By the same author
The Lazarus Longman Chronicles
Through Mines of Deception (novella)
Curse of the Blood Fiends (forthcoming)
As Chris Thorndycroft
The Hengest and Horsa Trilogy
Through Mines of Deception
By P. J. Thorndyke
Through Mines of Deception
By P. J. Thorndyke
2016 by Copyright © P. J. Thorndyke
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The walls in the distance appeared purple against the beige mountains, the heat making them waver as if they were no more than a trick of the light. Lazarus Longman peered at the rough stone through his binoculars, scanning the construction that had stood without mortar for centuries. He examined every block and crack up to the men who patrolled its ramparts. He frowned and rubbed his moustache.
Lazarus was a tall man; thin but not spry. His wiry frame contained enough muscle for him to be considered a challenge by most pub brawlers in London. But this was not London. This was Africa; the Zimbabwe plateau. The year; 1879. And the enemies he faced on those walls were far more dangerous than any drunk dockers the East End could throw up.
“They know we’re here,” Lazarus said to Rider, his companion. “They’ve put extra men up.”
“How many?” Rider asked him.
“Impossible to say at this distance,” Lazarus replied. “They’re like ants marching up and down.”
“How many Boers does it take to guard a mining claim?” Rider postulated.
“How many to guard a slave camp?”
“That’s true. They must have a good deal of men to keep those chaps in line. But still, we have more black fellows than they have white.”
“It’s not the numbers that worry me,” said Lazarus, swiping at a fly that was humming around his nose. “But those walls. They’re five meters high in parts and impenetrable. Not that we have artillery in any case.”
“Centuries old and still a formidable obstacle,” Rider remarked. “You wouldn’t credit it.”
“They don’t build ‘em like they used to,” Lazarus agreed.
The walls ringed the mining complex. Parts eroded by time had recently been filled with wooden palisades constructed by the Boers encamped within. Loopholes peeped out at regular intervals. That also concerned Lazarus.
“Are you sure we’re up to this?” he asked Rider.
“Don’t you start! It was your bloody idea to rally this army against our rivals instead of skipping back to Pretoria with our report.”
“I rather thought we might just leave them to it and not actually get involved. Still, here we are.”
“I always like to see a job through to its end,” said Rider firmly. “Even the ones that might get me killed.”
“I don’t suppose she has anything to do with it,” said Lazarus, turning slightly to his companion.”
“Can’t think what you’re talking about, Longman.”
The time for planning was over. The army at their back was angry and thirsty for blood. The chief and his generals began their chants; chants that were echoed and answered by the thousand-odd warriors that were massed on the hill looking down at the walled complex. They beat their hide shields with their assegais which were long throwing spears rather than the short thrusting variants favored by the Zulus. They stamped their feet, churning up the dust and causing a din like the roar of the sea. Some of the warriors leaped in the air, kicking out with their sandaled feet and jabbing in the direction of the enemy with their weapons, crying out challenges to those who held their brothers and sisters in bondage.
“Do you know, I think we might have a chance?” Lazarus shouted to Rider over the din as he thumbed a cartridge into his Winchester.
Rider had no chance to reply before the tribe swept passed them at a signal from their chief; a black tide that thundered down the hill, threatening to break upon the walled settlement, shatter it and wash it away.
“Christ, come on!” Rider yelled over the roar of feet drumming on dry earth. “Don’t let us be left behind like camp followers! On and at ‘em!”
Clutching his rifle with both hands, Lazarus ran to keep up with his companion and the charging army. The mining compound, even with its high walls, seemed pathetically insignificant in the shadow of what was coming down the hill towards it and Lazarus did not wonder at how the African tribes with their vast numbers felt so confident when going up against white men and their guns. The camaraderie and exhilaration felt when one was in the thick of a thousand charging warriors was like nothing he had ever felt before.
Puffs of smoke from rifles atop the walls could be seen but the sound of their shots was utterly drowned. Up ahead Lazarus saw some of the over-eager warriors cut down in their tracks but before the men on the walls had a chance to reload, the army was upon them.
The story of how Lazarus Longman – scholar, historian and explorer – came to be at the head of an army of African warriors attacking a Boer mining compound began several weeks previously in the south eastern hills of the Zimbabwe Plateau. He had been at the site of Great Zimbabwe – that ruined stone city, once the fabulously wealthy capital of the Zimbabwean Empire – for several weeks now, sketching, digging and generally uncovering all he could about the ancient metropolis.
Rider and his Zulu servant, Mazooku, appeared out of the heat like ghosts against the green hills and yellowed grass; two wavering figures emerging seemingly from nowhere. Lazarus’s own servants had spotted them while he was still bent over some bit of pottery he had dug up and called his attention to the strangers.
Great Zimbabwe was a sacred place to the locals and permission for he and his team to be there at all had only been granted after lengthy discussions with the chief of that region. Many gifts given to the tribe and a ceremony conducted by its sangoma – a priestess of sorts – had been necessary to gain their blessing. The arrival of another white man in this crumbling city of ghosts was surprising to say the least.
Rider introduced himself as belonging to the staff of the Special Commissioner of the Transvaal. His business in the lands of the Matabele was to find Lazarus; a mission that he now considered successful which he marked with the words; “Mister Longman, I presume?” along with a bark of laughter.
He was a stocky man of twenty-three years which put him one year younger then Lazarus. He had a beard but it was not a bushy, untamed thing, but the clipped, orderly growth of a man used to the towns rather than the rugged hills. The only other remarkable thing about him was his voice which would have given a foghorn a run for its money.
“It’s known that you’re the man to speak with on all things ancient in these parts,” Rider boomed in reply to Lazarus’s enquiry as to the Special Commissioner’s interest in him.
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” Lazarus replied, not without a touch of pride. He had no formal training as an archaeologist and his education was wholly standard but to his mind his fascination with the past and his desire to seek out the answers to the questions posed by such fragments of history as Great Zimbabwe more than made up for degrees and qualifications.
“Well, our lot in Pretoria, not to mention London,” Rider went on, “are in a bit of a funk. Now, I’m not to tell you much about it at all unless you agree to sign on. Confidential, that sort of thing.”
“Yes. It’s something of an offer of employment from Her Majesty’s government.”
“Out of the question. I’m neck deep in things here as you can see and my partner in this expedition is sick on his return from the coast. All has been hopelessly delayed…”
“How are your funds, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Lazarus glanced at him. He couldn’t quite read the man. At times he seemed jovial as if all the world was a big joke and at others he was deadly serious. “Not quite the ticket, I must admit,” he said slowly.
“Well, I have a remedy for that. Five-hundred pounds, upfront. That’s a year’s salary for men like me. Should cover your expenses here for at least a little while, eh? It’s an excursion, nothing more. Shouldn’t take too much of your time.”
“How far is this excursion?”
At this Rider seemed a little sheepish. “Not too sure, to be honest. That’s why we need you.”
“What the government is so interested in finding.”
“If you can’t let on much more than that, then I’m afraid my answer is no.”
“Listen, Longman. You’re the only chap on the continent who gives a damn about old heaps like this one behind you. The rest of us are out shooting elephants or digging for diamonds. But now it has become imperative that we Brits get hold of a place very much like this one and claim it for our own.”
“Since when has the government been so interested in archaeology?”
“Since we got wind of a place that could cement our rule in Southern Africa. Enough wealth to lick the Boers and Zulus into line once and for all. Know your Bible?”
“As much as any Englishman.”
“Then you’ll have heard of King Solomon.”
It took a moment for Lazarus to decide whether or not Rider was joking. When he decided that he was he let out a snort of mirth and sat down on a boulder.
“Something amusing, Longman?”
Lazarus wiped his brow with his handkerchief. “Ever since João de Barros heard about Great Zimbabwe from Arab merchants in the sixteenth century people have been postulating that this is the legendary Ophir from which King Solomon got his wealth.”
“Nobody in Her Majesty’s government is postulating that Great Zimbabwe is Ophir,” said Rider a little peevishly. “But this was one of the greatest trading centers in Africa once upon a time, yes?”
“And known for exporting gold, yes?”
“Well, where did it all come from, the gold, I mean?”
“They certainly got it from mines somewhere,” said Lazarus. “Maybe further inland.”
“And we want you to find those mines,” said Rider. “Imagine! King Solomon’s mines; a possession of the British Empire!”
Lazarus laughed again. “I think the sun must have got to your head or at least somebody’s head back in Pretoria. If you want to go chasing after a myth, that’s your business, but I’m afraid I can’t help you. I’m a serious scholar. I like to investigate things that I can really see and touch with my two hands.”
“But you just said that the mines must exist!”
“And where they are I haven’t the faintest idea. Do you know how big Africa is? It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“Well we may have an inkling that could reduce the size of that haystack considerably,” said Rider rather cagily.
Lazarus hesitated. “Then what do you need me for?”
“We believe that the mines are not all that far off but we don’t know the exact location. We need your archeological intuition to tell us where the ancient people of this country mined their gold.”
“How do you know that the mines are nearby?”
“Because our rivals seem to have already found them.”
“The Boers. They’ve been rather industrious of late. Water pumps and steam drills have been purchased by a small Boer mining company and shipped north under what they consider to be utmost secrecy. Naturally they have been easy enough to keep tabs on but recently these caravans vanished into the hills of this plateau. They wouldn’t have crossed the Zambezi River; it’s too uncharted. Therefore they must be around here somewhere.”
“They could just be gold prospectors counting their chickens,” said Lazarus.
“Unlikely. The Boers are farmers. This sudden interest in mining indicates something more concrete and their purchase of a certain piece of machinery has us worried. Ever heard of Addington and Hume Mining Inc.?”
Lazarus shook his head.
“They make drills. Steam powered. They are an American based company and you should see some of the toys they put to work over there. Mechanite powered most of them of course, but they put out some regular coal-eaters for the European market to bypass the embargo on that particular mineral. But those coal-powered beasts eat through rock finer than anything Britain or the rest of the world has put out. This Boer company recently purchased one of Addington and Hume’s most state-of-the-art machines and shipped it here at great cost and under great secrecy. Now they wouldn’t do that without good cause. If the Boers gain access to such incredible wealth then it could mean revolution in the Transvaal.”
Lazarus was silent as he considered these words.
“I understand that you fought in the Ashanti Campaign,” Rider said.
“Yes, I did.”
“Well perhaps you might draw on your stock of patriotism once more. This isn’t about wealth or archaeology. This is about protecting our empire. Your Queen needs you, man.”
Lazarus had to admit that an ember of patriotism still glowed in his breast and the whole business of protecting the empire’s interests in Southern Africa was not entirely unappealing. And then there was the promise of five-hundred pounds upfront, perhaps even some reward if they did find these mines. That could aid his research here no end.
But what about Henry? His partner, Henry Thackeray, had been investigating the ancient road that led from Great Zimbabwe to Kilwa Kisiwani; the island port built by Arabian merchants in the tenth century. He had been struck by fever on his return from the coast and lay stranded until his sickness passed. Lazarus did not want him to return to find their work here abandoned and Lazarus off on some wild goose chase.
And yet, it might be many weeks before Henry would be fit enough to return. If these mines really were somewhere on the plateau then he might be able to return before Henry got back. And with extra funds.
“I can’t promise anything,” Lazarus told Rider, “but I’ll look into it and see what I can dig up. Metaphorically, of course.”
“Capital, Longman. Although I hope not all our digging will be metaphorical!”
Through a combination of archaeological work on the ancient roads that led from Great Zimbabwe and the questioning of local tribes they gradually narrowed down the search area. Lazarus gave away so many beads and mirrors as gifts in return for information that he soon ran out. Fortunately Rider had his own supply and his servant Mazooku proved a valuable help with his understanding of the various Bantu dialects used in Southern Africa of which his native Zulu was one.
Mazooku was a loyal follower; as useful an ally as he was formidable an enemy. Distrusting white man’s guns he carried only a redwood club known as an isagila in the Zulu tongue. Rider never said how he had acquired Mazooku and Lazarus had to wonder how such a powerful, rangy specimen of a warrior could ever let himself become subservient to an Englishman who had grown to manhood in the grammar schools of England rather than the harsh hills of Africa.
“We’ll be at war with them soon enough, have no doubt as to that,” Rider told Lazarus one night while they were sitting by their campfire, drinking their bottles of cold, weak tea that served as their only refreshment on their journey.
“Do you really think so?” Lazarus asked.
“It’s inevitable. The Zulu is a warlike creature, born and bred. To live in a state of peace is not in his nature. I personally approve of Sir Bartle Frere but I think his ultimatum to King Cetshwayo is misguided. To ask the Zulus to demobilize their armies is to ask them to stop being Zulus. They will refuse and we shall be forced into war, a war that we will win of course. We may have to fight like cornered rats, but our military superiority will win out over assegais and hide shields in the end. But what then? We shall win one war only to be faced with an even greater threat.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Boers, man! The only thing that keeps those blighters from embarking on bloody rebellion is the threat of the Zulus should we be pushed from the Transvaal. The whole business is a delicate balance of power between three sides. And I fear that Frere’s ultimatum has upset the boat, so to speak.”
Eventually they came across the mining colony. It was an ancient walled settlement that Lazarus guessed had been built around the same time as Great Zimbabwe. It had most likely been built by the same people although the mines within its dry stone walls had probably been worked for centuries before they had arrived on the plateau. That was just a theory but he was gradually coming to the conclusion that the stone fortifications of the Zimbabwe Plateau were not as ancient as legend might have them, certainly not dating as far back as biblical times.
The walls ringed what had once been a large settlement; most likely housing for the miners in ancient times. But modern occupation was evident; spiked wooden palisades filled the parts where the old wall had fallen down and steam and smoke rose up from within suggesting cooking fires and mining machinery.
“Well, that looks like the place,” said Rider, peering through Lazarus’s binoculars. “I can see Boers on patrol on the ramparts. Our job’s done. I need to get these coordinates back to Pretoria.”
“The gate’s opening,” said Lazarus.
The stone gateway was an original feature but the wooden doors were a new addition thrown up by the new occupants. They slowly parted to allow a cart to pass out.
“Best get down lest they see us,” said Rider.
Their own ox cart was out of sight further down the hill but they pressed themselves flat in the long grass just in case any wandering eyes might make out their figures on the rise.
As the doors widened they were afforded a glimpse of the camp within. Lazarus let out a gasp at what he saw through his binoculars. Blacks carried rubble in overloaded baskets on their stooped shoulders, their ebony skin plastered with sweat and dust, marked in several places by the unmistakable red welts of the lash. Armed Boers stood over them, covering them with their guns. Further in he could make out what looked like a flogging post and above that a poor wretch hung on a frame in the sun; a common punishment for runaways in some parts of the world.
“By God, they’re using slave labor!” Lazarus hissed, unable to believe his eyes.
“Yes, well the Boers have never shared our views on abolitionism,” Rider replied. “It’s always been a major point of friction between them and us. Come on, let’s get a move on.”
“But slavery!” Lazarus went on. “It was abolished in the colonies back in the ‘thirties!”
“In the British colonies,” corrected Rider. “And this isn’t one of those yet. But we’ll see what we can do to change that back in Pretoria.”
“And just leave these poor wretches to suffer and die under the lash in the meantime?” Lazarus asked. “Who knows how long you fellows will take to get things moving?”
“Look, I admire your disgust of this practice but what are you suggesting? We storm the camp and free the slaves with our elephant gun and Winchesters?”
Lazarus was thinking fast. “These slaves must have come from that tribe we passed close to yesterday. Maybe if we tell them what is going on here they will muster their warriors and…”
“We don’t know the details,” Rider interrupted. “For all we know that tribe sold their own into bondage.”
“Do you believe that?”
“Anything is possible in Africa. Besides, if we go running to the local chieftain he may not care or even believe us.”
“Then we must make him believe and care. What if we were to sneak a couple of these slaves away with us? They could tell the chief in their own words what is happening here. That might move his heart a little.”
“How do you propose we do that? I doubt the Boers will be open to selling us any of their workforce.”
“Then we must use deceit. We can pose as Boers ourselves delivering supplies. We have a wagon and we both look the part.”
It was true, neither of them had shaved in over a week and their clothes were rough, country garments; tattered and dusty after so many days of travel.
“I think this is absurdly dangerous,” said Rider, “but damn me, I’m with you! If only for a good story to tell back home!”
Lazarus had to admit he too was surprised at his own willingness to attempt such an audacious scheme. He was an archaeologist and his days of danger – so he had thought – were behind him. But the sight of slavery in this day and age so sickened him that he felt that to abandon these poor souls to their fate while paperwork was shuffled about back in the Transvaal would be an utterly inhumane act.
No challenge or greeting was called down to them from the walls as they approached atop their cart. Mazooku walked alongside, playing his part of a meek slave well. That was encouraging. Evidently the mining camp was no stranger to Boers and their carts and regularly admitted them without any suspicion.
Once the doors had creaked shut behind them Lazarus found it a hard task to appear nonchalant at the sight of slavery up close but fortunately Rider took command and spoke with the overseer in far better Afrikaans than he could have mustered.
The overseer directed them to a series of storage huts to the left of the first of several great pits that had been dug into the earth untold centuries ago. Rubble was hauled out on wooden derricks for the slaves on the surface to carry away in their baskets. Lazarus shuddered to think how many poor souls were down in the mines, clearing out the debris loosened by the steam drill.
They passed close to the edge of one of the pits and Lazarus peered down but could see no bottom as all was obscured by darkness and rising steam. If there was a vision of hell anywhere on earth then this was it, he decided. Between that pit and another, a series of dwellings in the native style had been constructed. Women ground flour and made bread in the shade of their grass roofs. Beyond that was a cattle corral with at least two-hundred horned heads nodding in the sun.
“We’re to unload our imaginary delivery in this hut here,” Rider said in a low voice once they were behind the storage area. “What now, Longman?”
“Those must be the slave quarters,” Lazarus said, indicating the native huts. “We need to get one of those fellows over here and talk to him without any of the guards noticing.”
“I don’t see how. Delivery men have no business talking with slaves.”
“Perhaps Mazooku could get the job done?”
“It’s bloody dangerous for him,” Rider said. “I have a heavy conscience dragging him along on this mad caper as it is. You know what fate awaits him if we are captured.”
“Think nothing of it, Indanda,” the Zulu said. “These Boers don’t know one black from another. I can be in and out with a fellow before anybody notices what’s up.”
“Capital fellow,” said Rider.
They watched with unbearable tension as Mazooku wandered across the compound towards the huts, his shoulders stooped in the manner of one who has had every ounce of what made him human snatched away from him.
“What does Indanda mean?” Lazarus asked Rider.
“Just a term of affection the Zulus have for me,” he replied. “It means something like ‘good natured’.”
They watched Mazooku squat down next to one of the women and converse with her.
“He’s got some pluck,” Lazarus commented.
“He’s a fine fellow. I wouldn’t survive in Africa without him. Well, what do you think, Longman? Is this the place the Bible speaks of?”
“I doubt it,” Lazarus replied. “It’s certainly a site of great wealth built in ancient times, but Ophir has many such candidates. Some say it’s in India. Others say Arabia. All civilizations have their treasures.”
“But surely these walls weren’t reared by black hands!”
“Why do you say so?”
“Look at the size of them! The people who live in these parts build grass huts and walls of tree branches. No, I’d say the Phoenicians came here in Biblical times and built this place along with your Great Zimbabwe too.”
“That’s a rather outlandish theory that ignores what we already know about the evolution of civilizations. Take your average Egyptian, for example. He has no idea how the pyramids were constructed and yet it was his own ancestors who reared them block by block. Civilizations rise and fall and sometimes the knowledge of how they achieved the very things that made them great is forgotten in time.”
But Rider wasn’t listening. A group of Boers had appeared around the corner of the storage area and had leveled their rifles at them. One, who had the air of authority about him, stood with his hand resting on the butt of a revolver.
“You boys have got some balls on you, I’ll give you that,” he said in Afrikaans. “But you couldn’t have known that I monitor each and every delivery of food and wares this camp receives even if my guards do not. And you fellows are one delivery too many this week. So that makes me wonder, who are you and what are you doing in my mining claim? Oh, don’t answer just yet. We have procedures for getting answers here. Follow me if you please.”
Lazarus and Rider exchanged a look of despair as they found themselves being accompanied towards the largest building on the site which looked like a primitive parody of a government house in the colonies. Timber beams washed white supported a sagging portico in an attempt to ape European architecture. A four wheeled cart with a broken axel stood outside and they halted in front of it.
“Strip them and bind them,” said the Boer.
Lazarus had seen men tortured before, or rather he had heard them. The British army had not been averse to using inhumane methods for extracting information from captured Ashanti warriors and whenever the screams began to echo around the camp the ordinary soldier did his best to block them out and carry on with his duty. But the sudden prospect of torture being used on him lent the word a new terror in Lazarus’s mind.
He and Rider had been tied to the wheels of the cart by their hands and feet, spread out like crucified martyrs. Their shirts had been stripped from them and their bare chests blazed white in the sun. The Boer leader – who had introduced himself as Piet Schoeman – faced them while his men leaned on their rifles and watched with amusement. In Schoeman’s hand was the dreaded shambok – a short but heavy whip made from hippopotamus hide. He swished it through the air experimentally.
“So, you are both British,” said Schoeman in English, “we have established that at least. What I want to know now is why you have invaded my mining claim.”
Rider was silent and Lazarus followed his lead. Being tortured certainly wasn’t something he had bargained for when he had signed on for this job but, damn it, if Rider could stand up to this Boer thug then so could he. He was also concerned about Mazooku. No questions had been put to them as to the whereabouts of their Zulu servant so perhaps he had gone unnoticed by Piet Schoeman and his men. So much the better. But he swore that if the question was asked then he would die before letting that loyal fellow be captured.
Schoeman suddenly lashed out at Rider with the shambok, cutting him across the belly. Rider screamed in agony as the hide whip split the skin. Then it was Lazarus’s turn to feel its sting. He threw his head back involuntarily in his agony as the rod connected with his flesh and it struck a spoke on the wheel sending sparks flashing before his eyes. He had never felt pain like it.
“Now, I could believe that you two are just nosy prospectors,” said Schoeman, stepping back to admire his work. Lazarus felt warm blood trickling down his belly. “But something tells me that even British entrepreneurs would not be so stupid. So I must ask myself, and by extension, yourselves, what does the British government know about our interests here? Do they know where you fellows are?”
Lazarus could see Rider squeezing his eyes shut against the pain that still lanced through his body from the first stroke. He was holding up admirably. Lazarus only hoped that he would not shame his companion by failing to keep his own resolve. In most countries that used the shambok the maximum number of strokes given was twenty. That was enough to strip flesh from bone and seriously endanger the recipient’s life. How far would this Boer go? How long could they hold out?
A second stroke cut Rider across the ribs, drawing a long red line that instantly began to weep. Lazarus ground his teeth as his second was delivered just below his left nipple. It felt like the white bone of his ribs must surely be showing through the fire of pain that radiated throughout his flesh.
Schoeman was clearly enjoying himself and prepared to deliver a third round without even asking any questions. But something stayed his hand at the last moment. The Boers were gaping with wide eyes at something beyond the vision of their captives.
“The bloody livestock has broken loose!” Schoeman yelled in Afrikaans. “I’ll have the man responsible flayed and roasted!” He stormed off, wiping the blood from his shambok to bellow orders to his men, his captives temporarily forgotten.
Lazarus and Rider found themselves left in the sun for the blood to dry and crack on their chests, the sweat of pain turning to salt on their brows. Suddenly black hands seized them and knives began cutting away their bonds.
“Mazooku!” cried Lazarus upon recognizing the man who was freeing him.
“And… I say, who’s this?” Lazarus heard Rider exclaim.
It was no man who cut Rider’s bonds but a woman and a beautiful one at that. She had an athletic form barely covered by a short cow-hide skirt and vest of red cloth. Her hair was worn high in a knot, showing off her high cheekbones and full lips.
A second native gentleman squatted a few feet away keeping a close eye on the movements of the Boers who were struggling to halt the mad stampede of cattle that rushed around the rims of the mine shafts.
“This is Gagola, boss,” said Mazooku, indicating the woman. “And this is Umbopa. They are from the tribe that rules this area and have agreed to accompany us to their village.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” said Rider. “And in the nick of time too.”
“Did you have anything to do with that cattle stampede, Mazooku?” Lazarus asked.
The Zulu grinned wide.
“You are a champion,” Lazarus told him. He stood up and paused to catch his balance. He felt dizzy and nauseated from his wounds which still burned terribly but he was able to make a run for it if necessary.
The cattle were still causing havoc within the compound and kept the Boers well occupied. There seemed to be nobody guarding the ramparts.
“Not exactly British army, are they?” Rider remarked as they approached the gate. “Don’t they know a diversion when they see one?”
“Be thankful they don’t,” said Lazarus. “For that’s our way out.”
The five of them set upon the gates and heaved them open wide enough to slip out into the grasslands beyond. They scurried for the hills, wishing to put plenty of distance between themselves and the range of the walls as quickly as possible. Lazarus caught Rider intently studying the swaying hips and glistening skin of Gagola who walked a few paces ahead, leading the expedition.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you, my dear, for saving our skins back there,” said Rider in his best Zulu, jogging to match Gagola’s powerful strides. “I speak quite literally, of course.”
Gagola studied Rider with her large, perfect eyes and said something which neither Rider nor Lazarus could make out. She seemed to have a peculiar dialect which neither of them had encountered before. Mazooku smiled and translated Rider’s words for Gagola.
“Don’t these people speak a variant of Zulu like the rest of the Matabele?” Lazarus asked him.
“No, boss,” the Zulu replied. “This tribe is Rozwi. They have their own speech. It is Bantu but would not be understood by somebody who knows only Zulu.”
“Rozwi?” Lazarus exclaimed. “I thought they had all been conquered.”
“The Rozwi pay tribute to King Lobengula of the Matabele, it is true, but they keep their culture and their language.”
This was news to Lazarus. All he had read indicated that the once great Rozwi Kingdom which had expelled the Portuguese in the seventeenth century had been wholly obliterated when Mzilikazi – one of Shaka Zulu’s generals – had rebelled against his king and led his Matabele followers north onto the Zimbabwe Plateau. Forced even further north by Boer expansion, the Matabele had defeated the Rozwi and inherited the sole rule of this land.
The Rozwi village consisted of grass-roofed huts contained within a kraal of thorny acacia branches. They arrived just before sunset and joined the young boys who were leading the cattle in from the fields for the night. Gagola spoke with the gatekeeper who was always a person of enormous importance in Southern African tribes and his pulsing voice singing the praises of his chief accompanied them into the kraal.
People turned out of their huts in droves to see the strange white men who had been admitted into their village. Umbopa’s family ran to greet him, tears showing in their eyes at his return.
It became clear that Gagola was not just a woman from the village but a woman of great status and respect. Lazarus suspected that she was one of the traditional medicine people the Zulus called sangomas; healers, diviners and witch finders.
They were taken to the hut of the chief which was flanked by the dwellings belonging to his first and second wives. He was a barrel-chested man with bow legs and he walked with the deliberate slowness of one who is accustomed to taking as much time about things as he wished. Of all the people in the village only he and his eldest son and wives seemed displeased by the return of Umbopa and Gagola.
They were fed beer, beef and barley while Gagola explained the situation at the mines to the chief. There were cries of outrage at the report of slavery but the chief’s face remained frozen while the sangoma talked. Lazarus got the impression he disapproved of her but suffered her presence in the village because of his people’s dependence on tradition.
When Gagola had finished speaking, the chief relaxed into a contemplative state and dismissed them all from his hut. They were taken to another building where Gagola bade Lazarus and Rider lie down on feather pallets so she might treat their wounds. She was joined by another girl even younger than herself who seemed to be a sangoma in training.
Rider evidently enjoyed Gagola’s delicate pasting of some poultice on his abdomen with her slender fingers. She caught him staring at her and said something which Mazooku had to translate.
“She says you are a very brave man for trying to help her people, especially as you had to defy your own kind to do so.”
“My own kind? Perhaps you could explain to her that the British and the Boers are as different as her people are to the Zulu,” Rider told Mazooku.
Mazooku translated this and then said; “She thinks you are brave regardless. She has seen how terrible the white men are with their guns and their will to conquer.”
“Well, tell her I think she is quite something herself,” said Rider, gazing into Gagola’s eyes. “When we planned to spirit away some of these fellows to reunite them with their tribe I had no idea a woman would be the one to save our bacon. And what a woman! She seems to have some authority in her tribe. I like the way she stood toe to toe with that chief of theirs.”
“She is a sangoma,” said Mazooku. “Even the chief must show her respect, though he is loath to do so.”
“Yes, I noticed that,” said Lazarus. “He doesn’t seem at all pleased to have her back.”
“There has been much disagreement between the two of them. Many of the village side with Gagola which makes Twala – that is the chief – angry. It was over the coming of the white men to these parts. Twala gave them permission to dig in those mines which are a sacred site for this tribe. It was a place of burial many centuries ago.”
“He let them dig for gold in a sacred site?” Lazarus asked, astonished.
“He went against the ruling of Gagola and earned the hatred of his people. But he is their leader so what is to be done?”
“Couldn’t they rise against him? Cast him out? It’s been done in tribes before…”
“They are frightened,” Mazooku replied. “They think the white men are in allegiance with a demon and thus so is Twala. They fear that if they displease him too much this demon will be turned on them and devour them just as it devoured their family members who work in those pits. They were sacrificed, you see. Twala sent a hundred young men and fifty young women with the white men as an offering to the demon. In return, these lands were left in peace. One of these women was Gagola, their sangoma, who went willingly to prove that this demon was nothing more than a sham conjured by the white men.”
“She went willingly into that hell-hole?” Rider exclaimed. “By God, that girl has some pluck!”
“And now she has returned with Umbopa; proof that the hundred-and-fifty youths were not devoured but put to work for white man’s greed. She thanks you for providing the opportunity to return to her people. She could not have managed it without you.”
“What will happen now?” Lazarus asked.
Mazooku shrugged. “Twala’s authority has been severely shaken. He will seek to reestablish it but the village is angry. They feel deceived and many are turning to Gagola for the answers.”
Gagola, upon hearing repeated mentions of her name, enquired of the Zulu what was passing between himself and his white companions. Mazooku explained to her and she began to speak in a fast, angry tone.
“She says that Twala’s time as leader is over unless he agrees to gather his impis – that is, his regiments – and reclaim the resting place of their ancestors. The white men must die! Present company excepted, of course.”
“Glad to hear it,” Lazarus muttered.
Gagola and her assistant left them then for it was growing late and fires were dying to embers throughout the kraal as the villagers lay down to sleep. Lazarus and Rider bedded down too, the wounds on their bodies numb now through the power of Gagola’s medicine.
“That is a magnificent woman,” Rider said to Lazarus in the darkness of the hut. “I don’t usually go in for the darker races but she is a very fine creature indeed. How old do you think she is?”
“I don’t know,” said Lazarus with a yawn. “Twenty?”
“Seems older. I mean, her body doesn’t look a day over twenty but there is something in those eyes that seems much older, like she has seen and experienced things that occurred generations before any of us were born.”
“What on earth are you babbling about?” Lazarus asked, irritable at his companion’s desire to talk when all he wanted to do was sleep.
“I could well imagine her as the incarnation of some Egyptian priestess come down here from the north centuries ago, working her magic over generations. Those eyes seem fathomless.”
“You should write novels,” Lazarus told him, rolling over. “You’ve got the wild imagination for it.”
The following morning they awoke to much noise and confusion. They pulled themselves to their feet and stepped out of their hut into the hot morning sun. All about people were in a state of great excitement. Warriors ran back and forth and assembled themselves into formations. Drums were pounded and women uttered shrill cries and danced in groups before the men. Rider sent Mazooku to find out what was going on.
“The tribe is rallying for war!” the Zulu said on his return. “Twala has been pressured into doing something about the white men who defile the place of the ancestors. The impis have been mustered!”
The battle was over. The compound stank of blood and excrement. The heat made it rise up like a wall of fetid vileness to pollute the nostrils of those left standing. Without the walls the bodies of the tribesmen numbered in their hundreds, piled on top of each other, a jumble of black limbs, ostrich feathers and hide shields, riddled with bullet holes. The carnage reached nearly to the tops of the walls and the victors had had to trample over their fallen comrades to enter the compound.
The slaughter within would have matched that without had there been enough Boers to redden the tips of the assegais. As it was, many lay skewered in the dust, their faces showing the agony of slow death from punctured lungs, pierced stomachs and disembowelment. Many of the Boers had escaped the massacre by scrambling down the ladders or leaping onto the derricks that vanished deep into the mines.
The slaves gave up great cries of joy at being freed and those who were able-bodied were given assegais and shields and told to bolster the decimated army. The sick and the crippled were led outside of the compound and the stores of food and water were broken into and doled out.
“Do you think they have a way out down there?” Rider asked Lazarus as they stood at the top of one of the pits and gazed down into the steamy blackness.
“I doubt it,” Lazarus replied. “They’re probably running scared hoping to barricade themselves in and postpone the inevitable.”
Twala emerged at the opposite edge of the pit and peered in. He gave the order for his warriors to smash the derricks and descend the ladders.
“There will be no escape for the Boers,” said Mazooku. “Twala must seek them out like rats and crush them or face the scorn of his tribe.
There was hesitation on the part of some warriors who still feared the rumors of a hungry demon that dwelled at the bottom of the pits. Cowardice is a trait despised by all the tribes of Southern Africa and, with heated encouragement from their comrades, all were soon scurrying down the ladders in eagerness.
The descent into the mines was marked by tiers with ladders leading from one to the next. Each level they descended seemed darker than the last until they felt like they had entered Hades itself. Here oil lamps lit the way and several tunnels led off from the tier nearest the bottom. From one of them the steam billowed as if from the nostril of a slumbering dragon.
Licking their lips nervously and gripping their spears tight, the warriors advanced with Rider, Mazooku and Lazarus among them, their own weapons held ready. It was not long before trouble found them.
It came in the form of gunshots and two tribesmen fell dead. The warriors stepped back a few paces, alarmed by the gunfire in such close quarters and from enemies unseen. But Umbopa, who had fought more valiantly than anyone in the battle, cried out encouragement and urged his comrades on.
The group split up into units wherever the tunnel divided until the army was naught but small groups plunging into unknown darkness. Lazarus could see the danger in this but it was too late. The warriors were out for blood and none cared for safety in numbers so long as there was honor to be won and death to be dealt.
Lazarus, Rider and Mazooku stuck with Umbopa and a handful of other warriors. They found themselves passing dripping stalactites that resembled an ice fortress even here in the sweltering heat. Lazarus noted the timber supports with interest. They must have been placed there in ancient times for now, with the ever creeping growth of stalactites and stalagmites, they had become encased in limestone and the wood was petrified, frozen for all time.
Tunnels opened into caves which were linked by yet more tunnels and the colors were a dazzling kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, turquoises and pinks. There was the azure and bright green of copper, the dusty rose of manganese and of course, flecks of brownish yellow hinting at the gold for which the mines had been dug.
The sound of gunfire and the screams of Boers slaughtered by assegais echoed throughout the tunnels and Lazarus realized that all of the mine shafts must be linked down here in this kingdom beneath the earth. Umbopa led them through the fug of steam, advancing wherever it was thickest.
The detritus of the abandoned mine work cluttered the tunnels. Pickaxes, shovels and overturned carts, their contents scattered, were obstacles over which they clambered. Eventually, they entered the cavern that contained the steam drill.
Gun fire lit the place up from several spots on both sides of the gargantuan piece of machinery. The Boers were making their last stand defending their expensive dream. The warriors took cover wherever it could be found, none wanting to go up against the guns when the men who wielded them could not be seen.
Lazarus and Rider opened fire whenever the brimmed hat of a Boer poked up from behind the machinery of the drill. Rider dropped two with his Winchester and, deciding to go out in a blaze of glory rather than be picked off like antelope, the remaining Boers charged, firing as they went.
Mazooku felled one with a hefty swing from his isagila, caving in the man’s skull and knocking him dead. Lazarus, feeling the old panic of battle upon him once more, fired at the Boer closest to him. It was Piet Schoeman. The bullet tore through his chest and he reeled backwards, landing dead on the dusty floor.
The remaining Boers fell prey to the assegais of the warriors who stabbed them, knocked them down and kept on stabbing until the screaming stopped. Through the haze of sweat, steam and blood, they all gazed on the massive drilling machine that loomed in the darkness.
“There’s your demon,” said Rider. Mazooku did not need to translate for Umbopa all the others who had been enslaved in these mines knew very well that there had never been any demon, only the devilish machinery of white men.
Umbopa gazed at the machine with disgust. Then, without any command given, the warriors attacked it simultaneously, not with their spears but with their bare hands. They tore at its controls, yanked its pistons out of shape and scattered the coals of its furnace to scorch the metal. Steam jetted from the ruptured hose and two of the warriors were scalded horribly causing Lazarus and Rider to yell out caution. The warriors proceeded more carefully but no less energetically until the massive drill lay in pieces, bent and ruined beyond repair.
Their work complete, most of the warriors began to file out of the tunnels where the welcome glow of sunlight beckoned. Umbopa wanted to press on to see that the place of their ancestors had been left untouched.
When they finally emerged in what must have been the largest cavern in the mines, Lazarus stopped wondering why the tribe’s ancestors had chosen to lay their dead to rest down in these dark depths. The stalactites formed beautiful shapes in this crystal cavern of wonders. A hundred feet high in some places, the dripping teeth bit down, meeting their lower counterparts to form bars and oval windows that looked on to yet more bizarre shapes.
What seemed like a trick of the light at first revealed, on closer inspection, faces and human forms worked into the limestone. But these were no carvings. These were real human remains, impossibly old, petrified in the rock. These limestone tombs must have stood for generations; monuments to lives lived and used up long before white man even dreamed of empire.
From behind a cluster of sharp formations, Twala suddenly appeared at a run Lazarus would have put past the tubby chief. Whirling his assegai, he lunged at Umbopa, a blow that was expertly deflected by the ever-ready warrior.
“What the devil is going on!” yelled Rider as the two warriors entered a death-defying duel like two cobras, hissing and striking at each other.
“Either the chief has gone mad,” said Lazarus, “or his jealousy of Umbopa has turned him to treachery.”
The older man may have been at a disadvantage due to his years and his less than agile frame but he had clearly been a formidable warrior in his youth and still presented a challenge to young Umbopa. But he tired quickly and began to get sloppy. Feinting, Umbopa struck his chief’s spear to one side with his own and jammed his sandaled foot onto his breastbone, hurling him backwards.
Lazarus winced, seeing the danger. Twala toppled backwards and landed upon a sharp cluster of stalagmites which were pointed enough to pierce his body in six or seven places. Their bloodied nibs protruded through his abdomen and grew lager as the weight of his body slowly forced him down, impaling him further. He stopped struggling and died with a gurgle and a grimace of agony on his lips.
The return of the warriors to their homes provoked scenes of jubilation. Families turned out in their droves to welcome the conquering heroes and their liberated loved ones. There was some confusion at the absence of their chief but Gagola, after a quick discussion with Umbopa, took charge and addressed the entire village, her clear voice carrying to its very walls.
Mazooku gave Rider and Lazarus the gist of her speech with a knowing smile on his lips. “It was no accident that she chose Umbopa to escape the mines with us. His destiny has long been entwined with that of his tribe.”
“How so?” Lazarus asked.
“He is Twala’s nephew. Long ago, Twala murdered his brother, the previous chief, and took his place. All thought he died of natural causes but Gagola knows the truth. It is her gift to smell out witchcraft.”
“But surely Umbopa should have succeeded his deceased father,” said Lazarus.
“True, but he was just a boy and Twala was a fierce warrior. Nobody could stand up to him and Umbopa was forced to live the life of a disgraced family member. It took a plan of Gagola’s cunning to restore him to his birthright. She knew that Twala would try to kill Umbopa. In fact, she counted on it.”
“By God, she is a wily fox!” Rider exclaimed.
Lazarus could see that Rider’s admiration for the sangoma was rooted in something much deeper and the matter came to a head that night when the village was in the midst of its victory celebrations.
Rider had spent much time in serious conversation with Gagola under the eaves of a hut. Mazooku stood with them to translate. Suddenly, Rider walked violently away from them and strode across the kraal, his face rigid with bitterness.
“What’s up?” Lazarus asked Mazooku when the Zulu joined him by the fire.
“Indanda asked Gagola to marry him,” he replied.
“Marry him!” Lazarus exclaimed. “Has he lost his head?”
“I fear so. He loves her, I am sure of it and perhaps she loves him too but such a union is impossible. Sangomas are forbidden to take a man.”
Lazarus decided to offer Rider his company and joined him at the wall of the kraal where they looked up at the stars together.
“It can’t be helped, old boy,” Lazarus told him. “You and her, I mean.”
“I offered to take her to London,” Rider replied. “I didn’t expect her to remain a witch finder here for the rest of her life. I could have given her something better.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want anything better. You know how these people are when it comes to fate and destiny and all that. Not to mention tradition.”
“Do you know what she told me? She said that the sun may not mate with the darkness nor the white with the black. That’s a bloody cheek, don’t you think?”
“I know many white men who would express similar sentiments, though not as poetically. What would people think back home if you returned with an African bride?”
“I don’t give a damn what people think! I’d stay right here in Africa for the rest of my life if that would have pleased her. But she’s made her opinion clear enough. Damned harlot! Leading me on like that! I always thought there was something sinister about her, like she was a soul from a distant past, survived to work her magic on men generations after she was born. Who knows, maybe I am right? She may call herself a witch finder but if there was ever a witch on God’s earth then it is that woman!”
Lazarus did not argue with him. He could see that his heart had been broken and knew that it would be futile to try and make him see sense; that Gagola was a good woman who had saved her tribe – through cunning, yes – but she was no witch. But Rider’s damaged pride and his bitterness would never allow him to see her as anything but a wicked creature who had thrown his love for her back in his face.
Lazarus wanted to head back to Great Zimbabwe immediately. Henry had probably returned and would deserve an explanation. Rider talked him into returning to Pretoria with him first. He said that as he had been working for the government it was necessary that he was debriefed. Besides, he could always pick up supplies in Pretoria before heading back to the site.
Chief Umbopa had provided them with a new ox wagon and plenty of food and water. They made good time but upon their arrival in the Transvaal it became clear that important events had been unfolding in their absence. There was a significant military presence that had not been there previously and British refugees from the east were arriving in droves, their possessions piled on top of their wagons with talk of returning to England on their lips. Rider hailed somebody he knew and demanded to be informed of what had transpired.
“King Cetshwayo has refused to stand down his warriors and defies Frere’s ultimatum,” the fellow told them. “Lord Chelmsford marched the army into Zululand two weeks ago but his center column was wiped out at Isandlwana!”
“Wiped out?” exclaimed Rider in astonishment.
“It’s a scandal! Whitehall is demanding an explanation. Chelmsford has had to pull out and more troops arrive by the day. There is nothing for it now, we are at war with the Zulu!”
Rider was to meet his contact in the private room of a tavern with sawdust floors and timber walls. Lazarus took a drink at the bar while Rider underwent his debriefing. Various rough types came and went. The tavern had been built by an Englishmen after the annexation and most of its patrons were English farmers and gold prospectors but there was a marked Boer element which did not seem to be resented. Now that the Zulu war had begun, old white enemies were more inclined to share bar space with each other, at least for the time being.
Eventually Rider emerged and told Lazarus that ‘the old man’ would see him now. Lazarus went in and sat down at a table upon which stood a glass of very fine cognac.
“Wet your whistle a little,” said the bewhiskered gentleman in the gray business suit who occupied the room.
Lazarus wouldn’t have called him old exactly, but understood that the term must be one of affection from an underling to his superior.
“I’m Morton,” the gentleman said, extending his hand.
“How do you do?” said Lazarus, taking it and wondering at the lack of a surname.
“I must say I am very impressed with what Agent Haggard has been telling me. Withstanding torture? Taking a life in the name of Her Majesty? These are qualities that are in short supply these days.”
Lazarus shrugged. “I merely did what I had to out of necessity. Rider… sorry, Agent Haggard, did no less.”
“But he is a trained agent. You are, what? An archaeologist? Your military record is adequate of course, but still, you have proven yourself a very worthy subject of Her Majesty and a valuable tool of her government. How would you feel about the prospect of full-time employment by my department?”
Lazarus wasn’t quite sure he understood. “Do you mean become a…?
“An agent. Like Rider. There would be further training and quite extensive tests of course, but I feel you have what we are looking for in our recruits.”
Lazarus was flattered but floundered in the face of such responsibility. “I’m afraid that I am a very busy man. I am engaged in an expedition as we speak and I have already taken a significant leave from it.”
“I understand,” Morton replied. “You have your academic pursuits. But when this expedition of yours is at an end I do hope you will drop by my office in London to discuss my offer further.”
He slid a white business card across the table. Lazarus picked it up. It bore the name ‘Morton’ along with an address in Whitehall.
“And of course, this is yours,” Morton continued, sliding an envelope across.
Lazarus peeked inside. Roughly five-hundred pounds in bank bills were nestled within.
“Payment for a job well done,” said Morton.
“But what has been gained by all that occurred?” Lazarus asked. “Apart from the removal of the Boers from their mining claim?”
“Precisely that,” said Morton with a smile. “We may be at war with the Zulu but the Boers remain a threat. We cannot allow them to gain any advantage over us or we will lose all that we have strived for here. And besides, the coordinates Agent Haggard has provided me with tell us where this great wealth lies, ready to be claimed by the British Empire.”
“I’m not sure the tribe that lives in those parts will fall for a white man’s scheme to take the place of their ancestors away from them again,” said Lazarus.
“Leave that to us. The tribes of the Zimbabwe Plateau are vassals of King Lobengula of the Matabele. Now that the Boers have disgraced themselves in his eyes perhaps he will be more open to British investments in his country. I am sure that some sort of agreement can be arranged.”
Lazarus left the tavern with mixed feelings. He had played his part in a battle that had seen a tyrant overthrown and a sacred place returned to its people, but he couldn’t escape the feeling that it may all have been for nothing. Africa was a continent of infinite treasures and the spears of the tribes that protected them were a poor defense against white man’s greed.
He turned away from the tavern and, with the envelope of bank notes bulging in his breast pocket, went in search of a corral where he might purchase an ox and wagon that would take him back to Great Zimbabwe.
I hope you have enjoyed this short entry in the chronicles of Lazarus Longman. It is but a prelude to longer and more exciting adventures in an alternate 19th century where the American Civil War has dragged on for two decades due to the discovery of mechanite; a mineral that burns ten times more efficiently than coal. In this world of dirigible battles, steam-powered machines of war and daring espionage, the powers of Europe play a game of shadows in an effort to gain access to America’s miraculous mineral; a prize which could envelop the world in its first great war.
The first Lazarus Longman novel – – is something of a western crossed with a lost world adventure as Lazarus sets out to discover the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. sees Lazarus journey to Egypt for an encounter with the undead reanimated by science. In Lazarus scours the slums of Victorian London for Jack the Ripper while dangerous radicals try to overthrow the British Empire.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on my blog at for all things pulp and Steampunk related and check me out on Twitter and Facebook for more updates. If you are enjoying the Lazarus Longman Chronicles you could do me a huge favor by leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads or even just by recommending these stories to somebody.
-P. J. Thorndyke
By the same author
The Lazarus Longman Chronicles
Through Mines of Deception (novella)
Curse of the Blood Fiends (forthcoming)
As Chris Thorndycroft
The Hengest and Horsa Trilogy
On the scorching plains of the Zimbabwe Plateau a thrilling adventure is set in motion to prevent a catastrophic war between Boers, Zulus and British redcoats. Archaeologist Lazarus Longman is contacted by an agent of the British Empire and given an important mission; find the mythical gold mines of Great Zimbabwe before the Boers do and prevent revolution in Southern Africa.