6 The gift
Young Mwale turned his face towards his uncle. He nodded slowly .. recalling his feelings when Nkonu refused him Tarzan’s death. The prize he wanted above everything in life. And deserved.
Nkonu’s hands described an arc towards the helpless victim trapped between the uprights.
“No, I said. But this is what I offer ….…”
The whole tribe was stood around. Tarzan was encircled by the dozen warriors who had come for him. A tight group of muscular young men, Mwale’s friends. No easy way out.
Mwale turned his gaze back on Tarzan. Eyes fiery with intensity. Muscled with bristling revenge to his core. Hostile. Clearly he understood more about this than Tarzan did. Young Mwale knew already what his uncle had promised as his reward. Suddenly the chatter of the insects in the jungle lessened. As if the whole world was listening in. To discover what fate had in store.
“This is the reward I give you, I’ve told him.”
Nkonu knew he had his old enemy’s attention.
“My dear nephew. Captain of our warriors. My brother’s son. My gift to you.”
Nkonu’s hands were indicating Tarzan.
“I grant you this suffering,” Nkonu clarified. “Tarzan’s pain .. that is my gift to you.”
Nkonu and young Mwale were looking at each other. Tarzan sensed that the tension that had held young Mwale in its grip had lessened. As if he was content to be getting almost everything he wanted out of life. And those desires were almost within his grasp.
“For two days .. do with him as you wish.”
Nkonu was narrating his talk with the vengeful muscle-hunk but his words were totally directed at Tarzan. Instructing him on his doom.
“Torment him .. make him regret .. show him your anger. For your father’s unwarranted death.”
The muscle-hunk shot Tarzan a sharp scowl. But then his dutiful look returned to his chief.
“The apeman should feel our people’s hatred in his flesh. Let him pay back their sorrows. Pain-for-pain.”
Nkonu turned back on Tarzan. Quickly the fondness for his nephew was erased from his face. Replaced by the features of the avenging chief of his tribe. Representing the people this interfering apeman had cheated of their rightful destiny all of these years. A sternness that bode little hope. Nkonu’s face was lit with sadistic pleasure. His gaze stroking like a master over a rebellious dog the muscled power in Tarzan’s front. Condescending. Feeling mastery over his fate.
Then suddenly, chameleon-like, the features lightened. Nkonu was play-acting with Tarzan again. That irritating mock intimacy was back. Nkonu crooked a thumb back at his nephew.
“The young, Tarzan .. I ask you!”
Talking disappointed parent-to-parent.
“You understand, Tarzan …. These ungrateful sons …”
Tarzan caught a slight smile on young Mwale’s face. The stud understood the unspoken nature of this line of Nkonu’s talk. This pretend saddened parent-to-parent nonsense. A whispered communion of like-minded souls. This rubbish, this playing-Tarzan-around. Tarzan was getting edgy. Clearly young Mwale understood better than Tarzan what was going down.
“They get one thing. Then suddenly they are demanding more. More and more and more …….”
Nkonu’s head was shaking. In mock-disbelief at the ingratitude of the young.
“You’re a father, Tarzan.”
Nkonu’s thumb indicated young Mwale. Then throwing Tarzan an aside …..
“Your son soon to be an orphan too ……”
That was Tarzan’s first indication of his fate. But not for one moment since his capture had he had any reason to doubt.
“ …. tends to warp their thinking, I’ve found …..”
Nkonu swivelled his head over to his nephew briefly. A benevolent smile. Then his attention turned back to Tarzan. In a mock whisper that the whole village could hear, he carried on.
“I put him straight.”
The tone was light. But Tarzan saw that the mock-smile on Nkonu’s lips had not reached the calculated coldness of his eyes. Nkonu sighed in disbelief. At the perfidy of youth.
“I told him firmly. THIS is what you get.”
Nkonu paused. He knew he had Tarzan’s attention now.
“Two days you have him. Do with Tarzan what you will …”
Another deep sigh feigned Nkonu’s exasperation. A mock-frustration with the nephew he loved.
Nkonu looked Tarzan firmly in the eyes.
“I told him. THEN …”
A master of the dramatic moment, Nkonu kept Tarzan waiting.
“I made it clear as day ……”
Nkonu had turned his attention direct on Tarzan. Stood bound and surrounded by his captors.
“Then .. after two days .. after two days avenging your father’s murder .. in ways, my dear nephew, that you may freely choose …..”
Another pause. Nkonu’s gaze swept another cruel stroke down the length of Tarzan’s hard-packed front. Trapped. No escape.
“THEN .. It is I who acts. Your CHIEF acts.”
The smile had gone. The benevolent looks Nkonu had been giving Tarzan .. playing with him .. they too had frozen.
“Rest assured, Tarzan ….”
Nkonu looked deadly serious. The tribe was listening in, intent.
“I made it crystal-clear ….”
Nkonu’s face was taut. Grim.
“The apeman’s death is mine. I told him. MINE. Make no mistake.”
Nkonu had turned his bitter gaze on Tarzan.
“Two days. A free hand. His suffering is YOURS, I told him.”
Now it was Nkonu that was wearing his older brother’s intense look.
“Two days. Two days to do with Tarzan what you will.”
Unexpectedly Nkonu broke into a grin. Smirking at Tarzan. But it was a merciless look.
“After THAT … he is mine.”
Nkonu’s eyes took in a helpless Tarzan encircled by this hate-filled tribe. The fighting strength of the old enemy trapped. Tied down.
“THAT .. my dear nephew .. I told him. You who honoured your father, taking his name. You who took on the cloak of my murdered brother ….”
A glaze gave over his eyes.
“THAT is my gift to you. Dear nephew. That I grant you. THAT you deserve.”
Nkonu was already gloating over the next days. For a doomed Tarzan.
“Tarzan’s suffering. Two days.”