The Emir Alhaji Mohammadu, the Galadima Dawakin, Kudo of Kano, boiled furiously within as his gold plated Rolls Royce progressed through the Saba N'Gari section of town, the quarter outside the dirt walls of the millennium old city. He rode seated alone in the middle of the rear seat and his single counselor sat beside the chauffeur. Before them, a jeep load of his bodyguard, dressed in their uniforms of red and green, cleared the way. Another jeep followed similarly laden.
They entered through one of the ancient gates and swept up the principal street. They stopped before the recently constructed luxury hotel in the center of town and the bodyguard leapt from the jeeps and took positions to each side of the entry. The counselor popped out from his side of the car and beat the chauffeur to the task of opening the Emir's door.
Emir Alhaji Mohammadu was a tall man and a heavy one, his white robed figure towered some six and a half feet and his scales put him over the three hundred mark. He was in his mid fifties and almost a quarter century of autocratic position had marked his face with permanent scowl. He stomped now into the western style hotel.
His counselor, Ahmadu Abdullah, had already procured the information necessary to locate the source of the Emir's ire and now scurried before his chief, leading the way to the suite occupied by the mysterious strangers. He banged heavily on the door, then stepped behind his master as it opened.
One of the strangers, clad western style, opened the door and stepped aside courteously motioning to the large inner room. The Emir strutted arrogantly inside and stared in high irritation at the second and elder stranger who sat there at a heavy table. This one came to his feet, but there was no sign of acknowledgment of the Emir's rank. It was not too long a time before that men prostrated themselves in Alhaji Mohammadu's presence.
He looked at them. Though both were of dark complexion, there seemed no manner of typing them. Certainly they were neither Hausa nor Fulani, there being no signs of Hamitic features, but neither were they Ibo or Yoruba from farther south. The Emir's eyes narrowed and he wondered if these two were Nigerians at all!
He barked at them in Hausa and the older answered him in the same language, though there seemed a certain awkwardness in its use.
Emir Alhaji Mohammadu blared, "You dare summon me, Kudo of this city? You presume—"
They had resumed seats behind the table and the two of them looked at him questioningly. The older one interrupted with a gently raised hand. "Why did you come?"
Still glaring, the Emir turned to the cringing Ahmadu Abdullah and motioned curtly for the counselor to speak. Meanwhile, the ruler's eyes went around the room, decided that the couch was the only seat that would accommodate his bulk, and descended upon it.
Ahmadu Abdullah brought a paper from the folds of his robes. "This lying letter. This shameless attack upon the Galadima Dawakin!"
The younger stranger said mildly, "If the charges contained there are incorrect, then why did you come?"
The Emir rumbled dangerously, ignoring the question. "What is your purpose? I am not a patient man. There has never been need for my patience."
The spokesman of the two, the older, leaned back in his chair and said carefully, "We have come to demand your resignation and self-exile."
A vein beat suddenly and wildly at the gigantic Emir's temple and for a full minute the potentate was speechless with outrage.
Ahmadu Abdullah said quickly, "Fantastic! Ridiculous! The Galadima Dawakin is lawful ruler and religious potentate of three million devoted followers. You are lying strangers come to cause dissention among the people of Kano and—"
The spokesman for the newcomers took up a sheaf of papers from the table and said, his voice emotionless, "The reason you came here at our request is because the charges made in that letter you bear are valid ones. For a quarter century, you, Alhaji Mohammadu, have milked your people to your own profit.
You have lived like a god on the wealth you have extracted from them. You have gone far, far beyond the legal and even traditional demands you have on the local population. Funds supposedly to be devoted to education, sanitation, roads, hospitals and a multitude of other developments that would improve this whole benighted area, have gone into your private pocket. In short, you have been a cancer on your people for the better part of your life."
"All lies!" roared the Kudo.
The other shook his head. "No. We have carefully gathered proof. We can submit evidence to back every charge we have made. Above all, we can prove the existence of large sums of money you have smuggled out of the country to Switzerland, London and New York to create a reserve for yourself in case of emergency. Needless to say, these funds, too, were originally meant for the betterment of the area."
The Emir's eyes were narrow with hate. "Who are you? Whom do you represent?"
"What difference does it make? This is of no importance."
"You represent my son, Alhaji Fodio! This is what comes of his studies in England and America. This is what comes of his leaving Kano and spending long years in Lagos among those unbeliever communists in the south!"
The younger stranger chuckled easily. "That is about the last tag I would hang on your son's associates," he said in English.
But the older stranger was nodding. "It is true that we hope your son will take over the Emirate. He represents progress. Frankly, his plans are to end the office as soon as the people are educated to the point where they can accept such change."
"End the office!" the Emir snarled. "For a thousand years my ancestors—"
The spokesman of the strangers shook his head wearily. "Your ancestors conquered this area less than two centuries ago in a jehad led by Othman Dan.
Since then, you Fulani have feudalistically dominated the Hausa, but that is coming to an end."
The Emir had come to his feet again, in his rage, and now he towered over the table behind which the two sat as though about to physically attack them. "You speak as fools," he raged.
"Are you so stupid as to believe that these matters you have brought up are understandable to my people? Have you ever seen my people?" He sneered in a caricature of humor. "My people in their grass and bush huts? With not one man in a whole village who can add sums higher than those he can work out on his fingers? With not one man who can read the English tongue, nor any other?
Would you explain to these the matters of transferring gold to the Zürich banks? Would you explain to these what is involved in accepting dash from road contractors and from politicians in Lagos?"
He sneered at them again. "And do you realize that I am church as well as state? That I represent their God to my people? Do you think they would take your word against _mine_ , their Kudo?"
In talking, he had brought a certain calm back to himself. Now he felt reassured at his own words. He wound it up. "You are fools to believe my people could understand such matters."
"Then actually, you don't deny them?"
"Why should I bother?" the Emir chuckled heavily.
"That you have taken for personal use the large sums granted this area from a score of sources for roads, hospitals, schools, sanitation, agricultural modernization?"
"Of course I don't deny it. This is my land. I am the Kudo, the Emir, the Galadima Dawakin. Whatever I choose to do in Kano and to all my people is right because I wish it. Schools? I don't want them corrupting my people.
Hospitals for these Hausa serfs? Nonsense! Roads? They are bad for they allow the people to get about too easily and that leads to their exchanging ideas and schemes and leads to their corruption. Have I appropriated all such sums for my own use? Yes! I admit it. Yes! But you cannot prove it to such as my people, you who represent my son. So be-gone from Kano. If you are here tomorrow, you will be arrested by the same men of my bodyguard who even now seek my son, Alhaji Fodio. When he is captured, it will be of interest to revive some of the methods of execution of my ancestors."
The Emir turned on his heel to stalk from the room but the older of the two murmured, "One moment, please."
Alhaji Mohammadu paused, his face dark in scowl again.
The spokesman said agreeably, "It is true that your people, and particularly your Hausa serfs, have no understanding of international finance nor of national corruption methods such as the taking of _dash_. However, they are susceptible to other proof." The other man raised his voice. "John!"
From an inner room came another stranger, making their total number three. He was grinning and in one hand held a contraption which boasted a conglomeration of lenses, switches, microphones, wires and triggers. "Got it perfectly," he said. You'd think it had all been rehearsed.
While the Emir and his counselor stared in amazement, the spokesman of the strangers said, "How long before you can project?"
The other young man left the room and returned with what was obviously a movie projector. He set it up at one end of the table, pointed at a white wall, and plugged it in to a convenient outlet.
Before the Emir had managed to control himself beyond the point of saying any more than, "What is all this?" the cameraman had brought a magazine of film from his instrument and inserted it in the projector.
The photographer said conversationally, to the hulking potentate, "You'd be amazed at the advances in cinema these past few years. Film speed, immediate development, portable sound equipment. You'd be amazed."
Someone flicked out the greater part of the room's light. The projector buzzed and on the wall was thrown a re-enactment of everything that had been said and done in the room for the past ten minutes.
When it was over, the lights went on again.
The spokesman said conversationally, "I assume that if this film were shown throughout the villages, even your Hausa serfs would be convinced that throughout your reign you have systematically robbed them."
Emir Alhaji Mohammadu, the Galadima Dawakin, Kudo of Kano, his face in shock, turned and stumbled from the room.
The gymkhana, or fantasia as it is called in nearby Morocco, was under full swing before Abd-el-Kader and the camel- and horse-mounted warriors of his Ouled Touameur clan came dashing in, rifles held high and with great firing into the air. The Ouled Touameur were the noblest clan of the Ouled Allouch tribe of the Berazga division of the Chaambra nomad confederation—the noblest and the least disciplined. There were whispered rumors going about the conference as to the identity of the mysterious raiders who were preying upon the new oases, the oil and road building camps and the endless other new projects springing up, all but magically, throughout the northwestern Sahara.
The gymkhana was in full swing with racing and feasting, and storytellers and conjurers, jugglers and marabouts. And in the air was the acrid distinctive odor of _kif_ , for though Mohammed forbade alcohol to the faithful he had naught to say about the uses of _cannabis sativa_ and what is a great festival without the smoking of _kif_ and the eating of _majoun_?
The tribes of the Chaambra were widely represented, Berazga and Mouadhi, Bou Rouba and Ouled Fredj, and there was even a heavy sprinkling of the sedentary Zenatas come down from the towns of Metlili, El Oued and El Goléo. Then, of course, were the Haratin serfs, of mixed Arab-Negro blood, and the Negroes themselves, until recently openly called slaves, but now—amusingly—named servants.
The Chaambra were meeting for a great ceremonial gymkhanas, but also, as was widely known, for a _djemaa el kebar_ council of elders and chiefs, for there were many problems throughout the Western Erg and the areas of Mzab and Bourara. Nor was it secret only to the inner councils that the meeting had been called by Abd-el-Kader, of Shorfu blood, direct descendent of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima, and symbol to the young warriors of Chaambra spirit.
Of all the Ouled Touameur clan Abd-el-Kader alone refrained from discharging his gun into the air as they dashed into the inner circle of khaima tents which centered the gymkhana and provided council chambers, dining hall and sleeping quarters for the tribal and clan heads. Instead, and with head arrogantly high, he slipped from his stallion tossing the reins to a nearby Zenata and strode briskly to the largest of the tents and disappeared inside.
_Bismillah!_ but Adb-el-Kader was a figure of a man! From his turban, white as the snows of the Atlas, to his yellow leather boots, he wore the traditional clothing of the Chaambra and wore them with pride. Not for Abd-el- Kader the new clothing from the Rouma cities to the north, nor even the new manufactures from Dakar, Accra, Lagos and the other mushrooming centers to the south.
His weapons alone paid homage to the new ways. And each fighting man within eyesight noted that it was not a rifle slung over the shoulder of Abd-el-Kader but a sub-machine gun. Bismillah! This could not have been so back in the days when the French Camel Corps ruled the land with its hand of iron.
The djemaa el kebar was already in session, seated in a great circle on the rug and provided with glasses of mint tea and some with water pipes. They looked up at the entrance of the warrior clan chieftain.
El Aicha, who was of Maraboutic ancestry and hence a holy man as well as elder of the Ouled Fredj, spoke first as senior member of the conference. "We have heard reports that are disturbing of recent months, Abd-el-Kader. Reports of activities amongst the Ouled Touameur. We would know more of the truth of these. But also we have high interest in your reason for summoning the djemaa el kebar at such a time of year."
Abd-el-Kader made a brief gesture of obeisance to the Chaambra leader, a gesture so brief as to verge on disrespect. He said, his voice clear and confident, as befits a warrior chief, "Disturbing only to the old and unvaliant, O El Aicha."
The old man looked at him for a long, unblinking moment. As a youth, he had fought at the Battle of Tit when the French Camel Corps had broken forever the military power of the Ahaggar Tuareg. El Aicha was no coward. There were murmurings about the circle of elders.
But when El Aicha spoke again, his voice was level. "Then speak to us, Abd-el- Kader. It is well known that your voice is heard ever more by the young men, particularly by the bolder of the young men."
The fighting man remained standing, his legs slightly spread. The Arab, like the Amerind, likes to make speech in conference, and eloquence is well held by the Chaambra.
"Long years ago, and only shortly after the death of the Prophet, the Chaambra resided, so tell the scribes, in the hills of far away Syria. But when the word of Islam was heard and the true believers began to race their strength throughout all the world, the Chaambra came here to the deserts of Africa and here we have remained. Long centuries it took us to gain control of the wide areas of the northern and western desert and many were the battles we fought with our traditional enemies the Tuareg and the Moors before we controlled all the land between the Atlas and the Niger and from what is now known as Tunisia to Mauritania."
All nodded. This was tribal history.
Abd-el-Kader held up four fingers on which to enumerate. "The Chaambra were ever men. Warriors, bedouin; not for us the cities and villages of the Zenatas, and the miserable Haratin serfs. We Chaambra have ever been men of the tent, warriors, conquerors!"
El Aicha still nodded. "That was before," he murmured.
"That will always be!" Abd-el-Kader insisted. His four fingers were spread and he touched the first one. "Our life was based upon, one, war and the spoils of war." He touched the second finger. "Two, the toll we extracted from the caravans that passed from Timbuktu to the north and back again. Three, from our own caravans which covered the desert trails from Tripoli to Dakar and from Marrakech to Kano. And fourth"—he touched his last finger—"from our flocks which fed us in the wilderness." He paused to let this sink in.
"All this is verily true," muttered one of the elders, a _so-what_ quality in his voice.
Abd-el-Kader's tone soured. "Then came the French with their weapons and their multitudes of soldiers and their great wealth with which to pursue the expenses of war. And one by one the Tuareg and the Teda to the south and the Moors and Nemadi, yes, and even the Chaambra fell before the onslaughts of the Camel Corps and their wild-dog Foreign Legion." He held up his four fingers again and counted them off. "The four legs upon which our life was based were broken. War and its spoils was prevented us. The tolls we charged caravans to cross our land were forbidden. And then, shortly after, came the motor trucks which crossed the desert in a week, where formerly the journey took as much as a year. Our camel caravans became meaningless."
Again all nodded. "Verily, the world changes," someone muttered.
The warrior leader's voice went dramatic. "We were left with naught but our flocks, and now even they are fated to end."
The elderly nomads stirred and some scowled.
"At every water hole in the desert teams of the new irrigation development dig their wells, install their pumps which bring power from the sun, plant trees, bring in Haratin and former slaves— _our_ slaves—to cultivate the new oases.
And we are forbidden the water for the use of our goats and sheep and camels."
"Besides," one of the clan chiefs injected, "they tell us that the goat is the curse of North Africa, nibbling as it does the bark of small trees, and they attempt to purchase all goats until soon there will be few, if any, in all the land."
"So our young people," Abd-el-Kader pressed on, "stripped of our former way of life, go to the new projects, enroll in the schools, take work in the new oases or on the roads, and disappear from the sight of their kinsmen." He came to a sudden halt and all but glared at them, maintaining his silence until El Aicha stirred.
"And—?" El Aicha said. This was all obviously but preliminary.
Abd-el-Kader spoke softly now, and there was a different drama in his voice.
"And now," he said, "the French are gone. All the Rouma, save a handful, are gone. In the south the English are gone from the lands of the blacks, such as Nigeria and Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia. The Italians are gone from Libya and Somaliland and the Spanish from Rio de Oro. Nor will they ever return for in the greatest council of all the Rouma they have decided to leave Africa to the African."
They all stirred again and some muttered and Abd-el-Kader pushed his point.
"The Chaambra are warriors born. Never serfs! Never slaves! Never have we worked for any man. Our ancestors carved great empires by the sword." His voice lowered again. "And now, once more, it is possible to carve such an empire."
He swept his eyes about their circle. "Chiefs of the Chaambra, there is no force in all the Sahara to restrain us. Let others work on the roads, planting the new trees in the new oases, damming the great Niger, and all the rest of it. We will sweep over them, and dominate all. We, the Chaambra, will rule, while those whom Allah intended to drudge, do so. We, the Chosen of Allah, will fulfill our destiny!"
Abd-el-Kader left it there and crossed his arms on his chest, staring at them challengingly.
Finally El Aicha directed his eyes across the circle of listeners at two who had sat silently through it all, their burnooses covering their heads and well down over their eyes. He said, "And what do you say to all this?"
"Time to go into your act, man," Abe Bakr muttered, under his breath.
Homer Crawford came to his feet and pushed back the hood of the burnoose. He looked over at the headman of the Ouled Touameur warrior clan, whose face was darkening.
In Arabic, Crawford said, "I have sought you for some time, Abd-el-Kader. You are an illusive man."
"Who are you, Negro?" the fighting man snapped.
Crawford grinned at the other. "You look as though you have a bit of Negro blood in your own veins. In fact, I doubt if there's a so-called Arab in all North Africa, unless he's just recently arrived, whose family hasn't down through the centuries mixed its blood with the local people they conquered."
Abe chuckled from the background. The Chaambra leader was at least as dark of complexion as the American Negro. Not that it made any difference one way or the other.
"We shall see who is the liar here," Homer Crawford said flatly. "You asked who I am. I am known as Omar ben Crawf and I am headman of a team of the African Development Project of the Reunited Nations. As you have said, Abd-el- Kader, this great council of the headmen of all the nations of the world—not just the Rouma—has decided that Africa must be left to the Africans. But that does not mean it has lost all interest in these lands. It has no intention, warrior of the Chaambra, to allow such as you to disrupt the necessary progress Africa must make if it is not to become a danger to the shaky peace of the world."
Abd-el-Kader's eyes darted about the tent. So far as he could see, the other was backed only by his single henchman. The warrior chief gained confidence.
"Power is for those who can assert it. Some will rule. It has always been so.
Here in the Western Erg, the Chaambra will rule, and I, Abd-el-Kader will lead them!"
Homer Crawford was shaking his head, almost sadly it seemed. "No," he said.
"The day of rule by the gun is over. It must be over because at long last man's weapons have become so great that he must not trust himself with them.
In the new world which is still aborning so that half the nations of earth are in the pains of labor, government must be by the most wise and most capable."
In a deft move the sub-machine gun's sling slipped from the desert man's shoulder and the short, vicious gun was in hand. "The strong will always rule!" the Arab shouted. "Time was when the French conquered the Chaambra, but the French have allowed their strength to ebb away, and now, armed with such weapons as these, we of the Sahara will again assert our birthright as the Chosen of Allah!"
Abe Baker chuckled. "That cat sure can lay on a speech, man." As though magically, a snub-nosed hand weapon of unique design appeared in his dark hand.
El Aicha's voice was suddenly strong and harsh. "There shall be no violence at a djemaa el kebar."
Homer ignored the automatic weapon in the hands of the excited Arab. He said, and there was still a sad quality in his voice. "The gun you carry is a nothing-weapon, desert man. When the French conquered this land more than a century ago they were armed with single-shot rifles which were still far in advance of your own long barrelled flintlocks. Today, you are proud of that tommy gun you carry, and, indeed, it has the fire power of a company of the Foreign Legion of a century past. However, believe me, Abd-el-Kader, it is a nothing-weapon compared to those that will be brought against the Chaambra if they heed your words."
The desert leader put back his head and laughed his scorn.
He chopped his laughter short and snapped, more to the council of chiefs than to the stranger. "Then we will seize such weapons and use them against those who would oppose us. In the end it is the strong who win in war, and the Rouma have gone soft, as all men know. I, Abd-el-Kader will have these two killed and then I shall announce to the assembled tribes the new jedah, a Holy War to bring the Chosen of Allah once again to their rightful position in the Sahara."
"Man," Abe Baker murmured pleasantly, "you're going to be one awful disappointed cat before long."
El Aicha said mildly, "Such decisions are for the djemaa el kebar to make, O Abd-el-Kader, not for a single chief of the Ouled Touameur."
The desert warrior chief sneered openly at the old man. "Decisions are made by those with the strength to enforce them. The young men of the Chaambra support me, and my men surround this tent."
"So do mine," Homer Crawford said decisively. "And I have come to arrest you and take you to Columb-Béchar where you will be tried for your participation in recent raids on various development projects."
El Aicha repeated his earlier words. "There shall be no violence at a djemaa el kebar."
The Ouled Touameur chief's eyes had narrowed. "You are not strong enough to take me."
In English, Abe Baker said, "Like maybe these young followers of this cat need an example laid on them, man."
The younger American came to his feet. "I'll take him on," Abe said.
"No, he's nearer to my size," Crawford grunted. He turned to El Aicha, and said in Arabic, "I demand the right of a stranger in your camp to a trial by combat."
"On what grounds?" the old man scowled.
"That my manhood has been spat upon by this warrior who does his fighting with his loud mouth."
The assembled chiefs looked to Abd-el-Kader, and a rustling sigh went through them. A hundred times the wiry desert chieftain had proven himself the most capable fighter in the tribes. A hundred times he had proven it and there were dead and wounded in the path he had cut for himself.
Abd-el-Kader laughed aloud again. "Swords, in the open before the ascan."
Homer Crawford shrugged. "Swords, in the open before the assembled Chaambra so that they may see how truly weak is the one who calls himself so strong."
Abe said worriedly, in English, "Listen, man, you been checked out on swords?"
"They're the traditional weapon in the Arab _code duello_ ," Homer said, with a wry grin. "Nothing else would do."
"Man, you sound like you've been blasting pot and got yourself as high as those cats out there with their _kif_. This Abd-el-Kader was probably raised with a sword in his hand."
Abd-el-Kader smiling triumphantly, had spun on his heel and made his way through the tent's entrance. Now they could hear him shouting orders.
El Aicha looked up at Homer Crawford from where he sat. His voice without inflection, he said, "Hast thou a sword, Omar ben Crawf?"
"No," Crawford said.
The elderly tribal leader said, "Then I shall loan you mine." He hesitated momentarily, before adding, "Never before has hand other than mine wielded it." And finally, simply, "Never has it been drawn to commit dishonor."
"I am honored."
Outside, the rumors had spread fast and already a great arena was forming by the packed lines of Chaambra nomads. At the tent entrance, Elmer Allen, his face worried, said, his English in characteristic Jamaican accent, "What did you chaps do?"
"Duel," Abe growled apprehensively. "This joker here has challenged their top swordsman to a fight."
Elmer said hurriedly, "See here, gentlemen, the hovercraft are parked over behind that tent. We can be there in two minutes and away from—"
Crawford's eyes went from Elmer Allen to Abe Baker and then back again. He chuckled, "I don't think you two think I'm going to win this fight," he said.
"What do you know about swordsmanship?" Elmer Allen said accusingly.
"Practically nothing. A little bayonet practice quite a few years ago."
"Oh, great," Abe muttered.
Elmer said hurriedly, "See here, Homer, I was on the college fencing team and—"
Crawford grinned at him. "Too late, friend."
As they talked, they made their way to the large circle of men. In its center, Abd-el-Kader was stripping to his waist, meanwhile laughingly shouting his confidence to his Ouled Touameur tribesmen and to the other Chaambra of fighting age. No one seemed to doubt the final issue. Beneath his white burnoose he wore a gandoura of lightweight woolen cloth and beneath that a longish undershirt of white cotton, similar to that of the Tuareg but with shorter and less voluminous sleeves. This the desert fighter retained.
Crawford stripped down too, nude to the waist. His body was in excellent trim, muscles bunching under the ebony skin. A Haratin servant came up bearing El Aicha's sword.
Homer Crawford pulled it from the scabbard. It was of scimitar type, the weapon which had once conquered half the known world.
From within the huge circle of men, Abd-el-Kader swung his own blade in flashing arcs and called out something undoubtedly insulting, but which was lost in the babble of the multitude.
"Well, here we go," Crawford grunted. "You fellows better station yourselves around just on the off chance that those Ouled Touameur bully-boys don't like the decision."
"We'll worry about that," Abe said unhappily. "You just see you get out of this in one piece. Anything happens to you and the head office'll make me head of this team—and frankly, man I don't want the job."
Homer grinned at him, and began pushing his way through to the center.
The Arab cut a last switch in the air, with his whistling blade and started forward, in practiced posture. Homer awaited him, legs spread slightly, his hands extended slightly, the sword held at the ready but with point low.
Abe Baker growled, unhappily, "He said he didn't know anything about the swords, and the way he holds it bears him out. That Arab'll cut Homer to ribbons. Maybe we ought to do something about it." As usual, under stress, he'd dropped his beatnik patter.
Elmer Allen looked at him. "Such as what? There are at least three thousand of these tribesmen chaps here watching their favorite sport. What did you have in mind doing?"
Abd-el-Kader hadn't remained the victor of a score of similar duels through making such mistakes as underestimating his foe. In spite of the black stranger's seeming ignorance of his weapon, the Arab had no intention of being sucked into a trap. He advanced with care.
His sword darted forward, quickly, experimentally, and Homer Crawford barely caught its razor edge on his own.
Save for his own four companions, the crowd laughed aloud. None among them were so clumsy as this.
The Ouled Touameur chief was convinced. He stepped in fast, the blade flicked in and out in a quick feint, then flicked in again. Homer Crawford countered clumsily.
And then there was a roar as the American's blade left his hand and flew high in the air to come to the ground again a score of feet behind the desert swordsman.
For a brief moment Abd-el-Kader stepped back to observe his foe, and there was mockery in his face. "So thy manhood has been spat upon by one who fights only with his mouth! Almost, braggart, I am inclined to give you your life so that you may spend the rest of it in shame. Now die, unbeliever!"
Crawford stood hopelessly, in a semicrouch, his hands still slightly forward.
The Arab came in fast, his sword at the ready for the death stroke.
Suddenly, the American moved forward and then jumped a full yard into the air, feet forward and into the belly of the advancing Arab. The heavily shod right foot struck at the point in the abdomen immediately below the sternum, the solar plexus, and the left was as low as the groin. In a motion that was almost a bounce off the other's body, Crawford came lithely back to his feet, jumped back two steps, crouched again.
But Abd-el-Kader was through, his eyes popping agony, his body writhing on the ground. The whole thing, from the time the Arab had advanced on the disarmed man for the kill, hadn't taken five seconds.
His groans were the only sounds which broke the unbelieving silence of the Chaambra tribesmen. Homer Crawford picked up the fallen leader's sword and then strolled over and retrieved that of El Aicha. Ignoring Abd-el-Kader, he crossed to where the tribal elders had assembled to watch the fight and held out the borrowed sword to its owner.
El Aicha sheathed it while looking into Homer Crawford's face. "It has still never been drawn to commit dishonor."
"My thanks," Crawford said.
Over the noise of the crowd which now was beginning to murmur its incredulity at their champion's fantastic defeat, came the voice of Abe Baker swearing in Arabic and yelling for a way to be cleared for him. He was driving one of the hovercraft.
He drew it up next to the still agonized Abd-el-Kader and got out accompanied by Bey-ag-Akhamouk. Silently and without undue roughness they picked up the fallen clan chief and put him into the back of the hover-lorry, ignoring the crowd.
Homer Crawford came up and said in English, "All right, let's get out of here.
Don't hurry, but on the other hand don't let's prolong it. One of those Ouled Touameur might collect himself to the point of deciding he ought to rescue his leader."
Abe looked at him disgustedly. "Like, where'd you learn that little party trick, man?"
Crawford yawned. "I said I didn't know anything about swords. You didn't ask me about judo. I once taught judo in the Marines."
"Well, why didn't you take him sooner? He like to cut your head off with that cheese knife before you landed on him."
"I couldn't do it sooner. Not until he knocked the sword out of my hand. Until then it was a sword fight. But as soon as I had no sword then in the eyes of every Chaambra present, I had the right to use any method possible to save myself."
Bey-ag-Akhamouk looked up at the sun to check the time. "We better speed it up if we want to get this man to Columb-Béchar and then get on down over the desert to Timbuktu and that meeting."
"Let's go," Homer said. The second hovercraft joined them, driven by Elmer Allen, and they made their way through the staring, but motionless, crowds of Chaambra.