Tarzan got down to the point. Why that big black looked daggers at him ….. Cody had put it succinctly .. with the precision of a journalist.
“It’s like he blames you .. for him being captured here. Made a slave.”
Maybe it was ……
Slave catcher turned slave. Tarzan explained .. the big brute had gathered a gang of thugs around him. All men with the muscled bulk to throw their weight around. Their purpose … to go raiding, enslaving men from tribes. Their way to easy money. Making themselves rich by others’ misfortunes.
And they were still at it, it seemed. All the others on the boat had been taken captive by him and his thugs. Though why the big slave-raider was a slave too …. Or where his men were ….. that remained a mystery.
Tarzan had briefly told Cody how he himself had fallen into their hands .. result of the strangest of chances. Not captured in a fight, not enslaved in a raid. Strange circumstances. Caught to be sacrificed with a chief who had opposed the raiders.
“They’d come up with this idea .. sending a message to chiefs. Surrender. Or suffer the most agonising of deaths.”
Cody frowned at Tarzan’s words. Struggling to understand this Africa he did not know. The hidden interior.
“The two of us were to be killed ….,” Tarzan continued. “In this strange ritual they’d invented for themselves.”
Part for their own sadistic entertainment, part as a warning to other chiefs who might think of standing up to them.
“They made the two of us fight. It was a fight to the death, I thought, him or me. I made sure it was him.”
Tarzan recalled the sense of desperation he felt in the hands of the gang of slave raiders.
“I was going to win. But when I did kill their true sacrifice ….. all their anger turned on me. I was to get what their victim had escaped. Tortured to death.”
Cody frowned. Again …. Africa, deep in the jungle. Unseen, unknown. He wondered at the thought of such things happening …. Buried in the jungle .. all things seemed possible.
“Then ….. unaccountably …. Just when I thought the whole of his gang was going to beat the hell out of me …… sure they’d beat me to death … unaccountably he lets me go. It made no sense.”
Tarzan breathed out the burning pains of a couple of vicious welts across his shoulders. He’d had enough of the massaging. He still hurt like crazy from this day’s beating.
“But there was a catch. The brute thought he was recruiting me.”
Tarzan sat up. Cody’s massaging of his injuries had done as much as it was going to do.
“That’s gonna be real sore tomorrow.”
Cody stated the obvious as Tarzan winced in sitting up. Tarzan continued his tale.
“Supposedly when he and his thugs came raiding, my job was to warn the tribes not to stand up to them. It was that black brute’s price for letting me live ……”
Cody himself winced as a grimace of pain tore across Tarzan’s face. These slave-masters had really gone for Tarzan’s back a few hours earlier today.
“I was their warning to the chiefs,” Tarzan explained.
“I’d seen it for myself. What they’d done to a chief who would not surrender. I was to tell what I’d seen with my own eyes. Any tribe that resists …. The chief gets tortured out of his head. Agonisingly put to death. And his men get taken away anyway.”
Cody was still shaking his head at this unimaginable set-up. He’d grown up in Africa. But this was like a different planet.
“I’d seen it with my own eyes. In that fight .. by killing their victim, I’d saved him the worst agonising death. The one the thugs now intended for me.”
He shook his head at his big stroke of luck. Escaping that death.
“Inexplicably he sets me free.”
Tarzan nodded into the darkness where his old foe had to be sleeping.
“Obviously he reckoned I was worth more to him alive. The price of me being allowed to live …… I was to spread the message. Any chief who resisted the slavers when they came raiding … it would happen to him. I was supposed to persuade them not to fight back.”
Tarzan scoffed at the idea.
“The price of my freedom …. to warn them off. Advise the chief to save his own skin. Surrender his young men to the raiders without a fight.”
Cody looked at him enquiringly.
“You didn’t, though?”
Tarzan derided the suggestion.
“Of course not. The contrary. I got the tribes to work together. Told them they were in this together. An attack on one was an attack on them all. I got them to put up an even stronger defence. Send him and his thugs scurrying off with their tails between their legs.”
Tarzan’s eyes again passed over the near-blackness of their barracks. As if spying the black slaver out. Wondering if he was asleep or hearing this.
“He sent a message. He sent back a man taken in a fight. Near-dead. But with enough life left in him to croak out a warning. To me.”
Cody squinted in curiosity when Tarzan paused.
“We had a deal …..,” the message said. “I went free if I did as told. I’d gone back on the deal. I owed. He was coming for me. My life was already sacrificed. It was only a matter of time …….”