Smith signing a copy of Assegai, London Leon Courtney, the eldest son of Ryder Courtney leaves home after a fallout with his father, and joins the army with help from his uncle Penrod Ballantyne. Penrod arranges for him to be placed as apprentice to professional hunter Percy Phillips in order to allow Leon to spy on movements of man and machine in German East Africa, as he suspects the Kaiser of preparing for war. Eva and Otto later use the safari to meet with Koos de la Rey , in which Otto agrees to support a Boer coup in South Africa, an act that would destabilize British power in the continent. Otto later attempts to hunt a lion in the traditional Maasai way - with an assegai and shield - but he is mauled by a second lion during the hunt.
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Yet the years that follow will test Isabella to the extremes of her endurance. They will be years of hardship and bitter pain, hidden behind the masks of affluence and success.
It will be a time in which brother is pitted against brother, as they are drawn into the lair of the golden fox. Sir Francis Courteney and his son Hal, in their fighting caravel, are on patrol off Southern Africa, lying in wait for a galleon of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient laden with spices, timber and gold.
At the farthest edges of the known world, the mighty East India Trading Company suffers catastrophic losses from pirates on the high seas.
After four years away from service, master mariner Sir Hal Courtney prepares for his latest and most dangerous voyage — a death or glory mission in the name of Empire and the crown. Leon has developed a special relationship with the Masai. But for a Courtney, the greatest danger might just be his own family. Two heroes. One unbreakable bond. Leon was spending his birthday hunting Nandi rebels along the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley in the far interior of that jewel of the Empire, British East Africa.
The Nandi were a belligerent people much given to insurrection against authority. They had been in sporadic rebellion for the last ten years, ever since their paramount witch doctor and diviner had prophesied that a great black snake would wind through their tribal lands belching fire and smoke and bringing death and disaster to the tribe.
When the British colonial administration began laying the tracks for the railway, which was planned to reach from the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to the shores of Lake Victoria almost six hundred miles inland, the Nandi saw the dread prophecy being fulfilled and the coals of smouldering insurrection flared up again. They burned brighter as the head of the railway reached Nairobi, then started westwards through the Rift Valley and the Nandi tribal lands down towards Lake Victoria.
Offered the choice, Leon Courtney would have been otherwise occupied on that day. Of course, as a junior subaltern, he could not afford to run a string of ponies, but some of the more affluent club members were pleased to sponsor him. After a decent interval had passed, when the widow would have recovered from the sharpest pangs of her bereavement, he rode out to the shamba to offer his condolences and respect.
He was gratified to discover that she had made a remarkable recovery from her loss. To begin with, Leon was awkward and shy in her presence, but she was gracious and drew him out skilfully, speaking in a soft Irish brogue that enchanted him.
The hour passed with startling rapidity. When he rose to take his leave she walked with him to the front steps and offered her hand in farewell. At times I find loneliness a heavy burden. I hoped that you, as a military man, might give me some idea of their value. I feel that you are my friend and that I can trust you completely.
Instead he gazed abjectly into her large blue eyes for by this time he was deeply in her thrall. He held her to his chest. It seemed the only way to comfort her. She was as light as a doll and laid her pretty head on his shoulder, returning his embrace with enthusiasm. Later he tried to re-create exactly what had happened next, but it was all an ecstatic blur. He could not remember how they had reached her room. Out on his left flank Sergeant Manyoro clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
His mind had been wandering and he had been derelict in his duty. Every nerve in his body came up taut as a fishing line struck by a heavy marlin deep in the blue waters of the Pemba Channel. He lifted his right hand in the command to halt and the line of askaris stopped on either side of him. He glanced from the corner of his eye at his sergeant. Manyoro was a morani of the Masai. A fine member of that tribe, he stood at well over six feet, yet he was as slim and graceful as a bullfighter, wearing his khaki uniform and tasselled fez with panache, every inch the African warrior.
Leon followed the gesture and saw the vultures. He had not been expecting trouble: the centre of the insurrection was reported seventy miles further west. This government outpost was outside the traditional boundaries of the Nandi tribal grounds. This was Masai territory. Now it appeared that that had happened. The district commissioner at Niombi was Hugh Turvey. He was only four or five years older than Leon but he was in sole charge of a territory the size of Scotland. Already he had earned a reputation as a solid man, not one to let his boma be surprised by a bunch of rebels.
But the circling birds were a sinister omen, harbingers of death. Leon gave the hand signal to his askari to load, and the breech bolts snickered as the. Another hand signal and they went forward cautiously in skirmishing formation. Only two birds, Leon thought. They might be strays. There would have been more of them if.
From directly ahead he heard the loud flapping of heavy wings and another vulture rose from beyond the screen of banana plants. Leon felt the chill of dread.
Again he signalled the halt. He stabbed a finger at Manyoro, then went forward alone, Manyoro backing him. Even though his approach was stealthy and silent he alarmed more of the huge carrion-eaters. Singly and in groups they rose on flogging wings into the blue sky to join the spiralling cloud of their fellows.
Leon stepped past the last banana plant and stopped again at the edge of the open parade-ground. Ahead, the mud-brick walls of the boma glared, with their coating of limewash. The front door of the main building stood wide open.
The veranda and the baked-clay surface of the parade-ground were littered with broken furniture and official government documents. The boma had been ransacked. Hugh Turvey and his wife, Helen, lay spreadeagled in the open. They were naked and the corpse of their five-year-old daughter lay just beyond them. She had been stabbed once through her chest with a broad-bladed Nandi assegai. Her tiny body had drained of blood through the massive wound, so her skin shone white as salt in the bright sunlight.
Both her parents had been crucified. Sharpened wooden stakes had been driven through their feet and hands into the clay surface. So the Nandi have learned something at last from the missionaries, Leon thought bitterly. He took a long, steady look around the border of the parade-ground, searching for any sign that the attackers might still be near by.
When he was satisfied that they had gone, he went forward again, stepping carefully through the litter. The vultures had enlarged the wounds. The jaws of both corpses had been wedged wide apart with wooden pegs. Leon stopped when he reached them and stared down at them. Leon saw then that the clay beneath their heads was stained where some spilled liquid had dried.
Then he noticed that their nostrils had been plugged with balls of clay — they must have been forced to draw their last breaths through their mouths. Then, suddenly, he became aware of the sharp ammonia stink of urine. They piss in their open mouths until they drown.
The Nandi are not men, they are baboons. They have not gone far. He lifted his slouch hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of the hand that held the Webley service revolver. With a visible effort he brought his emotions under control, then looked down again. Then Leon sent Manyoro and three askari to search the banana plantation thoroughly and to secure the outside perimeter of the boma.
It had also been ransacked but he found a pile of sheets in a cupboard that had been overlooked by the looters. He gathered up an armful and took them outside. He pulled out the stakes with which the Turveys had been pegged to the ground, then removed the wedges from their mouths.
Some of their teeth were broken and their lips had been crushed. Leon wetted his neckerchief with water from his canteen and wiped their faces clean of dried blood and urine. He tried to move their arms to their sides but rigor mortis had stiffened them. He wrapped their bodies in the sheets. The earth in the banana plantation was soft and damp from recent rain. While he and some of the askari stood guard against another attack, four others went to work with their trenching tools to dig a single grave for the family.
On the heights of the escarpment, just below the skyline and screened by a small patch of scrub from any watcher below, three men leaned on their war spears, balancing easily on one leg in the stork-like attitude of rest.
Before them, the floor of the Rift Valley was a vast plain, brown grassland interspersed with stands of thorn, scrub and acacia trees. Despite its desiccated appearance the grasses made sweet grazing and were highly prized by the Masai, who ran their long-horned, hump-backed cattle on them.
Since the most recent Nandi rebellion, though, they had driven their herds to a safer area much further to the south. The Nandi were famous cattle thieves. This part of the valley had been left to the wild game, whose multitudes swarmed across the plain as far as the eye could see.
Assegai by Wilbur Smith
Plot summary[ edit ] Smith signing a copy of Assegai, London Leon Courtney, the eldest son of Ryder Courtney leaves home after a fallout with his father, and joins the army with help from his uncle Penrod Ballantyne. Penrod arranges for him to be placed as apprentice to professional hunter Percy Phillips in order to allow Leon to spy on movements of man and machine in German East Africa, as he suspects the Kaiser of preparing for war. Eva and Otto later use the safari to meet with Koos de la Rey , in which Otto agrees to support a Boer coup in South Africa, an act that would destabilize British power in the continent. Otto later attempts to hunt a lion in the traditional Maasai way - with an assegai and shield - but he is mauled by a second lion during the hunt. Eva reveals that she is actually English, and that Otto had cheated her father out of the patents for his engine designs, driving him to poverty and suicide, after which Eva was recruited as a spy by the British government and sent to gather information from Otto by becoming his mistress.
Yet the years that follow will test Isabella to the extremes of her endurance. They will be years of hardship and bitter pain, hidden behind the masks of affluence and success. It will be a time in which brother is pitted against brother, as they are drawn into the lair of the golden fox. Sir Francis Courteney and his son Hal, in their fighting caravel, are on patrol off Southern Africa, lying in wait for a galleon of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient laden with spices, timber and gold.