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Robin Hood by H. Rider Haggard

Part 4 out of 4

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thousands behind the wall!"

A soldier struck him across the mouth, bidding him be silent; but his
warning had come to the ears of Nodwengo, causing him and his warriors
to halt and begin a retreat. It was well that they did so, for seeing
that they would not come on, from under the shelter of the wall and of
every rock and stone soldiers jumped up by companies and charged,
driving them back to their own schanse. But the king's men had the
start of them, and had taken shelter behind it, whence they greeted
them with a volley of spears, killing ten and wounding twice as many

Now it was Hokosa's turn to laugh, and laugh he did, saying:--

"My taking is well paid for already, Prince. A score of your best
warriors is a heavy price to give for the carcase of one weary and
aging man. But since I am here among you, captured with so much pain
and loss, tell me of your courtesy why I have been brought."

Then the prince shook his spear at him and cursed him.

"Would you learn, wizard and traitor?" he cried. "We have caught you
because we know well that while you stay yonder your magic counsel
will prevail against our might; whereas, when once we hold you fast,
Nodwengo will wander to his ruin like a blind and moonstruck man, for
you were to him both eyes and brain."

"I understand," said Hokosa calmly. "But, Prince, how if I left my
wisdom behind me?"

"That may not be," answered Hafela, "since even a wizard cannot throw
his thoughts into the heart of another from afar."

"Ah! you think so, Prince. Well, ask Noma yonder if I cannot throw my
thoughts into her heart from afar: though of late I have not chosen to
do so, having put aside such spells. But let it pass, and tell me,
having taken me, what is it you propose to do with me? First, however,
I will give you for nothing some of that wisdom which you grudge to
Nodwengo the king. Be advised by me, Prince, and take the terms that
he offers to you--namely, to turn this very night and begone from the
land without harm or hindrance. Will you receive my gift, Hafela?"

"What will happen if I refuse it?" asked the prince slowly.

Now Hokosa looked at the dust at his feet, then he gazed upwards
searching the heavens, and answered:--

"Did not I tell you yesterday? I think that this will happen. I think
--but who can be quite sure of the future, Hafela?--that you and the
most of your army by this hour to-morrow night will be lying fast
asleep about this place, with jackals for your bedfellows."

The prince heard and trembled at his words, for he believed that if he
willed it, Hokosa could prophesy the truth.

"Accursed dog!" he said. "I am minded to be guided by your saying; but
be sure of this, that if I follow it, you shall stay here to sleep
with jackals, yes, this very night."

Then Noma broke in.

"Be not mad, Hafela!" she said. "Will you listen to the lies that this
renegade tells to work upon your fears? Will you abandon victory when
it lies within your grasp, and in place of a great king become a
fugitive whom all men mock at, an outcast to be hunted down at leisure
by that brother against whom you dared to rebel, but on whom you did
not dare to shut your hand when he lay in its hollow? Silence the
tongue of this captive rogue for ever and become a man again, with the
heart of a man."

"Now," said Hokosa gently; "many would find it hard to believe that I
reared this woman from childhood, nursing her with my own hands when
she was sick and giving her of the best I had; that afterwards, when
you stole her from me, Prince, I sinned deeply to win her back. That I
married her and sinned yet more deeply to give her the greatness she
desired; and at last, of my own will, I loosed the bonds by which I
held her, although I could not thrust her memory from my heart. Yet I
have earned it all, for I made her the tool of my witchcraft, and
therefore it is just that she should turn and rend me. Well, if you
like it, take her counsel, Prince, and let mine go, for I care nothing
which you take; only, forgive me if I prophesy once more and for the
last time--I am sure that Nodwengo yonder spoke truth when he bade
your herald tell me that he who causes my blood to flow shall surely
die and for it be called to a strict account. Prince, I am a Christian
now, and believe me, whatever you may do, I seek no revenge upon you;
having been myself forgiven so much, in my turn I have learned to
forgive. Yet it may be ill for that man who causes my blood to flow."

"Let him be strangled," said a captain who stood near by, "and then
there will be no blood in the matter."

"Friend," answered Hokosa, "you should have been not a soldier but a
pleader of causes. True it is then that the prince will only cause my
life to fly, but whether that is a smaller sin I leave you to judge."

"Keep him prisoner," said another, "till we learn how these matters

"Nay," answered Hafela, "for then he will surely outwit us and escape.
Noma, what shall we do with this man who was your husband? Tell us,
for you should know best how to deal with him."

"Let me think," she answered, and she looked first at the ground
beneath her, next around her, then upwards toward the skies.

Now they stood at the foot of the koppie, on the flat top of which
grew the great Tree of Doom, that for generations had served the
People of Fire as a place of execution of their criminals, or of those
who fell under the ban of the king or of the witch-doctors. Among and
above the finger-like fronds of this strange and dreadful-looking tree
towered that white dead limb shaped like a cross, which Owen had
pointed out to his disciple John, taking it to be a sign and a
promise. This cross stood out clear against the sinking moon. It
caught Noma's eye, and a devilish thought entered into her heart.

"You would keep this fellow alive?" she said, "and yet you would not
suffer him to escape. See, there above you is a cross such as he
worships. Bind him to it as he says the Man whom he worships was
bound, and let that dead Man help him if he may."

The prince and those about Noma shrank back a little in horror. They
were cruel men rendered more cruel by their superstitious fear of one
whom they believed to be uncanny; one to whom they attributed inhuman
powers which he was exercising to their destruction, but still this
doom seemed dreadful to them. Noma read their minds and went on

"You deem me unmerciful, but you do not know what I have suffered at
this wizard's hands. For his sake and because of him I am haunted. For
his own purposes he opened the gates of Distance, he sent me down
among the dwellers in Death, causing me to interpret their words for
him. I did so, but the dwellers came back out of Death with me, and
from that hour they have not left me, nor will they ever leave me; for
night by night they sojourn at my side, tormenting me with terrors. He
has told me that through my mouth that spirit whom he drew into my
body prophesied that he should be 'lifted up above the people.' Let
the prophecy be fulfilled, let him be lifted up, for then perchance
the ghosts will depart from me and I shall win peace and sleep. Also,
thus alone can you hold him safe and yet shed no blood."

"Be it so," said the prince. "When we plotted together of the death of
the king, and as your price, Hokosa, you bargained for the girl whom I
had chosen to wife, did I not warn you that this witch of many spells,
who holds both our hearts in her little hands, should yet hound you to
death and mock you while you perished by an end of shame? What did I
tell you, Hokosa?"

Now when he heard his fate, Hokosa bowed his head and trembled a
little. Then he lifted it, and exclaimed in a clear voice:--

"It is true, Prince, but I will add to your words. She shall bring
/both/ of us to death. For me, I am honoured indeed in that there has
been allotted to me that same end which my Master chose. To that cross
let my sins be fastened and with them my body."

Now the moon sank, but in the darkness men were found who dared to
climb the tree, taking with them strips of raw hide. They reached the
top of it, four of them, and seating themselves upon the arms of the
cross, they let down a rope, the noose of which was placed about the
body of Hokosa. As it tightened upon him, he turned his calm and
dreadful eyes on to the eyes of Noma and said to her:--

"Woman, I do not reproach you; but I lay this fate upon you, that you
shall watch me die. Thereafter, let God deal with you as He may

Now, when she heard these words Noma shrieked aloud, for of a sudden
she felt that the power of the will of Hokosa, from which she had been
freed by him, had once more fallen upon her, and that come what might
she was doomed to obey his last commands.

Little by little the soldiers drew him up and in the darkness they
bound him fast there upon the lofty cross. Then they descended and
left him, and would have led Noma with them from the tree. But this
they could not do, for always she broke from them screaming, and fled
back to its shadow.

Then, seeing that she was bewitched, Hafela commanded that they should
bind a cloth about her mouth and leave her there till her senses
returned to her in the sunlight--for none of them dared to stop with
her in the shadow of that tree, since the odours of it were poisonous
to man. Also they believed the place to be haunted by evil spirits.



The sun rose suddenly over the edge of the cliffs, and while it was
yet deep shadow in the valley, its red light struck upon the white
cross of perished wood that towered above the Tree of Doom and on the
black shape of Hokosa crucified to it living. The camp of the king saw
and understood, and from every throat of the thousands of men, women
and children gathered there, went up a roar of rage and horror. The
king lifted his hand, and silence fell upon the place; then he mounted
on the wall and cried aloud:--

"Do you yet live, Hokosa, or is it your body only that those traitors
have fastened to the tree?"

Back came the answer through the clear still air:--

"I live, O King!"

"Endure then a little while," called Nodwengo, "and we will storm the
tree and save you."

"Nay," answered Hokosa, "you cannot save me; yet before I die I shall
see you saved."

Then his words were lost in tumult, for the third day's fighting
began. Desperately the regiments of Hafela rushing across the open
space, hurled themselves upon the fortifications, which, during the
night, had been strengthened by the building of two inner walls. Nor
was this all, for suddenly a cry told those in front that the regiment
which Hafela had despatched across the mountains had travelled up the
eastern neck of the valley, and were attacking the position in their
rear. Well was it for Nodwengo now that he had listened to the counsel
of Hokosa, and, wearied as his soldiers were, had commanded that here
also a great wall should be built.

For two hours the fight raged, and then on either side the foe fell
back, not beaten indeed, though their dead were many, but to rest and
take counsel. But now a new trouble arose: from all the camp of
Nodwengo there went up a moan of pain to Heaven, for since the evening
of yesterday the spring had given out, and they had found no water
wherewith to wet their lips. During the night they bore it; but now
the sun beating down on the black rocks with fearful force scorched
them to the marrow, till they began to wither like fallen leaves, and
already wounded men and children died, while the warriors cut the
throats of oxen and drank their blood.

Hokosa hanging on his cross heard this moaning and divined its cause.

"Be of good comfort, children of Nodwengo," he cried; "for I will pray
that rain be sent upon you." And he lifted his head and prayed.

Now, whether it was by chance or whether his prayer was heard, who can
say? At least it happened that immediately thereafter clouds began to
gather and to thicken in the blue of Heaven, and within two hours rain
fell in torrents, so that every one could drink his fill, and the
spring being replenished at its sources, flowed again strongly.

After the rain came cold and moaning winds, and after the wind a great
gloom and thunder.

Now, taking advantage of the shadow, the regiments of Hafela renewed
their attack, and this time they carried the first of the three walls,
for its defenders grew feeble and few in number. There they paused a
while, and save for the cries of the wounded and of frightened women,
the silence was great.

"Let your hearts be filled up!" cried the voice of Hokosa through the
silence; "for the sunlight shines upon the plain of the Great Place
yonder, and in it I see the sheen of spears. The /impi/ travels to
your aid, O children of Nodwengo."

Now, at this tidings the people of the king shouted for joy; but
Hafela called to his regiments to make an end of them, and they hurled
themselves upon the second wall, fighting desperately. Again and again
they were beaten back, and again and again they came on, till at
length they carried this wall also, driving its defenders, or those
who remained alive of them, into the third entrenchment, and paused to
rest awhile.

"Pray for us, O Prophet who are set on high!" cried a voice from the
camp, "for if succour do not reach us speedily, we are sped."

Before the echoes of the voice had died away, a flash of lightning
flared through the gloom, and in the light of it Hokosa saw that the
king's /impi/ was rushing up the gorge.

"Fight on! Fight on!" he called in answer. "I have prayed to Heaven,
and your succour is at hand."

Then, with a howl of rage, Hafela's regiments hurled themselves upon
the third and last entrenchment, attacking it at once in front and
rear. Twice they nearly carried it, but each time the wild scream of
Hokosa on high was heard above the din, conjuring its defenders to
fight on and fear not, for Heaven had sent them help. They fought as
men have seldom fought before, and with them fought the women and even
the children. They were few and the foe was still many, but they
listened to the urging of him whom they believed to be inspired in his
death-agony upon the cross above them, and still they held their own.
Twice portions of the wall were torn down, but they filled the breach
with the corpses of the dead, ay! and with the bodies of the living,
for the wounded, the old men and the very women piled themselves there
in the place of stones. No such fray was told of in the annals of the
People of Fire as this, the last stand of Nodwengo against the
thousands of Hafela. Now all the shouting had died away, for men had
no breath left wherewith to shout, only from the gloomy place of
battle came low groans and the deep sobbing sighs of warriors gripped
in the death-hug.

"/Fight on! Fight on!/" shrilled the voice of Hokosa on high. "Lo! the
skies are open to my dying sight, and I see the /impis/ of Heaven
sweeping to succour you. /Behold!/"

They dashed the sweat from their eyes and looked forth, and as they
looked, the pall of gloom was lifted, and in the golden glow of many-
shafted light, they saw, not the legions of Heaven indeed, but the
regiments of Nodwengo rushing round the bend of the valley, as dogs
rush upon a scent, with heads held low and spears outstretched.

Hafela saw them also.

"Back to the koppie," he cried, "there to die like men, for the
wizardries of Hokosa have been too strong for us, and lost is this my
last battle and the crown I came to seek!"

They obeyed, and all that were left of them, some ten thousand men,
they ran to the koppie and formed themselves upon it, ring above ring,
and here the soldiers of Nodwengo closed in upon them.

Again and for the last time the voice of Hokosa rang out above the

"Nodwengo," he cried, "with my passing breath I charge you have mercy
and spare these men, so many of them as will surrender. The day of
bloodshed has gone by, the fray is finished, the Cross has conquered.
Let there be peace in the land."

All men heard him, for his piercing scream, echoed from the
precipices, came to the ears of each. All men heard him, and, even in
that fierce hour of vengeance, all obeyed. The spear that was poised
was not thrown, and the kerry lifted over the fallen did not descend
to dash away his life.

"Hearken, Hafela!" called the king, stepping forward from the ranks of
the attackers. "He whom you have set on high to bring defeat upon you
charges me to give you peace, and in the name of the conquering Cross
I give peace. All who surrender shall dwell henceforth in my shadow,
nor shall the head or the heel of one of them be harmed, although
their sin is great. One life only will I take, the life of that witch
who brought your armies down upon me to burn my town and slay my
people by thousands, and who but last night betrayed Hokosa to his
death of torment. All shall go free, I say, save the witch; and for
you, you shall be given cattle and such servants as will cling to you
to the number of a hundred, and driven from the land. Now, what say
you? Will you yield or be slain? Swift with your answer; for the sun
sinks, and ere it is set there must be an end in this way or in that."

The regiments of Hafela heard, and shouted in answer as with one

"We take your mercy, King! We fought bravely while we could, and now
we take your mercy, King!"

"What say you, Hafela?" repeated Nodwengo, addressing the prince, who
stood upon a point of rock above him in full sight of both armies.

Hafela turned and looked at Hokosa hanging high in mid-air.

"What say I?" he answered in a slow and quiet voice. "I say that the
Cross and its Prophet have been too strong for me, and that I should
have done well to follow the one and to listen to the counsel of the
other. My brother, you tell me that I may go free, taking servants
with me. I thank you and I will go--alone."

And setting the handle of his spear upon the rock, with a sudden
movement he fell forward, transfixing his heart with its broad blade,
and lay still.

"At least he died like one of the blood-royal of the Sons of Fire!"
cried Nodwengo, while the armies stood silent and awestruck, "and with
the blood-royal he shall be buried. Lay down your arms, you who
followed him and fought for him, fearing nothing, and give over to me
the witch that she may be slain."

"She hides under the tree yonder!" cried a voice.

"Go up and take her," said Nodwengo to some of his captains.

Now Noma, crouched on the ground beneath the tree, had seen and heard
all that passed. Perceiving the captains making their way towards her
through the lines of the soldiers, who opened out a path for them, she
rose and for a moment stood bewildered. Then, as though drawn by some
strange attraction, she turned, and seizing hold of the creeper that
clung about it, she began to climb the Tree of Doom swiftly. Up she
went while all men watched, higher and higher yet, till passing out of
the finger-like foliage she reached the cross of dead wood whereto
Hokosa hung, and placing her feet upon one arm of it, stood there,
supporting herself by the broken top of the upright.

Hokosa was not yet dead, though he was very near to death. Lifting his
glazing eyes, he knew her and said, speaking thickly:--

"What do you here, Noma, and wherefore have you come?"

"I come because you draw me," she answered, "and because they seek my
life below."

"Repent, repent!" he whispered, "there is yet time and Heaven is very

She heard, and a fury seized her.

"Be silent, dog!" she cried. "Having defied your God so long, shall I
grovel to Him at the last? Having hated you so much, shall I seek your
forgiveness now? At least of one thing I am glad--it was I who brought
you here, and with me and through me you shall die."

Then, placing one foot upon his bent head as if in scorn, she leaned
forward, her long hair flying to the wind, and cursed Nodwengo and his
people, naming them renegades and apostates, and cursed the soldiers
of Hafela, naming them cowards, calling down upon them the malison of
their ancestors.

Hokosa heard and muttered:--

"For your soul's sake, woman, repent! repent, ere it be too late!"

"Repent!" she screamed, catching at his words. "Thus do I repent!" and
drawing the knife from her girdle, she leant over him and drove it
hilt-deep into his breast.

Then with a sudden movement she sprang upwards and outwards into the
air, and rushing down through a hundred feet of space, was struck dead
upon that very rock where the corpse of Hafela lay.

Now, beneath the agony of the life Hokosa lifted his head for the last
time, crying in a great voice:--

"Messenger, I come, be you my guide," and with the words his soul

"All is over and ended," said a voice. "Soldiers, salute the king with
the royal salute."

"Nay," answered Nodwengo. "Salute me not, salute the Cross and him who
hangs thereon."

So, while the rays of the setting sun shone about it, regiment by
regiment that great army rushed past the koppie, and pausing opposite
to the cross and its burden, they rendered to it the royal salute of


Then the night fell, and thus through the power of Faith that now, as
of old, is the only true and efficient magic, was accomplished the
mission to the Sons of Fire of the Saint and Martyr, Thomas Owen, and
of his murderer and disciple, the Wizard Hokosa.

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