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C. S. (Cecil Scott) Forester.

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to his help, and he sprang forward with the little ax poised
beside his shoulder, ready to strike. Soli could not have re-
treated before him even if his rage had allowed; that would
have been defeat and death. He sprang to meet Loa, whirl-
ing the big ax round in a blow that would have cut Loa
diagonally in half had it struck him, but Loa managed to
wrench his body out of the way. Soli had a substantial cov-
ering of fat — as Loa once had had, when his divinity was
undisputed — but he was still agile and sure on his feet as
he had been when he was renowned as a dancer. He let the
swing of the ax carry him round and away, so that he was
facing Loa and out of his reach before Loa could spring in.
They eyed each other momentarily, prepared to circle round
each other. But Loa had at the back of his mind the bow and
arrow that Ura was fumbling with; he could neither waste
time nor stand clear so that Ura could have a free shot. In-
stinct still carried him along. He feinted to the right — the
natural direction for a right-handed man to take when
armed with an ax — and then instantly sprang to the left
and struck again, and only Soli's quickness of foot saved
him after the feint had deceived his eye. The big ax whistled
past Loa's shoulder; the little ax made a deep scratch in the
bulging flesh of Soli's right breast — only Soli's supple twist
at the hips prevented the blow from being fatal. As it was,
the gash it left was six inches long and an inch deep at its
deepest. A wordless cry broke from the crowd.

"Yaa-aa-aa," cried the crowd, as the red blood poured in
a broad stream down Soli's chest, red in the blinding sun-

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light, and vivid against the gHstening brown of SoK's skin.
Soh seemingly did not feel the wound; he brought his ax
round backhanded before Loa could recover from his blow,
and Loa had to retreat, with the big ax whirling before his
eyes so rapidly that, with each swing close upon the swing
before it, he had no time for a counterblow, but could only
back and sidle away, an inch from death at every swing. He
might have exhausted Soli's impetus in time, but the ground
was too restricted. Retreating fast, he backed into a specta-
tor who had not time to get out of the way, and bounced
forward under the swing of the ax, crashing breast to breast
against Soli. Instantly they locked together, their left hands
grasping the wrists of the right hands that held the axes;
breast against breast, hip against hip, they strained against
each other.

"Yaa-aa-aa," cried the crowd.

Loa put his left heel behind Soli's right to trip him up,
but Soli bent his body and swung with all his strength,
heaving Loa round so that both his feet almost left the
ground, but he clung on, dragging Soli with him so that
they swung together in an ungainly dance.

Musini, still on her knees, was watching intently; as they
circled her she shot out one hand, swift as a striking snake,
and caught Soli's ankle for one brief moment. It was only
for a moment before Soli's momentum carried him out of
her grip, but it was just long enough to put him off his bal-
ance. He nearly fell, and his grip on Loa's right wrist was
weakened with the effort of keeping his footing. Loa tore
his hand free. He had no time to strike with the edge of the

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

ax, but he stabbed upwards and sideways with the head of
it, hitting SoH below the left ear.

"Yaa — aa — aa," howled the crowd.

Soli weakened, so that Loa could swing him away from
him by his hold on Soli's right wrist, and could then strike
with all his strength at Soli's head with the edge. Soli flung
up his left arm to protect himself, and the keen little ax bit
deep into Soli's forearm just below the elbow, nearly sever-
ing it so that the limb dangled uselessly and the blood
spouted in a vivid scarlet jet against the sunshine. Yet even
then Soli kept his feet. Loa had released his right hand, and
Soli braced himself and swung his ax back, the effort spat-
tering Loa with blood from the severed arteries. Loa circled
out of harm's way, ready to spring in again, but the drain
upon Soli's strength was too great. He looked stupidly down
at his dangling forearm, and at the blood which poured
from it, and then his body sagged and he stumbled forward
on his knees, his leopardskin cloak still over his shoulders.
The nape of his neck was a clear target, and Loa struck at it,
quick and hard.

"Yaa-aa," murmured the crowd, hushed and subdued.

Loa looked about him, the drops of blood clotting on his
chest.

"It is Loa, our Lord," said Musini, on her knees. .

"Loa!" said the crowd, and they went down on their
knees too, their faces to the dust. Even Ura, with his bow in
one hand and his arrow in the other, and with a clear shot at
last open to him, went down on his knees along with the rest.
Nadini and the water-carrying girls, who had drawn close |

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

to see the fight, fell slowly prostrate. Only Loa remained on
his feet, and Lanu, who stood grinning in the sunlight, legs
straddled wide. Loa's eyes met his, and they smiled at each
other in utter accord.



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CHAPTER

X V

LoA TOOK HIS EYES FROM Lanu's and looked about him at
the groveling crowd. He ruled these people again, at least at
the moment. He was tired, and he wiped the streaming
sweat from his face with his forearm, but, tired though he
was, he knew that much was demanded of him on the in-
stant. He might be a god and king again, but he was a god
who had only recently fought for his life under the eyes
of these very people — a god, in other words, who might
soon be thought mortal if he did not act at once in a godlike
manner. There was no logic about the way Loa thought re-
garding all this; indeed, there was very little thought in-
volved. Most of what he did was done on the spur of the
moment, but it was enough to prove that he had profited
by his experiences.

He stalked over to the tripod stool and sat himself upon
it, the little ax across his knees,

"You may stand," he announced to the cowering multi-
tude, and they slowly got to their feet.

Loa looked round at them. He could not count them, but
his eye told him roughly how much the slavers' raid had
diminished their numbers. More than half of the population
of the town had been captured or killed by them. There

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

were some new babies, and more, obviously, still to come, so
that the population would soon increase and presumably
build itself up again to its natural figure. The thought of
babies brought his mind back abruptly to Ura and Nadini
— Ura, who had had the inordinate presumption to take
one of Loa's wives, and who had tried to draw an arrow dur-
ing Loa's fight with Soli. Loa was in no doubt about who
was the intended target for that arrow. He looked round
the crowd again more searchingly, to select men who
would be sure to do his bidding; that was a strange state
of mind for Loa, accustomed to instant and utter obedience
in his town. He had never had any need for an inner court
circle, for a Praetorian Guard, before this. There had never
been any possibility of division; loyalty and devotion to
him had been equal and universal, but that was not the case
now — the proof of that lay at his feet at that very mo-
ment. Ura, standing somewhere behind his shoulder, would
certainly object to what Loa had in mind.

"Mali," said Loa. "Famo. Peri."

The three young men whom he addressed anxiously
awaited his commands.

"Come and stand here," said Loa, indicating the space
immediately in front of him.

They came, in some trepidation. A great hush fell on
the waiting crowd. Loa ostentatiously kept it waiting. He
shifted his position on the stool, apparently in search of
greater comfort, but actually so that he could swivel round
towards Ura. He had Ura in sight now, and was able to
watch any move he might make. He repeated the young

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

men's names without deigning to look round at them; auto-
matically the dignified mode of address, of a great superior
to one vastly inferior, came to his tongue — he had hardly
employed it for months towards Musini and Lanu. The
young men stood tense.

"What I shall tell you to do, do it instantly," said Loa.

The crowd sighed nervously, and the young men stood
poised.

"Take hold of Ura!" roared Loa, suddenly, flinging out
his arm.

There was a flurry in the crowd. Mali, quicker oflF the
mark than the other two, headed the rush into the crowd,
but Ura had reacted slowly, taken completely by surprise.
No one knows what he might or might not have done, for
even before Mali reached him the people on either side of
Ura had laid hold of him.

"Bring him out here!" roared Loa, with an imperious ges-
ture, and they led him to the open space, beside Soli's corpse.

They held his arms, and Mali took away his bow and his
arrows.

"So," said Loa. "This is Ura. This is the man. Lift his
face up to the sun so that we can see him better."

Mali put his hand to Ura's chin and forced his head back.
Ura blinked with the sun in his eyes, but he made no motion
of resistance, paralyzed by the suddenness of all this. Loa
stared at him, and then looked round at the crowd. There
was no need for haste; a dignified slowness would be more |
impressive. Over there stood Nadini; she was looking at her
new husband with anxiety in her face, and Loa was torn |

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

with jealousy. He had never cared specially for Nadini, but
it was a dreadful, an unprecedented thing for a man to take
a wife of the god's without her being given to him as a great
favor and a great condescension, in the most formal man-
ner. Loa had intended to mention all this, but sudden pru-
dence dried up the words in his throat. There was nothing
to be gained, and much to be lost, by calling public atten-
tion to the fact that Loa might have mortal motives. It
would be far more impressive to be incomprehensible, to
offer no explanation for what he was going to do. For one
speech he substituted another.

"My father, whose name no one may utter save myself,
must have a new attendant. Nasa and his fathers await you,
Ura."

The crowd sighed again, but Ura said nothing. This was
inevitable death, and the lethargy of death was already
upon him. Ura might be said to be the first convert to the
renewed cult of Loa's divinity. Mali, anxious to be helpful,
looked down at the big ceremonial ax which still lay beside
the dead hand of Soli, but Loa ignored the hint. He gave his
orders for the preparation of the first stake of impalement
ever heard of in his town. He remembered well — too well
— the methods used by the Arab raiders to strike terror into
the hearts of their captives. The town listened in surprise,
with a buzz of comment, when Loa finished speaking; and
they watched the preparations with deep curiosity. A simple
beheading or strangulation was nothing new to them, but
this was. The first sound Ura uttered after his arrest was a
shriek of agony, but it was not the last, not nearly the last.

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Loa stole a glance at Nadini from under his brows; her
hands were clasped with the intensity of her emotion as she
watched Ura's writhings. Well and good. Then he looked
about him with growing distaste. He had never much liked
this end of the town.

**There is a curse upon this spot," he announced. "Not
even that" — with a glance at Ura dying on the stake —
"nor that" — with another glance at Soli's corpse — "can
quite take the curse away."

Here Soli had sat in judgment on his tripod stool; it was
not policy that was dictating Loa's words as much as bitter
prejudice.

"Tomorrow, Famo," went on Loa, "you will put a fence
round this spot, from over there, round there, to there. No
foot will tread on this earth. The bushes and the trees will
grow here. And until the fence is made, let no one trespass
upon this ground."

He rose from his stool; half a gesture from him was suffi-
cient to make a woman standing near him pick up the stool
to carry it after him. The crowd parted to let him through,
and tumbled on their faces as he walked past them, Nadini
too.

"Come with me, Nadini," said Loa, as he walked by her.

Here was Musini, crouching subserviently, and yet not
keeping still. Her shoulders were heaving, and she was writh-
ing as she knelt.

"How is it with you, Musini?" asked Loa.

Musini lifted a face that was apprehensive with pain and
wet with sweat.

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

"Lord," she said. "Lord — I — I — "

Another twinge of pain cut her words off short, for her
time had come upon her. Loa stirred the woman next to
her with his foot.

"Who are you? Maku? Then, Maku, attend to Musini.
Call for any help you may need.'*

Loa walked on up the street, with Nadini and Lanu and
the three young men following close behind him and the
rest of the town — save those who lingered to watch Ura's
agonies — streaming after them in loose formation, like the
nucleus and train of a comet. Nadini's baby still lay in the
shade of the eaves of the house here, and Loa, pausing to
look round him, looked meaningly at it, amused at the in-
stant reaction of Nadini's clasped hands. Whim, or mercy^
or policy, or satiation with blood, led Loa to take no further
action, to issue no further order, but to pass on.

"There," he said to Peri, pointing, "there, tomorrow,
you will build my house. It is to be long and high and
wide."

"Yes, Lord," said Peri.

"Meanwhile in that house there will I sleep tonight. See
to it."

Another gesture was sufficient to the woman bearing the
stool to put it down outside the doorway, but Loa did not
take his seat on it. He was no longer sitting in judgment,
he was abandoning for the time his official capacity and re-
tiring into privacy. He squatted in the shade of the eaves of
the house.

"You, Nadini, can keep the flies from me. You others

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST
may leave me. No. You — " He glanced up at the woman
who had been carrying the stool — "yo^ shall stay too.
Whose wife are you?"

The woman shrank back embarrassed; she tried to speak
but stuttered.

"Speak!" ordered Loa, but still she hesitated. "Speak, and
no harm will come to you. Whose wife are you?"

"I am the wife of no one, Lord. I — I was the wife of him
whose name I cannot speak. Of him whose arm you cut off,
Lord."

There was a horrified moment, for it was the worst of
bad luck for a mortal to say the name of, or even to allude
to, someone who was dead. But Loa was unembarrassed.

"I cut off more than his arm," he said with a chuckle. "As
a widow I shall give you in marriage again. See to it that
you speak to me about it later on."

The world was very good. He was home again, he was a
god once more. And this woman was well set up and hand-
some, he reflected, looking her over.

"What is your name?" he demanded.

"Subi, Lord. My father was of the family of Ko."

"That is so," said Loa, meditatively; he ran his eye over
Subi again, and then turned to look at Nadini. A distant
shriek from Ura came to his ears. It crossed his mind that
now he might order Ura to be slain, to put an end to his
sufferings, but he decided against it, at least for the mo-
ment. Life was good.

But here came an interruption. Several people were has-

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

tening towards him, but the urgency of their advance died
away as they neared him, and when they were within speak-
ing distance they began to hang back, each trying to leave
speech to the others.

"What is it?" asked Loa.

There was further hesitation, but the others shoved Maku
forward, the elderly woman whom Loa had ordered to at-
tend upon Musini.

Loa looked at her and waited for her to speak, but she
could not bring herself to do it.

"What is it?" asked Loa, much more testily.

In the annoyance in his voice there was an echo, a subtle
reminder of the stake of impalement, of the execution ax.
Maku gulped and forced herself to announce the bad news.
She at least was convinced of the arbitrariness and supreme
power of the god Loa, for, innocent herself, she feared the
wanton fate of a bearer of ill tidings.

"Musini, Lord."

"Well, what of JMusini?" ^

"Lord, she has given birth. To two children. Lord."

The others wailed in sympathy; Loa heard Nadini behind
his shoulder draw in her breath sharply. The birth of twins
was the worst of ill omens. People might think, as they al-
ways did in similar cases, that while Loa was the father of
one of the children some devil was the father of the other.
But this superstition was not the root of the matter. The
consternation caused by the birth of twins was much more
a matter of unreasoning fear. It was an unlucky thing to

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

happen, the unluckiest thing there was, much more unlucky
than even such a serious thing as seeing a monkey on the
ground to the left, or touching the lintel of a door with
one's head. Twin children must always be slain to avert
calamity. It was quite deplorable that this should have hap-
pened on the day of Loa's return, to Loa's own wife.

Maku screamed when Loa, thinking about all this, forgot
to take his eye off her. She was sure that she was destined at
the least to the stake of impalement, and she flung herself
groveling on the ground before him, her face in the dirt.

"Oh, stand up, stand up!" roared Loa. "Listen to what I
have to say."

They rose, whimpering, dust caking on the sweat of their
faces and bodies. Loa was having to think with extravagant
speed. He felt in his bones that it would be bad policy to
admit that Musini's twins portended evil, and with that
feeling well established inside him he was able to free him-
self from thralldom to the superstitions attendant on the
event. He had done without so many forms and ceremonies
in the last months, and survived their absence, he had had
so many beliefs shaken by his past experiences, that once a
reasonable argument could be advanced on the other side
he was willing to believe even that there was nothing omi-
nous about the birth of twins. But he could not present such
a revolutionary theory to his people. If he laughed at one
superstition, might they not laugh at another — at the the-
ory, for instance, that Loa was more than mortal? He must
do better than that; he must wring some advantage out of
this most unfortunate occurrence.

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

"What are the children?" he asked, more to gain time to
think than for any other reason.

"Boys, Lord. Both boys," repHed Maku, unable to keep
out of her voice some of her surprise that Loa should ask a
question so irrelevant to the issue.

"So," said Loa.

His struggle to think logically was reflected in his face,
so that the onlookers believed they saw the workings of a
spirit within him. He walked through the crowd of on-
lookers, which parted before him, and sat himself with the
dignity the occasion demanded upon his stool.

"This is the Word of Loa," he began, slowly, using the
ancient formula which gave his words so much weight that
it was the direst blasphemy to debate them. "Musini has
given two sons to Loa. Sons they are and sons they will be.
Let everyone be thankful for this gift. They will be mighty
men, killers of elephants and leopards. As they walk down
the street each person will touch another on the elbow and
will say *See, there walk the two sons of Loa.' Musini will
give them milk, and if she has not sufficient it will be a
fortunate woman who will share her duty. For this is the
day of the return of Loa from another world, and all that
happens on this day is good."

His audience was staring at him, almost unbelieving. The
point had to be made clearer, and Loa was warming to his
work.

"I return after these many days," said Loa. "And what
do I find? Where I left ten people there are no more than
five. Where are the young men and the young women?

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

Many, many children are needed to replace them. Here are
the first two that Loa brings out of his abundance. See you
to it, you women, that you do likewise."

The novelty of such a suggestion sent a tremor through
his audience.

"Soli, whose name I alone may speak, would have killed
these children. But where is Soli? He lies dead. The broad
ax of so much power was useless in his hands before this
little ax in mine."

Another shriek from Ura in the distance came as Loa
paused for breath, and he flung out his hand in the direc-
tion of the sound.

"Ura is waiting to bear the message to Nasa. He waits
impatiently. Mali!"

At his call Mali came forward, with head low in the pres-
ence of Loa speaking the Word of Loa.

"Lord?"

"Go you to Ura. Take with you a club, a club of iron or
a club of wood. Say to Ura: *To Nasa may you now go. Im-
patiently you wait. Bear with you this message to Nasa.
Loa has returned to his town and brought the two boys who
later will be men and who will serve Nasa.' Then when Ura
has heard the message he is to bear, you will strike him on
the head with your club. You will strike him with all the
strength you have, so that he will go quickly on his way.
Mali, have you heard the "Word of Loa?"

"I have heard, Lord."

"Then go. And you others have heard the Word of Loa.
Go!"

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They went, subdued and impressed, for the Word of Loa
still carried weight. Loa heard two more screams from Ura,
and then no more. He quitted the stool and went back to
the shade of the eaves. He was content; the great heat of the
day was over and here in the shade was almost a pleasant
coolness.

"Nadini! Subi!" he said. "Bring me food. Food for Lanu
and myself."

They glanced at each other, each of them exercising their
minds over what they would serve him.

"Hurry!" said Loa.

"Yes, Lord," said Nadini. "What may we bring you?"

"Food, I said!" roared Loa. "Food! Baked plantains in
oil — tapioca — give me food and not words."

"Yes, Lord," said Nadini, and she and Subi hastened
away.

If Nadini had ever been in any legal way the wife of Ura
she was his widow now, from the moment that Mali's club
had thumped upon Ura's skull. The child ought certainly
to die. And yet? The same argument applied as before, re-
garding unnecessarily calling the attention of people to any
human weaknesses Loa might have. And he had given his
Word regarding the necessity of repeopling the town. He
could not come to a decision about it at the moment. To
save himself the trouble of further thought on the point
he turned to Lanu, squatting silently at the side of the
house. Lanu had said not a word, he had kept in the back-
ground all this time; if he was not awed at the spectacle of

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THE SKY AND THE FOREST

his father reassuming his divinity he was at least impressed
by it to the point of silence.

"My son," said Loa, "we must find you a wife. You are
ready for one."

"Yes, Father — Lord."

"This little ax of so much power was once yours. I made
a present of it to you. Do you remember?"

"Yes, Lord."

It was the ax that had shaped bows and arrows for them
in the forest, which had cut creepers for them, which had
hacked a way for them through thickets. And many an
evening Lanu had squatted sharpening it on a smooth stone.
Yet despite his familiarity with it Lanu had to admit to
himself the likelihood, if not something stronger than likeli-
hood, that it was an ax of great power. And this father of
his, whom he had known to howl with terror at the light-
ning, who was perfectly capable of walking past an obvious
mushroom without seeing it, was yet Loa who sat on a tri-
pod stool and gave forth his Word. For that matter, he was
the same Loa who had led them back across the whole world,
through the unknown forest, back to the town. It was a
complex theological problem for a half-grown boy. And
there was something else worrying him to which he could
not help referring, so that he raised the subject abruptly.

"Do you think all is well with my mother?" asked Lanu.

"Your mother?"

Loa was naturally taken by surprise by the question. He
had had so much on his mind that there had simply not
been any room for Musini, not even for the Musini who

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had shown her devotion to him during the hungry pursuit
of the slavers' column, the Musini whose capture he had
once deplored so bitterly, for whom he had gladly risked his
own life. He had forgotten all about Musini even while he


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