Sunday, July 27, 2014
The Other Side of the Hill
Capitain Willem Potgeiter of the Société belge de commerce africaine military force sat on his mule and surveyed the terrain ahead with mixed feelings. The savannah had felt endless as he and his little column trekked across it for days, but now it appeared to have finite limits after all. The ground ahead trended to low hills and increasing scrub, with stands of taller trees here and there. A perfect place for an ambush. He gestured to the guide, standing patiently beside him. "Thomas, are you sure we have to pass through that?"
Thomas, whose real name the Belgian couldn't pronounce, screwed up his eyes as he peered in the direction Potgeiter pointed. "Yass, bass, we do. The lake lies three days beyond." He hesitated. "We close to G'Wunda lands, bass."
Potgeiter rubbed his beard and frowned. "Uh."
The lake. Or inland sea. Rumour of which had reached the Société's headquarters at Leopoldport on the Atlantic coast. Orders from the Director arrived by telegraph at the outpost Willem commanded. He and his men had been dispatched to discover the lake, estimate how big it was, and gain an idea of resources - including natives - in the locality that could be exploited in the Société's usual ruthless fashion. The Director had also mentioned growing British influence in the area, so the race was on to reach the lake and claim the region before the mighty Queen-Empress did so.
All very nice in theory, but Potgeiter believed the warriors of the G'Wunda tribe would have something to say about that. Their reputation for ferocity had spread far and wide. So far the military arm of the Société had not encountered them, as the G'Wunda territory lay well to the east of the company's current border. After the relative peacefulness of the march, Potgeiter thought that was about to change. He glanced back at the platoon, felt annoyed at how it straggled through the trackless brush. Thirty or so men, not including bearers, native askari with white NCOs. "Too small to attract a hostile response, too big to be overwhelmed by mere natives." Potgeiter knew the argument, promulgated in breezy fashion by the Director. Yes. He sensed Thomas' growing nervousness, looked again to the east. The afternoon sun cast deepening shadows in the folds of land. We'll see...