Sandokan: The Reckoning

The Sandokan Series Book 7

It's payback time...

Malaysia, 1869. Thirty years have passed since Sandokan was forced from his throne. The day of reckoning has come at last, the day he will avenge his family and reclaim the crown of his ancestors. But an unexpected foe appears, a man with a score to settle and determined to take his revenge.

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Sandokan: The Reckoning

Chapter 1: The Kota

LIGHTNING FLASHED ACROSS the heavens, illuminating the dark storm clouds that had rolled in over Marudu Bay, a large inlet on the northern coast of Borneo a few miles southwest of Banggi Island. Thunder cracked and boomed, roaring like cannon fire over the jungle canopy. Pomelo trees, sugar palms, banana trees and upas trees renowned for their deadly sap, bent and swayed beneath the strong winds blowing in from the sea.
The sun had set several hours earlier, and darkness had descended over all, the blackness of that starless, moonless night, broken only by the occasional flash of lightning.
A storm was fast approaching, however, a few men, undaunted by the elements, kept watch in the jungle surrounding the bay. Whenever a flash of light rent the heavens, a pair of silhouettes would emerge from among the bushes and scan the surrounding vegetation.
“Any sign of him?” whispered one, once the roar of thunder had faded.
“No,” his companion whispered back.
“What could be keeping him? He should have been back by now.”
“He’s probably just being cautious.”
“Or they might have captured him.”
“Sambigliong is too smart for that. He could outwit a battalion of men.”
“Best he gets back soon, before the Tiger of Malaysia grows impatient.”
“He won’t; he knows it’s just a matter of time before Nasumbata falls into our hands. We’ll—”
A commanding voice suddenly cut off his words.
“Quiet!”
Another flash of lightning shattered the gloom; carbine barrels and steel blades glinted silver beneath the giant leaves as light fell upon the large band of men partially concealed among the bushes.
A strong wind swept through the jungle, rattling branches, swaying palm trees and twisting vines and creepers. Moments later it began to rain, large heavy drops that spattered against the leaves like hail.
Suddenly, amidst the roar of the storm, a voice cried out:
“I’m back, Tiger of Malaysia!”
Moments later, an elderly Malay with a wrinkled face, dressed in a simple red cotton sarong that reached down to his knees and armed with a beautiful Indian carbine inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl, emerged from a thick bush.
“Sambigliong!” exclaimed several voices. “At last!”
A second man stepped out from a grove of pepper plants, and strode forward to meet him.
He was a handsome Bornean in his fifties, with bronze skin and dark piercing eyes. He had long wavy hair that fell to his shoulders, and a fine black beard with slight hints of grey throughout it.
He was dressed like a Malay or Indian rajah: a fine white silk shirt, a blue silk jacket with silver embroidery, trousers of the same colour and red leather long boots with pointed curled toes. He carried a double-barrelled English carbine, and had tucked a pair of pistols in his thick black sash, from which also hung a scimitar whose hilt was inlaid with a diamond the size of a walnut.
“I was beginning to wonder if you’d gotten lost,” he said with a smile as he drew near.
“The jungle was thicker than I expected,” replied Sambigliong, “but I learned all I needed to know.”
“Well?”
“The kotta is better defended than we expected. They’ve dug trenches about its walls and booby trapped the ground with arrows.”
“Arrows dipped in upas, no doubt.”
“Quite likely.”
“Any sentries?”
“Just two. Standing watch on the palisades.”
“How many men do you think there are in the village?”
“Around two hundred or so.”
“Did you see any artillery?”
“A meriam.”
“Those brass cannons aren’t worth much,” said the Tiger of Malaysia.
“I’d take a swivel gun over one of them any time,” agreed Sambigliong.
“We’ll attack once the storm has subsided. I want Nasumbata in our hands before Yanez and Tremal-Naik arrive.”
“When do you expect them?”
“Soon,” replied Sandokan. “Now, take twenty men and set up a perimeter behind the kotta. Block all paths into the jungle. Keep an eye out for Nasumbata, he’ll try to run for it as soon as we attack. Spare women and children only.”
“Are the men ready, captain?”
“Almost. They’ll need to prepare against those poisoned arrows,” replied the Tiger of Malaysia.
“A few pontoons should suffice, captain.”
Sandokan, or the Tiger of Malaysia, as he was known throughout the South China Sea, smiled as if to say ‘I’ve already thought of that,’ then added:
“Go select your twenty men and set off for the kotta. I doubt this storm will last more than an hour or so.”
With that he disappeared into the bushes and took shelter beneath the large leaves of a grove of banana trees.
The storm was quickly intensifying. Lightning flashed more frequently, and thunder boomed louder and louder as the rain came down in sheets.
At times a powerful gale would come in from the bay and howl through the jungle, snapping branches, twisting vines and creepers and felling young trees.
The Malays stood stone still, unperturbed by the elements. They had but one concern it seemed, to keep their carbines dry.
Another thirty minutes passed, the storm still raging round them, when a man suddenly emerged from the jungle and ran towards the Tiger of Malaysia’s hiding place.
“Captain,” he said. “I bear a message from Sambigliong.”
“Are his men in place?”
“Yes, captain. They’ve set up a perimeter behind the kotta. No one will escape, sir.”
“You didn’t need to relay the message, Sapagar,” replied the pirate leader, “I’d expected as much.”
“I bear another message, captain. Moments ago we heard a cannon blast.”
Sandokan shot to his feet.
“A cannon blast? From the kotta?”
“No, sir, from the bay.”
“From the bay? Is our ship in danger?”
“No, sir; the cannon sounded like it came from far off.”
“It could be Yanez and Tremal-Naik firing a shot to let us know they’ve arrived.”
“I couldn’t say, Tiger of Malaysia,” replied Sapagar.
Sandokan thought for a moment, then said:
“Select two men, take one of the longboats and do a quick patrol of the bay. If you spy a yacht or anything suspicious, come warn me immediately. I’ll likely be in the kotta by the time you get back.”
“Yes, captain.”
“Go now, hurry.”
As the Malay ran off, he drew his scimitar and shouted:
“It’s time my Tigers!”
Thirty men dressed in loincloths, armed with carbines, krises, parangs, and kampilans immediately emerged from the bushes and assembled in two rows.
“Are your carbines loaded?” asked Sandokan.
“Yes, captain.”
“And the pontoons?”
“Ready, captain.”
“Onward then.”
Their captain leading the way, the thirty men silently set off into the jungle.
The rain had stopped but lightning still streaked the sky at times followed by peels of thunder. Strong blasts of wind swept through the jungle from time to time, their roars and howls mingling with the rustle of leaves and branches.
The small column had been cautiously making their way forward for about ten minutes, when the captain’s voice cried out:
“Halt! There’s the kotta! ... Prepare to attack!”
A flash of lightning illuminated a small village in a clearing about two hundred paces in front of them. It was of typical Dyak construction: several longhouses surrounded by a wall of thick planks about three or four metres high.
As Sambigliong had reported, three deep trenches had been dug in the ground before it, each filled with thorns and almost insurmountable obstacles for the barefooted warriors of enemy tribes. To make their fortress even more unassailable, the Dyaks had planted poisoned arrowheads dipped in upas sap into the ground, a single scratch from the poisoned tip, would bring swift death to any attacker.
Fortunately, the Malays who were about to attack the village were quite familiar with Dyak defences; at the Tiger’s command, they brought forward the pontoons, long planks they would use to bridge the dangerous terrain before them.
“Eyes peeled,” said Sandokan.
“Yes, captain.”
“Forward!”
The planks, four meters long by two meters wide, were placed on the ground, and the thirty Malays, began to make their way forward, advancing in silence.
The skies had settled but the wind continued to howl beneath the trees, concealing the sounds of the advancing Malays.
Once the scouts had carefully examined the ground, thirty men would drag the pontoons forward until signalled to stop. Repeating this procedure again and again, the band of men slowly advanced towards the trenches, crossing that tract of land that concealed the poisoned arrowheads unscathed.
The sentries appeared not to have noticed their advance, neither having moved from their position atop the wall.
At last the first trench was within the Malays’ sight: it was a deep pit, about three meters wide and filled with thorns, a daunting barrier for a band of barefooted men! ... Beyond it stretched two more, the kotta’s first line of defence.
“First pontoon battalion forward,” commanded Sandokan, his eyes fixed on the palisades. “Try not to make any noise.”
But before his men could move they heard a voice cry out:
“To arms!”
One of the sentries must have spied something and had immediately sounded the alarm.
“Drop to the ground,” whispered Sandokan, “Ready to fire at my command.”
The Malays, accustomed to battle, immediately obeyed, flattening themselves against the planks.
Shouts and cries began to emanate from the village as lanterns and torches were quickly lit.
Moments later several men armed with parangs and sumpitans peered over the palisades as torchbearers tried to illuminate the ground below.
The air quickly filled with frantic voices.
“Where are they?” asked one.
“Hiding,” replied another.
“Where?”
“By the trench; I heard branches snap.”
“It could have been a babirusa…”
“Or a mawas?”
“It wasn’t an ape.”
“Is the meriam loaded?
“Yes.”
“Fire a shot.”
Several men rushed to a corner of the kotta, where a small cannon stood beneath an awning.
“Let them have their fun,” Sandokan whispered to the men closest to him. “Relay the order.”
All remained quiet for a few more minutes, then suddenly a bright flash tore through the darkness, followed by a loud discharge that reverberated through the jungle.
The meriam had fired, but the shot had been random, for the Malays, crouched among the dark shadows cast by the giant palm leaves, were completely hidden from sight. The Dyaks were likely trying to scare off their opponents with a display of their most powerful artillery.
Three times the meriam thundered, hurling two pound cannonballs into the air, the dangerous projectiles sailing past Sandokan and his men, never once finding their mark.
Then suddenly the cannon fire stopped and silence returned to the jungle.
Sandokan, aware that the Dyaks had no desire to waste their ammunition, signalled for two pontoons to be cast over the first trench.
“Next battalion!” he commanded, once all was in place, his voice slightly louder than a whisper.
A dozen Malays quickly crossed those makeshift bridges, carrying four more long planks with them.
The meriam thundered once again and this time the cannonball found its mark, killing a Malay just a few paces from the Tiger of Malaysia.
Fierce cries erupted from behind the palisades:
“There they are! Draw your kampilans!”
“Fire!” thundered Sandokan. “Forward men!”
A formidable volley of musketry thundered through the air, the Malays, to a man, aiming at the meriam, determined to scatter the gunners before they could fire their cannon once again. Seconds later not a Dyak remained standing by that piece of artillery, the Indian carbines having made quick work of them.
But the battle was far from over. While the Malays had been quickly bridging the trenches with their pontoons, large bands of warriors had rushed atop the palisades, howling menacingly and firing clouds of arrows with their sumpitans.
Sandokan, at the head of the vanguard, led his men over the pontoons and across the trenches, and rushed beneath the palisades.
“Is the fuse ready?” he asked the men with him.
“Yes, Captain.”
“Place the bomb there. Hurry.”
While one of his men set the bomb at the junction of two thick planks that towered over them, Sandokan raised his carbine, and, spying two men running towards them atop the wall, felled them both with a pair of gunshots.
A shower of arrows came in reply and Sandokan quickly ordered a retreat, his men opening fire at the warriors above, hoping to scatter them with a few volleys from their carbines.
The Dyaks, however, held their ground, defending themselves with fury, their arrows accompanied by meriam and musket shots. Those wild natives of the Bornean jungles had no fear of death; accustomed to boarding prahus armed with mortars and swivel guns they were not frightened by mere bullets.
Sandokan and his men quickly raced back over the pontoons and rushed into the jungle to await the explosion.
The Dyaks, believing their mysterious enemies had finally retreated, suspended fire and immediately began to scan the jungle about the kotta, attempting to spot their enemies in the darkness.
“Captain,” said an old fierce-looking Malay, wielding a heavy parang, as he approached Sandokan, “what if the bomb doesn’t work? That teakwood looked quite sturdy.”
“There’s enough powder in that bomb to blast a hole in a cruiser,” replied the Tiger of Malaysia. “It’ll work.”
“And you’re certain Nasumbata is in there?”
“He’ll be in my hands within the hour. Tell the men to charge at the sound of the blast. Our first priority is to take the fort; do not follow anyone who tries to flee into the jungle. Leave that to Sambigliong and his men. Now then, do the men still have their torches?”
“Yes, captain.”
“Are they dry?”
“I believe so.”
“Once we’re inside the kotta, they’re to light them and set fire to the longhouses.”
“Yes, sir.”
A loud explosion suddenly sounded from the kotta. The bomb had gone off at last, smashing planks and beams and hurling three or four Dyak warriors into the air.
Sandokan’s voice immediately thundered:
“Attack, Tigers of Mompracem!”
The Malays charged over the bridges, stormed through the breach in the palisade and rushed into the kotta, their parangs and kampilans flailing, voices shouting without pause:
“Surrender! Surrender!”
Two dozen Dyak warriors attempted to fend them off, as women and children rushed out of the longhouses, screaming in terror as they ran to the far end of the kotta hoping to escape into the jungle.
Those warriors were all tall handsome men with light bronze skin, strong limbed and armed with kampilans and long shields made of buffalo hide.
But they would need more than that to stop the Tigers of Mompracem, the most formidable pirates of the Sunda Sea! The pirates gave no quarter, attacking furiously, kampilans and parangs clashing without pause, while others, having drawn their torches, set fire to the empty huts.
Sandokan, seeing that the Dyak warriors were stubbornly refusing to yield even though they were outnumbered, summoned the men who had gone to retrieve the pontoons. With a few volleys of gunfire, he turned the tide of battle in his favour.
The Dyaks at last broke ranks and scattered past the burning longhouses, heading for the walls.
The Malays did not bother to follow, knowing that Sambigliong was lying in wait on the outskirts of the jungle with a large band of men.
“Put out the fires and search the huts,” commanded Sandokan, his carbine level as he scanned the grounds before him. “Nasumbata must be here somewhere.”
Dousing flames as they advanced, the Malays began their search, using their torches to illuminate the huts about them.
Meanwhile the remaining Dyak warriors had gathered at the far wall. Suspecting that their attackers may have had reinforcements in the jungle, they had decided to make one last stand and began to shower the Malays with arrows from their blowguns.
The pirates were quick to reply, a small band of men immediately opening fire, the volley scattering their foes in an instant.
Suddenly a cry rang out:
“There he is! Nasumbata! He’s trying to escape!”
“After him! Grab him!”
“Take him alive!” thundered the Tiger of Malaysia.
A man wearing a simple sirat, a cotton loincloth with an apron and tail that hung two thirds the length of his thigh, had bolted out of a hut, brandishing a large pistol by the barrel and a kris with a long serpentine blade.
As agile as a tiger, he had run past the Malays in the vanguard with the speed of an arrow, racing towards the kotta’s gates, determined to hide in the jungle.
Sandokan had spotted him instantly.
“No one move!” he shouted. “He’s mine.”
He raised his double-barrelled carbine. The fugitive continued to run through the kotta’s main square, darting left and right to prevent the Malays from taking aim.
But before he had taken a dozen more steps a carbine shot rang out and he fell, his hands immediately clutching his left leg.
The Tiger of Malaysia had fired.
The Malays were about to rush upon him, but Sandokan stopped them with a gesture.
“Leave him to me,” he said. “Go help the others. I want this battle brought to a quick end.”
The Dyak warriors had refused to yield, regrouping upon the walkway atop the western palisades, determined to fight to the last.
Sandokan walked towards the wounded man, his carbine level, ready to fire at the first sign of resistance.
“Drop your weapons,” he said. “You are my prisoner now. Understood?”
The Dyak remained on the ground, clutching his bleeding leg with one hand, and a pistol in the other.
At the sound of Sandokan’s voice he looked up and raised his gun, his hand trembling slightly.
“Stay back!” he shouted angrily.
“Drop it!” repeated the pirate captain. “You still have a chance to save your hide.”
“You won’t spare me,” replied the wounded man.
“Your fate is in your hands,” replied Sandokan. “Answer my questions and I’ll spare your life. You have my word.”
The Dyak hesitated for a moment, then cast away his weapon. Sandokan drew a gold whistle from his belt and blew a sharp note.
Three or four Malays immediately rushed to his side.
“Bind his arms and tend to his leg as best you can then carry him into the chief’s hut.”
He calmly reloaded his carbine and walked towards the section of the wall where the Dyaks were making their last stand.
The Malays had opened fire, determined to force them to surrender. A few shots came from the other side of the palisade, Sambigliong’s men firing from the jungle. The Dyaks were in a crossfire.
“Drop your weapons and no harm will come to you,” shouted Sandokan. “Refuse, and you all die here. I am the Tiger of Malaysia.”
At the sound of that name, feared throughout the coasts of Borneo, the Dyaks dropped their kampilans, sumpitans and krises.
“Round them up!” commanded Sandokan. “Summon Sambigliong and his men and gather the women and children. No harm is to come to them.”
He slung his carbine over his shoulder, turned and walked towards the chief’s hut.
“To us now, Nasumbata,” he muttered.