Decline
Chapter 2
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He could not sleep.

With a ragged sigh Roxton sat up on the cot, glancing at the quietly snoozing Malone and cheerfully snoring Challenger, and decided to take a walk. “Or better yet …” Allowing a secretive smile, he felt for the bulge in his vest pocket then pushed his long legs from underneath the light blanket. Roxton then jammed his stocking feet quickly into the boots that sat on the floor near his bed and, standing, quietly made for the hut’s exit.

Once outside, he pulled the thick cigar from its hiding place and lifted it to his nose, pleased with the sweet aroma and anticipating its taste. He had stopped smoking over two years ago, more because the smoke bothered his treehouse companions than for health reasons, but when Chief Jacoba offered Roxton the cigar last evening the memory of what a good smoke could bring to the senses elicited nothing but fond reminiscences from the grateful Lord.

Roxton looked about. It was just after three in the morning and there was now very little movement in the Zanga village. There were still a few warriors and tradesmen talking around the bond fire, which now looked like little more than a campfire. Torches could also be seen alit in a couple of the family huts but, all things considered, Roxton was quite alone and he was pleased with the solitude. It gave him time to think.

He lit the cigar by means of a flame from a torch on a tall pole near the men’s quarters then, taking a deep drag, he savored the rush. Exhaling smoke, Roxton instinctively looked about the perimeter, at the tall walls enclosing the village. His cautious eyes held onto the dark jungle beyond -- and the danger it personified. On the way to the Zanga village yesterday he sensed a T-Rex was nearby, could even hear a faint roar and heavy footfall, but nothing - thankfully - came of it. Roxton took another drag on his cigar.

There was a full moon above, surrounded by a million twinkling stars, and he could see almost everything quite clearly. The Zanga could not have asked for a more perfect night for their celebration.

Finally, and glumly, his eyes dwelled on the hut where Marguerite and Veronica were now sleeping. He could just picture Marguerite, laying on her side, those long and luscious brunette curls like a fan on the pillow beneath her head. Roxton could see himself laying at her side, a hand resting on her bare hip, his warm body spooning her own, lips caressing her naked shoulder ….

“Lord John Roxton.” A soft and nearly lyrical voice called to him, close by.

Startled, Roxton turned and watched her stroll, unhurried, from a shadow. The moonlight accentuated the figure’s curves and the gleam of her raven hair. Roxton was man enough to realize a very lovely woman was approaching. “Can I help you?” he asked, taking the cigar from his mouth and politely lowering it to his side.

“My name is Ennie.” she murmured, “I saw you and your friends tonight but was too busy helping with food preparation to introduce myself.” She stood directly in front of Roxton, staring up at the man, her eyes appraising. He really was an excellent looking man. She would enjoy his company or, more specifically, his powerful body. “Trouble sleeping?” she asked.

He nodded, “Some. Yourself?”

“I sleep very little. My blood is in tune with the night. ” she said cryptically, with a small smile, averting her eyes. Ennie felt for the small pouch at her side, comforted by its bulk and the enchantment it contained.

Roxton blinked, slightly troubled. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” he said, admiring the woman‘s dark beauty but also feeling a slight tingle of warning from somewhere deep in his brain. “Do you come from a different tribe?’

“I am Assai’s cousin and I’ve been away for awhile. I am a shaman.” Unseen, Ennie’s slender fingers unlaced the leather string at the brim of the hidden pouch.

“A most worthy profession.” Roxton acknowledged, thinking of other shamans he and his fellow explorers had met during their adventures over the last few years.

Ennie bowed her head slightly, accepting his compliment. Glancing once at the women’s hut, then again to Roxton, she asked: “Are you not with your lady tonight?”

Roxton hesitated. “No, no. Marguerite‘s asleep.” he said, unsuccessfully attempting to keep the regret from his tone.

Ennie, with something which could easily be described as a calculated simper, moved in fractionally closer to Roxton and, in a fluid movement, took the cigar from between his fingers. She lifted it up to examine the weave of the leaves. “I like a man with vices.” she said decisively with a near purr, “Lord Roxton, it is the Zanga way to be hospitable to their guests of honor.” Seductively, she slowly put the cigar between Roxton’s lips. She smiled at his curious stare and, without his knowledge, dipped her fingers into the hidden pouch at her side. “It is my opinion that a man should not be too perfect … or too much a slave to one woman. Especially when there is so much of life and its pleasures to be sampled ...”

Looking down at the woman, at her dark eyes as they sent an unmistakable signal, Roxton suddenly felt like he was about to be devoured by a ravenous wolf.

The shaman knew it was time to strike and her hand sank deeply into the pouch. However, at the exact moment Ennie brought her fingers out and blew the white powder in Lord Roxton’s direction, he was distracted by the loud roar of a great dinosaur.

“That’s close.“ he said, never seeing Ennie’s deception or the floating translucent powder, which missed him entirely.

The Zanga warriors near the bond fire stood and also looked in the roar‘s direction, toward the jungle. Roxton quickly darted over to them, to assess their opinions of possible danger.

The woman forgotten in his haste.

Ennie, with a combination of shock and anger, unnerved that Roxton could so easily walk away from her attempts at seduction, without even a backward glance, turned quickly around and gnashed her teeth together. Fuming, she stalked back to her hut. “No man just walks away from me!” she growled dangerously, her brown eyes flashing a threatening red.

Lord John Roxton, Ennie vowed, would regret such impertinence.

**

Morning came too quickly for some.

“Rise and shine, Marguerite.” Veronica called cheerfully, pulling the thin coverlet off her companion’s body and smiling as Miss Krux rolled sideways in the bed, pretending not to hear her. “Come on, My Queen.” Veronica comically imitated Roxton as she folded the coverlet, “We need to be on our way within a half hour. That gives us only a few minutes for breakfast.”

The thought of food made Marguerite groan. “What time is it?”

“Nearly seven thirty.”

With great difficulty, Marguerite sat slowly up on the cot, and directed her half closed eyes to the jungle girl, “Don’t you feel the least bit hung over?”

“Maybe a little dizzy when I first woke up but I’m fine now. You will too once you eat something.” Veronica could not prevent an amused smile at Marguerite’s expense. The poor woman looked positively green. ‘You reap what you sew‘ Veronica’s mother had often said. Still, Veronica wasn’t completely unfeeling. After all, everyone had drank a bit too much last night. “Tell you what, you get yourself adjusted and I’ll get you a cup of tea ...” She tossed the folded blanket onto her own cot.

“Coffee.” Marguerite requested although it did sound a bit more like a demand than she intended, “There has *got* to be at least one pot of coffee somewhere in this village. This is South America for God‘s sake.”

“I didn’t see any brewing during my morning walk.” the jungle girl informed.

Placing both hands on either side of her throbbing head, Marguerite barely focused on Veronica. “How long have you been up?”

“An hour, maybe a little more.” Turning to the exit, feeling a tad of sympathy, Veronica picked up Marguerite’s gun belt and pitched it at her, “I’ll go check around. If there’s coffee here I’ll find it. Be back soon.”

“Thank you.“ Marguerite whispered to the girl‘s departing back. Bending slowly and carefully, she picked the belt up from where it had fallen at her feet.

Marguerite felt the need to blame someone for her misfortune and only one name came to mind. This was all Roxton’s fault. If he hadn’t kept trying to out-drink her during the celebration last night she might not be feeling this terrible right now. He could be so damn infuriating! “Or no … not Roxton’s fault.” Marguerite quickly chastised herself. She had to quit taking everything that man said and did out of context. He wasn’t like the other men in her life. He was kind and generous. It wasn’t like Roxton was forcing her to toss back those drinks.

A small smile upturned Marguerite’s mouth. And poor John had been so disappointed when she had set him straight about their sleeping arrangements while here in the Zanga village. Not until this morning did she realize how deliciously cruel that was. Her glee, however, was tempered by a disturbing thought. She really *did* want to be alone with Roxton last night, enjoying his company as much as he wanted to be with her. So, why did she balk when he suggested a trip into the jungle? She could claim they were a civilized man and woman and such an act might be misconstrued as improper … but that wasn’t it.

Rolling various troublesome thoughts around in her aching brain, Marguerite slipped her boots on and, standing cautiously, she then slid the gun belt around her trim waist. Slowly, she stretched her body, attempting to alleviate tension. If *she* felt this badly Marguerite could only imagine what poor Challenger must be going through. She had never seen him so smashed! This brought a chuckle to the woman that immediately went to her head. “Ouch.” She lifted fingers to her forehead and cursed her idiocy.

“Perhaps this will help.” A gently smiling woman, wearing a unusual sarong, entered the hut, lifting a mug of warm liquid. “Veronica said you were looking for coffee ...”

“Bless you.” Marguerite nearly leapt over to where the Zanga stood. She quickly took the cup from her out stretched hand and began to drink, unaware that the woman was watching her meticulously, assessing what John Roxton saw in her.

Marguerite pulled back slightly, sniffing the contents of what she just drank. “This isn’t coffee.” she said, regret evident. Yet it wasn’t altogether unpleasant either. She took another sip, “What is it?”

“A mixture.” The woman now met Marguerite’s curious eyes and lifted a small pouch of an off-white powder, “My name is Ennie. I am a shaman. When I heard you were not feeling well I took it upon myself to bring you something that might help.”

Marguerite pulled back a tuft of her dark disarrayed hair and addressed the woman seriously, “My headache seems to be going away.” She glanced into the cup again, “This is wonderful stuff.”

“I am glad you approve.”

“I do.” Marguerite could smile easily now, feeling the thudding pain lesson by the second. She turned from Ennie, drinking more of the concoction, and with her free hand reached for her jacket which was laying at the foot of the cot. “Ennie, if you have more of that mixture I’d love to take some with ….”

But when Marguerite turned around the shaman was gone. She looked down at the mug and frowned. There was only a little left. Marguerite then looked at a small shelf near the door and saw the shaman had left the pouch of powder for her.

Later, when recalling the event, Marguerite would tell her friends this was all she remembered -- but so much more had happened.

****