The Lush of Lichtenstein
A Venus 1888 Adventure
Yashada heard the chokawa war cry and fled up the trail. The blood coats would distract the air beast, so she was fairly confident that she could get to the top and hide in the tall grass there. She had no trouble griping the stone with her bare feet. The blood coats covered their feet in animal hides with hard bottoms. No wonder they slipped and stumbled on the trail. Yashada did not understand how they could be so powerful when they had so little sense.
As she climbed over the edge, Yashada saw that the grass nearest the edge had been trampled, and a path led deeper into the foliage. She avoided the trampled area and carefully picked her way through the blades so as to not disturb them. As she crawled through the thick stalks, Yashada found another foreigner. But this one did not have a blood coat. Yashada turned back and saw Bev-ER-lee appear.
When the blood coat was clear of the edge, Yashada whistled and the woman looked in her direction. Yashada waved her over excitedly, and Bev-ER-lee nodded. But the blood-coat did not come to Yashada. Instead she crouched by the edge and pointed toward the native as the other blood coats appeared. Those women looked panicked, and they ran haphazardly into the thicket, flattening tall stalks all around.
When they had destroyed a huge patch of cover, the blood-coats lined up in two rows, some standing and some kneeling, and pointed their boomsticks toward the cliff edge. There they waited for the rest of the women to emerge from the cliff face, with the tall, mean one coming up last. They all gathered in the trampled area. The kneeling ones stood and the newcomers joined the two rows.
* * *
Beverly thought the platoon had faced their first threat reasonably well. True, Templeton had lost her composure and threatened them all, but her girls had recovered and performed admirably. They had climbed to the top, established a firing line, and covered the arrival of the rest of the patrol. Now they stood in formation at attention awaiting her pleasure.
Suddenly, Yashada emerged from the foliage carrying a Prussian rifle. Immediately, several troopers raised their carbines toward her. Yashada dropped the rifle and pointed in the direction she had come. Beverly signaled two troopers to come with her and followed the native back into the brush.
A brunette woman dressed all in fresh-looking khaki was unconscious on the ground, partially covered by fallen stalks. Beverly knelt down and felt the woman’s face. It was hot to the touch, and her clothing was soaked in sweat. From her pale skin, Beverly could tell that whoever she was, she was not accustomed to the local conditions. Her eyes opened weakly. Beverly cradled her head in her arms. One of the troopers pulled her canteen and poured some water into the woman’s mouth. She started coughing.
* * *
Suddenly, she sat up.
“We must save the Princess!” the woman said in English
“Who are you?” Beverly asked, still cradling the woman’s head.
“I am Elizabeth Falconbridge,” the woman replied with urgency, sitting up with an unexpected burst of energy, “lady-in-waiting to Princess Franziska Maria Johanna of Liechtenstein.”
Beverly recalled a dispatch from headquarters about an Austrian princess who stole an aethership after attempting to assassinate the Emperor. She and her maid were to be arrested and returned to Earth. But first, they must capture her.
“Where is the Princess now?” Beverly asked with equal urgency.
“I left her unconscious in the ship we arrived in,” Betty replied. “It is that way. It can’t be far, I’ve been gone less than a day.”
“The days here are six Earth months long,” Lewis said as she knelt next to her commander. “Do you know where the ship is?”
“It’s in a large clearing toward those mountains,” Betty replied.
“Is she injured?” Beverly asked. Betty considered her response for a moment, and then decided that Sissi’s reputation was less important at the moment.
“She is incapacitated,” she replied. “We over-indulged ourselves in Linz and woke up here.”
The Captain and the Sergeant looked at each other with poorly veiled amusement. A drunk royal found her way to Venus.
“Shady,” Beverly shouted. The native guide appeared at her side. “Can you follow her trail back to where she came from?” she said slowly, realizing immediately after that it was not necessary. Shady nodded.
“She came from the heart of the Aklete,” the native guide said anxiously. Beverly ignored her hesitation.
“Sergeant, let’s move out!”
* * *
Following her inadvertent selection of Sakneate as her champion, the contests had continued for several more hours. Sissi sat on the bench until all the victors had ascended to the prisoner and touched her body with a bloody finger. Her breasts and her stomach were the most popular places, though some also touched her forehead. A few ventured toward her legs, but Sakneate stopped them with a slap to their hands.
All the while, Sissi was provided with the shell of a coconut-like fruit containing a sweet liquid that she found very pleasant. A servant girl refilled the shell continuously when it was empty from a ceramic vessel, which was in turn replaced by other girls, who seemed to run up and down the pyramid effortlessly.
When the procession was finished, the leader, who had introduced herself as tee-mah-PUR-ee, presented Sissi with a necklace of long, green feathers. Sissi accepted it, and the woman placed it over her head. The feathers were long enough to cover her breasts.
Sissi pointed at the leader’s loin cloth. The woman looked down at it and Sissi thought she might tear it off, but instead, she received another bundle of the green feathers from one of her attendants and presented it to Sissi. She accepted this offering as well and unrolled it. The feathers hung thickly from an animal hide belt. It was a loin cloth, and Sissi realized that her raiment was special.
Sissi stood, and immediately everyone around her knelt and bowed their heads. She wrapped the belt around her waist, but did not see a closure. The leader chanced a look at her, and humbly stood and tied the belt in a knot at Sissi’s side. Sissi smiled, and the leader’s face blossomed into an expression of joy.
Sissi sat again. The leader motioned for the others to rise and then said something very quickly. The crowd in the square below cheered and started chanting: “Ah-SHAH-say! Ah-SHAH-say! Ah-SHAH-say!” repeatedly.
* * *
Axaxe seemed pleased. Timapuri maintained her regal bearing, though she beamed inside. After her initial displeasure, the goddess accepted Sakneate as her champion and received the souls of the victors. It was said that the goddess was fickle and did not show emotion. But from what Timapuri had seen, Axaxe appeared to convey all the moods and feelings of mortals, including anger, joy, amusement, and satisfaction.
The goddess drank copious amounts of the fermented honey wine, and her mood seemed to improve as the time passed. Timapuri wondered if the latter warriors were more favorable to Axaxe, or if she too succumbed to the pleasurable effects of the wine. The chieftain worried that their supplies would run out and they would lose the favor of the goddess.
When the last of the warriors had shared her soul, Timapuri presented Axaxe with the holy garments. The goddess accepted the necklace with what appeared to be joyful surprise. Timapuri was puzzled when she adjusted the feathers until her breasts were completely concealed.
Before Timapuri could present it, Axaxe then pointed at her own loin cloth.Timapuri held out the divine garment to her. The goddess smiled as she unrolled the feathered belt. All dropped to obeisance when she rose. After a moment, Timapuri risked a glance and noticed that Axaxe was having trouble tying the belt. The chieftain rose and humbly offered to help. Axaxe accepted and Timapuri tied the ends. Normally the knot would be in front, but having seen the goddess’ prior displeasure, she put the knot to one side so that her sacred place was covered.
The goddess looked Timapuri in the eyes and smiled. Her heart leapt at the divine pleasure. When Axaxe sat again, Timapuri rose and gestured for her tribe to do so as well.
“The goddess has accepted our souls and bestowed her blessings,” she shouted to her warriors in the square. “She is pleased.”
In unison, the tribe started chanting, “Axaxe! Axaxe! Axaxe!” over and over again. The call echoed in the distance as if the jungle was joining them. Timapuri maintained her haughty expression, but she was overjoyed.
* * *
Following the trail was not difficult for the native guide, but Beverly could see it clearly enough for herself. As they progressed, the tall grass gave way to tropical forest. Nothing bothered them as the patrol was a large, formidable target.
Beverly kept the English woman close by. While she was technically a prisoner,, Miss Falconbridge was preoccupied with the welfare of her mistress. The rifle had not been returned to her, but the trespassing lady had not been bound or actually placed under arrest.
Without warning, Shady stopped at the tree line. Before them lay a large, open space. The ground was covered with low grass that had clearly been trampled through by many people not too long ago. In the center of the clearing, Beverly saw the three legged sphere of an aethership.
“Sissi!” Betty cried as she lurched toward the ship, but Cathaway grabbed her collar and lifted Betty off her feet. “Let me go!” Betty shouted, trying to break free.
“Miss Falconbridge,” Beverly said to her face. “Shut up!” When her charge continued to flail about, the Captain slapped her face. The woman went silent, staring at the officer with surprise.
“I’m sorry about that,” Beverly said quietly, “but we are in hostile territory, and there is no cover out here.” She signaled to Lewis, who trotted up to them. “Take four troopers and have a look at that aethership.”
“Yes, sir!” Lewis replied with a sharp salute. She pointed to four troopers and motioned them forward.
No sooner had the five emerged from the trees than the whistle of darts erupted from the direction of the aethership. One of the scouts was struck in the forehead by a dart and silently fell to the ground motionless. The patrol dropped into the grass while those in the trees took cover.
A score or more of native women emerged from their concealment in the grass with blowguns ready. Simultaneously, a similar number appeared from among the trees carrying heavy clubs studded with sharp stones.
“Do not react,” Beverly ordered, keeping her eyes on the host before her. “We are on their land in violation of the treaty. Lower your weapons and be still.” She heard the sounds of compliance behind her. From the opposite side of the clearing, three riders rapidly approached on the giant flightless birds that they used for mounts.
One of the riders rode up and stopped immediately in front of Beverly and Betty, scowling down at them from the back of her beast. Then she noted Shady cowering behind Cathaway and pointed at her. The red-coated native approached warily, stopped at the rider’s feet, and bowed her head.
The two engaged in rapid conversation. Beverly had only heard their language a few times and had learned a handful of words from Shady in the two years since her assignment to Dromopyle. The rider spoke a different language than their guide, but Shady seemed to understand it and communicated that they had come seeking the fair colored one’s companion from the metal ball on stilts.
“Did she say anything about the Princess?” Betty shouted to Shady. “Is she in the ship? Do they know where Sissi is?”
The rider looked at Betty intently and said, “Ah-SHAH-say.” Then she shouted to one of the other riders who took off rapidly in the direction from which they had come. The rider then spoke to Shady, who told Beverly in her own language that they were to follow.
“Sergeant,” Beverly said evenly, “form up the platoon, carefully.” Lewis and the remaining three scouts rose slowly and the Sergeant went over to the fallen trooper. Her face was frozen in agony and starting to turn green. Lewis checked for a pulse in her neck and could not detect one.
“She’s dead, sir,” the Sergeant said, shaking her head. Beverly shook her head and glanced toward the rider and the surrounding natives.
“Take half the platoon and bring her back to the garrison. Tell them that we are taking our warrior back.” Shady spoke rapidly with the rider, who then said something to her own people. One of the natives carefully approached the fallen trooper and pulled out the dart. A moment later, the woman started breathing rapidly, though she remained unconscious.
“Take Middlebury up, ladies,” the Sergeant said to the remaining three scouts. The two of the three picked up the woman under her shoulders, and the third took hold of her feet.
The riders turned and walked their mounts in the direction they had come. The women with the blowguns disappeared back into the tall grass.
“In parade order,” the Sergeant shouted, “A and B squads follow me. C and D squads watch the rear.” Beverly nodded at her glance. “A and B squads forward march!”
Beverly watched as the platoon shouldered their weapons and followed Lewis in two columns. She started after them, taking Betty by the arm, who was followed by Cathaway and Harcourt. The three carrying Middlebury followed them, and then the remainder of the platoon. Beverly expected the spearmen behind them to come along, but when she turned back, only her people were visible.
TO BE CONTINUED…