He advanced to the king and reported himself.
“So you have lived through it,” said Nodwengo.
“I shall die when my hour comes, and not before,” Hokosa answered. “We did well yonder, and yet the most of us are alive to tell the tale, for I knew when and how to go. Be ready, king, for the foe press us close, and that mob behind us crawls onward like a snail.”
As he spoke the pursuers broke through the fence and gate of the burning town, and once more the fight began. They had the advantage of numbers; but Nodwengo and his troops stood in a wide road upon higher ground protected on either side by walls, and were, moreover, rested, not breathless and weary with travel like the men of Hafela. Slowly, fighting, every inch of the way, Nodwengo was pushed back, and slowly the long ant-like line of women and sick and cattle crept through the opening in the rock, till at length all of them were gone.
“It is time,” said Nodwengo, glancing behind him, “for our arms grow weary.”
Then he gave orders, and company by company the defending force followed on the path of the fugitives, till at length amidst a roar of rage and disappointment, the last of them vanished through the arch, Hokosa among them, and the place was blocked with stones, above which shone a hedge of spears.
NOMA SETS A SNARE
Thus ended the first night’s battle, since for this time the enemy had fought enough. Nodwengo and his men had also had enough, for out of the five thousand of them some eleven hundred were killed or wounded. Yet they might not rest, for all that night, assisted by the women, they laboured, building stone walls across the narrowest parts of the valley. Also the cattle, women and children were moved along the gorge, which in shape may be compared to a bottle with two necks, one at either end, and encamped in the opening of the second neck, where was the spring of water. This spot was chosen both because here alone water could be obtained, without which they could not hold out more than a single day, and because the koppie whereon grew the strange-looking euphorbia known as the Tree of Doom afforded a natural rampart against attack.
Shortly after dawn, while the soldiers were resting and eating of such food as could be procured—for the most part strips of raw or half-cooked meat cut from hastily killed cattle—the onslaught was renewed with vigour, Hafela directing his efforts to the forcing of the natural archway. But, strive as he would, this he could not do, for it was choked with stones and thorns and guarded by brave men.
“You do but waste your labour, Hafela,” said Noma, who stood by him watching the assault.
“What then is to be done?” he asked, “for unless we come at them we cannot kill them. It was clever of them to take refuge in this hole. I thought surely that they would fight it out yonder, beneath the fences of the Great Place.”