Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XIII: Captives of the Cannibal Queen.
The guards bundled us into one of the buildings bordering the square, a building that resembled nothing so much as a small-town police station. In one corner of the room in which we found ourselves was a cell or cage that already held one inhabitant, a young woman whose long black hair, copper flesh, and sparse clothing marked her as one of the natives of the district.
“In here, if you don’t mind, gentlemen,” said Mr. Thompson. The cell door was opened, and we were thrust in to join the other occupant.
“Surely you don’t intend to eat us,” I said as the cell door was locked.
“Oh, yes indeed, Mr.—Peevish, was it? Yes,” said Mr. Thompson, “the natives have a somewhat gamey flavor, probably owing to their outdoorsy lifestyle, with its multifarious opportunities for physical exercise. It is pleasant enough, but not to be compared with the delicate flavor of the sedentary European or American. What a rare treat you and your friend will be! I hope you appreciate how delighted we were by your unexpected arrival.”
“But I thought you were loyal subjects of Her Majesty,” said Weyland.
“Certainly we are—the most loyal subjects Her Majesty the Cannibal Queen could possibly desire,” said Mr. Thompson.
“Ah, I see. I misunderstood.”
“You may even have the privilege of meeting her,” said Mr. Thompson. “She’s in town, don’t you know. And now we’ll leave you here for the moment, while we make preparations for you gentlemen to take the place of honor at our feast.”
Mr. Thompson and the rest left us alone in our cell with the beautiful young native woman, to whom we had not even been properly introduced.
“Pink men eat their own, too?” the lady asked.
“Apparently so,” I said. “My apologies, madam: we’ll have to introduce ourselves. My name is John Peevish, and this is my friend Norbert Weyland.”
“I am called Tluxapaketl,” the lady replied.
“And you were captured by these fiendish cannibals as well, it seems,” said Weyland.
“Do they make raids on your villages?” I asked.
“No,” said Tluxapeketl. “We are usually clever enough to avoid raids from pink men. But alas! My story is so strange you will hardly believe it. I am separated from the tribe, you see, when I fall into a patch of strangler figs!”
“Did you really?” I asked sympathetically.
“My goodness! I am about to be strangled, but then a figroot-eating tapir fortunately comes when I call it. As a girl I learned to imitate its call, you see. I was the second-best figroot-eating-tapir imitator in my village.”
“Very fortunate for you,” said Weyland.
“But heavens! I have only just escaped from the strangler figs, when lo! I am surrounded by ferocious cats of every description!”
“My word!” said Weyland.
“I escape from the cats, but whoops! I fall from a great height into a canoe on the river!”
“That must have been a fright,” I said.
“I think I am safe, but holy Toledo—crocodiles everywhere! What shall I do?”
“I can hardly imagine,” said Weyland.
“I make them cry by telling them the ancient story from my people, the story of the chief who believes his daughter loves him insufficiently. But whoosh! I leave the crocodiles and go right over Thunder Falls!”
“A terrible predicament,” I remarked.
“I am falling, falling—but I take bark from the canoe and make wings like a bird, you see, and I soar gently down to the river below.”
“Very clever of you,” said Weyland.
“But pluck! I am snatched out of the water by pink men! And here I am.”
“A remarkable series of adventures,” I said.
“But you—how did you come to be captured by pink men?” Tluxapeketl asked.
“After your tale,” said Weyland, “I’m afraid ours might seem derivative. Suffice it to say that we mistook these pink men for honorable and civilized gentlemen, a mistake that has put us in an exceedingly awkward predicament.”
“Now pink men will have a triple feast,” said Tluxapeketl.
“Not necessarily,” said Weyland. “If you’ll follow my lead, I have an idea that just might get us out of here.”
“We’ll do our part to the best of our ability,” I assured him, and Tluxapeketl nodded in agreement.
“We’ll try the old deathly-ill ploy,” said Weyland. He looked out the little barred window in the wall of the cell and then turned back to face us. “They’ve left two guards out there. Be ready to overcome them when they come in here.”
Once again Tluxapeketl and I nodded.
Suddenly Weyland started to scream and moan like a man in mortal agony. “My head!” he wailed. “My head! The pain in my head!”
“Guards!” I shouted. “This man is very ill! He needs assistance right away!”
“My head!” Weyland continued. “I can’t stand the pain in my—ow!”
A small cylindrical object had flown in through the window, bounced off Weyland’s forehead, and rolled into a corner of the cell.
“What was that thing?” Weyland asked.
I retrieved the object. “A bottle of aspirin,” I announced.
“It smarts a bit,” said Weyland, rubbing a sore spot on his forehead. “Peevish, would you be so good as to pass me a couple of those pills?—Thank you.”
“Did we escape?” asked Tluxapeketl.
“Not quite,” I told her.
“I thought not,” she said, “but I am not familiar with the ways of pink men.”
I resigned myself to waiting in the cell for the next appearance of our captors, hoping that perhaps some opportunity for action might present itself. The wait was not rendered any less difficult by the proximity of Tluxapeketl, whose abbreviated costume left most of her natural attractions on display. I offered her the use of my jacket, but she refused on the perfectly reasonable grounds that she was not chilly. I could not think of a way to explain in polite terms that the jacket was not for her comfort but for mine, so I let the matter drop.
We did not wait long: I suppose it was not half an hour later that Mr. Thompson reappeared with an entourage of half a dozen other well-dressed but powerful-looking gentlemen.
“You are very fortunate indeed,” he announced.
“You mean you’re not going to eat us?” I asked.
“Even better! You’re going to have an audience with Her Majesty. Food is seldom accorded that privilege, but occasionally— Well, Her Majesty is very eager to speak with you.”
“How delightful,” I said, I suppose with a hint of sarcasm.
“In fact,” said Mr. Thompson, “she has asked me to deliver you right now, so if you gentlemen will accompany us—”
“And the lady?” I asked.
“Her Majesty did not specifically request her.”
“I am not willing to leave her to the mercy of whoever walks in here,” I said, a bit surprised by my own firm resolution. “If we go, the lady goes with us.”
“Well,” said Mr. Thompson, “I suppose it makes no difference. Come along, then. Please follow me, and you may be assured that these gentlemen will be behind and beside you.”
The mayor led us out of the little jail into the square again.
“What are you up to, Peevish?” Weyland asked sotto voce.
“I know you have a clever plan to get us out of here,” I said in the same low tone, “and I insist on taking Miss Tluxapeketl with us.”
“Ah,” said Weyland.
We were led into a larger structure built in a neo-Georgian style, and from the entry hall we turned left into what had been made into a kind of throne room; and at the other end of it, seated in regal dignity, was Miss Kun, the Devil Princess.
“Her Majesty, the Queen of the Cannibals,” Mr. Thompson announced, and the cannibal gentlemen who surrounded us all bowed low.
“Mr. Weyland and Mr. Peevish,” said Miss Kun, “and your charming if underdressed companion: welcome to my little outpost of civilization in the forests of the Amazon.”
“A strange sort of civilization,” I said. “You’ve turned these men into cannibals.”
“Oh, no,” she responded. She rose from her throne and began to approach us. “They were cannibals when I arrived. I understand that’s why they left civilization in the first place—too many constraints on the free exercise of their proclivities. They have been trying to persuade me to partake, but so far I have taken the vegetarian option. Although—” She had come very near Weyland by now. “If I were to partake of the flesh of a man…” She turned away and laughed. Having walked a few paces away, she turned to face us again. “You have put me in a very awkward position, gentlemen. My father is very desirous of an interview with you both—particularly with you, Mr. Weyland. Yet I should hate to deprive my loyal subjects here of a meal they have been anticipating so keenly. What shall I do, gentlemen? What shall I do?”
“I might suggest—” Weyland began.
“I think I have it,” said the Devil Princess. “I shall send Mr. Peevish and his lovely companion to the pot: they should provide plenty of good eating for my loyal subjects. But you, Mr. Weyland, will come with me to see my father—after I’ve had my own fun with you, of course. What do you think of that?”
Weyland actually seemed to be considering his answer. After some silence, he said at last, “Well, if you want my opinion,—WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE?”
Miss Kun laughed. “Really, Mr. Weyland! Do you expect me to be taken in by that ruse a second—”
A low rumbling growl came from the corner of the room behind her. Out of the shadows came the Siberian tiger: it had tracked us all the way, but now it was crouching to pounce on Miss Kun. Just as the tiger leapt, however, so did Weyland—right into the path of the pouncing tiger.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: