He hated her for that. He hated her for many reasons, but possibly he hated her most of all for that. That and the fact that years ago, she had deprived him of his revenge.
She was tall for a woman, slender and well-formed, and what clothing she wore was fashioned from animal skins. Her name was Talia, the name given her by her parents who had been lost in this jungle, and who died when she was still a child. Her enemies had named her the Beast Woman. But Old Father never called or thought of her as anything but White Woman.
She was in a tree watching a man walk across the plain. He was a white man with a rifle and he was as tall as two of Old Father, one standing on the shoulders of the other. White Woman stretched out on a limb of the tree and was as motionless as the bark she lay on. The man was close enough that Old Father, even from his hiding place among the grass could make out the features of his face. Like the girl, the man was white, his skin reddened by the sun. But where the beast woman was beautiful – even Old Father admitted that – the man had the look of a hyena about him. He had the stick that spouted death and that white men called a rifle in the crook of his arm.
Old Father knew the white man, too. The man had sold weapons to the tribes and promoted war among them. White Woman had organized the tribes to resist him, and chased him from the jungle. Now he was back.
On the man’s narrow face Old Father saw the marks of hatred and the wish for revenge. White Woman and the soldiers from the capitol had broken up his gang and stopped his evil. Most of his men were dead, the others captured and sent to prison; but he had managed to slip away. Old Father knew he was back to kill White Woman.
And white woman knew also. Motionless, she watched for a few moments longer, then slid off the limb and dropped to the ground. She was hidden from the man’s view at first by the thick bole of the tree, but after a moment she stepped around the tree so he could see her. She stood there, silent and still.
The sun glittered on her golden hair. The man walked on, not seeing her at first. When he did see her, he stopped. For a moment, they both stood watching one another and Old Father thought they did not even breathe.
Then the man lifted up his rifle, slapped it to his shoulder and fired without aiming.
She didn’t even move. The bullet sped past her, and past where Old Father was hidden, and into the thick jungle behind Old Father’s back. Now the woman moved. She ran toward the white man. Old Father fought to suppress his joyous laughter as the white man took careful aim, this time, and fired once more. But White Woman moved aside a split second before he fired, and again he missed her.
Now the White Man – they had called him Sanchez. – did something strange. He slipped the heavy pack from off his back, put it down and took something out of it. At first to Old Father, it seemed a tangle of wood and thongs. He quickly saw that was not so. The thongs were carefully wrapped around a short stick so that they would not tangle. In a split second, the thongs were loose and Sanchez took them in their middle and deftly began to whirl the balls – there were three of them, attached to the thongs – above his head.
Never had Old Father seen such a thing, but he realized its possibilities at once. With those weights you could hurl the thing across the space between you and a target. If you threw it so it caught an animal around the neck, the wooden balls would slam against the animal’s head, smashing bone and brains, killing it without injury to the all important meat.
But apparently, the man did not want to kill White Woman. The strange device struck her torso. The thongs wrapped around her, pinning her arms against her body, and knocking her off her feet. The man broke into a run. Before White Woman could stand up again and release herself, as she struggled to a sitting position, Sanchez bent over her. He struck a powerful blow with his fist to her jaw and she slumped back, dazed, to the ground.
She lay still like one unconscious. Sanchez rolled her over on her stomach and pulled her arms behind her back. With a short strip of leather he bound her wrists. With another piece he bound her ankles. These things he did quickly. The woman was beginning to recover consciousness by then and tried to curse him, loudly. But he took cloth from his pocket and tied it in her mouth to muffle her curses.
Old Father wondered now what Sanchez was up to. He had her in his power. Why did he not simply kill her? He had a gun in his belt and a longer gun on the ground nearby. He had a knife. There were rocks lying close by that were big enough to crack open her skull like an egg. Why not kill her and leave her body for the hyenas to get rid of?
She was awake now. Sanchez stood up and looked down at her. She tried to speak but the gag prevented her. She squirmed and writhed against her bindings but could not loosen them. Sanchez gave a small cruel laugh.
He bent and scooped her into his arms and stood back up, throwing her over his shoulder so that her head, and its long blonde hair, hung down behind him. The girl squirmed and struggled. With the flat of his free hand, he slapped her rear where the scant bit of animal skin she wore below the waist barely covered it. The gag did not muffle her outcry very well, and Old Father almost gave himself away by laughing
With the white woman over his shoulder and his rifle and pack in his free hand, Sanchez started back the way he had come. The girl squirmed and struggled, and tried to curse him. Sanchez seemed not to care. On his face there was a smile. It was a big smile, but it held no kindness.
Old Father was amazed. He had never dreamed to see White Woman so easily subdued, not to mention carried off.
He wracked his brain for an explanation as to why she was still alive. Did Sanchez have someone who would pay him to bring her so that he could enjoy torturing her? There were certainly many who might want such a pleasure. They would leave her bound but remove the cloth tied so tightly now in her mouth so that she could scream late into the night as they inflicted agony upon her. If they were truly inventive and truly skilled, the torture might run far into the following day. Perhaps they would peel skin from her. Certainly they would burn her with hot coals and use their war clubs to break her legs and arms so it would no longer be necessary to keep her bound. They would like to see her crawl across the dirt of their village grounds, leaving a trail of blood behind her in her futile attempts to get away.
Old Father waited until they had gone a safe distance from him, and then followed.
Old Father expected Sanchez to meet someone and exchange her for gold, but he did not carry her in the direction of any white settlement or native village. He walked well into the afternoon and, despite the burden over his shoulder, Sanchez did not seem to grow tired.
They came at last to a clearing and only then did Sanchez dump his captive un-gently on the ground. She no longer made any effort to free her wrists or ankles, which were scraped and skinned so that her arms and legs were streaked with blood, but still the gag muffled fiery words and her eyes blazed hatred.
Sanchez was breathing a bit more heavily than he normally would have, from carrying such a burden so far, but he seemed to have much strength left. He took her by the hair and lifted her so that she was standing. Her face showed pain but she made no sound. He supported her so that they stood face to face and she glared at him with pure hatred.
He hit her again and she fell stunned to the ground. He rolled her over, undid the ropes on her hands and retied them in front of her before she recovered enough to take advantage of her hands being loose.
There were already two pegs driven deeply into the ground about eight feet from each other. He dragged her over to one of the pegs and, as she lay flat on her back, he yanked her arms over her head and tied them to it. Then he took her legs, stretched her out, and tied her ankles to the second stake. She was stretched tautly and could barely move at all.
Old Father suddenly realized what Sanchez planned to do.
This clearing was not far from another clearing where there were anthills. Against the trunk of a tree Old Father saw a sealed jar. Sanchez picked up the jar and carefully broke the wax that sealed the lid. He carried the jar to the far side of the clearing.
Old Father watched carefully. He thought he knew what might be in the jar. Sanchez began pouring something from the jar onto the ground and from its thickness and color, Old Father knew it was honey.
Something moved across the top of the pygmy’s foot. He looked down and saw an ant. It had bitten him. It was a large ant, but there was only one of them. He started to kill the ant, then stopped himself. He saw now exactly what plan Sanchez had in mind.
Imagine ants in great numbers, an army of them. In great enough numbers they could march through the jungle and eat away all the vegetation in their path. Sometimes they did that.
They ate all the animal life, as well.
Old Father brushed the ant off his foot and forgot about it.
On the other side of the clearing, near a narrow stand of trees, Sanchez poured honey on the ground. Just beyond those trees, Old Father knew were ant hills.
Sanchez walked back toward where Talia was so helplessly bound, and as he went, he poured a trail of honey, a drop here, a drop there, close enough the ants would always find the next one. You could rely on ants.
There was only so much honey in the jar and Sanchez was careful not to use all of it before he had laid the trail he wanted. It led right to the girl.
There was some honey left and he poured it out into his hand and smeared it across the bare flesh of her stomach. Once more, she tried to say something despite the gag. Old Father thought she was cursing her captor as she had done many times before.
It didn’t matter. Old Father was sure Sanchez had been cursed by more than one witch doctor, yet he was still alive while some of them were dead. Even this deep in the jungle, bullets were a more powerful magic than any witch doctor’s juju.
Sanchez spoke loud enough that Old Father would hear his words. “It won’t be long before the ants follow that trail of honey straight to you,” the white man said. “Look there. We got some visitors right now.”
Old Father could tell by the way she was squirming, they were already biting.
But she made no attempt to scream. That didn’t seem to upset Sanchez; after all, perhaps it was only the presence of the gag. Sanchez just laughed some more as if he was certain she would scream soon enough.
He turned away from her and bent to pick up his rifle and pack. He turned back to say one last thing to her.
“I could kill you with this rifle, but that would be a mercy. You don’t get no mercy from me, Beast Woman. Not a smidgen. And you won’t get much from them ants, either. But I bet they’ll appreciate all that tender flesh.” He grunted a humorless laugh. “If I had time I might show your tender flesh some appreciation, too. You look good, baby. But you won’t be looking good much longer.”
He didn’t notice the way Talia’s eyes widened with such a look of surprise. He slipped his pack over his back and started off.
And failed to see Old Father until it was too late.
The pygmy, who had moved with wonderful silence though the grass, shoved his short spear into the white man’s chest, laughing as he did so. The spear came out the man’s back. Old Father yanked it out. The spear was just a sharpened stick with no spear-head to catch as it was yanked free. He watched as Sanchez stood for a moment, blood flowing copiously and freely from his wound. As Sanchez fell to his knees, Old Father saw his eyes glaze over. Sanchez fell straight forward toward his killer but Old Father stepped aside, out of his way. The life was gone from the white man by the time he struck the ground.
Old Father turned away from the corpse and stared at the Beast Woman who was so helpless nearby.
If anything, Talia’s look of surprise had magnified. The gag was pulled too tightly against the corners of her mouth for her to part her lips enough to gape, but her eyes were certainly wide enough. She knew who Old Father was. She knew the hatred he had carried for her these many years.
She saw the spear he carried, too.
It was a stick with an end that had been heated and sharpened again and again until it could penetrate the hide of a rhinoceros. She was helpless. Old Father could drive his spear into her body anywhere and anyway he cared to, inflicting great pain, killing her – or simply crippling her. She was at his mercy, and she had never believed the old pygmy had any.
In addition to the spear, Old Father carried a knife. He turned the spear over, drove its point into the ground so it would stand upright, and held up his knife. He crouched beside the helpless women, a look of pure hatred on his face.
It was almost consuming hatred.
But not quite. He brought the knife down and used it to slice through the thong that bound her hands.
For a moment she thought he intended to slice her hands off her arms, but he did not even draw blood. The thongs parted and she was free.
Or at least her hands were.
He said, “Someday I will kill you, white woman. I promise that. It is an oath. There is blood hatred between us and it can only be wiped out when one of us is dead.”
Old Father pushed his knife point down in the ground where Talia could reach it.
“You may keep my knife, to replace the one he took from you,” he said, indicating the body of Sanchez. “I will take the dead white man’s knife .because it is better than mine.”
He pulled the knife out of its sheaf and shoved it into the leather belt he wore around his waist. “We will meet another time, and I will certainly kill you then,” he said. He left, then, blending into the jungle almost as skillfully as Talia might have.
She lay there almost a full minute, completely astounded, before sitting up.
She tried to pull the gag out of her mouth but it was too tight. In the end she had to cut it free with the knife Old Father had left her. It was easier cutting her feet free. They had been tied tightly and it was not possible for her to stand until she had massaged the circulation back into her ankles.
Finally she stood up and looked around. There was no sign of Old Father. Either he was far away from here, or he had found a hiding place from which he could safely watch her.
She didn’t care. She had no fear of Old Father, nor any wish to harm him. He had saved her life, after all. She believed what he had said about intending to kill her, but she would leave whatever would be to the future.
When her legs again were strong enough to support her, she took to the trees,
Jumping from tree to tree, traveling with great speed, she left the body of Sanchez where it lay, for the hyenas.