The snake was starting to recover and slowly moved over to where Lesedi was sitting cross-legged, still clutching the nut in his pocket. Lesedi wasn’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing. He had learnt not to be too afraid of snakes, and he knew you needed to understand them and not make them feel intimidated or make any sudden moves around them. He wasn’t too sure of this snake, though. He didn’t know if it belonged to Bosula’s store of evil creatures or if it had been dragged into this whole disaster unwittingly. The snake slithered up next to him and put its head gently on his knee. Lesedi shuddered slightly but remained still, keeping one eye on the snake and the other eye on Kgatwe scrambling up the wall. He could just see a tiny silhouetted movement as the gecko got closer to what he hoped would be a way out. Slowly he relaxed as the snake lay quietly with its head still on his knee like his dog Ntsa did at home. He almost felt like patting it but wondered if that would be an appropriate thing to do to a snake. Then they heard a noise coming from the direction of the iron grid window. Lesedi stiffened and so did the snake. He could see a faint glow appearing from behind the grid and could hear footsteps coming down a hollow passageway. One set of footsteps sounded very loud and definite while the others scuttled along next to them. Lesedi guessed that it must be Bosula and his guards. The snake suddenly uncurled itself and lifted half its body into the air. Its hood came out and it swayed menacingly in front of Lesedi as if it were about to strike him. Lesedi’s initial reaction was fear, thinking that this was indeed one of Bosula’s creatures and now that its master was here it was going to attack. But then it lowered its hood and Lesedi could see it was trying to tell him something. It was play acting and Lesedi should do the same! Lesedi quickly shoved the nut further down into his pocket and then cowered down, his hands over his head while the snake swayed above him, its hood fully open again.
Bosula’s face appeared at the grid, the chameleons slightly behind him holding flaming torches. The effect of the flickering light on their hideous faces was very unnerving and Lesedi, peeping out from between his fingers, didn’t need to pretend to be afraid.
“Aaah, so I see our snake is back to normal!” boomed Bosula. “Got rid of the lump in its throat, did it? Good, now it can be of some use again.” Bosula grabbed one of the torches and held it high to get a better view. Shadows flickered and danced eerily around the pit.
“So, you sniveling little wretch, your tongue any looser?”
Lesedi stared at Bosula. He shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
“Hmmm…still a little on the dumb side I see. Well, never mind, the scorpions will be back soon. I believe they found someone up in the passageway so they were a little delayed dealing with him.” Bosula cackled softly to himself.
Lesedi’s heart sank. Lorato! What had happened? Had he been caught in the passageway on his way back to help them? Lesedi was more worried about the old man than he was about his own chances of escape, which at this stage were looking very slim. The chameleon tongues flicked through the grid, making Lesedi jump back in fright.
Bosula laughed a hollow, unnerving sort of laugh. “Leave him. It won’t be much longer and he will tell us what we want to know. Let us go and have our lunch.” Bosula started moving off. “No food for him until he tells us what we want to know,” he shot over his shoulder.
Lesedi wasn’t too sure whether that was a good thing or not. He didn’t think he wanted any of their food if it made your breath smell as bad as Bosula but he was starting to feel extremely hungry and a little weak. He could hear Bosula stomping down the passage with the chameleons scrabbling behind him, the eerie light slowly disappearing. The snake relaxed and curled up next to Lesedi again. He stroked its head.
“Thank you, snake,” he said. “At least we have one friend in this dreadful place. I hope nothing terrible has happened to Lorato, and where on earth is Kgatwe?” Suddenly as if in answer to his question there was a plop next to him and Kgatwe jumped up onto his other knee. He took one look at the snake and jumped straight off again. Lesedi felt him running up his back and onto his head.
“What…what’s the snake doing?” he gasped and Lesedi could feel him trembling in fright.
“Don’t worry,” said Lesedi, laughing, “this snake is our friend. He just helped me fool Bosula.”
“Don’t know about snakes being friends,” muttered Kgatwe. “Maybe he thinks we’re a better bet than Bosula at the moment.”
“Stop being so cynical,” said Lesedi. “Tell me what you found out.”
“That’s the way out, and the cart is up there!” explained Kgatwe excitedly, forgetting about the snake for the moment.
“The cart!? How did it get there? Is Lorato there?”
“No,” said Kgatwe and Lesedi’s heart sank. “I looked around but I couldn’t see him. This hole is close to the scorpion entrance, so he might have gone back there to look for us.”
“OH NO!” cried Lesedi, feeling the panic rising up in him. “Bosula was here and he said they had found someone in the passage!”
“Who had found someone?” Kgatwe had forgotten about the scorpions in his excitement.
“THE SCORPIONS!” shouted Lesedi, forgetting to be quiet.
“Oh!” said Kgatwe in a small voice. “What’s that noise?” he added, putting his head on one side.
There was a thumping and bumping coming from the shoot. Something or someone else was about to join them from the cave. Lesedi grabbed the snake and Kgatwe and pulled them out of the way just in time as Lorato landed on the floor in front of them. Lesedi ran over to him in distress, thinking that the old man would never be able to survive treatment like this. Lorato had his eyes closed tight and seemed to be in some kind of trance.
“Grandfather?” he said in a small voice, fearing the worst.
Lorato opened his eyes and grinned up at him. “Don’t worry.” He laughed. “I had to put myself into a relaxed trance so that I didn’t break any bones coming down that shoot. Body’s not as strong as it used to be.”
“What happened?” said Lesedi and Kgatwe together. Lesedi grabbed his grandfather’s hand and held on tight. Somehow just his very presence made him feel better even though the odds were against them. “What about the scorpions?”
“Well,” said Lorato, sitting up and dusting himself off. He leaned against the side of the pit. He looked tired. “When I left you I got out of the scorpion passage and then tried to work out a way to let Mary and James know that we needed them to bring the cart.”
“Well, it’s there,” said Kgatwe. “How did you do it?”
“There was a flock of quelea flying by and I managed to persuade them to take a message over the trees.”
“Oh!” said Lesedi, not fully comprehending how he had done this. He knew that quelea were very small birds that flew in flocks of hundreds and sometimes even thousands, but how one got them to take messages to donkeys he wasn’t sure.
“But the scorpions? How did you escape the scorpions? Bosula said they found someone in the passage and I thought you were dead!” Lesedi could feel the tears welling up in his eyes. He had been so brave, but now that his grandfather was here he just wanted to cry.
Lorato stroked his arm. “Don’t worry. I thought the scorpions might pitch up at some stage, so when the cart came I dug out one of my old herbal remedies against scorpions and rubbed it all over myself.”
“How does it work?” asked Kgatwe, making a mental note to rub himself in whatever it was next time he ventured out.
“It disorientates them,” said Lorato. “When they smell it they run around in circles and start stinging each other.”
“So if it worked why are you here then?” asked Lesedi, still hanging onto Lorato’s hand, terrified he might evaporate.
“Well, I got down the hole and into the passageway above the main cave. I was very worried because I couldn’t find you two. So I peered over into the cave and whap! This chameleon creature grabbed me and I just had time to relax myself when he dumped me down that shoot, and here I am! So what’s been happening to you two? Besides making friends with snake here.” He laughed. The snake had curled itself protectively around Lesedi, its head back on his knee.
“We found the nut and there’s this bright sto…” Lesedi started excitedly before Lorato quickly put a hand over his mouth, muffling his words.
“Ssshhh!” said Lorato. “We don’t know if anyone is listening to us.” Lesedi nodded wide-eyed and Lorato took his hand away. “That’s wonderful news, though,” he said softly. “Now we must work out how to get out of here. Have you any idea of where we are in relation to the outside?”
Kgatwe scrambled onto Lesedi’s shoulder. “We’re very close to the scorpion entrance,” he said.
“Good,” said Lorato. “That is where the cart is”
“We know,” said Lesedi. “Kgatwe has been up there. There is another entrance above us.”
“Well, if Kgatwe can get up there he can get the twine ladder from the cart and lower it down to us.”
“Twine ladder!” said Kgatwe excitedly. He was already scrambling across the floor to climb the wall. Suddenly he stopped. “I didn’t see any twine ladder in the cart.” The excitement was going out of his voice. “Are you sure you brought it?”
“It’s in the sixth drawer,” said Lorato.
Kgatwe nodded and carried on up. He knew where the sixth drawer was. He had to open the only drawer there was six times and there it would be. He wasn’t too sure how these things worked but right now he wasn’t in the mood to try and figure it out.
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