Her heart thudded loudly against the wall of her chest – voluptuous and fresh and young. His sweating palm reached over, and gently cupped the beautiful object, caressing it carefully, so as not to hurt the seeming fragility of the girl next to him. She embraced his warm back lovingly, scraping her long nails softly over the skin, so as only to enhance any pleasure, rather than extinguish it. Longingly Toppay looked into Sophia’s deep, knowing eyes, and they kissed powerfully, launching in together, so that their bodies enclosed, and they drifted into a timeless sleep. They woke late the next afternoon, and dressed quickly.
Toppay – his long hair knotted up – wore a brown horsehair shirt, with soft black trousers of expensive cotton to contrast. Sophia had long hair free flowing to just below the soft curve of her breast. She slipped on a dress of fine silk, so that in the right light, the darkness of her nipple showed through the pattern. She slid her feet into straw sandals. Toppay put his cutlass from the table into its sheath and attached it to his trousers, then he put two pistols in his belt and a knife in his pocket before striding the stride of a tall man down the creaky wooden stairs, into the parlour, and out onto the stoep of his small African house.
Two servant boys, no older than fifteen, ran up, riding boots in hand, and helped him into them. The round, spiked spurs shone brightly in the early evening light. His horse trotted stately round the corner. She was a beautiful mare, her chestnut coat shining in the glow of the sun; the black leather saddle complemented it. The stitching was superb, lovingly entwined with green, black, and blue cotton in the family crest of the Bontanes – a wounded lion being grappled with by Toppay’s great grandfather. Toppay’s initials were embroidered in dark brown at the rear of the saddle.
The shotgun sheath was attached to the saddle, and lay loosely on the horse’s flank. Snatching up his shotgun from the stall on the stoep, Toppay ran up behind his mare, and leapt squarely onto her back, sliding the gun into its sheath and rearranging his other weaponry for comfort. He checked the saddlebags for shells and pistol shot, before digging in his spurs, and raising his horse to a gallop. Turning back, he waved vigorously to his wife standing in the upper window. She looked incredible, and he longed for her again, but knew how he must earn a living to buy the goods he could not shoot.
The he jumped his steed over the fence and into the bush. He knew he must ride at night, to keep the heat away, and how he would have to kill any easy animal for food. He liked working on his own, without gun -boys. This meant that he could carry no food and only a little water in a skin – he would drink his fill and refill at all possible occasions. The bush rolled behind the mare’s heels, as she trotted on to a stream Toppay used on every hunt – there was a rock overhanging which shielded the rising sun from the east, and a large wild fig tree sheltered it as the sun set.
He hung up his sweat-drenched shirt to dry, and replaced his boots with sandals, leaving his mare to munch on the moist grass beneath the rock. He dumped one pistol and his cutlass. He threw a few shells into his pockets, and held his loaded shotgun broken under his arm. Next, to pass the time, he gathered some wood for the fire and waited for dawn; the start of the hunt. He wandered from camp just as the glowing red mass of the sun shot up from behind the seemingly small group of mountains far away.
The light seemed cut up and displaced this early, with only a small section of the sphere visible, but it soon rose high, turning the coolness of the night into blistering heat. He covered the ground quickly to find the spoor of his quarry, and he circled, so that he was occasionally startled by the sign of human feet. Soon enough Toppay did see a few birds, for which a pot shot could be taken – they were fat, and much like the pigeons of England. Toppay swiftly snapped the chamber of his gun closed and in one continuous movement sighted them, swinging the barrel in an arc to follow the fleeing birds.
As they flew fifty yards away, the first shot cracked, and two birds fell from the sky, crashing headfirst into the thorny brush, and with the second shell another bird was winged. It spiralled violently, attempting to regain its balance and fly, but it too crashed. He ran to where the first two had fallen; both were dead – a head hit on one and a heart shot on the other. He picked them up quickly and tied them with twine to the belt of his trousers. Then he swigged briefly on his water, before running to the injured bird. Without remorse, Toppay snatched his pistol and fired at point-blank range into the small back eye.
The eye vanished leaving a circular hole right the way through the small head. He tied this to his belt also, before heading back to camp. With two sticks and some dry grass, the fire was soon roaring, and the plucked birds spitted and roasting. Toppay selected the fittest figs, and whilst his main meal was cooking he gnawed ravenously at them. The birds were as plump as expected, and did well filling Toppay’s stomach to the brim. He drank much water to re-hydrate himself before settling beneath the rock, head resting on the gently rising and falling motion of his sleeping mare’s chest.
It was now getting on for midday, and from previous experience, Toppay had realised how unwise it was to hunt at this time. He had lost a man to the heat before, and his quarry was always keeping down and snoozing now. It would be unlikely for anyone to spot even such a big animal on this flat land when it was asleep. Getting up, Toppay washed his face in the river and swallowed a few figs before engaging in the hunt, again. He carried his cutlass as well now. This time he was lucky though, and on the brown, baked earth he found a spoor of three elephants.
One was young – its feet not yet full size – but the other two looked like large bulls. It was now that the adrenaline began to rush, as he padded fast along the track through the thorns. On the way he slipped and fell many times, but he did not care at the rips in his trousers – these were two large bulls. He almost stumbled onto the trio. They had obviously settled for the night – the sun was now setting. Visibility was low, and he knew how he must make the shot soon. He crouched fifty feet from them. He had been in luck because he was downwind – surely they would have scattered if they had picked up his scent.
Now he muffled the mechanism of the gun with his trousers and slid in two cartridges which he had checked. Then he stood a row of shells for re-loading, and spread the rest of his array of weapons by his side. Next, he lined up for the shot, with the barrel of his shotgun resting on a rock. He pushed the butt hard up into his shoulder and sighted along the gleaming barrel. One elephant was indeed young, its tusks no longer than a foot, but the other two… The largest bull had ivories of nine feet, and the other seven feet. The ends were rounded due to constant use and there was a faint yellow tinge to them.
Toppay was sweating heavily and the walnut stock in his hands was slippery. Despite that though he was still calm, and he took sight. The first shot landed the larger bull in the skull, and it fell hard to the ground, but the other launched off, galloping at a parallel to Toppay. The gun reared at the next shot, which struck it in the rear. Swiftly the chamber was opened and closed, and two more shots cracked off – each hit, but none were capable of felling this huge, grey beast. It was not until the eighth shot that the heart was hit, and the large mass collapsed into the dust.
Toppay whooped with joy, and grabbed his equipment. He bounced to where the first lay, and carefully, using his cutlass and knife, he eased the ivory free. Doing the same to the other, he hid the four new, prized possessions and marched back to camp; a swing in his step. When he reached his revitalised mare, he once again refilled his skin and packed figs into the horse’s saddlebags for some sustenance on the homeward journey. So as not to wear her out, Toppay trotted at a gentle speed on his horse; drinking and nibbling on figs.
The moon had just appeared and it lit up the night sky when the sight of the dead elephants became visible. They looked eerie and mystical in the strange light. Their eyes still glowed from within, still a knowing stare, and now it filled Toppay with regret at the death of such an animal. He moved to the four tusks, and bound them together with twine, so that they would hang next to the horse’s flanks without damaging its back. He now had the choice of either resting for a day before he wandered home, or he could march for twelve hours. Eventually, his want for Sophia shined through and he led the mare by the rein.
When Toppay reached his homestead he quickly tied his mare to rail on the stoep, and removed the weight from her back. Awkwardly he walked into the parlour, and carefully placed the tusks at their perfect viewing angle on the table for his wife. He called her name and heard nothing; he was puzzled. Running back onto the stoep he hopped the rail and ran to the stable where he was overwhelmed by the powerful stench of death. In the next room it confronted him. All fifteen of his black servants were covered in swarming flies, bound to the wooden slats of the horse feeder. Each was mutilated beyond recognition.
They had been stripped naked. Each had been played with by a very sick man – one had its chest slit open, and the skin pulled apart, revealing the flesh covered ribs beneath. Another man’s genitals had been removed. The total effect was horrific, and Toppay swiftly ran to the window where he retched green bile. But now came an even more dreadful sight – his wife Sophia slumped in the next room. Toppay was bewildered as he glanced at Sophia again. Her hair had been shave off, and both nipples removed with a knife. Her throat was slit, and a scrap of silk from her dress had been tied round her neck into the wound.
Then he saw the final piece of savagery. A rough hole had been cut into her chest, between her breasts, through the sternum. In side there was nothing; just empty – where the heart should have been there was just a bloody mess. Then he saw it: stuffed into her lifeless hand. As Toppay lifted it, tears welled up, and through them he saw a rolled scrap of blood stained paper in one of the pink tubes. Scrawled was: Dear Mr. T. Bontane, I came for you, and I shall get you; these little sacrifices just temporarily stemmed my anger. See you soon!!! James S. Vorn Toppay screamed out in rage and anguish and terror.
Here was a man driven, willing to do anything for his goal, and he had a small force at his command. Three years earlier, in combat, Toppay had removed Vorn’s arm with a superb sword stroke. The crowd at the tavern loved it, but ever since, this man had been out for revenge – now knowing where Toppay lived, Toppay had to move. Night had long since fallen before Toppay got up from his wife’s side. Hunger had finally overcome him, and he went inside for a full meal. On the way he untied his forgotten mare and walked her to where she could graze and drink peacefully. Two days later he was ready.
Two horses were fully laden with provisions and he attached them to his mare, which he rode. The packhorses carried a pair of tusks each as well as the food. On the way out of his homestead, Toppay stopped for the last time at the fresh graves. He picked out the prettiest blooms and laid them lovingly on the mound of soil set apart from the rest. Then, without a tear, he clambered back into the stirrups, and trotted in the direction of Cape Town. He was sure that would be where James Vorn was. His horses followed the track without being led, and soon he was dreaming.
He dreamed of that last night with Sophia, and of her talking to him, telling him what to do and how to kill James Vorn. She confirmed Toppay’s thoughts on where he would be, and finished in a loving kiss. He woke to the heat on his neck, realising that it was nearly midday. He guided his horses off the track and under a tree to rest and eat. Then, fully revitalised, with the sun much lower in the sky, they set off again and march through the night. This ritual continued for fully five more days, when provisions were getting low. Finally the mass of the city loomed before them.
In the city he found a reasonable inn, and when he showed the keeper the ivories, the best room was soon his, to be paid for later. During the following weeks, Toppay’s two packhorses were sold, and the next months accommodation paid. Soon enough he found a buyer for the ivory. With money in his pocket he went on an excursion for weapons. He had left all but his shotgun at the homestead, and to kill James Vorn he would need more than just that – he was dealing with a man of wit. He came back with a slightly curved dagger in a diamond-encrusted sheath, a sword of blue steel and many cartridges.
That night, as he slept, his wife appeared yet again in his dreams. She had done so every night since he had embarked on this vendetta, mostly to engage him in physical pleasures, but this time she was giving him advice. She told him how he had the right equipment, and that soon enough the time would come to use it. For the next few weeks Toppay lived in luxury, and each day he would exercise his mare. Then at night his wife would ritually appear in his dreams, always saying: ” It is soon, my love; soon this vendetta will be over. We shall be reunited. ” The first sighting of James Vorn came two weeks later.
He strolled along the street beside the inn. He marched over the cobbles, his one arm swinging, dressed in his tailor-made clothes with no left arm. He was surrounded by large men dressed in suits of black. He had the air of a man with purpose, and Toppay knew that purpose. The next day, Toppay went shooting with his mare. He was at a gallop outside the city, shooting the birds one-handed with his shotgun. He had ridden about a mile from the city when he spotted the lion. It was sprinting towards him at an incredible speed, bushy mane shaggy and springy.
The feeling was eerie and strange – the brute made no sound what so ever and had covered twenty yards before Toppay realised what was happening. He leapt from his mount, aimed, and fired. There was a soft metallic click, and a space of a second before he discovered that he had run out of cartridges. He threw aside the empty gun and saw that at the speed the creature was gaining, there would be no chance of getting away. Crossing his fingers, he drew his knife and sword. The metal shimmered in the heat and his hands shook – time seemed to almost stop as he gazed at the lion. He saw its beauty, but knew he must kill it or die.
If he did die he could never live up to Sophia’s expectations and avenge her death, closing the vendetta. Its huge teeth were bared, sharp and dangerous; eyes wide. A huge, lolling, pink tongue hung from the corner of its mouth and its nose glistened. The huge, soft paws almost bounced off the baked land, and seemed so gentle, but the terror inside was real. The shoulders were powerfully muscled, veins showing through the thin skin. Fine, short hair covered all the body, with a tuft of darker hair at the tip of the tail. The mane was no-longer menacing but instead a thing of rich beauty.
Not, as it had originally looked, shaggy and matted, but fine hair – perfectly groomed and very clean due to the rough tongue. Now it was nearly on Toppay, and again beauty turned to menace; in those eyes he suddenly recognised the same look as James Vorn. To Toppay, it was now James Vorn. The creature jumped high, aiming for his chest, but he rolled away from the strike, the out-stretched claw only grazing his chest. He swung the sword at its rump, but its speed was too great; as the shiny blade whipped passed, it sliced the end of the tail, succeeding in only enhancing the lions anger.
It spun quickly and they began to circle each other, ten foot apart, and for a moment there was respect. This time Toppay made the move, running forward and launching the sword at its eye. It side-stepped, and his only choice was to use the dagger. The short blade went solidly into the chest, but it only pierced the lung. The animal roared at the pain, and stepped away before the knife could be retrieved – the bone handle stuck out awkwardly. Now the lion attacked from behind, before Toppay had turned. It struck him squarely in the back, and he landed, his face covered in dust.
The sword flew from his grasp, landing a few yards away. The hard handle of the knife dug into his back painfully, and the lion tore at his arm, biting at the shoulder. Toppay was screaming now; the pain excruciating. Then there came the crack of a Mauser shot from a hundred yards. The gnawing on his arm ceased abruptly, and the lion became a heavy mass of dead weight. With difficulty he shrugged it off, and got up sorely. He extracted his knife from the lion, and wiped it on its mane, before looking up for his rescuer.
He saw a one-armed man striding towards him, grinning: Now,” said James Vorn, “is the time when you die – in my hands! And look, we evenly matched: one arm verses one arm. Only problem is, who’s the one with the gun? ” He raised the Mauser squarely, staring at Toppay. Toppay knew that it was his time; he would now die. The man before him had sleeked back hair; black and long with a short beard much like that of Toppay. His eyes were blue and deep with meaning; brutality and pleasure in them. His skin was half-cast, his father French, and mother native African. The sweat glistened on his hands, so that they appeared to be metal like the gun.
Moving down his body, his shoes were polished and designed for city wear; they were dusty here, and thorns stuck out at angles. The shot fired. Smoke puffed from the barrel, and the sound made Toppay’s ears ring loudly. The bullet appeared and moved along its trajectory to the centre of his chest. This man was an excellent hunter, an incredible shot; the skill required to wield a gun one-handed was amazing, and for the first time Toppay, in his mind, complemented him. The bulled crashed into his chest, and blood spewed out, warm on his fingers. There was no pain.
While he re-loaded, Toppay ran the short space between them, and as the last of his blood and strength ebbed from him, he drove the point of the dagger deep into James Vorn’s temple. The two dead men collapsed together in a heap, on to the hot earth, just as the sun was setting. Vultures collected round, and dropped to feed on the carcasses. There was a feeling of serenity; happiness. It was all over, and the job completed. Toppay fell into Sophia’s embrace. Warm and true for the first time in two months. They had finally moved on into a fantasy world of the love which was always between them – Toppay had never really been alone.