“Good try, Tarzan.”
Nkonu was grinning.
“You really should stop winding my nephew up. Not got a sense of humour like me.”
Tarzan hadn’t found much to laugh about. Having a laugh with the vain peacock hadn’t been part of his plan. He wanted to plant his fist in his conceited face.
“And besides .. he is your host. Because of him you are here.”
Fine way to treat a guest, Tarzan thought .. feeling the burning in his guts. And the hurt from kicks to his ribs when he breathed in deep. But he held his tongue. Nkonu was just prattling on.
“Not the wisest thing you’ve done today. Winding him up. He could get to resent that.”
Nkonu had approached. Tarzan was still panting out his frustrations. Annoyed. His goal of goading Mwale into that fight within his grasp. Then Nkonu had interfered. Breathing to calm himself. Get himself ready for the next chance that came along.
“Calling out my nephew like that.”
Tarzan threw a shot over Nkonu’s shoulder. The young man was stood back by Nkonu’s ceremonial chair. Watching carefully, visibly infuriated. But his uncle had called him off. And dutifully .. if reluctantly .. he’d obeyed.
Almost conspiratorially Nkonu whispered to Tarzan.
“Impetuous. You know these young men. They still have so much to prove.”
Nkonu was stood only a couple of paces away. Tarzan saw his eyes glide over Tarzan’s front. Taking in the reddening on Tarzan’s belly .. where young Mwale had driven a half-dozen body-crippling kicks. Nodding with satisfaction.
“Silly idea, too .. calling me out.”
“My people know me for the chief that I am. What I have brought them. Giving back their self-belief.
He grinned smugly to himself.
“Not heard anyone complain.”
Nkonu’s shoulders shrugged as he sniggered.
“And as for questioning young Mwale’s courage .. today of all days …?”
“On the day our people are celebrating his triumph? Bringing you in.”
“Tarzan, really! Get real!”
Stood a couple of paces away, Nkonu’s eyes seeing the situation as it was .. Tarzan helplessly captive .. hopelessly trapped. Showing signs of the beatings he had taken. Tarzan wondered if Nkonu had seen through his plans .. foiled in getting into a fight .. aiming to free himself of these restraints. As if reading Tarzan’s thoughts, Nkonu chuckled.
“Whose lost grip on reality? Tarzan?”
He was talking quietly to his captive. But Tarzan could see the rest of the tribe was intently listening in. Not wanting to miss a word.
“No one wants to know .. not today. On young Mwale’s day of celebration ….?”
Nkonu laughed at Tarzan’s failed attempts.
“And when he has just taken his father’s name!”
Nkonu was chuckling good-naturedly with the man he had ordered returned to him. To avenge the deeds of the past.
“Who they going to believe? Their hero? Or YOU .. looking like this? Absurd!”
Nkonu changed his features. A look of mock reproach came over his face.
“No way to act. How ungrateful of you, Tarzan!”
Nkonu was shaking his head at his captive. Like some disappointed father.
“Hasn’t everyone ……?”
Nkonu’s hand encompassed all the tribe still sitting around, watching, waiting. Listening as their powerful chief engaged the hated captive. Helplessly their prisoner.
“ .. haven’t they all .. everyone in this tribe .. welcomed you here this day? Shown how pleased to see you back?”
Nkonu snorted. Another change of attitude. Speaking now less in humour, more in contempt.
“Challenging me? Challenge to fight? Do battle? With what? With some captive?”
Tarzan frowned. Seeing his plans evaporate like smoke.
“Fight you? What for?”
Nkonu’s hands extended towards Tarzan
“What do I have to prove? What more is there to gain?”
Tarzan wondered if that question was intended as more tutoring for the young hot-head. A lesson in the ways of a leader, how a chief of the Nanoosa succeeds.
His hands extended outwards.
“Look at you.”
The outspread arms indicated Nkonu’s trapped captive. He shrugged his shoulders. As if everything Tarzan had said did not make sense.
“You, Tarzan .. the renowned apeman .. tied up like this .. captive ….”
“Fight? What for? What more proof is needed?”
His hands extended outwards. Enveloping all the onlookers.
“Look at you.”
Nkonu nodded his head towards his nephew. In appreciation.
“Thanks to my brave warriors .. I’ve won. WE’VE won. No contest.”
Not yet, Tarzan swore to himself. Nkonu had won a round .. but the fight was not yet over. Tarzan noticed, even with himself tied like this, Nkonu was still keeping his distance. Nkonu may have put on muscle. He may have learned the authority to rule. But he knew he was no warrior. He’d not get into a fight.
A waste of time hoping to tempt Nkonu into a rash decision? He had never had much of a brave streak down his backbone. A fight wasn’t in his plans .. Tarzan was pretty sure of that .. Nkonu had other things for Tarzan in mind.
On the other hand .. that young Mwale. Impetuous. Bristling with a young man’s self-belief. Full of his view of himself .. invincible. With him? Still worth a try? Tarzan wasn’t giving up on him.