“Get into a fight? Do your own dirty work? With a champion like Abadu? Why would you?”
Nkonu saw Tarzan was in no state to answer .. the way he looked . the way he was struggling to catch his breath. He was goading him. Inviting Tarzan to hear the deluge of scorn from all around.
Nkonu was grinning from ear to ear at the jeers from the tribe. Laughing at the renowned ape-man feared for his fighting strength. Ridiculed, mocked. A few lightning-fast blows from their champion had knocked the famed apeman off his feet.
Jeers battered him. Shocked by a nobody .. just one of their own. Tarzan lay sprawled in the dirt. Hurting, visibly shocked. Sweat running off his hair. Covered in their dust. Covered in mockery and shame.
Angered Tarzan used the stake to right himself. He hauled himself up on his arms, he pulled himself doggedly to his feet. That attack had been shocking. It had been the speed of the man that had got him off guard. Tarzan was quickly making himself calm, catching his breath. His belly was hurting. But it was more the shock that was hampering him .. slowing him from getting his breathing under control.
Tarzan glared over at Nkonu. Still stood a safe few paces away.
Nkonu’s arm extended outwards. Encompassing the tribe. Inviting Tarzan to hear their jeers.
“Listen to the joy you bring.”
Tarzan seethed. Angry at himself .. for getting caught out .. for under-estimating that champion. For forgetting Nkonu had planned this through for years. He was out to humiliate his old foe. Nkonu was not bothered that ropes on Tarzan’s legs made this an unfair fight. Nobody was interested in anything like that. Anything to win an advantage. Anything to make Tarzan look small. And this was just the start.
He had shown Tarzan up. All but Tarzan felt justified that a chief got his champion to do the work for him .. anything good if it belittled the old enemy. And stupidly Tarzan had overlooked that Nkonu would have chosen his champions well .. perfect for the part .. for this game of humiliating him. Tarzan warned himself to be on the alert. In only a few blows Tarzan had been thrown to the dirt, head reeling .. tricked by the ferocious speed of the attack. Put to shame by a fighter who was nowhere near his size. Nkonu’s champion had shown him up. And the tribe loved it. To Tarzan’s shame. He warned himself not to make the same mistake again.
All around Tarzan heard the cheers for Abadu. Now, triumphant, the champion did pose .. arms raised. Accepting the praise of the tribe. His back chiselled out of ebony by an expert carver. Thick muscled shoulders raised .. the breadth of his back like carved from rock. The narrow athlete’s waist. Arms raised to show off the muscle power that had made the hated apeman eat dirt. Proud-muscled, pleased with himself, he gave a slight bow .. acknowledging his joyous people’s acclaim.
And mixed in-between .. Tarzan heard the jeers. He felt the sharp lash of contempt. Laughter at the ease with which the lord of the jungle had been broken by their champion. Now stood clutching at an upright, still getting his wind back. Breathing laboured, chest rocking with the effort. And all it took .. a few surprise blows from their champion.
“But surely you cannot let it go at that?”
Tarzan saw Nkonu smirking at him.
“They want more from you. Listen.”
Suddenly Tarzan’s brain awoke. Champions, Nkonu had said. Not one. How many? That one attack was not going to be enough.
“Listen to your audience. Can the renowned apeman be content with that simple show?”
Tarzan glared back. Preparing himself, getting his head together. Calming his breath. Nkonu was not finished him.
“Can you disappoint your adoring public?”
Nkonu was gloating. He was playing with Tarzan. Up to something.
Nkonu was clapping his hands. In glee. Like a child. As if he had surprised himself. Just remembered something.
“How stupid of me!”
Tarzan felt his enemy’s eyes wash over his body. Streaks of sweat with dirt clinging to his front. Ribs reddened from getting brutally kicked. His belly muscles hurting from the peacock’s blows. Just managing to get his breathing back. And now angrily glowering. Angered by stupid tricks. Tired of this play-acting. Here it came .. another stage-managed surprise.
“Xana. Where are you?”
Nkonu’s eyes were searching in the crowd. Playing a game with Tarzan.
“My champion. Xana. Show yourself.”