Colin Corwin- Hero of Albion-in A Sound Drubbing, Or, Battles in the Belgian Congo
I am a hero of Albion, make no mistake about that, by jingo. I've fought and bled for her majesty in every continent but Antarctica, and as soon as the expedition to the desolate polar region is about to commence, I shall go and bleed for her there too. I've slain Pathan and Zulu, Russian and Yankee, with a clean conscience and never a misplaced button on my dress uniform. I am in all ways an exemplary Englishman.
Which is why I felt a bit odd to be in a train heading towards the center of the Belgian Free State, the personal possession of the Belgian King Leopold II and a dark mark on the Dark Continent of Africa, not in the service of glorious England, but in the service of my own avarice.
Well, perhaps not avarice. I am unemployed, and as much as I hate the title of mercenary, I fear it is one I must carry from here onwards. Ah well, such as life, as a Frenchman may say, though I do think that smacks of nihilism, a very dangerous and completely un-British philosophy.
Despondent in my train-car, I opened up a copy of that wonderful periodical, The Strand, and perused it for an interesting article. I soon found myself feeling quite depressed as I read a rather fascinating story about the future of warfare. "Land Ironclads!" I said out loud without meaning too. "By G-d himself, that is damned unsporting!"
"It's technology, sir," my charge, Cornelius Lepsky, told me without looking up from his book. He was sitting next to me in the train carriage and had not said a word since it started thundering across the baked African plain, being a boy of a quiet, and I must say quite womanly disposition. "It advances and countries use it."
"I suppose so," I muttered, folding the magazine. "Still, it is a bit depressing. I do long for the days of swords and armor. Chivalry, my boy, that's what this world is lacking!"
"If you say so, Mr. Corwin," Cornelius said obediently. He was an obedient chap, I must admit. Cornelius was thirteen years of age, small of statue and very thin. He had neatly combed brown hair that seemed to curl at the ends, and had pale blue eyes. I dressed him in a small suit of excellent cut, and gave him a pith helmet to match my own. One must never venture into the wilds of Africa without a pith helmet set firmly upon one's head.
Despite my urgings, he could not bring it upon himself to grow a moustache as thick and as manly as mine. I pride myself on my facial hair, luxurious sideburns and a good old handlebar, and I wish that Cornelius could reflect that, but alas, the lad remains beardless.
"I say, what are you reading?" I asked. "And please, Cornelius, call me sir."
"I, um, I just did, sir."
"Ah, yes. Carry on then. Now what is that dime novel you carry around with you?"
I took it, not without a bit of roughness, and found it to be a dog-eared and droopy dime-novel entitled Phantasmo-Master Thief. "A crime caper, eh?" I announced. "And with a criminal as a hero. I don't like it. Smacks of socialism. Why can't you read the bible, or something wholesome like that?"
"I don't have a bible, sir," Cornelius pointed out.
"True, true. And be sure to call me, sir." He started to say some words in protest, but then the train rolled to a halt. "It appears to be our stop, my boy," I said, coming to my feet in with military-honed speed. "You may wait for our contact, Mr. Armand. He should be easy to recognize, being a reprehensible Belgian." I did harbor some distrust of King Leopold's ilk. They had gypped Cecil Rhodes, one of my personal heroes, out of rightful possession of this particularly spot of jungle and plains, but they had offered to employ me, so I couldn't bear them too much ill will. "I will secure our luggage."
"We don't have any luggage, sir," Cornelius explained. "Only your weapons."
"My dear boy," I said with a smile. "My weapons are our luggage."
Each and every Englishman should pride himself on his knowledge of weaponry. It is useful in any scrape, and I have heard many scientific men explain how it increases virility tenfold. I have a rather large arsenal in my name, and it felt right and natural, as carrying instruments of death should, to check each firearm and secure it on my person.
First was a brace of first-class Webley Revolvers, fast-firing and with my skill fast to reload. Many an Arab and Pathan had thought me unarmed only to find their brains blown clean out of their skulls with a well-placed round. I placed them into the holsters at my waist with a practiced spin.
Next up way a Mk. IIII Martini Rifle, perfect for long-range work and reliable as any properly disciplined native-bearer. I had heard that it's overheating was responsible for our boys being hacked apart by the assegais of the Zulu at Isandlwalla, but that is probably a lie spread by anarchists, and no account should be taken of it. I slung this rifle onto my back and it formed a comfortable backrest.
Finally I had a beautiful cavalry sword, fine as any wielded by a chivalrous hero from days of yore. I had had scant opportunity to use it, but there is something undeniably satisfactory about hacking apart one's enemy with a thick blade like some Opium-crazed Chinese.
With every weapon ready for use, I walked over to the main platform and found Cornelius standing under a flag bearing the blue background and yellow star of the Congo Free State beside a swarthy gentlemen whose blue uniform and crimson fez marked him a member of the Belgian Colonial Army, or the Force Publique. A rather gruesome collection of severed hands and heads dangled from the flagpole above them. Barbarous, I suppose, but such methods are necessary in disciplining the natives. It's Social Darwinism, you know.
I walked over an extended a gloved hand. "Colin Corwin, at your service."
"My name is Armand. We communicated over telegraph, I believe," Armand said, shaking my hand and looking me over. In my red coat, black trousers white pith helmet and assorted sashes, medals and weapons, I must have cut quite a dashing figure. I dare say if I found a fellow looking exactly like me, I would be enamored head over heels. If I was a lady of course.
"A pleasure to meet you. I see you have already met my young charge here." Cornelius dutifully smiled. "I talked to him already, sir."
"Excellent, and call me sir, Cornelius."
Cornelius looked as if he was going to say something, but thought better of it, bless him.
"Allow me to take you somewhere more comfortable to explain the details of your assignment," Armand said with a sly smile. "Come, please."
We walked out of the rail-station, passing such civilizing institutions as a church, school, prison, various mansions, an armory, a gallows, some stocks, an imposing prison, and another gallows before coming to what appeared to be a deserted field.
"Pardon me," I said to Armand. "But this appears to be an empty field. If you intend an Hero of Albion such as myself to sit down 'Indian-style' in a field, it shall come to fisticuffs within a moment."
Armand looked upwards, and so did Cornelius. "Uh, sir," Cornelius said, I suppose he was an observant little chap, "I think he means for us to go up there." He pointed a thin finger, and I looked upwards too.
"Victoria's Garters," I whispered as I saw what was hovering in the clouds. A trio of massive airships, their bodies made of corrugated steel and ironwood, their balloons bursting with clean, safe, hydrogen, and its deck swarming with diligent sailors of the aether. Each one was the size of a large boat, and I noticed quite a variety of lethal-looking cannons and machine gun emplacements all along them, as well as bomb-flinging devices.
"That is where we shall talk," Armand said, still grinning. A small basket was lowered down, and all three of us piled in. Being a brave and out-going chap, I leaned over the side and had to be quickly pulled by back Cornelius, after which I demanded an apology on his part.
Soon we had reached the apex of our ascent and stepped out upon the deck of the mighty air-ship. I noticed a large amount of Iron Crosses, Germanic runes, and other Teutonic symbols scattered about the fantastic flyer and correctly reasoned that she must be a German ship.
Sure enough, the portly fellow who greeted us had a thick German accent. He was dressed in an oversized gray Prussian uniform with a spiked and winged helmet upon his head and flight-goggles covering his eyes above thin moustache. The rest of his crew was similarly adorned.
"Vilkomin," he said. "Herr Corwin, Herr Armand, and…" he stared at young Cornelius.
"Cornelius, he's with me," I explained. "He's a rather craven boy, so no loud noises or explosions, around his fragile ears, please."
Cornelius shot me an annoyed look and was about to argue when I cut him off.
"Quite a ship you got here, looks like she could fly round the world within eighty days with no trouble!"
"Ja, her name is Beowulf and she is a Queen of the Air," the German aeronaut explained. "And I am that element's king. Call me the Luftkaiser, if you would be so kind. Now, let us retire to my cabin. There we can discuss the details of our venture."
We all followed the Luftkaiser through his ship and entered his cabin, a very well-adorned cozy place, with maps and charts covering the walls, plush seats, and well-stocked drink cabinet, and a large portrait of the Kaiser, bombs and rockets flying around his mustachioed face.
"A pleasure to be working with someone of the Teutonic persuasion," I said with a smile. "Any member of Prince Albert's race is a friend of mine! I believe the glorious empires of England and Germany can remain allies against the Slavic and French rabble for decades!"
The Luftkaiser nodded in agreement. "Ja, I am sure that is possible. But I am unfortunately not employed by Berlin any more."
"What happened?" Cornelius asked respectfully and with uncharacteristic grace. I gave him a quick slap on the back of the head to end his impudence.
"Children should be seen and not heard. Now act like a man and shut up." I turned back to Mr. Armand and the Luftkaiser. "I apologize. Now, why did the German High Command throw you out? Are you a Cocaine addict like you brethren Freud? Or a socialist like your brethren Marx?"
"Mein Gotten, no, no," the Luftkaiser said, shaking his hand. "Freud is an Austrian, and Marx a Prussian. I," He touched his chest with his hand, obviously puffed up with pride, "am a Bavarian. As to my leaving the service, I got a little bit too zealous in the pacifications of the Herero Tribe in German East Africa. Someday we will come to our senses and wipe that wretched race from the earth, but until that day, I am ostracized from Germany." He looked quite sad, a tear or two welling from behind his flight goggles. Being a manly fellow who is a complete antithesis to all womanly emotions such as fear and sadness, I never cry, but I sympathize with those who do.
"You are in a similar situation, no?" Armand inquired of me.
I nodded, taking a large cigar from an open box on the Luftkaiser's desk and lighting it on a nearby lantern. I offered one to Cornelius and was surprised when he refused. I had smoked my first cigar at the age of eight and was addicted to the manly and invigorating tobacco weed by age ten, but I suppose I can't expect too much of loung-about like Cornelius.
"Indeed," I said. "Some of the damn liberals socialists didn't like my attempt to provoke a war with Russia and threw me out of Her Majesty's Army. I realized that a sufficiently large Congreve Rocket could level Moscow, given the proper angle and trajectory. I was in charge of a small fortress in the Afghanistan frontier, and decided to build such a thing." I paused for effect. "It almost worked, but instead of flying smoothly towards the Kremlin and killing the Tsar, it exploded on the launch-pad. It took my left pinky from me." I wiggled my specially designed glove, the pinky's place neatly cut out. "And Private Arnold Lepsy, Cornelius's father, was completely blown to bits. We had to look all over the mountainous pass to find enough of him to partially fill up a coffin."
Cornelius looked downcast and sad, and he held his small head in his hands.
"Then when his mum heard the news, she had a heart attack and fell out of a third-story building. I bet there wasn't enough of her to fill a coffin either. Must have been quite the shocker for Cornelius here."
"Actually, sir, I was away at school when it happened," Cornelius whispered.
"Ah, yes quite right. And don't forget to call me sir." I returned to my tale. "So, I got kicked out of the force, and in a rather strange twist, because Cornelius here had no next to kin, and because I think the judge had a bit of a sense of humor, I was saddled with caring for the boy. And I'm doing a damn fine job, by jingo!"
We chatted a bit more about this and that and soon the nature of my and the Luftkaiser's employment came up. Mr. Armand unrolled a large map of the Belgian Free State and pointed to a jungle-covered spot of land right in the center of the Congo.
"This is the Morrison Plateau, known for it's strange fauna and unexplored canyons," Armand explained. He drew a small dagger and marked the spot on the map. "Recently, some of our patrols have discovered diamond mines in that area making it incredibly valuable to own."
"Indeed," I agreed. "So why haven't you spread the guiding light of Western Civilization there yet?"
"We tried but it became…problematic," Mr. Armand put a hand to his chin and puffed his cigar. "The natives there are tenacious and brutal. When Force Publique invaded, they defended themselves and refused to be dealt with."
"Why not bring in some Maxims and blast the savages down?" I asked calmly. "Copious amounts of bullets to the brain should pacify any tribe."
"That is where the problem has arisen," Armand said. "You see, the !Ung tribe, for that is their name." Here he made a clicking noise that I have used the exclamation point to signify. "They seem to have the oddest powers. They can reportedly disappear into thin air, vanishing into the jungle, only to return and fling out deadly barrages of arrows and darts. Force Publique is quite dumbfounded."
"Disappear?" I asked incredulously. I am a skeptic, for believing in strange phenomena smacks of Theosophy, a 'religion' we can all do without. "Impossible. Nothing can turn invisible and reappear!"
"Phantasmo can," Cornelius said without thinking. "The hero in my novel, I mean."
I snorted. "My dear boy, that book you read is clearly fiction, which, for your information, is false." I gave him a quick smack on the back of the head.
"It's based on a true story!" Cornelius shot back.
"Temper, temper." I wagged a finger. "If your stock had any intelligence, your mother would have chosen a less dangerous place to have heart attack. Now silence yourself like a good boy."
The lad's small hands balled into fists, but he did nothing more.
Armand continued. "It is no fiction, Mr. Corwin. This tribe has defeated Force Publique again and again. The men call them ghosts and phantoms and refuse to engage them, and that is why we have hired the Luftkaiser. He will fly in and bomb the jungle flat, destroying the !ung."
"Then why did you hire us?" I asked.
Armand sighed. "As much as I hate to admit it, the international eye appears to be set firmly on the Congo. For some reason, people do not see the necessity of cutting off the hands of villagers that do not provide their rubber quotas. The American Mark Twain rights scathing verses against King Leopold, the Polish Joseph Conrad appears to be writing an entire book railing against the Free State." Armand was obviously dissatisfied with this turn of events. "Because of this, we are required to ask the !ung tribe if they can negotiate. You will be our ambassadors."
I shrugged. "What, no killing then? The whole thing smacks of pacifism."
"There may indeed be killing," Armand explained. "The !ung are notoriously aggressive, and they may attack without warning. You might have to fight your way out."
I cracked a cheery grin. "Now that's something I'm good at! Set us down outside the jungle, my good Belgian. Cornelius and I can do the rest!"
The great zeppelins, whisper quiet and speedy as a charging Pathan, left me no doubt that the future of transport lay with them. They lowered little Cornelius and I in a basket outside of the jungle and we immediately set off tramping towards the woods. They were quite a foreboding pace, thick trees and foliage preventing even the tiniest shaft of light from entering the dark domain, and who knew what manner of ferocious beasts lurked forever hidden under those strange boughs?
I immediately took out my Martini and began gazing down the sight, readying myself to fire on the first savage that showed his ugly head.
"Um, sir, what are you doing?" Cornelius asked.
"G-d Damn, Cornelius, call me sir. And I'm getting ready. Soon as those blighters show their heads it 'wham, pow' and no tomorrows." I chuckled deeply, unable to hold my enthusiasm for the slaughter. I lowered the Martini to my waste and began walking forward, when Cornelius grabbed my red military jacket and held me fast.
"Sir! We're supposed to negotiate a peace-treaty!" Cornelius cried, his high voice smacking of womanhood. Or childhood, I suppose. "The !ung haven't done anything wrong and it's not right to kill them just for existing!"
"You heard Armand, they're bloody savages," I said gruffly. "And call me-"
"I have been calling you sir, you fat bloody idiot!" Cornelius screamed, making me stop in my tracks. "And you would fight back too in your home was invaded! Did you see the awful things the Belgians are doing to the natives? Cutting off their hands! Starving them! Gutting women and kids! It's damn inhuman-sir!"
"I'm not fat." Then I looked down and realized I was gaining some girth. Ah well, if anyone has earned the right to enjoy some substantial weight, it is I.
"That doesn't matter!" Cornelius shouted. "I won't allow you to kill the innocent !ung!"
"It's Social Darwinism," I explained, but I did sound a touch defensive. "The Negroes are of a lower race. It's our duty to enslave, I mean, civilize them."
"You're wrong, sir, you and all of your stupid friends," Cornelius crossed his arms and gritted his teeth. "Social Darwinism isn't true! My mother saw Fredrick Douglas speak once, and she said that nobody of his caliber could come from an inferior race." He stared at me contemptuously.
I raised my hand to strike him across the face, but then I checked myself. I suppose he did make sense, in a strange, roundabout way, and he was standing by his convictions, something to be admired in any hot-blooded Englishman.
I decided to indulge him. "Well, I'll make a deal with you. You go into those woods, find the !ung, and bring some of them out here to talk with me. If they kill you, which they probably will, I'll go in and kill them all! Hopefully they won't eat your dead body and you can be buried next to your parents. Agreed?"
Cornelius fixed me with a stony gaze and held out his small arm. It was shaking. "Agreed, sir." He took off his gray coat and stood in his white shirt and trousers, then removed his pith helmet, an act that made me gawk. "I'm going in unarmed," he explained. "Most people are peaceful, I guess, and I don't think they'll attack an unarmed person."
"You'd better hope so," I muttered.
Cornelius stood there in his white shirt and tie, his hands on his overalls and a light wind rustling his air. He looked so very small. I gave him the faintest of smiles, which he returned, and then he ambled off into the jungles of the !ung.
Time passed and I began to grow bored and restless. There were some rather large lizards scurrying about underfoot, and I decided to draw my saber and have a go at them. I hacked at them, but they were speedy little creatures and I missed often. I decided to rest and sat in repose upon a moldy log, and then my imagination began to act on its own accord, never a good sign.
I imagined poor little Cornelius surrounded by !ung tribesmen in stealthy ambuscade. The hapless lad would be captured, doubtlessly hacked to pieces while he was still alive and then roasted and eaten. Cornelius wasn't a bad sort, even if he did smack of socialism, pacifism, and numerous other ideas unsuited for manhood. He was respectful, and he did always call me "sir" when I asked him too.
Little by little, I began to feel quite sorry for the boy, and then, in a single mental leap, I decided I would rescue him. I swung out my Martini and charged with a Scotsman's war cry into the thick underbrush.
It was very dark in the jungle, and quite difficult to see, but I persevered. I aimed my Martini Rifle here and there but no savage showed his snarling visage for me to fire upon and I found myself becoming jumpy. There were croaking insects and other odd sounds echoing through the forest, and even the bravest hero would become a little frightened.
"Cornelius?" I asked in a shout. "If you are alive, let out a high-pitched scream!"
There was no sound, but then something moved, rustling through the trees. I turned and fired, quickly working the Martin's bolt and placing in a new round, but then I realized that I had missed.
"That's odd," I said, looking round. And then I saw one of the !ung savages! He was hanging onto the bough of a tree like some hellish monkey, a large spear grasped in both his hands, and a strange cloth of scales covering his black skin. I readied myself to fire, but then he disappeared. It was the balmiest thing. He simply was there on second and gone the next, just like Cornelius's dime novel character.
"Victoria's Garters!" I whispered. "This is impossible."
There were more whispers of movement, and I spun every which way. Then I spotted another !ung, a different one this time. The rotter was coming at me with a bow in his hand and a cruel-looking arrow already notched. I turned to fire and then felt a strange chill at my throat. It was a steel knife, and a !ung warrior was pressing it to my neck.
"Weapon," he whispered, in heavily accented but still recognizable English. I dropped the Martini. A dozen other !ung had appeared, pointing spears and arrows at my face. No way to fight out of this one.
"No, don't kill him! Please don't!" the shrill voice of Cornelius shouted. The lad soon appeared, standing next to the biggest and most imposing !ung warriors, a heavy-set chap with a feathered headdress and a metal axe in his hands. "He's with me and I promise he won't harm anyone!"
"Now, Cornelius, it's not right to lie," I said, but then I felt the knife pressing tighter against my throat. "I mean, uh, lie all you want, just get me out of here!"
"He brings weapons. Guns. He should die," the big fellow, who was probably the chief, said.
"Look, he's a bit of an idiot, and aggressive, but he wants to negotiate with you, just like I do," Cornelius said pleadingly. "Please, let him go."
They did, removing the knife and roughly kicking me forward. I immediately went for my Webleys. "Good thinking, Cornelius, now stand back whilst I slaughter them!"
"No!" Cornelius cried, standing protectively in front of the chief. "They're nice people! They've treated me very kindly, and you shouldn't hurt them. Put the guns away, sir."
I saw I couldn't blast the !ung without hurting Cornleius and I returned my revolvers to their holsters. "Very well. You've befriended them, then. Do they worship you as a God? If so, I want to be the chief god. You can be their prophet."
"Silence," the chief said. "I am Igg!henggas, War-Leader of the !ung. The boy came to us promising negotiations and peace, and since he seemed very kind and came with no weapons, we listened to him. You should come with us to the village, if you wish to speak to the Chief."
"You're not the chief?" I asked.
"No. She is in the village, too old to go and lead soldiers."
"She?" Things were becoming more and more muddled by the second. "Look my dark-hued friend, it's scientifically proven that women faint whenever they are given command of anything larger than a knitting circle."
"Shut it, sir," Cornelius muttered. "We should go with them to the village."
And so we did, and it was a treacherous journey, with the constant threat of branches thwacking us in the face and small lizards scurrying underfoot. I drew my sword and hacked away at the bushes with a hot-blooded Son of Albion's fervor, before Cornelius stopped me. After I put away my saber, I decided to interrogate Igg!henggas.
"Say, how come you lot speaks English so well?" I demanded.
"A Missionary of your people once lived in this area. He taught us."
"Did you rotters eat him? I'll wager you did." I was proud of myself for drawing this conclusion. Never forget dear reader, that any native worth his salt is probably a cannibal.
"He left as soon as he heard the Belgians were coming. He was a cowardly man, and we did not stop him."
"And the disappearing trick, how do you do that?"
"Skin of lizards, a chameleon that lives in this area alone, whose skin changes color even after it is killed."
"Ah. Quite industrious of you. Europeans would never use such craven tactics though. It smacks of cowardice." No sooner had the words left my moustache-topped mouth than a plurality of spears was pointed at my face. It took some quick-speaking on Cornelius's part before the savages backed down.
In time we reached the village of the !ung, and what a village it was! It was built up among the trees, with hundreds of hut illuminated by low-swinging glowing lanterns and connected by raised walkways. I stared up at the primitive marvel of engineering with fascinated eyes.
Igg!henggas let out a shout in his primitive guttural language and a basket was lowered down for us. Most of the !ung didn't need it, merely scampering up the trees like strange monkeys. We led down a series of walkways into the largest hut of the entire village and there, surrounded by armed bodyguards, sat the chief.
She was an elderly woman, looking somewhat like a Negroid variant of Queen Victoria, dressed in an imperious robe and headdress. A weathered bible rested in one hand and diamond tipped scepter of ancient wood rested in the other. Her eyes were filled with the wisdom of the ages and her weathered lips were pressed together in a weary manner.
"What is this old bat doing ruling a tribe?" I said. "Or is there someway you !ung can interpret this coot's drools and whines as actual orders, I wonder. Hey there, old biddy, step aside, for I am the White God and I am king of all I survey!"
"Kill him," she said, in English, and her warriors rushed to comply. I drew my Webleys and backed against the wall, ready to give the natives a taste of Albion's lead, but then Cornelius fell prostrate to the ground like some Hindoo pagan in front of one of their heathen gods.
"Your majesty!" He cried, in a most womanly fashion. "Please, do not hurt him! There doesn't have to be any killing! The Belgians want to negotiate a peace treaty!"
That stopped them. The !ung warriors stepped backwards and even I found my martial spirit tempered. I returned the Webleys to their holster and stepped forward.
"Indeed the lad speaks the truth! Surrender to the Belgians so they can civilize you and chop off your hands or I will kill you all and-"
"Shut up," the chief said to me roughly, and whether by surprise or fear, I did. "Let the boy talk. He seems to be one that speaks from his soul."
"Thank you, sir, I mean madam," Cornelius said, checking himself and seeming very nervous. The poor lad was sweating something fierce and his face was quite red. Well, I wasn't going to help him. He had dug his own grave, and I was willing to let him fall into it.
"The Belgians, I mean, Mr. Armand, he sent me and Mr. Corwin here to tell you, um." He gulped. "The Belgians want peace. They just want to get at the diamond mines in the middle of this jungle. Mr. Armand said he'd send his workers in to dig up the precious stones without doing any of you any harm."
The chief seemed to think for a few moments before speaking, swishing her scepter to and fro. "That seems too good to be true. The white men are always treacherous. What if they launch attacks on us?"
"I guess they might," Cornelius said slowly. "But, well, I think you should give it a try. I mean, if you two just keep on fighting and never let any peace happen because your too afraid, then soon everyone will get hurt and it will be awful, um, madam."
"It would be awful," the chief said, nodding her wrinkled head. "You speak wise words for one so young. Very well, we will not harm any workers trying to dig up the shining stones, provided that they do not attack us."
"Thank you, your majesty," Cornelius said with a radiant smile on his red face. "You're a very wise person."
Just then, a great noise and hullabaloo started from outside. Natives were shouting and leaping about and pointing upwards. Thinking that the Africans were going into their customary bouts of madness, I stepped outside to get a clean shot at them, and found myself staring upwards.
The three zeppelins, the fleet of the Luftkaiser, were hovering above the village, casting a great shadow and frightening and amazing the !ung villagers. I suppose they must have been watching our progress from the cloud, and now wanted to see how our mission went. I yelped upwards to tell them the good news.
"Oi! Luftkaiser! I say, can you hear me!?" I shouted at the top of my lungs while I ran to the highest crow's nest-style walkway in the village. "Oi! Luftkaiser!"
Soon I spotted his chubby round face leaning over the deck and looking down at me, his wing and spiked pickelhaub seated firmly on his head. "Ja, Herr Corwin, you are still alive?"
"And kicking old boy!" I smiled and waved. "Listen, Cornelius was womanly enough to be liked by the !ung and they want to negotiate. Mission accomplished, eh? So just let Mr. Armand down and we can put the whole thing in writing, though I doubt these savages can read."
The Luftkaiser ducked back over the deck and when he returned, he had a rather grim expression on his face. "Nien, Herr Corwin, that is not how this is going to work. Herr Armand need the !ung destroyed, and that will be carried out."
"But the negotiation…"
"A farce, Herr Corwin, simply to provide the appearance of diplomacy for the liberals in American and England. We assumed the savages would have already devoured you. And if they didn't-"
"And they didn't!" I reminded the Bavarian Balloonist, not liking where this was going.
"If they didn't, I was to see to your demise."
Grim news indeed, by jingo. But I did not cry or yelp like a woman or small boy. Well, perhaps I did cry a little. And when I answered the Luftkaiser, it was in a rather pathetic howl, but you can understand the circumstances.
"That's Social Darwinism," the Luftkaiser said and he pulled his head back. Then the bombs began to fall.
I always assumed Cornelius was a rather cowardly boy, weak and ill-suited to any form of action say perhaps whining or writing poety or other unmanly pursuits, but he had been following me and here preformed a heroic deed. As the explosives began to plummet down onto the village, burning huts and blowing apart walkways, he darted forward and through his whole wait into me, at such an angle that I was toppled over.
"Victoria's Garters!" I shouted as I realized what was commencing around me.
A cluster bomb of terrifying proportions had been headed towards my spot, and Cornelius succeeded in saving me, but then the poor little chap found himself flung into the air by the power of the explosion, his right arm bent in a most dreadful manner.
I feared for his life, dear reader, though I know a soldier should not care for such things, but I am an honest man and I will admit that a look of terror crossed my beautiful face upon seeing Cornelius injured so. I imagined he would fall to the ground and be crushed, as his mother and father died.
But that was not to be, for Igg!henggas hurled himself into the air after Cornelius with the grace of an athlete and grabbed the boy with one hand while he grabbed onto a vine with the other. He swung downwards and fell to the ground, the crying Cornelius pressed close to his chest.
Needless to say, I was quite miffed by being betrayed so, and had every attention of getting revenge. But first I felt an urge to know that Cornelius was unharmed. I know that smacks of maternity, but I felt it, and I am confident in my manhood to admit that. I pounded down the walkway, bombs and rockets going off all around, and leapt onto a tree trunk, shimmying down like a handsome, utterly English spider.
"Is he injured?" I asked Igg!henggass, who was lying Cornelius down on the forest floor and assessing the damage.
"His arm is broken and he has bruises and cuts, but he will survive."
"Thank God," I said. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have a kraut to kill." I stared up at the three air-ships, wondering how best to destroy them. A brilliant idea came unbidden to my brilliant mind. "I've got it! Congreve Rockets!"
"We don't have those," Igg!henggass pointed out.
"Hmmm. Righto, then. Give me a bow and arrow, and a strong piece of rope and tell your warriors to follow me."
Igg!henggass called out to his fellows and the requested implements were soon tossed down to me. I found the tallest tree in the entire village and scampered up it, using my saber to dig into the wood and pull myself upwards. It was quite a journey, what with the bombs and explosives raining down about me, and it took me some time to make it.
Soon I was in position. Using knots that would have put Lord Baden-Powell to shame I affixed the rope to the arrow and took aim. Being an accomplished archer, it only took five or six shots before the arrow was firmly wedged into the wooden body of the middle air-ship, which I recognized as the Beowulf.
I gave it a practice tug, and, finding it sound, began my ascent. As I was clambering up the rope, the Beowulf moved slightly and I found myself dangling in midair. I hung on for dear life, and it took a good deal of solid British will power to move myself forwards. The !ung below me caught on and soon shot out their own ropes and arrows to the low-flying air-ships. I was the first one over the side and found that my assault had been completely unanticipated.
Armand was standing at the edge of the deck, smiling at the destruction the airships were wreaking. Most the huts had been blown to bits by bombs and rockets and several blazing fires had been started, so he was enjoying himself to an absurd degree. I readied my Martini and cleared my throat.
The duplicitous Belgian spun around, surprised to see me there. "Mr. Corwin! What a pleasant surprise, you, uh, survived!"
"Indeed I have. No thanks to you."
"Please, Mr. Corwin." Armand had no weapons and he went down on his knees, his hands clasped in supplication. "Do not kill an unarmed man! That is not right, that is simply not right!"
"My dear, Mr. Armand," I replied as I neatly plugged him right between the eyes, "That is Social Darwinism." By now the !ung warriors had boarded the air-ship and the sailors on the Beowulf began to realize that they were under attack. They drew their mauser pistols, and some of them even had shotguns and rifles, and the battle was joined.
It was quite a fierce fight, my dear reader, and let me assure you that Colin Corwin was in the thick of it. I charged into the fray with my Martini barking, working the bolt with practiced precision and bringing down German after German. I picked off a few rotters on the side and delighted in hearing their screams as they plummeted downwards. The bayonet on the end on the Martini proved well-placed as I entered a bloody melee, stabbing and slashing, and sometimes smashing krauts with the butt of the gun.
But my fighting was a child's mud-splashing compared to the !ung. They fell upon the German air-sailors with hatchet, spear and long knife, hacking them apart with no regard for mercy or quarter. The Germans fought back brilliantly, taking up firing positions and shredding the incoming !ung with withering fire, but the natives were simply too ferocious. Soon the deck was littered with the dead of both sides.
My Martini clicked empty, and not have the time or desire to reload, I swung it back on my back and drew out my revolvers. Each Webley barked like an angry dog in my hand, blasting apart the Germans where they stood. The !ung took advantage of my marksmanship and surged forward, slaying the gunners in their seats and hurling the corpses overboard.
"By jingo, this is a grand fight!" I declared, laughing with the madness of battle so often felt by Scotsmen and Zulu and other martial races. But then the dread Luftkaiser arose from the bowels of the ship.
He had a certain type of backpack on his shoulders, a peculiar apparatus that sprayed blue flame out of the back end and propelled the Luftkaiser into the air so that he resembled a great Teutonic bird. Miniature Maxim Machine Guns were built into the flying rig, so that he only to pull down the trigger to send out a barrage of lethal lead.
As soon as I saw him coming, I shouted to my allies. "Hit the deck!" Some of them did, and they avoided the sweeping blaze of bullets. Many unfortunate !ung were not as quick and were blown apart, collapsing to the deck with numerous bullets all over their bodies.
"That's damned unsporting!" I cried, coming to my feet. I fired at the Luftkaiser but the Webley rounds simply ricocheted off of the hard metal breastplate he had affixed on his chest.
"Ah, Herr Corwin!" He said to me with a deep and menacing laugh. "Why don't we test Teutonic Mastery against pathetic English courage?"
"You blood kraut!" I shouted at him. "Why don't you fight in a chivalrous manner instead of whizzing around like some great metal turd?!"
In answer he sent a spray of lead. I narrowly leapt out the way, wincing as one of the bullets cut into my cheek. I was up in and seconds and running towards the Luftkasier, my saber drawn.
I suppose the German must have simply been dumbfounded by my aggressive nature. His eyes opened wide beneath his flight goggles and he hesitated on his triggers. I leapt onto his metal rig, hacked at his exposed arms and legs with my saber.
In answer, the Luftkaiser soared into the sky and spun around forcing me to grip onto his body or else be flung to my death. I managed to raise my blade for a deathblow, but he sent us spinning in a great rolling motion, and I nearly dropped the saber.
"You will die!" The Luftkaiser cried, giving me another spin, and by G-d, I almost did. My fingers grew loose and I found myself slipping away, nearly plummeting off the Luftkaiser's front.
Luckily, I was able to get a handhold on his back, the flying-backpack device, complete with a large number of fragile looking gears and wires. Without a thought for what would happen to use once the impetus for our flight was destroyed, I began hacking at the thing with saber.
"Nien! You idiot!" the Luftkaiser shouted at me, but I paid him no attention. Soon steam and smoke billow out of the holes I had hacked into the flying-backpack device. It began to sputter and the Luftkaiser and I began to loose altitude. He let a howl of terror as we screamed down towards the deck of the Beowulf.
I braced myself for the end, unwilling to go without giving the world a good full-throated yelp of purest terror, but when we crashed down, I found the end failed to come. The Luftkaiser's armored front absorbed the majority of the damage, and as I was on his back, I escaped relativity unharmed.
Then again, the Luftkaiser was still up and about as well. He came to his feet with a look of rage and swung his metal Maxims at me, causing me to duck out of the way. As I dodged the blow, an idea came unbidden to my brilliant mind.
"Congreve rockets," I whispered, and then shook the thought from my mind. The Luftkaiser struck again and I grabbed onto his harm, jabbing down my saber into his unprotected flesh. He let out a howl of pain and instinctively squeezed down on the triggers of his guns. It took only a modicum of effort to push the flow of bullets into the large building marked 'armory.'
Instantly, the effects of the bullets flying into the armory began to take their course. The ammo began cooking off, exploded every which way and blasting !ung warrior and German sailor alike. Soon the larger bombs started to go off, tearing great hunks out of the air-ship and causing it to list heavily.
"You a king without a kingdom, and your Kaiser is an ugly old bat!" I shouted to the Luftkaiser as he watched his flagship literally tear itself apart.
"Nien!" he cried in terror as the air-ship was torn in twain, sending us all flying in different directions. I saw the nimble !ung grabbing onto branches and tree limbs, swinging safely to the ruins of their village, while the Germans where hurled screaming to their doom.
As for the wretched Luftkaiser, I guess there was still some pulse within his flying rig. I saw him give it a good kick and he went soaring into the air, coming to rest on top of the second of his ships, the one called Sigurd.
"By Victoria's Maidenhood, by the Purity of the Imperialism, by the Righteousness of the Church," I whispered, "I will kill that kraut." Then I realized that I had been flung free of the ruined Beowulf and was hurtling through the air. I saw a tree rushing up to meet and then, by jingo I went to sleep.
The sight that greeted me when I aroused myself from my slumber was the shining face of Cornelius Lepsky. The lad had his right arm in a sling and some native poultices had been applied to his face, making him look nearly as battle-scarred as I was.
"Mr. Corwin!" he shouted happily. "You're alive! We were all very worried about you, sir."
"Why wouldn't I be all right? I'm a Hero of Albion! And call me sir!" I shot back, trying to raise my head. It felt as if Rourke's Drift, the Charge of Light Brigade and Trafalgar were all echoing around inside my skull. I lay back down. "What happened?"
"We won, if you can call it that," Igg!henggass said. "The village was burned up and many of the tribe died. We had to relocate to the jungle floor."
I took in my surroundings and realized that I was lying on a makeshift cot in the shade of several large trees. Cornelius, Igg!henggass, and even the old chief, as well as a good number of surviving !ung, stood all around us.
"So, I take it you've decided to worship me then?" I said. "Come the White God commands you!"
Igg!henggass shook his head. "I'd say the fall drove you mad, if I hadn't met you before."
The chief stepped forward and put a gnarled hand on my forehead. "You are wrong, stupid shooting one. The white men would betray us and we cannot trust them. Even the boy, noble as he is." I then noticed the forlorn look in Cornelius's eye. "We will wait until you are strong enough and then you must leave."
"Why?" I demanded. "Oh right. White men destroying your village and wiping out your tribe and all. Understandable, I suppose. Smacks of patriotism. Where will you go then?"
Now the chief looked forlorn. "I do not know. The white men are like a plague covering the earth. Soon they will cover this continent and enslave us all. There might not be anywhere left to run."
"That's because we are better!" I reminded her. "You know, Social Darwinism. Oh….uh" I remembered the downside of that philosophy and slammed my mouth shut. By the way the !ung nodded, I belived they thought me wise to do so.
I then focused my energy on healing myself, and in time I recovered my senses to their fullest. As the day ended I was able to walk about with minimal aching in the head. I found the remains of the Beowulf, and was able to salvage a good deal of ammo and supplies before returned to camp.
I found Cornelius on the outside, grasping his wounded hand and looking as small and vulnerable as he ever had. "Hello, sir," he said with a weak smile.
"Hello Cornelius. I suppose we cannot join the !ung anymore?"
"No sir. They want us out. I don't know where we should go. They say it's a long walk to the nearest outpost, but not that far to the border, where there are slavers who might take us up north and then to Europe."
"Excellent decision, my dear boy." I complimented Cornelius on his forethought. "That sounds capital. I do not like slavers, but as they only pick on Africans, I believe we should be safe, and noble Arabs have a tendency to swear life-debts to brave Europeans such as I." I drew out my saber and pointed it off into the north, or south, until Cornelius corrected me and then we began our trek.
As we began the long journey north I rested a friendly hand on Cornelius's thin shoulder. "Say, Cornelius?"
"We're friends now. You don't have to call me sir. Colin, or the White God will be just fine."
Cornelius looked up at me and smiled. "Thank you, Colin."
"Quite all right, my boy. Quite all right."