Binky and the Aqeda Dagger

Part 4 - The Waterhole

Despite cajoling the caravan is moving more slowly than Binky would like.  The bearers are tired out and it has taken 3 days not 2 to reach the waterholes.  Food is still plentiful but the water is almost done.  There is not even enough for a day more.  But the wells should be reached by midday even at this speed.  The horses captured from the Arabs have consumed a large amount and the bearers have been grumbling at their reduced ration.

Since leaving the well at Qenja Turst Binky has been aware of small parties of Arabs and others keeping watch on you.  Every time Adrian went out with his Askaris and the Turk’s Askaris they dispersed into the scrub without showing any interest in a fight.

The march so far this morning has been slow and the watchers quite far off.  Binky's wound is healing up nicely.    Big Sam is being his usual stoic self.  Never complains and although he must be in pain you would never know.  Clarissa has been particularly helpful in keeping the Christian bearers on side.  But she has had to promise them a rest day tomorrow – Sunday.  Just like in the Good Book says.  The Turk is a useful source of information.  He has travelled this way many times and says that he has never seen so many scouting parties before.  Nor, he says, has the caravan route ever been so empty of traders or even travellers.  The only signs of travellers are a few dried up bodies – most ravaged by animals to the extent that it is impossible to say how they died.  All around the countryside there are little depressions that have thorn scrub in them.  Ideal water catchments so the caravan can probably dig for some pretty muddy water there.  Hassan is convinced that the party is not in such a bad way as the porters think.

Last night the Sheikh put on an entertainment – dancing girls and music.  It seemed to raise the spirits of all.

The wells are important now – without a refill of water the expedition will find it difficult to reach Mariba in any sort of fit condition.  The Turk and Muddi Watah tell you that there are many places where you can dig for water.  They say it is not far below the surface but is brackish.

The water holes are surrounded by low hills, rocky savannah and scrub patches.  Small herd of zebra, antelope and the occasional group of wildebeest can be seen.  Food, at least, is plentiful.
Binky's caravan approaches the waterholes cautiously.  The Baluchis and Askaris are scouting the way ahead. 
The scouts come across a small encampment at the waterholes.  It has been placed so that is is not too obvious to the casual observer.  The Arabs there seem pleased to see the uniformed Askaris
Suddenly the Baluchis come under effective fire from some scrub.  Some wild dogs are flushed out and flee.  After a short battle the superior fire discipline of the Baluchis inflicts heavy casualties and drives off the Arab followers of the Mad Mullah.
As the caravan arrives at the waterholes it comes under sporadic sniper fire from the surrounding hills.  Although this is not effective there is enough to make life difficult and it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed.  The Turk volunteers his Askaris to clear the riflemen.  It is a slow job and after several small, noisy skirmishes the sniping stops.  The Askaris return with only minor wounds.
The Arab merchant at the waterhole is very relieved - he tells Binky that his little caravan has been robbed of everything.  He is ruined!  All he has left are his personal guards, his wife, the tent and a few stores.  Everything else is gone.  Adrian does not trust him and thinks the guards look more like eunuchs than soldiers.  Maybe he is a slave trader?  After the shooting stops the caravan sets up for the night and the Christian labourers get their day off.

All day Sunday the Christian bearers had services, prayer meetings and a day of rest.  It must be said that the Christian rest day and the alcohol caused some disquiet amongst the Muslim bearers and askaris.  There was a lot of grumbling amongst them about the Christians being favoured by the white men.  They did not get a day of rest on Friday, their Holy Day, it was just ignored. 

To help pour water on troubled waters the Sheikh gave up one of the cows to be slaughtered and a feast prepared.  Inadvertantly by doing so he upset the Hindus.  The dancing girls performed well and the Turk gave up the gin he had hidden in his stores.  The Baluchis appreciated this a lot and found that two of the Turk’s Askaris were also Baluchis.  The others were mainly Morvali tribesmen but with a handful of Sudanese and Abythopians as well.  The Baluchis certainly appreciated being with their countrymen and got happily drunk with them!  One had even been in the Bengal Native Infantry until two years ago when he had come to Morvalistan with his brothers as mercenaries in the pay of the Sultan of Zniqabar. 

The others, mainly tribesmen, were a really sullen and shifty lot except one of the Sudanese who struck up a long conversation with Sgt Achmed Tokar.  He wanted to join Adrian’s Askaris as he was fed up in the Turk’s service.  He branded him a slave trader and spy for Madassah Hattah.  He said that the Turk’s trading post had secret chambers below ground where the slaves were kept.  He had been in the Sudanese artillery in the recent disastrous war against the Mahdi.  Not only that, he had been captured by the Ansar and was allowed to live only as long as he manned guns for the bandit Emir Qiza Daloot.  He managed to escape six months ago and made his way South to Morvalistan and was taken on as an askaris by the Turk. 

The tribal bearers just appreciated the time off and the free alcohol. 

Monday morning dawned bright and clear and a strange sight met Binky's eyes.  Overnight the expedition appears to have suffered a raid.  A silent raid!  The Turk and his askaris are gone, so are the Arabs rescued at the waterhole, a few of the Muslim bearers and even a few of the sheikh’s following.  Much worse, all three horses and two donkeys loaded with supplies are gone together with boxes of ammunition and water skins.  Thank goodness the machine guns and howitzer are undamaged!  The Sheikh is sorting out what is left.  It is clear that the trip to Mariba will need to be made without the extra manpower of the Turk’s Askaris.  They may well have gone over to the Mad Mullah as the Sudanese askari had said.

A search was made of the camp area and the remaining stores.  It revealed that a number of cases of rations had been damaged and they were already crawling with vermin and insects.  The water skins were emptied and refilled at the water hole in case they had been tampered with.  The search also found two naked, bound and gagged askaris, the two Baluchis.  Later in the morning they found, hanging upside down from a tree, the naked form of the almost dead Sudanese askari.  He had been bound, gagged and left in the sun.  The soles of his feet were sunburned and blistered.   It will be days before he can walk. 

It was clear that there were just enough porters, camels and donkeys left to carry supplies and the injured Sudanese askari to get the expedition to Mariba on reduced rations.  Adrian suggested that they remain here another night and resume the march before dawn in the morning.  Everyone agreed. 

Ma’Iti wants to track the deserters down and make an example of them.

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