Captured by what appear to be Ancient Egyptians in the Mountains of the Moon, while hunting for the Lost Kosher Vineyards of the Queen of Sheba, Sir Roger Ghastleigh-Bray and his companions, the white hunter Allan Quarterback, the Zulu warrior Umkhonto we Sizwe and the teenaged Adonis Tollemache Card-Cuttoutte, have been brought to the hidden valley of Ass-sep-Ankh. There they are brought before the immortal Darlasha, She Who Must Be Obeyed on Pain of Pain.
The beautiful if willful ruler of this hidden oasis declares that Tolly is her re-incarnated lover Kallipyges. On remonstrating with her, Sir Roger is publicly spanked by the masterful Captain Horus, to whom he is then given as a gift (unwrapped, but you can't have everything).
Although his words were presumably not understood, his tone certainly was, and Captain Horus smouldered at the insult to his queen, with the unintended effect of making me go quite weak at the knees. He seemed about to expostulate, when he fell to his own knees, which surprised me somewhat until I looked up and saw Darlasha's face.
That supernal beauty was incandescent with a rage which lit her alabaster skin like an inner flame.
"Have you not yet learned to be silent ?" she hissed. "Foolish man !! I see that a more severe example must be made. Bring Tshaka Khan !"
The courtiers paled under their tans, and I wondered who this apparent hybrid of Zulu and Mongol monarchy might be, to arouse such fear. Shortly, I was to learn, for into the torchlight was led a magnificent elephant, his tusks banded with silver and his massive body draped in cloth of gold worked with scenes of chastisement in multicoloured thread. A bamboo, fully as thick as a man's thumb, was brought and clasped in the powerful trunk, stronger by far than a human arm. The mighty beast swished the rod through the air experimentally a few times, just as my old housemaster used to do at prep school, producing the same sinking fear.
"Six of the best," commanded Darlasha. Beside me, Horus shook his head, and placed a proprietorial hand on my still fiery buttock.
I stifled a yelp as he whispered:
"He will never sit easy again. The last man to receive even four strokes from the Great Chastiser still bears the furrows across his backside."
"You must do something, I beg you," I implored him, but he shook his head again.
"It is not wise to provoke her when she is in this mood. The last to do so was the sorceress Goolagaga, who was once beautiful and is now a wizened crone telling fortunes in a trailer park somewhere."
You could have heard a pin drop as the terrifying beast was led behind Quarterback, who writhed frantically in his frame, but to no avail, for our bonds were well tied. I could see the beads of sweat trickle down his back in the torchlight, into the cleft between his muscular and golden-furred buttocks . . .
"Eh-hm." Someone cleared his throat dramatically. It was Umkhonto. "Oh great Queen, may you live forever. It would be most unfortunate," he added, "if what already has the makings of a diplomatic incident were to end up in economic sanctions."
My mouth fell open. How could this unlettered savage possibly have learned Ancient Egyptian, even if he spoke it with the same strange accent as the people of this valley instead of the classically refined vowel sounds I had learned at Oxford ?
Even the magnificent Darlasha seemed taken aback.
"You had better explain yourself," she remarked, in the sort of deceptively calm tone that suggested that an inadequate explanation might result in further employment for Tshaka Khan.
"Surely lady you recognise me ? Has my time at Harvard Business School changed so much the son of Buluwayo Harare, Killer of Lions, He Whose Tread Shakes the Earth, Lord of the Mines ?"
"Young Umkhonto ! An unexpected pleasure," murmured the living goddess, surveying his muscular and naked torso. At her gesture servants released him from his bonds. "How did thy honoured father enjoy the last vintage we sent him ?"
"A very good year. I hear even better things of this year's vintage. That's why it would be such a shame if Quarterback were to be harmed. After all, we are blood brothers, so an injury to him is an injury to me. My father might be angry enough to cancel his order, or even embargo the export of paddles."
Darlasha paled a little, then recovering, frowned.
"I have commanded six of the best for him, and my word cannot be gainsaid," she remarked. Then she smiled, a feline and unfathomable expression. "There can be only one resolution," she said. "Thou must beat him instead."
A smile spread across Umkhonto's face in return.
"That," he drawled, "will be my pleasure."
"Bastard!" hissed Quarterback under his breath, as Umkhonto took the bamboo from the supple trunk of the elephant, which nuzzled him affectionately as if recognising a kindred spirit. The muscular Zulu walked slowly round, as if admiring the compact leanness of the white hunter's body, then ran a massive palm over Quarterback's knotted behind in an appreciative manner. He swished the bamboo through the air as the elephant had done, testing its weight and suppleness, and I saw Quarterback flinch a little.
"After each stroke," rumbled Umkhonto, "you will call out the number that you have received, and thank me. If you do not, it will not be counted. At the end, you will also thank the Great Queen for her mercy. Do you understand ?"
"Yes," muttered Quarterback.
Umkhonto swiftly brought his hand down across Quarterback's right buttock. Smack !
"Ow," gasped Quarterback as a scarlet print blotched the fair skin.
"Yes, what ?" asked Umkhonto.
"Yes, sir," spat Quarterback through gritted teeth. I must say I felt quite proud of his defiant spirit - Umkhonto was really getting beyond himself, even if he was a local bigwig. I had feared that something like this might develop from Quarterback's over-familiar manner with him.
With no further ceremony, Umkhonto brought the bamboo swishing down on the bare and helpless arse of Allan Quarterback. The snap of cane on flesh was followed by a gasp, and then: "One ! Thank you, sir."
SWISH. "Ah ! Two, thank you sir." SWISH-THWACK ! "Oh God ! Ah, three, three, thank you, sir." THWICK !! "Oh God, please, please, no more !"
"Did I hear something, or have I lost my count ?" said Umkhonto, menacingly.
"Four ! Four, thank you sir," gasped Quarterback. And four scarlet weals across his pale bum attested to the truth of this statement.
SWISH-THWACK ! SWISH THWACK !! In rapid succession, two more blows landed on the writhing buttocks of the helpless man, neatly across the existing lines at an angle of 45 degrees. "FIVE, SIX ! Oh, GOD !!" exclaimed the wretched Quarterback.
"Yes ?" queried Umkhonto.
"Oh, er, thank you sir, and I'm sorry, your majesty. Oh God, my arse is on fire."
"Then perhaps you will remember your manners in future," said Umkhonto. He began to rub Quarterback's behind with those massive hands, curiously gentle, and I thought I heard him mutter: "You've been asking for that for a long time. Maybe I should do it more often, honeybuns." But I must certainly have been mistaken, for the acoustics in that place were strange. A tear trickled down Quarterback's cheek - dashed poor show, if you ask me - but there was a curiously - satiated - smile on his face.
"Release them from their bonds," commanded Darlasha. "Except the boy. Leave him bound, and bring them all to the Sacred Flame, in the Tombs of Klot." The torches flared up for a moment in a dazzling flame, and when vision cleared the beautiful and mysterious mistress of Ass-sep-Ankh had disappeared, along with her tiger.
"They do it with mirrors," said Umkhonto, catching sight of my open mouth. But I had no time to ponder on it, for we were all urged up, and led through narrow and tortuous passages, across a great chasm where curiously shaped rocks leered like gargoyles, and through into a cavern of some polished stone. At the far end stood Darlasha, smiling now, and robed in white clothes bearing the mystic rune DKNY. Behind her roared a great pillar of rosy flame.
"Behold the Sacred Flame of Life," she said. "Once I have restored my dear Kallipyges to his memories of me, we shall bathe together in its healing radiance, that he may have length of days equal to my own."
She turned to Tolly. The roseate glow bathed his lithe young body, and he seemed like a statue of the young Apollo come to life. But a frown lighted on the lad's handsome brow as Darlasha approached him.
"Can't I be whacked by Umkhonto, if I have to be whacked ?" he said, making sheeps-eyes at the stalwart Zulu.
"Never," cried Darlasha. "You are mine, and mine alone." It took me a moment to realise that she had spoken English. "Aye, I speak your tongue and many others" she said. "And Kallipyges, no hand but mine shall punish these sweet and golden buns." She laid a proprietorial hand on the boy's backside, then seizing a golden paddle from one of her attendants, she began to spank him.
Those slim white arms were obviously endowed with an unnatural strength. The twin golden globes, pert and proud, swiftly grew flushed, then scarlet, with the blows that landed relentlessly upon them. Tolly bucked, but to no avail. And all the while, she kept up a low commentary:
"You've been a very - WHACK - naughty - WHACK - boy - WHACK - running off - WHACK - and dying - WHACK - for all those - WHACK - centuries. And naughty - WHACK - boys - WHACK - must be - WHACK - punished."
Tolly began to gasp and pretty soon to plead, but it gained him naught. Darlasha dropped the paddle, and began to spank his by now purpling buttocks with her hand, pausing only to rub the fevered flesh from time to time in a way which brought his young manhood to an indelicate prominence (I may say no more with propriety, even in this private journal). His moans took on a more erotic character, as if uncertain whether it were pain or something else that moved him.
At last he gasped "Darlasha !"
"Kallipyges, my beloved ! You are returned !! " She seized a dagger from somewhere within her robes and cut his bonds, and he fell into her arms. "Quickly my love, we must enter the sacred flame together."
He drew back in alarm.
"Do not fear it - it is life itself," she said. "See ?" And fearlessly, she stepped into the fire. I gasped in horror - surely she would be burned to something resembling a good English steak - but lo ! The fire played about her as if she bathed in water, and a new vitality seemed to enter her features.
But in an instant, the miracle turned to horror. The beauteous face seemed to swell, the jaw to move in spastic chewing movements, as if clogged with gum. The slim erect carriage of a warrior maiden dwindled into the slouch of a bored clerk, and the elegant white clothes shrivelled into - horrors ! - lime-green and orange polyester.
With a despairing cry of "Oh no, not Peoria again . . ." she raised her arms with a jangle of cheap costume jewellery to heaven, and vanished from our sight.
There was a ghastly silence.
"Bit of a rum do, what," said Tolly. "Perhaps we'd better escape while we can, eh, Uncle Roger ?"
But I was looking at my magnificent Horus, sobbing like a child on his knees.
"You go, lad," I murmured. "Umkhonto can take both you and Allan back, as he seems to have some influence with these people." Tolly and Umkhonto both brightened at this suggestion, though the loyal Allan Quarterback seemed disposed to object - doubtless concerned for my safety.
"And what of you, Sir Roger ?" rumbled Umkhonto.
"I rather think," I said, placing a - strictly brotherly - arm around the weeping Captain, "that my place for the moment is here. There will need to be some changes in the Government - Englishman's burden and all that - and I may be able to help."
"In that case," said Umkhonto, producing a hipflask, "I will drink to your success." He poured a measure of whisky into the cap and raised it.
"Bottoms up, Sir Roger !" smiled Umkhonto we Sizwe.