Hidden under a grove of mangos (Smith kept calling them mangos though Abernathy was almost certain mangos did not grow in this hemisphere), the men waited for the infernal march to cease. Long obsidian legs, muscles vibrating like noose ropes, swung through the underbrush in song. Corporal Smith bit at his empty pipe passively, gnawing at it as his eyes counted the tribesmen that passed in the green window made by the bundled leaves in the grove. Abernathy realized he’d been holding his breath.
“Steady fast, chum,” said Smith, “I don’t think we’ll wind up dinner just yet. From the looks of it I’d say these aren’t our quarry. Don’t seem the cannibal type.”
“And you can tell that from their loincloths alone,” said Abernathy acidly.
Smith pulled the gnarly pipe stem from his mouth and spent a sick, scarred grin on Abernathy’s shivering grimace. He received no change. “Come now, old sport, you’re not to die here, not with me by your side.”
“I’m not afraid to die,” said Abernathy in a tight whisper. The legs continued to march and the song went on into the damp jungle more joyous than a hymn, and much more threatening.
“I’m terrified to die,” said Smith. “Mind you, I’ve certainly had my scrapes alongside it, but that’s just having a bit of fun, isn’t it? No sauce like danger, what?”
“What on Earth are you talking about?” said Abernathy. “Do you mean to tell me you wrestle tigers and tickle elephants out of stupidity and not some mad death wish?”
“There now, old man,” admonished Smith, “how’s that for addressing your superior?”
“In rank, Robin.” Abernathy crossed his arms and sat on the rotten boll of their mango grove. “Sir,” he added crossly.
Smith patted his comrade on the shoulder and reintroduced the pipe stem to his teeth. “By the way, me hearty, did you happen to notice the cufflinks pinned to the loincloth of yonder savage?”
Abernathy started. “What?”
Smith grinned amiably and pointed just under the leaves at the long gone head of the parade. “Seems our mutinous fellows had a run in with these aborigines. I believe they may have the captain’s brandy.”
Abernathy was silent, this time staring intently at the slivers of flesh and spears that passed. There were indeed trinkets hanging from belts and decorating tools, pocket watches, tea saucers, boxes of snuff, that traveled alongside the Africans. The remains of Mallory’s regiment had encountered them, there was no doubt about that.
“I do hope they camp somewhere a trifle less antsy,” said Smith. Abernathy made to ask him what the devil he was on about this time when the answer came promptly. The nest of army ants encamped in Abernathy’s rotten boll swarmed up his legs and sent him screaming into the singing tribe.
The two men were bound together and marched behind the cavalcade through the afternoon and into the evening, ants biting at their earlobes. Smith’s ugly smile never ended. “Funny to be on the other side of the rope, isn’t it, old sport?”
“No, Robin,” said Abernathy. “I find it distinctly disturbing.”
“Food for thought, eh?” said Smith, and began to giggle inanely. The man on the other end of his leash perhaps understood a smattering of English or was a universal student of irony. Either way, he soon joined the corporal’s laughter and Abernathy’s sick silence was accompanied by the two humorists, and very soon the whole tribe.
The Cannibal Cavalcade
Part 1 – Robin and Neil are tasked to find the captain’s brandy
The Adventures of Robin Smith
The Misadventures of Neil Abernathy