The Ancient City of Tör
Early January, 187-
My Darling Josephine,
Sultana amongst Queens, Contessa of the Peerage
We are saved! Oh, my heart, we are saved!
The auspicious choice to cut in-land, to leave behind the false promise of the river and the far shore, has set us on the course of success. Soon, no doubt, the suzerain Rezu, in his great beneficence, will organise a deputation to lead us back to civilisation! But, I jump ahead of myself.
As I wrote, there was a vote cast some few days ago, on whether to return to the sight of our stranding, or, on the advice of Herr Anhalt, to forge on into the wilderness. We were pushed into the decision due to a veritable cataract, a cascade that belongs more to a bestial epoch than our diminished age. Impassable, by any effort. So, we cast our ballots, as there was some disagreement, and kept to the rule of vox populi. Onward we strode!
The first leagues were difficult, to be sure. But, as I had mentioned, we were strengthened by the growing indications of inhabitance. Anhalt’s congenital interest in the antiquarian seemed to spread out amongst the rest of the group – we all shared the excitement he had earlier elicited, and it took but the smallest stack of masonry, the merest mud-bespattered periapt, uncovered in our zest to blaze a path, to set us all alight with a jovial perturbation! Well, I say ‘all of us,’ but I recall that the Moslems of our band were, at that point, possessed of a decidedly dolorous demeanour. We others, though, every mile brought an increase in levity we hadn’t felt since even before our ill-luck at mouth of the river, since before we visited those slave isles with their wicked trade.
The first signs of the Mahagger people, which is the name of this tribe that make their home here in the decadent city of Tör, were their eyes. Like animals of the wild, great hunting felines and such, we could see their eyes at night. At first, it set loose a prodigious fear in our breasts. They stalked us, those first nights, haunting the darkness as we delved deeper into their lands. Finally, when I could take no more, I instructed Mbubu to make an overture to them, to open dialogue and precipitate whatever was to come. I had had enough!
Rousing his whipchord body, Mbubu called out into the gloom. From amidst a group of three, maybe four sets of eyes came a barked, unintelligible response. A time elapsed, and then three of the natives entered into the glow of our campfire. One of them, whom must have been their leader, continued to speak to Mbubu in that queer, click-laden language. After some time, an accord seemed to be struck. The language being indiscernible, body language alone let us see this, the natives and Mbubu untensing visibly. They broke into smiles, revealing startlingly white, filed teeth. Ghastly in appearance as it was, the incontestably human gesture still put us at ease. Physically, they were smaller than Mbubu, though just as lean. Their heads are hairless – whether by artifice or naturally, I could not say. All three of the men, and the others that we would meet later, had a raised line of scars along their cheek bones that swept up to behind their ears. The women of the Mahagger tribe, who we would meet when we finally reached Tör, had instead of the facial scars a pictogram of sorts, a circle with an angled double line, on their stomachs. Perhaps dictated more by the environment than any sense of decorum, both sexes were quite scantily dressed, allowing the eye to discern the virility of their bodies, the simple power they possessed in their svelte musculature. There is something to be said for simple living, after all!
So, we met with our first examples of the august, most ancient Mahagger tribe. They supped with us that night, and, on the following morning, brought us to their city. Their knowledge of the surrounding area, the secret trails and the more sparsely vegetated glens, allowed us to make better time than we had since we entered this jungley wilderness. Traveling along the worn paths, our party was joined throughout the day by more and more of the tribal fellows, an honour guard to usher us into their burg.
As dusk was drawing close, we at last came clear of the obstructing herbage and found ourselves looking upon the great stone pyramids we had espied from afar previously. Titanic, they dominated the view. From where we stood, we could make out three separate buildings, rising above the treetops to some 150 feet. Not a match, then, for those storied tombs of Khufu, but, it must be noted, these Mahagger, who I have on good authority have inhabited this land since time immemorial, are dealing with a terrain much less hospitable to the human form than the Ancient Egyptians!
Alas, recent centuries have not been kind to the Mahagger, as evidenced by the fallen status we were presented with upon reaching their capitol. The generations that erected those granite monuments are long gone – the current people reside in crude mud and reed huts at the feet of their forebears’ temples.
Their reduced architectural abilities have not hampered their generosity, though! From our position at the edge of the brush, we could see a delegation on its way to meet us – seemingly, some of our escort had run ahead to notify those at our destination. At their head was none less than the Chief himself, the aforementioned Rezu, as well as his Royal Consorts, numbering five individuals of surpassing comeliness. In addition to the standard cheek scars, the suzerain had a pair of dimpled lines running the vertical length of forehead, set apart the width of the bridge of his broad nose. His Consorts, in addition to the customary feminine markings, sported a swirling pattern about their breasts. Yes! It is true! Womenfolk of the Mahagger go as unclothed about their torsos as their men, much to the consternation of we Europeans. When Mbubu translated our rightful shock, the women laughed it off, as if it were a great jest or the like! You must understand, these are a people for whom the Good Word is a novelty, a recent accession. They are a tribe lost to Time, let alone the universal understanding of decency. But, again, I am getting ahead of myself.
The deputation reached us, and a ceremonial proclamation, or so we must assume, was made, with Mbubu doing his hurried best to translate. Following his lead, we made our obeisance to the Regal ensemble. By way of Mbubu’s gloss, we were all individually made known to the Chief Rezu. Upon hearing whom we were and from whence we had journeyed, the man broke into a wide grin, revealing filed teeth identical to his subordinates. It was an image more jarring even than our first introduction to that specific, primal alteration – it could be accepted adorning the rude physiognomies of the tribesmen, but there, set in the stately visage of Rezu, it was a thing out of place. Yes, I admit it, this man bore about him, despite his barbaric surroundings, the stature of Royalty. A true-born King, if albeit a low one.
When our plight was made clear to him, the desperate situation we had been in erstwhile to our discovery of the land of the Mahagger, Chief Rezu grew sombre. Upon some reflection, he said that he knew of a way to help us. Though the Mahagger shunned the outside world, due to a religious taboo of some sort, they knew of the comings and goings on the borders of their land, and could guide us back to our place of resting. Or so Mbubu translated. For now, however, we were to be his personal guests.
That first night there were great celebrations – even if the Mahagger don’t usually mix with folk from beyond their country, they seemed well-enough pleased to have visitors. Much revelry ensued, with plenty of food and special, tribal dances performed for our benefit. You can understand the palpable relief we felt, and the slightly surreal nature of it all – in the span of less than 72 hours, we went from suffering severe deprivation, lost in an unknown land with little hope of salvation, haunted day and night by terrors we could not name, to relaxing amidst this quasi-civilised community, close enough to home to see it in the mind’s eye.
That being noted, the slight lack of balance we were all feeling, can render the next episode somewhat more understandable. Following the dances, a lone figure entered the broad, flag-stoned parade space. A youth of indeterminate sex, scarcely over the age of twelve by my estimation, proceeded to play for us a most haunting dirge upon a flute of what must have been the long-bone of some animal. It was quite beautiful, but disconcerting. Eerie, in an inexplicable way. There was a particular perturbation amongst our Mohammedan peers, but then, their distaste of the Arts is well known, isn’t it? It did, however, leave us all feeling a bit…unsettled. Abruptly, the song was finished, and so too was the night’s festivities. We were shown to the quarters which have housed us these past few nights – a luxury in comparison with what little shelter we could scrounge amidst the wet trees ad damp earth, even if the buildings were beyond vulgar, in truth.
In the intervening time between then and now, we have grown acquainted with our hosts. Spurred on by Anhalt, we have done much exploring of the architectonic wonders abounding this city. Beneath the pyramids is a network of catacombs, running deep into the earth and beyond even the ken of the learned Chief.
Ah! That reminds me! Rezu was telling us: we are not, evidently, the first white people the Mahagger have encountered! Yes, fantastic as it may sound, the Chief swears that, some several centuries ago, this very city of Tör was ruled over by a white woman of exceeding beauty, who was said to have been alive since the world itself was young. An un-aging Queen of terrifying attractiveness! We, understandably, chalked this up to myth – you know how these native-types are – but what a mystery, nonetheless! There are passages in the catacombs, rooms within the pyramids, which I have seen with my own eyes as I am a Christian man, that depict this ancient Queen, and it is true, the graven face is of no Nubian source. A mystery indeed!
I look forward to the exploration of these histories that our visit will no doubt spur on – this is, in fact, a great success for Herr Anhalt, and, no doubt, for the scientific community as a whole! And to think, if not for our wreckage, bleak as it may have seemed, this ancient tribe may have gone on, unbeknownst to the outer world, until at last the final representative died out, taking his secret knowledge with him to the grave. What good fortune we have had! Though the passing of our comrades is a grievous blow, to be sure, what cost is that stacked against the vast increase in human knowledge that will no doubt come of this? I regret only that I am not schooled in these sciences, these archaeologies, that I could do more work while I am here. That labour must be left to others.
The Chief has said that all will be organised for our final travels soon, but, first, there is meant to be a great feast, one to dwarf the celebrations that festooned our arrival. This will take place tonight or tomorrow night, the timing seems to be a bit unclear. These are a very holy people, in their own way, much given to omens and auguries. It is no doubt upon something of this sort that we wait.
Thus, I record, with great happiness, the events of the last few days. With any luck at all, I may soon be drawing this extraordinary Adventure to an end, and returning, if not home, then at least to the company of my compatriots in our most civilised Colony!
Hugh Octavius Pleasant
Posted on January 5, 2015, in (Mis)Adventures in Matabeleland, Mauve Prose, Short(er) Stories and tagged Adventure, Africa, Ayesha, British Empire, Colonialism, H. Rider Haggard, Imperialism, Racism, Satire, She, Victorian Empire. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.