The platoon debarked from the steamboat Lady Cynthia without incident. The force had been joined almost at the last minute by Dr. Emil Beckenbaur from the University of Hetzenberg. A noted anthropologist and linguist, Beckenbaur had been a friend of Oliver Carstairs at Oxford and joined the expedition now at his invitation. Captain Pike made his acquaintance and concluded he'd be a useful chap to have around.
The expedition made good progress inland the first day, establishing camp not far from a series of low rolling hills. Pike left instructions for reveille to sound two hours before dawn so the platoon could make a good start before the killing heat of day came on the land. The DC and his party obviously felt themselves excluded from any idea of curfew. They sat around their camp fire so the smoke would repel the mosquitoes that plagued the area and swapped stories into the early hours.
That night CSM Harrington made the rounds, checking on the sentries and slapping intermittently at mosquitoes that dared to land on him. Out in the velvety starlit darkness the African night felt like a palpable presence. So too did the throb of drums, now faint, now close. Harrington listened to them for some time then became aware of someone walking up behind him. He turned to see Captain Pike approaching, the bowl of his pipe emitting a faint cherry-red glow. "Good evening, sir," Harrington said, saluting.
Pike returned the salute and removed the pipe from his mouth. "All well, Sarn't-Major?"
"As good as it'll ever be, sir," Harrington replied.
"Those drums have been beating for hours," Pike observed, coming to stand by him. His features glowed faintly in the starlight and Harrington thought he looked pensive.
"Yes, sir." Harrington frowned. "I don't mind them beating, sir. It's when they stop that the trouble tends to start."
"Indeed." Pike took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. ""Turn in when you're done, Sarn't-Major. We need to be rested in order to make a fair start tomorrow. I'm sure we'll be more than equal to whatever the day brings."
"Of course, sir."
Pike returned the pipe to his lips. "G'night, Sarn't-Major," he said around the stem.
Pike headed off in the direction of his tent, leaving a trail of tobacco smoke. Harrington stared out into the night. An odd presentiment of trouble made his skin prickle and he shook off the feeling irritably. "Nothing out there three-rounds-rapid can't take care of," he scolded himself. As he completed his round he wondered why he didn't feel convinced by the notion.