Morning had come without much fanfare. Wilson had become so used to waking up to a sun that rose in the sky like a hot air balloon, and sizzled all day, quivering with heat. He didn't so much mind the drizzle; he rather welcomed it. It washed the sweaty stench from his uniform and cooled his heat-addled head. The problem was, he had told the men he would march at daybreak, but daybreak had already come and gone without Wilson knowing. It had been one endless loll of grey, seeping slowly into the sky like suffuse from a teabag.

As a result, they had started moving nearly twenty minutes late, he presumed. Wilson hated being late, even moreso when he knew it was his fault.

"Major!" cried a man riding on a horse beside him. "Where exactly are we going, sir?" The man's name was Dillon, a Captain by virtue of being nephew to one of Victoria's favorite hairdressers. He was a very prim young man, tall and habitually erect, clean and close-shaved, when situations allowed. Having been away from the Fort so long, he had grown a fine stubble, fine enough to show he still had a fair amount of growing to do. Wilson, by contrast, was older, though not by as much as his face suggested, and slightly hunched, and had nearly grown a robust beard in his extended time away from razors and towels.

"We are to patrol this side of the river," Wilson told him, "Major Forbes believes that Lobengula and his troops are preparing to cross it at a shallow junction a few miles from here."

"Well, sir," Dillon said, "Don't you feel like we're going a little slow to catch up them? I mean, they are much quicker than we, but not than our horses."

Wilson had no choice but to maintain a meager pace. In addition to three mounted officers, Forbes had allocated him twelve unmounted soldiers, six from Wilson's own brigade at Fort Salisbury, and six from Forbes' Victorian Column. The men trudged along in a hurried gait, their boots sticking in the fresh mud. "Three horses and three men are no match for a thousand Africans," Wilson said, knowing quite consciously that three horses and fifteen men had little chance of doing better. He hoped that Forbes would cut them off on the other side of the river, as he had set off to do with ten horses and seventy men the previous night.

"Yes, sir," said the Hairdresser's Nephew, and dropped his horse's step just enough so that he was no longer riding eye-and-eye with his commanding officer.

There was one in every company, Wilson knew, one troublemaker or one sloth, the one who would make everything fall apart if you didn't keep him in line. He suspected, with a fair amount of surety, that in his modest company it was Dillon.

The other mounted officer was named Borrow. He lingered in the back, watching the troops with measured uninterest, licking his lips as if parched. He had no water, Wilson knew, he had watched him drink his entire canteen the day before. Borrow was a Captain in the Bechuanaland Border Police, having entered Her Majesty's Service after finding little success as a bobby in England. Wilson knew, from speaking with the other Policemen on assignment, that he had been assigned to command the patrols of the Western border, far from Cecil Rhodes' great campaign, which cut through the middle of Bechuanaland as easy as if it were a grapefruit, establishing forts and seizing power in savage villages in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, and far from any action at all. He was as remiss as Dillon was uptight. Nonetheless, he had risen through the ranks due to his unrivaled willingness to shoot anything that got in his way, African or otherwise. He had once injured a Lieutenant of the Victorian Column by shooting him square in the shoulder, excusing himself by saying that he had thought the officer to be a gazelle.

So maybe this company has two of them. At least the men seemed to be hard, intelligent workers.

Six of them he knew from his own company at Salisbury. He had been allowed to pick six men for the duty, and he had picked his favorites. There was nothing especially clever or talented about them, but they were loyal and would follow his orders with obedience and precision. The other six he had only begun to study. They kept mostly reticent, except for one, whose name was Colenbrander. Or was it Cullenbrander? No. It was definitely Colenbrander. He was loud and rather obnoxious. For the past half an hour he had been telling stories about the time he had been a part of the Pioneer Column with the great Cecil Rhodes, and how he had personally overseen the establishment of Fort Victoria at Masvingo. Wilson did nothing to stop his unnecessary loudness, the rain was loud enough to mix his words into a bird call or imagined nonsense more than a few yards away. But the Major was close enough to hear what he was saying:

"Did you know that it was my idea to name it after the Queen? Yes. Old Cecil has a lot to thank me for on that one."

Wilson felt the blood rush into his face. He had been a Major for thirteen years in the African guard, and never once had he even so much caught a glimpse of Cecil Rhodes, who was forever off somewhere conquering cities and spreading missionaries. From the Cape to Cairo! And no stops along the way! And to think that this upstart had the insolence to say that he had named the Fort instead of Rhodes.

Wilson wondered whether in a battle he'd rather have Borrow unmitigatedly shooting his gun, or Colenbrander shooting off his mouth.

"It's a surprise," the upstart was telling his unfortunate companion, "that I didn't make officer within weeks. I could see that Cecil admired my work, but I think he was a little jealous that I was able to motivate his troops better than he. Yes, I suppose I was the keystone of the brigade…"

"Soldier," Wilson interrupted. Colenbrander stopped speaking almost instantly. "I've been listening for the past twenty minutes about how you single-handedly led Cecil Rhodes' own column, how you killed nearly fifty rebel Africans, and how you were the saving grace of the entire campaign. I'll have no more of it." Colenbrander seemed to be making a point by staring directly into his commanding officer's eyes while he was being lectured. "Firstly, you're not with Major Forbes and the rest of the troops right now—you're obviously expendable in his eyes. Secondly, no one is the saving grace of any of my campaigns—you either fight as a team or you die alone. Do you understand, soldier?"

"Yes, sir," replied Colenbrander, while a couple of the other soldiers snickered.

"Give 'im a break," said Bobby Borrow. "At least he's out here fighting. Where's Cecil Rhodes now? Probably back at Fort Victoria, sipping tea and waiting for Lobengula's body to come rolling in on a cart."

The rain began to thicken.

Nagura stopped in his tracks. From head to toe, he looked like a British soldier, if one with a terrible tailor. He wore a pair of khaki slacks and button-down dress shirt, with knee-high boots. A pith helmet kept the rain from his eyes. Usually he hated wearing the pith helmet, it was almost too British for him, but in the rain is more useful than irritating.

The clothes had been given to them by the British, along with the rifle he had slung low around his shoulder. They had been part of a deal Lobengula had made with the British leader, in exchange for mining rights in the area. The Matabale had thought they had been getting the better side of the arrangement—they had clothes, and guns, and relative immunity, and all the British wanted to do was dig a big hole. But the few British became many, and the hole became a crevasse. The arrangement began to look less and less inviting as they pushed through the Bulawayo region, digging and conquering neighboring tribes. First it was the Shona, then the Nbato, and soon Lobengula and the rest of the Matabale had become uneasy. Their relative immunity had become a threatened immunity, and when a few Matabale came too close to the hole, to the crevasse, the British began to fear their own immunity, and a soldier was left dead.

Nagura could remember it well. Lobengula had said before a mass of all of his soldiers, "Today we are the last standing peoples in Bulawayo. For years we have fought the Shona, and Nbato, and many have died bravely. But today we fight a greater enemy, an enemy like malaria, that creeps on silent wings into our homes and refuses to leave. This enemy has killed one of our own, and I say to you that it is not one man who has died, but it is all of us. When one man dies, we all die. When one man rejoices, we all rejoice. We are one people and must act as one people." And so they prepared to stand against the coming invasion. But the British, as few as there were in the force that pushed the Matabale from Masvingo, they were stronger, and smarter.

And so they ran as one people. Nagura knew that this was the wisest decision. They could not fight the British in Masvingo, they knew the area too well. They must draw them out into the thickets of the Bulawayo jungle, rife with mosquitoes and snakes and situations with which the British had no experience, while the Matabale had dealt with them for years. There would be their victory.

"Matabale!" Nagura called out. "Here the river is shallow!" The river became smaller as it wound through the jungle to the north of Bulawayo, but here it was shallow enough that Nagura knew they could cross. Hopefully the British would have more trouble. One of the British soldiers which had populated Masvingo before the collapse of their friendship had told Nagura (He knew a little English, enough to discern what the man was telling him) that there was a river in England, a big one, but when they crossed it they used massive boats. Certainly today they had no boats. "Cross quickly! They are not far away!" A scout had notified them that the British were following, on horses, but at marching pace. They would outrun them yet.

Colenbrander had stopped talking. He looked miserable, marching in the pouring rain. Wilson guessed that he had never had to march in the rain as part of Rhodes' campaign. When it rained, they set up camp. They made hot tea with their kettles and slept through the day, never once thinking that maybe a day marching in the rain would put them that much closer to their goal. From the Cape to Cairo! But making several stops along the way! Rhodes was a great military commander, Wilson had no doubt; he had pushed through the veldt with amazing ease, but he had his own eccentricities. What Bobby Borrow had said was itching—where was Cecil Rhodes? Wasn't this his dirty work? A good General always knows what he can do, and when to give the assignment to someone else, Wilson supposed. And that's what Rhodes was. A good General.

He wondered how Forbes was doing. The other Major had split the army into three groups, Wilson's, and the expansive one he took with him across the river, and a third to raid the city of Onoga to the north. It was the last stronghold of the Matabale, and if Captain Stewart, who had taken twenty minute with him, could bring it to the ground, Lobengula and the other Matabale would have nowhere to go but further north, into the vacant grasslands. The British had supply chains all across the continent—the Matabale did not.

It would be satisfying. Wilson could imagine finding Lobengula himself. While the others razed the Matabale army, which was weak at best, he would find Lobengula trying to escape from the altercation, and Wilson would dismount and chase him into the woods. He would be strong, and clever, Wilson knew—he had heard all the stories about what Lobengula was like, but had never seen him. Tall, with wide shoulders, and a beautiful ebony neck, thick snake lips and hair like a fine moss. Perhaps even a more commanding figure than Rhodes. But he would be no match for a rifle. Wilson would shoot him—first in the legs, so he would fall—and then in the chest or in the face as he looked up from the ground. No, perhaps he would crush his skull. Wilson winced as he thought of centimeters of black skin and hard bone giving way to his boot. How gruesome—but it would be like shooting a miserable horse. And Cecil Rhodes—no, forget Rhodes. Queen Victoria would give him a medal, to fill the vacant spot on his breast, and Major Wilson would become General Wilson.

The Hairdresser's Nephew broke his reverie. "Major, sir? Do you hear something?" Wilson brought his horse to a halt and listened. There was the rain. Pit pit pat, pit pit pat.

"No, I—" He stopped. He did hear something. The rhythm of the rain was broken by what sounded like the scamper of rats, or maybe even dogs. It was hard to tell in the rain, but it was definitely present. Pit pit tunk pat tunk pit pit tunk pat.

Wilson reached for his gun. His hand got halfway there when a pair of shadows burst forth from the trees on either side of him and knocked his horse on to the ground. Bobby Borrow was firing in no time. But they kept coming. Wilson scrambled through the mud, swiping for the rifle that had fallen from his shoulder when he went tumbling headfirst into the ground. Mud clung to his face, to his hair and to his eyelashes. He knew what was going on—the Matabale, instead of running, instead of crossing the river, had waited for them and gone on the offensive. From his vantage point they looked like the ghosts of Englishmen—they were dressed in British outfits, but they were as black as coal. They jumped and they ran like animals, like specters.

There were guns going off, too many to be all British. He had brought fourteen men with him, and there were definitely more than fourteen guns firing. The Matabale must have had them—the guns that Rhodes had given them as part of a mining deal! He had no time to be angry. He found his gun in the mud and fired at anything that so much looked like a ghost or a shadow in British clothing, still kneeling in the mud.

It was a good ten minutes before the firing stopped. The rain had calmed in the meantime, almost to a drizzle—though no one had noticed in the downpour of bullets. On the ground were twenty or thirty bodies, all dressed in British uniforms. Wilson stood, slipping a little, and looked back behind him. Two, four six—yes, there were fourteen British standing, Wilson himself excepted. In truth, there were thirteen British standing—Colenbrander was in an uncomfortable half-crouch, clutching his left arm. It was dark, darker than the Matabale, soaked with black blood.

"He's injured," the Bobby Borrow said. "Badly."

"Take a strip of cloth and tie it around his arm," Wilson said. "Do the best you can to keep him alive."

"I'm not sure how long he'll last," said Borrow. "It was a direct hit."

Wilson took a quick survey. "How many Matabale did Forbes say there were with Lobengula?"

"Four hundred," the Hairdresser's Nephew chimed in. "Over four hundred."

"And we've killed twenty—maybe twenty-five. We've got to keep going."

Nagura was twenty-four. He was in the prime of his youth, just as Lobengula had been when Nagura had been born. He could remember the very first time he opened his eyes—something he had never told any of the other tribesman. He could remember his eyelids parting, and the muck draping over his eyes. There were screams, and wails, some his own, some not. The first face he saw was the midwife's—then the doctor's. They were not faces; they were amorphous shapes, dark and long, cold and angular. But toward the back of the hut there was a face that glowed, with warmth like the womb, and Nagura could see it as clear as if his eyes were as healthy as they now were. He remembered the clean white eyes and teeth, the square chin and smooth brow. This shape, this thing came closer and held Nagura in his arms—Nagura knew they were his arms, even though he had no reason to connect the warn force at his back to the face in his sight. This was Lobengula. This was his father.

Nagura was certain that it was this feeling that many of his fellow tribesmen felt, too. He saw it in their eyes with Lobengula spoke. He saw it in their posture, the way they stood like trees, as if nothing less would be acceptable in his presence. He knew that this was something he would never receive—despite his lineage, despite his history, Nagura had no commanding presence. When he spoke, they listened because they were listening to Lobengula; when he commanded, they obeyed, because it was Lobengula they were obeying. "We are one people," Lobengula said, "and we must act as one." But he never knew that the reason they acted as one people was because they had no reason to be someone else—Lobengula was all they aspired to be.

He thought these things as he was studying his father's tent. It was the same way he always kept it on trips. Tall, made of skins dyed opal white. It towered over all of the other tents at the campsite, like a mountain in the midst of hills, like a hero in the midst of laborers.

Before they had set up camp, Nagura had tried his best to make a speech. He gathered the soldiers—there were maybe three hundred in all—before him, knowing well the little time that they had. He began as he thought his father would:

"Soldiers! We are gathered here of many bodies, but of one mind!" They ceased to listen to him. They were focusing on Lobengula. "We have lived here for thousands of years. Now we must fight for our right to live here, free, for thousands more."

Nagura had been twenty when his father had signed over mining rights. The man who he had spoken with—his name escaped Nagura—could speak no Matabale, and Lobengula could speak no English. And even more, Lobengula trusted the man little. So the solution was that the British man had presented a translator. He looked like Nagura and Lobengula, not like the other man. He was dark. The other man was pale like a skeleton. He explained to the father and his son that his ancestors had lived on this continent—Lobengula and Nagura had no concept of the word "continent," the man had to explain it to them—but had been taken away by the British and made to work. Lobengula was appalled. Nagura wasn't sure what he felt then, but now it made him appreciate the freedom he had in Bulawayo. And it made him scared of losing it. He was deathly afraid—afraid that he would be stolen, like the translator, and made to work in a foreign land. He was afraid he'd never see his father again. But he couldn't show it. No, they'd never respect him then. Lobengula would never show fear.

"Many of you will perhaps lose your lives today." This scared him, too. "But your children and your children's children and so forth will live on. When one dies, we all die. But remember, too, that when one survives, we all survive."

And now the men had scattered, with Nagura's—Lobengula's—words buried in their breasts. So why was it, that Nagura, while he looked upon his father's tent, was so worried about his survival?

Wilson had gone first across the river. It came up to right below his nipples, and it lapped at his chest in the most annoying fashion. As if the rain had not made him wet enough. It had all but stopped now, thankfully, but Wilson had no time to rejoice, because he had to steer a horse across a river. The horse, who was still in slight shock from being attacked, had no idea that it was walking on a veritable sandbar, and wandered close to the deep sections, forcing Wilson to pull him along with ridiculous force. But he was a loyal steed, born and raised on a farm, and agreeable in most every way, if a bit wayward, and followed where Wilson directed him. Soon enough they were on the other side of the river, but the mud which had caked on its back in the newfound sun had turned back to slime in the river. Wilson would wait a few minutes before mounting again—he had to wait for the rest to cross, anyway.

Colenbrander came next. He was still in deep pain, and could not manage crossing himself. Two of the other soldiers helped him along, one at each side, barely narrow enough to fit on the shallow strip, stepping with the utmost care. He could tell that the two soldiers, both of whom were from Colenbrander's company, would be welcome additions. They volunteered to help their injured comrade. That was unity. Colenbrander, however, was now an added inconvenience. His ego had been stigma enough; now that he was injured, he would be a drain on time and resources. Wilson knew that unity could not be achieved without total commitment by all parties, and Colenbrander could give but little commitment to anything. It was clear to Wilson that it might not be the Hairdresser's Nephew, who was pallid on the other shore, dreading stepping in the dirty, feral river, or the Bobby Borrow, who looked slightly bemused at the Nephew's troubles, that would be the loose chink, the weak spot. It would be Colenbrander who would be their undoing.

Wilson did not immediately know how he would deal with this. At first he began to concoct the most direct of solutions. While they were marching onward, he would take Colenbrander on his horse with him in order to "scout ahead," and when they were a safe enough distance from the others, he would simply push him off the horse and kill him as he imagined killing Lobengula. It would be good practice. He was almost certain he could get away with it; he would merely tell them that he had been ambushed, and fought the attackers off valiantly until they ran—but Colenbrander, in his weakened state, could not defend himself.

But he hadn't time to finish his thoughts. A horse came bounding through the trees, sliding with ease through the mud of the embankment. Behind it were several battalions of soldiers, some on horseback, some on foot.

Sitting atop the beast was a tall man, spindly and knobby, like a pale vine. He had a dark beard, bushy and regal, but comical in relation to his meager frame. "Why, Major Wilson!" he proclaimed, looking down from his superior position.

"Major Forbes," Wilson smiled without wanting to, "How pleasant to see you."

"The same to you, my good man," said Forbes, who didn't bother to dismount.

"Where were you half an hour ago?" asked Wilson. "We were attacked by a band of natives."

"We ran into a problem of our own. Any casualties?" Forbes said.

"No. One injury." He looked back at Colenbrander, who had successfully made it across the river.

"My. That's a nasty one."

"What about you?" Wilson asked. "Were you attacked? Is everyone all right?"

"We were. By about forty natives. Two deaths." He paused. "They were both from your company."

There was something painfully indifferent in the words your company. It was almost spiteful, and it sliced through Wilson's brain. Two deaths—but they were in your company. No loss.

Of course, that was just the way things were. Forbes didn't outrank Wilson—but Forbes was in charge of the campaign, so he had direct authority. Wilson couldn't stand this. He knew that he had as much experience as Forbes—probably more, the Victorian Column saw little action, as far as Wilson knew—but it was Forbes Rhodes had wanted, and Forbes he told to command. Wilson lived in relative obscurity, his troops quartered in Salisbury, which in places was little better than a makeshift campsite, but on the most dangerous edge of Bulawayo. He had defeated several Shona attacks, in the middle of the night, no less, when the demons were hardest to see, dolled up in black breastplates—what had Forbes ever done? Forbes had presented the Rhodes family with gifts at Christmas time. Forbes had hosted Rhodes at Fort Victoria for lunch.

Two other soldiers were crossing the river now. One from Wilson's company and one from another. The Hairdresser's Nephew was behind them.

"One good thing did come from it, though. We captured one of their men."

Wilson could see that there was a Matabale man with his hands tied behind his back—a coarse rope, probably for rigging supplies—held at the end of a couple of rifles. He was cut on his forehead, and the blood dripped down over his face. He had no free hand with which to wipe it from his eyes—Wilson could not decided whether this was tragic or amusing.

"Does he speak any English?" Wilson asked.

"No," said Forbes. "He doesn't speak anything but damn gibberish."

Wilson scoffed. "Then what good is he?"

The captive bubbled forth an interminable flow of nonsense, thick with round vowels and guttural consonants. It seemed almost like a growl to Wilson.

"See?" said Forbes. "Unintelligible."

Colenbrander was sitting on a rock on the riverbank, nursing his arm. "He said that he's willing to give you anything you want, if you set him free."

Wilson was amazed. "Do you mean to tell me," he said, "that you can understand him?"

"Of course I can," Colenbrander said. "Do you remember that group of natives we captured from the Shona months ago? There were three of them, two men and a woman." Wilson remembered. "Well, I figured someone ought to hang around them before they died or became too weak to speak and see what use they could be. So I did, and I picked up a little of the language."

Forbes took off his helmet and wiped his forehead. "The Shona and the Matabale speak the same language?"

"Different dialects," said Colenbrander, "But basically the same." He rolled his eyes. "You would think that you gentlemen would do a small amount of research on your enemy."

"Come here," Forbes said. "I want you to speak with this man."

Colenbrander arose with great care, still clutching his bandage. "Major, sir," Colenbrander seemed to have a habit of saying sir as if it were the most difficult thing that he had ever done, "It's one thing to listen to something, it's something entirely different to speak it."

Forbes frowned. "Try your best. That's an order."

Colenbrander walked over to the man and stood before him. Then he said, with a number of great pauses, something that sounded to Wilson like: "Gargle giggle Colenbrander." Pause. "Google gaggle gig…" Pause. "Gagga giggy gargle?"

At first, Wilson thought that the man hadn't understood at all and Colenbrander had failed. His heart made a tiny leap from joy when he thought the soldier had failed—but the man, after a moment, gave his reply:

"Giggle gaggle gargle goo gig gag."

Colenbrander's face was vacant.

"Well?" asked Forbes. "What did he say?"

Colenbrander admitted that he wasn't sure.

The man seemed to notice Colenbrander's confusion. He said again, this time enunciating more clearly:

"Gig-gle gag-gle gar-gle goo gig gag."

Colenbrander looked back at Wilson. Wilson noticed that it wasn't Forbes he was speaking to—he felt a small sense of pride that he had developed a sense of commanding officer with the petulant little man. "I think he said he's an Induna."

"What's an Induna?" Wilson asked.

"It's a mid-level military officer," replied Colenbrander. "Like… a Major."

This news came as an undue surprise to Wilson. He hadn't ever suspected that the Matabale army was organized enough to rank their officers—it was a bit civilized for them, wasn't it? Maybe it wasn't as organized as Colenbrander made it seem; maybe the ranks were easier to achieve. That would make far more sense.

"Ask him where Lobengula is," suggested Wilson.

Colenbrander asked him. The captive refused to reply, he stood with his arms held tight against his back, his blood strikingly red against his charcoal skin. Colenbrander asked him again, this time with a little more urgency in his voice.

By this time Bobby Borrow had crossed the river and was pacing around watching all of this. When Colenbrander asked him a third time, the silent air, steeped in rainwater, was broken by the click of simple machinery.

"Answer the question," said the Bobby, from the auspicious end of his rifle.

The captive quivered a bit. He had no idea what the words meant, but he understood well enough the barrel. His answer was quick and desperate, and got lost in the rush of river water.

"Slower," Bobby Borrow said. The captive understood. He said it again, this time slower.

"He says that Lobengula is… with the army." The ends of Forbes' mouth lifted slightly. "But he's sick."

"Sick!" exclaimed Wilson. "How sick?"

"Extremely," said Colenbrander. "Deathbed sick."

Forbes laughed. It wasn't the laugh that Wilson was accustomed to hearing from him, it was uneasy and faltering. "He's sick! To imagine, we run around all of the Bulawayo only to have this fellow die all alone in the middle of the jungle from sickness."

Wilson knew what Forbes was saying. Forbes wanted Lobengula dead—but not just that. Forbes wanted him dead at British hands. Wilson wondered if Forbes ever had those little fantasies, where he imagined killing Lobengula himself. Probably so, Wilson thought. Forbes was a vicious man, raucous and uncompassionate. But his apprehensions about Lobengula's sickness were well justified—If the Matabale were going to lose their leader either way, it would be far less demoralizing if they lost him to the ravages of nature, instead of the rifle.

Colenbrander had sat back down, grateful—for once, Wilson imagined—to have the focus of attention taken off of him and put upon Borrow. But Wilson as watching him with patient eyes. He would have to keep him around after all—no furtive triage in the jungle. He had shown his worth. He was an essential part to the unity of the company, a strong link in the chain. He had saved himself, but Wilson would still watch him closely, in case he start into his bravado at an inappropriate time. A heedless mouth is dangerous enough, one that can speak in many languages is far too dangerous to keep around unchecked.

Wilson knew the next step. "Shoot him," he said to Bobby Borrow.


"Shoot him."

A sick man found himself in the savannah. It was simply thus, he was in the jungle, and then he was in the savannah. His head was so steeped in the unctuous billows of sickness that he was only semi-conscious of his surroundings. There was jungle, and then there was savannah. It only registered with him because at one time he felt the wetness on his skin, and then there was dryness. In the savannah, it was as if rain had never touched the blonde grasses.

There were about ten men with him, some at his side, some in front of him, some in back. They walked quickly and were always looking back and forth, as if expecting something. He could only walk hunched over, slowly, hardly even knowing where he was going. He knew he had to go, run, run somewhere.

His own weight brought him crashing to the ground.

"Leader," one of the men said, kneeling down over him, "we must go. We cannot let them catch up to us."

"Who are we running from?" the sick man asked.

"The enemy," said his protector. "They would have us destroyed, our freedom taken, our unity divided."

He coughed heartily. "Oh. We cannot allow this. We must be as one mind."

"Yes, we must. But no one can be of one mind if you are captured. We must go."

And so they went.

It had pained Nagura to see his father so sick. His face had gone from its stern solidity, from being carved from the side of a mountain, to flaccid and limp, like a fruit left in the harsh savannah heat, ravaged by the vicious sun. His once ivory eyes had gone vacant and milky, his unyielding hand reduced to a quiver.

Most of the other soldiers were unaware of the gravity of his sickness. They were not supposed to know. When Lobengula's sickness set in was when Nagura was put in charge of the soldiers—a "temporary measure," he assured him. Speaking those words was a bit of an assurance for himself, but only a temporary one, because every day he saw his father growing worse and worse. His mind was dissipating, breaking apart. He could hardly speak at times, and seemed to do nothing but lie in bed all day. He could not go outside to walk around, even if he were able—someone would see him.

And so it had been for nearly three months. For three months, Nagura had been two men, a son, while at his father's side, and a father, in front of the soldiers. Now his own father was somewhere in the savannah wasteland, preparing to die, probably without even knowing it. He didn't want the role of father, of General, he wanted to be a son again. As he kneeled behind mass of dark foliage, he felt suddenly small, like the days in his childhood when his father would take him out to hunt, and he would lie in wait for an animal to cross through the thicket. But now no one was here with a hand on his shoulder, no one to guide his arrow. He was utterly alone, in the midst of hundreds.

There must be two minds here, he supposed. A General and an army. How alone he felt.

Major Wilson had to rethink things again. Colenbrander had ceased to be an arrogant know-nothing and had become an arrogant know-something, and the Bobby Borrow had put his trigger finger to good use. He was visibly pale, all the color drained from his face and pooled into his lips, crimson as if they were bleeding from being constantly bit. But he had done his duty with little complaint. The other soldiers marched with severity, kept good time, spoke little. Forbes' company had joined them, but they remained in separate flanks, both coming from the south, but at slightly different directions. He figured it was the Hairdresser's Nephew who was the weak one now. He had turned his face from the sight of blood. He looked so neat and prim, even when soaking wet from traversing the river. Wilson couldn't stand the way he looked, the way his hair fell evenly on both sides of his head, the way he sat straight perpendicular to his horse, with all the posture and character of a plant. He suspected the man to have not so much as a bruise, a cut, a scrape. Wilson entertained the notion of hurting him himself, to coarsen his spirits. He dismissed this as immediately unconstructive.

But Wilson dreaded having him as Captain in battle. He would recoil, and find himself shot in the fetal position. This is how the military really weeded out itsofficers—those who were best fit for the job would always survive. And the Hairdresser's Nephew was as erect as a tombstone.

It had been hours of marching when they finally stopped. The men were tired from marching, and Wilson, despite the urgency of moving on, knew that they needed to be well rested should they be attacked. Several men were chosen as guards; others sat on the shadowed forest floor and sipped from their canteens. Wilson spoke momentarily with Forbes, who agreed that they ought to send a pair of scouts ahead. Forbes chose a man from his company, and Wilson, itching to test his theory, chose the Hairdresser's Nephew.

The upright man took his assignment with quiet dignity and aplomb. Wilson had expected no less. He hoped, however, despite his sensibility, that the pair of them would get attacked in the dense trees. He hoped that the Hairdresser's Nephew would have to fight for his life, and he would either win it—and win it squarely; he would not have it given to him by the spoils of a Queen—or lose it altogether. Either way, his weak link would be expunged, and the company unity would be restored. That was the way it had to be. One poisoned drop of wine ruined the glass; one diseased soldier infects a whole company.

"Do you think," Wilson asked Forbes, "that he was lying about Lobengula being sick?"

"I don't know," Forbes said, "perhaps we ought to ask him."

Wilson did not laugh. "It sounded to me as if he were trying to throw us off of the trail. If we thought that Lobengula was on his deathbed, perhaps we might not try to kill him."

"Upon my tongue continual slanders ride, the which in every language I pronounce, stuffing the ears of men with false reports," said Forbes.


Forbes laughed derisively. "The Merchant of Venice! Lying, my good man, is one of those traits that unites every human being." Wilson certainly didn't feel united with some feral Induna. It was almost heresy.

It was only a few minutes until the Hairdresser's Nephew returned, without any abrasions, to Wilson's minor lament. He reported that about a quarter of a mile north was a clearing, where there seemed to be a Matabale camp.

"A camp?" said Wilson. "They've actually built a camp just north of here?"

"Yes, sir," the Nephew replied.

"Are you sure it's the Matabale?"

He nodded, his head and neck moving independently of his stiff spine. "There is a tent that is far taller and larger than the others—just like in the camps at Masvingo. It must be Lobengula's."

Wilson's heart raged, rattling in its cage. They had found him. He would finally get his chance to find Lobengula and destroy him, alone and overpowering. He felt the rush of the snap of his skull, and knew it was almost real; it could be real, if he only pushed, if he only drove them before the Matabale could realize that they were going to be attacked. This time, they would have nowhere to run; they would have to fight, and Wilson would show them, he would show everyone that Wilson and his company were invincible. As strong and impenetrable as chain mail.

Forbes hadn't any time to speak before Wilson was off on his horse and heading through the woods. His company followed, and Forbes accordingly, and the entire army. Hooves and feet hit the forest floor in cacophonous succession, and Wilson could feel the blood coursing through his body. It was warm and wet, and filled the cavity of his head and his chest. He could feel the hearts of hundreds throbbing, in step with his own, beaten out by the rhythm of boots, like they only possessed one heart.

They came upon a part in the trees, where the grasses became yellow and crisp. Wilson boiled in the sun. There before them was a massive encampment, nearly seventy tents large enough for two or three, and as reported, they were arranged in rings around a taller tent, whose summit was almost equal with the tree line.

All was quiet but the hearts of hundreds.

"You damned fool," said Colenbrander, who was grasping tightly his gun, and not his arm.

A great black swarm of soldiers erupted from the trees across the clearing. The beating of their broad feet was like the buzz of a hive, and the sky became dark with bullets. They moved with a smooth effulgence, like a singular beast.

Wilson and the other men instinctively dropped back into the forest and got down on the ground. A trumpet sounded. Bullets whizzed by his head, narrowly missing his face. He had no time to get back behind the rest of the troops—he felt oddly conspicuous on the frontline, but began to fire at the coming hordes. After recognizing the British strategy, the Matabale did the same, dropping from their feet behind the mass of decoy tents, firing around them at the British on the other side. Wilson surmised that his troops were outnumbered two to one, but knew that their skill was better, and their ammunition more plentiful.

Wilson quickly took a look around him. To his right was Borrow, chest to the ground, firing with great speed and efficiency. He felled one man, then another. Then two more. Beside him was Dillon—his silly nickname near inappropriate now—doing the same. He had a steel resolve in his eyes, not the mutable disposition of a spoiled aristocrat that Wilson had expected. His teeth were clenched and his hands grasped the trigger white-knuckled. Even Colenbrander, to his right, was firing to the best of his ability, like perfectly oiled machinery parts. This was the glory of a unified army, a force without weakness.

For minutes, he heard nothing but the interminable clack of fire. And then a voice rang out:

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions!"

In his fervor, Wilson nearly expected to see the ghost of Hamlet between the trees. But it was not Hamlet. It was no Danish prince—only a vainglorious British General. It was Forbes, who was still mounted on his horse behind columns of men. His deep voice carried through the gunfire.

"This battle fairs like to the morning's war, when dying clouds contend with growing light!" Henry the Sixth, now? Major Forbes' gun was still slung at his side, and his hands grasping the reigns. His eyes registered the sheer number of their opponent, and alerting the men with the trumpet with which he had begun the battle, he initiated retreat.

There is the weakness, Wilson thought. There is the broken link. Not the Bobby, not the Hairdresser's Nephew, the Injured Braggart. The frightened General, the Danish Prince, and the historic King. Blood pooled at Wilson's fingertips and in the corners of his eyes as he stood up and turned around, pointing the barrel of his rifle at the other Major. It would be a glorious moment—Forbes would fall from his horse and smash into the muddy ground, snapping his neck into pieces, should the bullet not kill him. And when that was done, Wilson would shoot the runaway horse. Then the army would be his, solid unstoppable.

He readied to shoot, but felt a sting in the small of his back. The last thing that registered was how cold the ground was as it met his face.

When the battlefield was emptied, Nagura stood in front of the soldiers. "Matabale," he said, "Today we have won a great battle. But in the midst of this I have bad news. My father, King Lobengula, has not been secured in Onoga as I told you, but has been taken out into the savannah to live his last moments. As we speak right now, he is most surely dead, but I remind you of his words—when one dies, we all die. But when one survives, we all survive, and so he is still with us today. And I know that he is proud."

But he knew that they had already stopped listening.

Morning came, bright and blue. The pools of rain had dried up overnight, and once again Fort Victoria was bathed in scathing African sunlight. As Cecil Rhodes awoke and placed his feet into his slippers, one of his lieutenants knocked on the door.

"Yes?" asked Rhodes.

"I have grave news," said the man from behind the oak door, crafted specially for Rhodes in England.

The General thought for a moment, and then called out, "It will have to wait until after breakfast. No reason to ruin a perfectly good morning."