Suddenly the pressure was gone. But not the numbing pain. Not the effort .. to get himself back together. Tarzan was panting. The hands had gone, shoulders freed. Warily Tarzan twisted his head around, one way, the other. Seeking his opponent out, suspicious of a further attack.
Sweating, his head in a whirl. Still hissing out the pain through clenched teeth, he found Xana .. coming round Tarzan’s other side. Eyes impassive, muscles bristling with intensity. But no showing-off. No fire, no triumph .. a cold expressionless dominance. A muscular threat at Tarzan’s side.
Angered at getting caught out again, Tarzan had his teeth clenched. The burning in his shoulders pained. Tension sizzled down his back. Weakness roared down his arms. But still, doggedly, Tarzan fought his breathing back. His fighting spirit roared. The pair of opponents locked eyes on each other. No longer just a war of looks. Fierce combat between hated foes.
Tarzan understood why Nkonu had left his hands free. Feet tied to the stakes but hands-free gave some appearance that Tarzan had a fighting chance. Making him look stupid when a leg-rope tripped him up. When a champion could seemingly put Tarzan down.
Nkonu really had spent nights thinking this through. How best to make Tarzan look a fool. How to get the tribe laughing at him. Tarzan could hear them. Mad, cheering Xana on. Roaring him on to show the apeman what he could do. Make a fool of their hated enemy.
Xana’s gaze briefly off fixing Tarzan. His eyes went to the shouting villagers. Surveying their bright faces, listening to their calls .. willing him to give it to the apeman. His brooding eyes came back. Eyebrows raised, his head slowly gestured at Tarzan to listen to the cheers. To turn and face the universal hatred against him here.
Tarzan did no such thing .. too guarded, too much on edge. Intent on winning back advantage in this fight. Pig-headedly he was glowering at his muscle-head. Intent on showing that he may have been hurt but it took more than pressure on his shoulders to crush Tarzan. He was not broken .. far from it. Not by Xana’s magnificent physique, not by the strident odium for him in this tribe.
When Tarzan did no such thing .. when he refused to survey the hatred ranged against him .. Xana shrugged his shoulders. With a non-committal gesture on his face that showed he did not care one-way-or-the-other what Tarzan did, dismissively the stud turned away.
In a split second .. in the blur of an eye .. Xana snapped his elbow backwards. The force hit Tarzan in the ribs .. a bludgeoning crack with an elbow into Tarzan’s side. Smack on the reddened flesh. Thudded hard into bones bruised and battered by the peacock’s kicks. Hit with a bludgeoning force that had all of Xana’s muscled bulk behind it.
Shocked, Tarzan cried out. The power of the blow had his body reeling. Pain re-ignited in his damaged ribs. Caught off guard, the massive impact threw Tarzan sideways, pain crumpled his leg, a leg rope jarred him, unbalanced him. Tarzan had to grab for an upright. Just one blow. Tripped by just one bone-crunching hit.
He was righting himself, hands holding on to the upright. Arms hauling himself back up. A punch shot out of nowhere. Right on target. Smacking into Tarzan’s side under the raised arm. A punch that hit with the impact of a knotted war-club. Knocking him off-balance again just as he was getting his legs together. Whacked sideways. Unready, Tarzan felt a leg wobble under him. Suddenly a leg flashed out. Xana’s foot stomped down on Tarzan’s knee. A massive force that broke his leg under him. A thick-muscled thigh again kicked out. The foot jarred down onto Tarzan’s failing thigh. Breaking any strength in his leg. The mighty kick completely upended him .. knocked off his feet .. twisted Tarzan around. Just in time Tarzan made a grab for an upright. Stopping himself from falling. Half-hanging in the air, grabbing awkwardly on to the stake. To preserve his dignity. Saving himself from falling. Dangling in the air, hanging on to the pole. Looking a fool.
Scowling Tarzan cursed. Holding himself upright by the post. The crowd roared. The tribe laughed. The people cheered their champion. The men jeered. In a few simple moves their Xana had shown the apeman up. Broken him. Shown him how feeble he was. Unworthy. No threat.
Xana stood to one side .. his arm-gesture inviting the tribe to see for themselves. Enjoy what Xana had done. His dismissive motion encouraging them to jeer at him, at this famed lord of the jungle .. struggling ungainly back to his feet. Awkwardly pulling himself back to his feet on the stake.
Felled by their chief’s champion .. muscled in his might, chest high with pride .. he’d felled the renowned apeman with a few simple moves.
What a contrast, his body told. Look at HIS might .. stood worthy of his title .. worthy of that honour .. their champion. And look at the other, this renowned jungle lord .. struggling clumsily to his feet. Streaked with dirt and fame.
Xana’s arms were spread out to the side. Facing the cheering tribe. Questioning, Was it really THIS easy? A few simple moves .. just a few simple tricks. THIS was all it took? To break the hated apeman to the dirt, his people’s enemy?
Next time, PLEASE .. his muscled body pleaded .. next time he wanted a real opponent. One worthy of his formidable might. One worthy of their chief’s respect.
This feeble apeman? This fantasy of manly strength. Scrabbling to get himself up out of the dirt. He had made it too easy. Far too easy.