, O Master of wizardry!”

Cimbula grinned and his single eye glowed in triumph.

The hour had come for him to be again a power in the land.