Wednesday, 3 June 2015


He turned with an embarrassed smile, one arm around the horse's neck, the other draped on the saddle horn, his foot caught in the stirrup. Ridiculous. She could see that in in the midst of this terrible moment he was young enough, silly enough, to feel ridiculous tangled on that stirrup, hopping on the one foot...

He turned that peach-face towards her, the skin so perfectly young it was utterly flawless in this hard light. His lips were parted, moist rose-petal lips; his eyes wide blue, glistening. His helmet had fallen off somewhere, and his cropped hair showed dark at the roots, sun-gilded in tiny stray curls at his nape.

He was so young.

He looked past her at the silent circle: the zulus with their shields and tall nodding feathers, the boer-boys on their restive horses; impassive faces overshadowed by their hats.

He looked at her, taking in her height, the scarred face, the bare speckled breasts above the kilt; and he blushed. He looked her in the eye, fighting to keep his gaze from drifting down to the pale broad nipples.

"Ma'am...Do you speak English?" His accent was flawless, precise. He was one of the precious boys they rarely let out of the drawing-rooms, and never out of the barracks.

She drifted closer, and he tried to back himself and the horse away from her.
"I am Napoleon Eugene, Ma'am, Prince of France, and I demand you take me to your chief, or someone who speaks English..."

She laughed that delicious girlish laugh. “The Imperial Prince of France, no less! Why, we are honoured, Your Grace...” She laughed again and turned to address the silent circle. “This man is of the line of Napoleon, like you, Dabulamanzi, are of the line of Shaka. This is history! Come my Dabu, come here to me!” and Dabulamanzi stepped forward to stand beside her, staring at the young man with unabashed curiosity.

“A Prince of France and a Prince of the Zulus...Charming!” That light silvery tinkling laugh,and Napoleon Eugene looked at her with a dawning alarm.

Her tones, so appropriate to the ball-room; her voice, mellow and supremely cultured, so at odds with the ferocious savagery of her face, her stance. She smelled of blood, sweat, rancid fat and madness. He was afraid, and so made his mistake. Precariously balanced, clinging to his saddle, he sketched a gallant bow “My Lady, I am charmed to meet you, and His Grace, the Prince. Might I ask My Lady's name?”

The face bent towards him went dull, the mouth gaped open for one long moment of deadly silence, then a scream erupted. She tore the assegay from Dabu's hand, pushed him back and away, struck at that pure and prissy hated face.

“Don't call me that! Don't call me that, you bastard!” And the blade rose and fell, rose and fell, and the blood gushed out from the gaping mouths opening at random on his protesting flesh.

He lay supine, face turned up to the blazing sky, and still her madness and her anger were unsatisfied. Again and again, she thrust, screaming, screaming. She stopped, fell silent and met the stunned blindness in his dead eyes. Those pale still-shimmering eyes. She drew back the assegai, thrust it into his skull, tore out one offending sapphire orb.

She turned triumphant, painted in blood, assegai held high. “The blood of Napoleon! I take his blood, I take his face; I take what was taken from me. Their precious boy for mine; his eye for mine, his life and his death, MINE!” And she took the eye - the blue astonished eye on the end of her assegai - between her lips.

She took it, swallowed it, sucked up into her twisted lips the dangling threads of nerves and leaking veins. She stood in barbaric splendour, the high golden grass stroking her thighs, the breeze lifting the scarlet general's cape that was her tangled hair from her shoulders and smiled, victorious, exultant.

And they saw. They saw the dead boy, hanging upside-down, foot in the fatal stirrup, hair tousled: head dragging on the ground. They saw the blood, the hate, the madness in her. They saw devouring death in her.

Every part of life and joy and love in them rejected her. They stepped back. The Zulus,shuffling backwards in the tall grass; and the Boers, pulling on their reins, backing away from the furnace heat of her face.

She raised the assagai again. “We take this land! Together, we take this land. We break them and devour them, until there is none left. Even the children in the womb we shall take, until they are gone even from Port Natal; until we have cleansed this land.”

She smiled and they saw the blood of a young man on her lips, in her mouth, staining her teeth. They saw the blood of Nations dripping from her tongue. They saw; and they were young, enough, tender enough that the best part of them was still alive; and so they saw the spirit of War and were repulsed.

Manuela Cardiga

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