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The Sea Tiger/MHLLim Copyright 2009

Margaret Lim Eichenwall 26 26789 Leer, Germany November 2008 12098 Words

Margaret H.L. Lim

HARIMAU LAUT THE SEA TIGER

Based on

The Sea Tiger


Lim Beng Hap
By

The Sea Tiger/MHLLim Copyright 2009

Dedicated to the Memory


Of My Seventh Uncle

Lim Beng Hap A true Son of Sarawak

The Sea Tiger/MHLLim Copyright 2009

HARIMAU LAUT
T H E S E A T I G E R

The Sea Tiger/MHLLim Copyright 2009

Foreword by Lim Beng Hap

THE EVENTS OF THIS STORY took place more than a hundred years ago, when fleets of pirate boats roamed the seas of South-East Asia and pillaged ships and villages on the coasts of the many islands that made up the archipelago. Piracy was the main engagement of the Illanuns and Balaninis of, respectively, the Mindanao and Sulu Islands in the southern Philippines. These people ventured forth from secret strongholds situated in the maze of islands in the southern Philippines and sailed either down the coasts of Sarawak or Sabah as far as the Straits of Malacca. They normally returned to their strongholds by way of the Java Sea, passing the Celebes Islands, or by whichever route the looting was good. The north-east monsoon wind was once called the Pirate Wind, for it normally brought fleets of pirate boats to the many islands of South-East Asia. These fleets returned home, on the subsequent south-west monsoon, with abundant booty and captured slaves. And along the way, they would stop to sell or barter their loot in the several pirate marts as well as pay tributes to powerful sultans who connived with them at their nefarious trade or actually sponsored them. The through shores. leading story opens with one such fleet returning home the South China Sea, sailing close to the Sarawak It comprised fifty boats, with its commander the van.

The Sea Tiger/MHLLim Copyright 2009

The Batang Lupar! The resounding cry rose above the sounds of flapping sails. The Batang Lupar! repeated the helmsman on the poop deck. Were approaching the mouth of the Batang Lupar! The door of the cabin under the poop deck swung open. Out stepped a man with the physique of a pugilist, broadshouldered, narrow-hipped. He wore a pair of black trousers held at the waist by a red sash. The part of his body that lay exposed was deeply-tanned, not burnt to an ebony by the merciless sun of the Equator. A strip of red cloth bound half way up his brow to keep the wind from whipping his unruly hair into his eyes, gave him a debonair air. Catlike, he went up the ladder that led to the poop deck where the steersman was manning the rudder at the stern of the vessel. Steer the ship to port abreast of the second in line, he commanded. Starboard helm! Aye, aye, my lord Laksamana. Starboard helm! The helmsman gripped the rudder post, and with the help of two slaves hurriedly summoned to his side, began to make the strenuous manoeuvre. This handsome, powerfully-built individual that the helmsman addressed as Laksamana was the leader of a disreputable band of brigands. He was the admiral, or in Sanskrit, Laksamana of the fleet of pirate vessels, strung out in a ragtag line, haphazardly following his flagship, a commandeered Chinese junk. Among this motley mix of vessels out-fitted with sails were Arabian dhows and dahabiyyas, and the two-tiered kumpits of the region with their simple mat sails, and manned by slave rowers. Known to all sea-faring men as Harimau Laut or the Sea Tiger, the Laksamana was feared and revered by his
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followers and enemies alike. Though still young, his swordfighting prowess was already legendary. He was also reputed to be invincible. He and his motley bands of pirates were renowned up and down the coasts not only for their courage, but for their ferocity in battle as well. Feet thudded up the stairs that led down to the main deck and clattered up the boards leading to the poop deck. A short, stout, bald-headed man with a well-trimmed beard appeared, wearing an expression of concern on his goodnatured, weather-beaten face. His eyes lit up at the sight of the Sea Tiger and he visibly relaxed. Ah, my lord Laksamana, I was down in the holds checking the supplies when I felt the craft changing course, he said with a note of query in his voice. He was after all the captain of this ship. Dont worry, Nakhoda Hassim. I gave the order to pull alongside the second boat in line, the Sea Tiger assured him. I want to have a word with Nakhoda Ibrahim. By this time, the flag ship and the second boat in the vanguard were abreast of each other. Nakhoda Ibrahim was already leaning over the starboard side, hands cupped to his ears in anticipation of orders from the Laksamana. Both ships were barely half a ships beam from each other. Nakhoda Ibrahim, I want you to take command of the whole fleet. Take it straight home. I will rejoin you in a weeks time. Do not engage other ships on the way. We have enough booty, bellowed the Laksamana above the sounds of sails billowing in the breeze. Both ships plunged and rose as they rode the swells, the waves slapping hard against the hulls, throwing up spumes that sparkled like precious stones in the brilliant sunlight. My lord Laksamana, your orders are understood and will be obeyed. Nakhoda Ibrahims reply came thinly across, the wind almost whipping his words away. The Laksamana then gave Nakhoda Ibrahim a new course. Only a flicker in Nakhoda Hassims eyes revealed his surprise that the Sea Tiger had a hidden agenda of his own. He suppressed any misgivings he had, for he was fiercely loyal to the Laksamana and would follow his childhood
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friend, kinsman and brother-in-arms to the ends of the earth and into the depths of hell. The flag ship headed seaward, tacking, to allow the rest of the fleet to pass. The Sea Tiger nodded in approval as Nakhoda Ibrahim, at his instruction, hoisted the command flag a yellow pennant with a leaping white tiger motif. The fleet would faithfully follow Nakhoda Ibrahim homeward. He did not lower his own pennant that showed the same motif, indicating that he was still the commander of his own ship. He saluted each passing ship with a wave of his hand while his captain stood by with mixed feelings, chief among which was envy that his fellow pirates should be returning to their strongholds for a well-earned rest. Once the last boat had passed, the Sea Tiger ordered the helmsman to make for the mouth of the Batang Lupar. A short while later the Laksamana gave orders to haul down the sails and drop anchor. It was late afternoon. The sky was as blue as the sea, the scudding clouds as white as the surf breaking on the shore. The ship bobbed gently. The Laksamana soon joined Nakhoda Hassim in the latters cabin for a light repast. He looked distracted and did not respond to his captains jovial greeting with the camaraderie that was his wont. Whats that stench? he asked irritably, wrinkling his nose. On the table, among the plates of nasi kuning, sambal and salted fish, and a platter piled high with fresh fruits acquired during their last shore leave, was a strange balllike red lump. It exuded a foul smell. Nakhoda Hassim chortled. Remember the Dutch merchant ship that we boarded in the Java Sea whose crew fought to the last man? We found a cargo of red balls that stank horribly. They were certainly not cannon shots! I tasted one, and after several mouthfuls, I found it quite delicious. I regret not having taken more with me. They scuppered their own ship before we had finished looting it. Try it, my lord. The Dutchmen call it Kaas. Nakhoda Hassim peeled off the thin red wax rind and sliced off several yellow wedges onto a plate which he
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pushed across to the Laksamana, who took a piece and nibbled tentatively at it before throwing the rest back on to his plate with an expression of disgust. The white man jeers at us for eating durians which he says smell repulsive - like an outhouse. This smells like unwashed armpits, said the Laksamana with a grimace. Ive acquired a taste for Dutch cheese, say what you will, laughed Nakhoda Hassim. Ive such a hankering for it that I cant wait to board another Dutch ship. It saddens me to think that it will be a year before we venture forth again. Until then, you will have to satisfy your craving with belachan, quipped the Laksamana. Our own cheese. Both men laughed uproariously. Nakhoda Hassim wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes and looked slyly at the Sea tiger. My lord Laksamana, this is surely not merely a social call, he murmured. The Laksamana frowned. He made as if to speak, raised one hand, then let it fall back to join its companion on his knees. He looked so ill-at-ease, which was unusual for the Sea Tiger, that it struck a chord of alarm in Nakhoda Hassim. He looked at his admiral through narrowed eyes. As always, a stab of envy shot through his breast. He envied the Sea Tiger his well-formed figure, his high-bridged chiseled nose, and the colour of his skin, which being fair, achieved only a deep tan while his own was burnt to ebony by the merciless equatorial sun. Rumour had it that the Sea Tigers grandmother was a mulatto. Nakhoda Hassim could well believe that the Laksamana had some drops of Spanish blood which also contributed to a presence that could only be described as charismatic. Whatever it was, men rallied around him and women succumbed to his charms. My Lord Laksamana, you seem to be all at sea! teased Hassim, giggling at his own cleverness. The pun did not even raise a smile from his admiral. The Laksamana finally spoke. Our livelihood is under threat, he said. The Europeans are better-armed and their weapons have become more sophisticated with each passing year, especially the
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new swivel guns which can be trained in any direction. The Dutch captain killed a dozen of our men before I could get close enough to cut him down. He threw his pistol overboard, as did his officers theirs, before we could get our hands on them. There must have been at least eight shots in each pistol. At this point he paused, a gleam of covetousness in his eyes, and deep regret in his voice. We could have used those firearms. We also had no chance to dismantle the swivel guns, for the next gunboat was upon us. You didnt drop in just to tell me that, interrupted Nakhoda Hassim, raising his eyebrows. Im coming to the crux of the matter. Which is? asked Nakhoda Hassim warily as the Laksamam continued to hedge. Its a matter of family honour. Nakhoda Hassim barely managed to suppress a cluck of irritation. It boded ill if the Sea Tiger continued to vacillate in this manner. He stirred uneasily in his seat. We suffered severe losses - seven boats and three hundred fighting men - the greatest number of ships sunk and men lost since I assumed command of the fleet after the death of my uncle, continued the Laksamana, ignoring Nakhoda Hassims question. The future looks dark. Surely the greatest Lakasamana of all is not getting cold feet? teased Nakhoda Hassim. Ever since the Sea Tiger had carried off the fair Acehnese noble lady to be his bride, a marked change had come over the man whom Nakhoda Hassim admired and loved like his own brother. He was so besotted by the woman that he had lost not only his head over her, thought Nakhoda Hassim bitterly, but his lust for adventure on the high seas and the stomach for the swashbuckling life of a freebooter as well as his keen sense of judgment. I had only just returned from the Celebes when you appointed me Nakhoda of this flag ship. So what happened? pursued Nakhoda Hassim. You remember Penghulu Manggoi, said the Sea Tiger, a minor chieftain in the Batang Lupar, head of a band of pirates and our ally. He has joined forces with the Englishman called Brooke, who is no better than an
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adventurer and privateer. Manggoi sails as a lone trader and acts as a decoy for the English. When chased by pirates, he flees into a bay or behind a headland where an English warship is hiding. Many of their warships are now powered by steam. The future does look dark, admitted Nakhoda Hasim. A time will come when we cannot possibly outrun them. Yes. Thats what worries me as well, the Sea Tiger agreed. He paused for a moment, then continued with averted eyes. I have been thinking over my ladys advice, that before it is too late, to give up this sea-faring life. This is what I intend to do. Nakhoda Hassim was caught off-guard by this thunderbolt out of the blue. An embarrassed silence ensued. He recovered himself quickly and decided to treat the whole matter as a jest. What, no more roaming the seas, my lord Laksamana, you of all people? he joshed. My lady is with child so Im taking her home. She has been berating me about the kind of life I lead and constantly urging me to give it up and settle down. Its going to be difficult. Ive known no other life than this, replied the Sea Tiger, still avoiding Nakhoda Hassims gaze. The greatest Laksamana of all leading the life of a landlubber! Nakhoda Hassim continued in the same fatuous vein without fear that the Sea Tiger would turn wrathful at his needling. His childhood friend knew him well enough to know that there was no sting in his mockery. The Sea Tiger a domesticated a cat! I cant believe my ears! Youll tell me next youre going to start planting pineapples! Who knows, I just might, Hassim, said the Sea Tiger, grinning sheepishly. My lady has given me no peace. She even threatened to kill me if I didnt heed her. I wont live to see that day! replied the Nakhoda. Both men laughed heartily, clearing the air of embarrassment. The Sea Tiger sat up, his mien earnest once more. Seriously, I told her that I had an unfinished business to settle first. And that is? asked Nakhoda Hassim guardedly.
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That, my dear Hassim, is Penghulu Manggoi, once a friend now a foe. That bandy-legged turn-coat killed my uncle. I heard only the vaguest rumour about it, murmured Nakhoda Hassim. What exactly happened? My uncle, the former Laksamana, after so many months at sea, was tired of fish. He landed on an island in the Natunas with his men to hunt for deer. Unknown to him, his enemy Penghulu Manggoi was also on the island, seeking fresh water. To end a long story short, my uncle was ambushed, and every Illanun with him was killed. Manggoi was my uncles slayer. Your uncle was a master of the Illanun kampilan. How could he have lost to a diminutive bow-legged Iban wielding a light parang ilang? The Sea Tigers eyes blazed. He and his men were not armed for battle. They only had spears and hunting knives. They were moreover fighting on unfamiliar terrain where bushes and trees afforded places of concealment for the Ibans who are devious and full of subterfuge. They dont fight fair. We Illanuns fight cleanly, and we fight best on ships decks under an open sky. I went ashore to look for them as they had not returned by sunset. I found their headless bodies. I shall never forget the sight. Our family honour demands restitution. Manggoi alone shall pay the price with his own head! I am asking nothing more. Were going into unknown territory. How are you going to find him? I have on board a henchman of his as slave. He suffered near mortal wounds and was left for dead by Manggoi and his men. I could have killed him and taken his head. I saved his life instead for a purpose. He will lead me to Manggoi. The Laksamana clapped his hands. My lord? said the man who appeared instantly at the doorway. Bring the slave Ajoi here, but have him washed first and give him a change of clothing. He turned with a wry grin to Nakhoda Hassim. Otherwise hell smell as rank as
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your cheese! Nakhoda Hassims podgy frame quivered with mirth. He was about to counter the Sea Tigers jibe with a repartee when he saw the glitter in the Sea Tigers eyes. Those eyes were glowing with a fervour that filled Nakhoda Hassim with foreboding. He shivered. The doorway darkened. Ajoi the Iban warrior was shoved before the Laksamana. Battle scars marred the intricate patterns of tattoos on his arms, chest and legs. He kept his head proudly up but his eyes carefully lowered. Can you steer my ship into the Batang Lupar? There are many mudflats during ebb tide, and there is also a big tidal bore at this time of the year, said the Laksamana. I know this river like the palms of my hands, said Ajoi, still not looking at the Laksamana. The tone of his voice belied the humility of his manner. I have piloted an English warship which is bigger than this boat. I have also steered many schooners from Mukah and Kuching up to Simanggang. None of your insolence! If you can bring us in and out again, I promise you your freedom, said the Sea Tiger. Where do you wish to go, my lord? To Penghulu Manggois longhouse. There was a hiss of indrawn breath from Ajoi. His head snapped up, his hooded eyes meeting the Laksamanas intent stare for a moment, then slid away. The Sea Tiger noted the Iban stalwarts reaction with grim satisfaction. I saved your life, said the Sea Tiger virtuously, reminding Ajoi of his obligation. He left you for dead, remember? Your Penghulu left you for dead. Now is your chance to get back at him! Vengeance is sweet! A stillness had come over Ajoi. He continued to look deferentially at the ground before the Laksamanas feet. Well? prodded the Sea Tiger. We sail in until Lingga, then cast anchor and wait for the tidal bore at dawn which will bring us to Rumah Agam, which is as far as we can go with this ship. Penghulu Manggois longhouse is only three hours easy walk from there, replied Ajoi in a diffident tone.
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Do you take me for a fool? snarled the Sea Tiger. Im not going to be tricked into a trap like my uncle. This business can only be settled between the two of us. Manggoi shall come to me, unless of course hes a coward. I want him, and only him, aboard my ship! My lord, I am sure Tuai Rumah Agam would only be too pleased to take your message to him, said Ajoi evenly. A splendid idea! said the Laksamana. He turned to his personal slave. See to it that Ajoi is chained near the helmsman. Once the two men were gone, Nakhoda Hassim turned to the Lakasamana with a worried look. There is a possibility that someone has seen us enter the Batang Lupar, and when we return, well find an English warship waiting for us at the mouth. There is no fear of that, said the Sea Tiger with a dismissive wave of his hand. Yesterday while we lingered at Muara Tebas to take in fresh supplies, my agent reported that the Englishman Brooke has gone inland. His officers will not dare to attack us without his orders. There is a town further upstream with an Englishman in charge. He might raise an Iban levy and come after us, said Nakhoda Hassim. Well give him a warm welcome if he does, that is, if he is sober enough to attend to his duties, said the Laksamana with a snort of derision. When we reach Rumah Agam, I will send a challenge to Penghulu Manggoi. He will not refuse. He has too much pride. I intend to nail his head to the topmast. The Laksamana slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. The light of battle gleamed in his eyes. This was the Sea tiger as Nakhoda Hassim knew him. The excitement of the chase and the danger had revived him. There was a hail from the deck above. Entering the mouth of the Batang Lupar, yelled the look-out. Prepare the ship for battle, Nakhoda Hassim, commanded the Sea Tiger. I wont be satisfied until I have Manggois head. As long as it doesnt cost me mine, Harimau Laut, muttered Nakhoda Hassim darkly.
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The Sea Tiger paused in the act of rising and gave his captain a sharp look. You seem to have a lot of objections all of a sudden, Hassim, he said in a dangerous voice. Now youre the one getting cold feet! Isnt it a bit late for mutiny? I swore fealty to you, and Im not one to break an oath, well you know that, answered Nakhoda Hassim stiffly. This ship and the men aboard are my responsibility, including yourself. Ah, I see, it was only one of your wisecracks! said the Laksamana with a bark of laughter. He gave his captain a measured look. When my mission is accomplished and we sail out of here with our heads on our shoulders, youll be the Laksamana. Nakhoda Hassims jaw dropped. My lord Laksamana, you cant be serious! he spluttered. I cant fill your shoes. Im not wearing any. You know what I mean, replied the Nakhoda. He was too dismayed to counter the Sea Tigers taunt with an inanity. He said flatly, Im not angling for a reward. Youre not the only one who can crack a joke, Hassim, admonished the Sea Tiger. He continued placatingly, waving aside Hassims protestation. This is as good a time as any to hand over the leadership to you. I could always trust my back to you. The men respect you. If you stop pretending to be lazy, youll make as good a Laksamana as any, if not better. The Sea Tiger leaned across and gave Hassim a playful shove before walking towards the cabin door, where he paused and turned with an inquiring tilt of his head at the Nakhoda. Silhouetted in the shaft of light that filtered through the doorway, motes rising and dancing around him in a mist of gold, the Lakasamna looked like a mythological figure out of a shadow play remote, regal and heroic, with the fixed look of a vengeful demon-god. Nakhoda Hassim sighed. He rose heavily and followed his Laksamana to the poop deck where Ajoi was giving instructions to the helmsman. See the two coconut trees straight ahead? Now steer to
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starboard until the taller tree hides the shorter one from view. Slowly! We dont want to run aground. Hold this course until you sight a big rock to port. Ill give you a new bearing then. Excellent, Ajoi! called the Laksamana. No tricks, or Ill personally carve you up and feed you to the fish. The rolling of the boat ceased as soon as they entered the river. A shoal of fish sprang out of the way of the ship in a wriggling mass of silver as if in recognition of a menace. Under such an expert navigator as Ajoi, the flatbottomed boat negotiated the shallow waters, skirting the submerged sandbanks only Ajoi knew were there. There was a gentle breeze and the ship glided along smoothly, snaking its way surely and steadily up the river. Nakhoda Hassim gazed dolefully at the deathly monotony of the landscape that slid by. On each bank of the river was a belt of trees, impenetrable, threatening. Water the colour of mud purled in the shallows, and the outwash from the boat licked the slimy banks and retreated with a sucking sound. He wished more than ever that he was on his way home where a thousand islands, frilled by dazzling white sand, dotted the clear water like gems. Where the shallows were jade-green and feathery wisps of clouds laced a sapphire-blue sky. Where he had grown up in awe and adoration of his handsome kinsman, suffused in this light of reflected glory, drawn irresistibly, inexplicably into his orbit as the earth by the sun, never to veer off course. He had always known that his destiny was irrevocably linked to the Sea Tigers.

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II

Tuai Rumah Agam woke up to the cacophony of a fortydoor longhouse. Fifty or so fighting cocks were trying to out-crow each other. Hunting dogs yelped, hens clucked, chickens chirped and pigs under the house grunted to be fed. Nearby, pots clanged as his wife knelt before the hearth, cooking the first meal of the day. His neighbours were loudly arguing over which chores had priority. In the corridor outside, feet pounded past his door as people left for their farms, leaving the slatted floor of his living quarters vibrating long after they had gone. Some mosquitoes buzzed inside his much patched-up net. He slapped at them. He scratched irritably at the bed-bug bites on various parts of his body. The air inside his mosquito net was stifling. He rummaged among his pillows for his pocket watch which was ticking merrily away. He felt for the tiny knob, pressed it, and the lid flipped open. In the dim light of the hearth fire, he could just discern the hands. They showed four oclock. He groaned. Snapping the lid shut, he lifted the mosquito net. His foot became entangled in it, causing a ripping tear, which his wife would mend during the course of the day, in martyred silence. He cursed under his breath and crawled out with a feeling that it was going to be a miserable day. He held his treasured watch in the palm of his hand, feeling the cool smoothness of the silver casing with pleasure. His finger traced the initials chased on the lid, of the name of its previous owner. He patted the time-piece fondly and tucked it safely into the sash around his waist. He was extremely proud of his pocket watch for which he had exchanged his prized war sword. A nostalgic smile spread over his face at the memory. He had been taking soundings in the Batang Lupar on
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board an English naval ship and had coveted the silver time-piece the instance he set eyes on it. The English sailor had laughed at first, but not unkindly, as he eagerly offered his sword in exchange. Agam was persistent, and the sailor finally succumbed, for the sword was a magnificent Saribas parang ilang, an Iban straight sword, with brass inlay and a decorative fretwork on the blade; the hilt of deer antler was ornately carved, as was the sheath. The sailor taught him how to wind it up, set the time and check its accuracy by means of a stick at noon when the sun was directly overhead and cast no shadows. Agam quickly grasped the principle that lay behind the telling of hours. His pocket watch kept fairly accurate time, and he was very careful not to over-wind it. It accompanied Agam everywhere and proved to be a very robust watch indeed. And he found its rhythmic ticking especially comforting. The Tuai Rumah ate a frugal meal of rice and coarse salt. A mug of steaming black coffee warmed him up. After the meal, he went out to the padi-drying platform to enjoy the fresh morning air. It was pleasantly cool. The mist hung thick like a shroud over the river that ran in front of the longhouse, hiding it from view. He heard a distant murmur and hoped that all his boats had been pulled far up the mud-bank safely out of reach of the tidal bore. The murmur soon became a roar as an imposing wall of water rushed up. In an instant, the mud-flats in front of his longhouse was a swirling mass of coffee-coloured water. The tidal bore roared its way up the river, bringing with it the high tide. Agam went back to his room. His wife had taken down the mosquito net and his bedding lay neatly rolled up in a corner. He sat on the mat and leaned against his mattress as his wife busied herself with housework. She droned on ceaselessly about trivial matters. His head nodded and his legs twitched as he drifted off into a fitful sleep. A clanking of anchor chains cut through his snores and jerked him into consciousness. He started guiltily, expecting a barrage of scorn from his wife for being a layabout. He was confronted with silence.
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Looking out, he saw that the mist had dispersed. A group of women, surely his wife among them, children and old men were gathered on the platform talking in hushed whispers and pointing excitedly at an object that was obscured from his vision. Curiosity broke through the cobweb of sleep. Agam rose creakily and joined them. A vessel lay moored in midstream in front of the longhouse. A djong! he exclaimed in surprise, not expecting anything more than the usual kumpit. He took a closer look. His startled eyes almost popped out of his head. His mouth dropped open. The ship bristled with cannons. Men in colourful jackets, armed to their teeth, were rushing about, hauling down the batten sails. Pirates! he cried. The cabin abaft the poop deck was gaily painted. Agam guessed that there must be a high-ranking personage aboard. From the top mast fluttered a yellow pennant. A tiger seemed to leap from it. Agams throat went dry. The Harimau Laut! he croaked. Illanun pirates! The crowd of old men, women and children now milled agitatedly around him. The women were hysterical. The children started crying, for the bogeymen of terrifying tales, told to intimidate them into good behaviour, now stood before them. Inti! Agam shouted to his wife. Calm the women down. Take them and the young children to Penghulu Manggois place. Hurry! To the older children Agam gave orders: Run to your fathers padi farms and tell them that an Illanun pirate ship has cast anchor right in front of our longhouse. Tell them they must all return at once. After you have delivered this message, go immediately to Penghulu Manggois longhouse. Agam told the old men: Dress yourselves as for battle. Keep watch until our warriors come, then go over to Penghulu Manggois place. In spite of the gravity of the situation, Agam could
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not repress his chuckles at the sight of the old men struggling into their battle jackets of goatskin or tree bark. The garments were musty with age and so dusty that these ancient warriors went into fits of sneezing. Some tottered about, too feeble to carry even a spear and battle shield. Agam directed them to keep on moving about to give an impression of a host of warriors preparing for battle. After donning his war own war coat, Agam went out onto the padi-drying platform to observe the goings-on aboard the pirate ship. The sails had been hauled down and men were now clearing the deck. A man was moving among the gun crew, checking and aligning the cannons. Somebody was scanning the longhouse and a broad sweep of the river upstream and downstream with a spy-glass. Agam waited for the first cannon shot. As none came, he sat down and kept a watchful eye on the pirate vessel. Midmorning, a row-boat was lowered into the water. A bearded man clambered out of the pirate vessel into it and was rowed ashore to the landing stage. Agam went down to confront him, walking with slow measured steps, one hand on the scabbard of his sword, the other firmly gripping the pommel from which dangled human hair. When the boat was alongside the landing stage, the man stood up, rocking the small craft, but made no attempt to land. He looked very spruce and dapper in his sleeveless jacket of green brocade. A red fez perched jauntily on his head. He was unarmed. I am Nakhoda Hassim. The Laksamana Harimau Laut is aboard ship. Where can I find Penghulu Manggoi? he asked courteously. His voice was gruff and guttural. Agam, used to the gentle cadences of Sarawak Malay, had difficulty at first in understanding the Illanun captain. I am Tuai Rumah Agam. Penghulu Manggoi lives some distance from here. Why do you ask? What do you want with him? growled Agam, who did not believe in courtesy when confronted by brigands, especially when they were Illanuns. The Laksamana Harimau Laut presents his compliments and would be honoured to have the Penghulu aboard his ship.
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If Penghulu Manggoi dares! Please tell him that. Nakhoda Hassim smiled pleasantly, exposing crooked teeth. Penghulu Manggoi is no coward! I can answer for him. Nonetheless, I shall see that he gets your message. Agam drew himself up stiffly, planting his feet apart in what he hoped was a menacing war stance. Nakhoda Hassim bowed mockingly and nodded to the rower to take him back to the vessel. Seething with indignation, Agam returned to his longhouse to find that the young men were back from the fields and had donned their battle garb of animal skins. Hornbill feathers adorned their battle caps. Tufts of human hair decorated the scabbards of their swords. Human hair hung like ponytails from the grips of their parang. They were a fearsome sight, with indigo tattoos on their throats and down their arms. Young maidens had returned with them and were chanting songs and plying them with tuak to keep up their spirits. The warriors pranced about whooping and yelling. Agam told them curtly to tone it down, and lay off the tuak. He sent a warrior off with the Laksamanas message to Penghulu Manggoi, and settled down for a long wait. Aboard the pirate ship, Nakhoda Hassim reported to his admiral. He looked unhappy. Two deep furrows were edged into the space between his eyebrows. He was torn between his loyalty to the Laksamana and his responsibility as Nakhoda to his men. They were deep within unknown territory - enemy territory far too deep. And all for the sake of the Sea Tigers personal vendetta! My lord, you think the Penghulu will accept your challenge and come aboard? asked Hassim dubiously. The Penghulu will not dare appear a coward in the eyes of his people. Of course he will come, with a war party. Maintain a state of alert. I think he will try to attack at night, said Nakhoda Hassim. I reckoned with that. Hes a crafty man. Keep a wary eye on all directions of approach.

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III

Meanwhile, Tuai Rumah Agam was feeling extremely uncomfortable in his bearskin coat. It was soaked with his sweat and was beginning to reek of rotten fish. He itched as well. He was hung with a profusion of amulets and talisman of various shapes and sizes that rattled and clattered as he scratched himself. The morning wore on and still there was no word from Penghulu Manggoi. At twelve noon, assailed by doubts, he decided to check the accuracy of his time piece. Since he could not leave his observation post to consult a stick, he did the next best thing: he looked for his own shadow. It had disappeared fled no doubt to a cooler clime. His watch kept correct time. Penghulu Manggoi was taking his own time. He continued to keep one eye on the pirate vessel and the other for a sign from Manggoi. To relieve the tedium of waiting, he kept on pulling out his pocket watch, flipping open the lid and snapping it shut, then returning it to the safety of his waist band - as if constantly consulting his time piece would speed up the hours and conjure up Manggoi. It was not until three oclock in the sweltering heat of the afternoon that he noticed a prahu beda approaching his longhouse. As it neared the landing stage, he saw that it contained Haji Ali and twenty of his men. This was good omen. I heard about the pirates from a fisherman, so I hurried along in case you needed help, said Haji Ali with alacrity as Agam went to greet him. I feared I would find your Rumah already reduced to ashes. But the pirates are sitting around in groups talking and doing nothing else. The Sea Tiger has issued a challenge to Penghulu
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Manggoi. I sent one of my men to apprise the Penghulu of it. We are all waiting for Manggoi to show up, replied Agam. There was a hoot from the back of the longhouse. It was the signal he had been waiting for. Agam went to the back. Penghulu Manggoi had sent a warrior with a message. Keep the maidens and the older men singing and drinking. You and your warriors are to come with me. Come this way. Stay out of sight of the djong. Haji Ali has brought twenty men, Agam told the messenger. Good! We can always do with more fighting men, replied the messenger. To allay suspicion, Haji Ali and his men were received as honoured guests. The young maidens accompanied them up to the longhouse, dancing and singing songs of welcome. Once inside, they all slipped out the back way while the young maidens continued their singing and chanting. Penghulu Manggois man led them to a clearing atop a long hill where the Penghulu and sixty odd warriors were waiting for them, hidden by saplings and bushes from the sight of the Laksamana and his men. The Penghulu was scanning the pirate ship with his spy glass, a booty from one of his forays during his buccaneering days. The Penghulu turned at Agams whispered greeting. He was a squat, thickset man with a barrel of a chest, made all the more imposing under a war vest of black goat skin, shiny and obviously new, the long hairs combed out. I am glad to see you and your men, Agam, and yours too, Haji Ali, he said quietly. Agam, you fool, you should have sent one of your men first instead of hysterical women and howling infants. I couldnt make head or tail of what they were trying to tell me. I wasnt sure if there were fifty kumpits or fifty pirates, or if your longhouse had been razed to the ground. It turns out to be only the Laksamana Harimau Laut offering to cut off my head aboard his ship. Well, well see whose head will roll, mine or his! said Penghulu Manggoi with a grin. Agam drew out his watch which he consulted gravely. He took every opportunity to show it off.
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Its nigh on four. What are your plans? he queried. First, I want all of you warriors to look at the ship very carefully and observe all the details and try to remember everything you see. The Penghulu handed over his spy glass. Do be careful how you handle it! he sharply rebuked one of his men. No, not that end! You nincompoop! The other! He was as proud of his much prized possession as Agam was of his. The fighting men formed a line, each taking turns to look through the spy glass. Manggoi squatted against a tree and soon appeared to have dozed off. He was woken by Agam who announced: Its half past five, Penghulu. We are all done. Manggoi jumped to his feet. For all his bulk, he was as lithe as a clouded leopard. Tuai Rumah Ito, you and your men shall make the first move. Walk upstream to the next bend where several men are ready and waiting to take you across to the opposite bank. Go within two miles of the djong, make as if you are cooking your evening meal. Start several fires, make a lot of smoke to give the impression of a large force, he ordered. Tuai Rumah Ito and his men went downhill and were soon out of sight. Manggoi turned to the remaining assembled warriors. That djong you see out there is no ordinary pirate ship. It carries the Laksamana, chief of the bands of brigands. His fighting men are selected for their bravery and their skill with the kampilan. They may carry shields, but at the height of battle, they throw away the shields and wield their kampilan with both hands. For every head they take, they drill a hole in their sword. For every man killed, they file a notch into the cutting edge. The number of notches should remind you that you are facing an extremely skilled opponent. Stay alert if you value your life. There will be no holds barred and no quarter given. You have inspected the vessel, and noted the many obstructions on board the winches and the riggings, the ropes, cleats and stanchions. When a hundred men are fighting at close quarters, all these will get in the way. When a hundred men are fighting on board a ship, the
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ship will pitch and roll to the shifting weight of men. You must try to adjust your balance and roll with the ship. Penghulu Manggois eyes blazed. I killed the Laksamanas uncle in a fair fight. I dare any man who says otherwise. There was no ambush. I was as surprised to see him as he was to see me. He came at me first with his hunting spear, calling me a dog. His head now hangs in a place of honour in my longhouse, as befits his rank. I have no quarrel to pick with the nephew, the current Laksamana. His father died when he was a young boy. He was brought up like a son by his uncle, and like a son, he swore to avenge his uncles death at my hands. He is a man of immense courage and also a man of his word, for which I respect him. He swears to nail my head to his mast head. I promise to display his head in a place of honour beside his uncles. This day will see who the better warrior is. Agam hauled out his pocket watch. This blather was getting on his nerves. He wanted to see some action. Tuai Rumah Agam, said Penghulu Manggoi with a twinkle in his eyes. I see you and your men are getting impatient and simply raring to go into action. Your men are decked out like manok sabong, fighting cocks, and equipped with spears and terabai which are not of much use in a tight space. I do not doubt their courage or yours. But I do not send raw youths and untried men to their deaths. Do not be angry if I speak the truth. I speak from experience. I am your Penghulu, heed my words. You can help me better if you go back to your longhouse and distract the pirates by pretending to carouse the whole night through. This will keep the Laksamana and his men guessing and wondering when the attack will come. When it does, they will be caught off-guard. Agam and his young warriors looked crestfallen, but they did not doubt the wisdom of Penghulu Manggois words. They were secretly glad though, having no fighting experience, not to have to engage in close combat with such ferocious brigands. Penghulu Manggoi addressed his own men:
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Do not forget I am your Tuai Kayau, the lead warrior. You take your orders from me. I was a pirate once, and have fought on water, and therefore know the hazards of fighting on a sea craft with all its impediments. He threw off his goatskin war coat. We will fight wearing only loin-clothes, for if we have to jump overboard, we will not be hampered by heavy clothing. I had special scabbards made for our swords that can be used as shields. I have shown you how to wear them on your backs so that when you scramble up a ship, and at the very moment you spring in, you will have your swords with the scabbards ready in your hands to fend off your foes. Come, it is time that we set off. Penghulu, called Haji Ali, how can we be of use to you? We are not trained fighting men. Penghulu Manggoi smiled. All of you are expert fishermen. You will therefore go fishing. Fishing? Haji Ali repeated, perplexed. I dont understand. These Illanuns are past masters of deceit. When hardpressed, they will pretend to turn tail by jumping overboard as if making their escape. In fact, they will dive under the keel and resurface on the other side and rejoin the fray, taking their enemy by surprise from behind. It is an underhand trick! Your prahu beda is a racing boat and is swift and easy to manoeuvre. Go around the ship and spear or cut down every Illanun you see jumping overboard. Now go back to your boat at Tuai Rumah Agams landing stage, start a fight, make a ruckus, pretend to be rolling drunk from a night of excess at Agams longhouse. Anything to lull their suspicion. Then paddle downstream to a side arm of Sungei Api Api and wait for me there. Haji Ali smiled broadly. What a genial tactician the Penghulu was! If the Laksamana was a Sea Tiger, Manggoi was a Sea Fox. The setting sun stained the sky and water crimson. Manggoi had opted for the early hours of the morning for storming the pirate vessel. It was a time when a mans
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concentration was at its lowest ebb. He also had another reason which he did not disclose. It was going to be a long wait. Time crept by at snails pace. The warriors were geared up and sleep was elusive. Mosquitoes buzzed around them and sang in their ears. Jabs were retaliated soundlessly, not with slaps that could carry like pistol shots over water on clear air, or borne with the patience of a saint. The hooting of nocturnal birds kept them awake as did the rustling of small creatures in the undergrowth. There was a hoot. Figures materialised out of the darkness. Tuai Rumah Agam and his men were carrying baskets of rice wrapped in banana leaves, and jars of lukewarm coffee. One oclock, and a fine morning, announced Agam softly, tucking his pocket watch back into his sash. Weve brought you your breakfast. Thank you, Agam. My men will now be strong enough to fight. Go back to your longhouse and keep up the pretence of revelry. Make as much noise as possible. The pirates will think that we are a bunch of fools. That is what I want them to think. They will let down their guard. Penghulu, take my time-piece if you will. No! Keep your precious toy, my old friend, said Manggoi. Agams face fell, then brightened. The look of relief that swiftly followed was so comic that Manggoi was convulsed with laughter. Youre a sharp one, Agam, said Manggoi once he had caught his breath. Agam was not the bumbling old fool he seemed to be. He had guessed Manggois intentions. The stars are all I need, and these, said Manggoi, indicating his ears. You have already done us enough service this day. Go! Be ready to serve me another day. He watched until Agam and his men, one by one, were swallowed up in the darkness and no more shadows moved. Manggois men ate without haste though it could be their last meal. They were warriors and proud of their heritage. Each would choose to go down fighting in a blaze of glory than die of encroaching old age, enfeebled in mind.
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Manggoi could sense their tension. They were wound up as tightly as the coiled spring of Agams beloved timepiece. Caffeine from Agams coffee coursed through them, sending their blood up. They were spoiling for a fight. The night was perfect for one. A sickle moon, obscured now and then by ragged clouds, hung motionless in the deep vault of the sky. The stars were out, pin-pricks of light glinting like burnished metal. A star fell. A portent? Manggoi shrugged. He was a warrior, not a medicine man quick to regard every anomaly as ominous. As far as he was concerned, the stage was set. The night would tell a tale, the outcome of which the dawn would disclose. It is time, he said quietly. Penghulu Manggoi took the precaution of sending a couple of his men ahead as scouts. A system of communication was set up. The all clear signal was the call of a nightjar. Deer barks would signal message understood. Manggoi and his warriors moved soundlessly through secondary jungle, sometimes fording streams, guided by the calls of night-jars from the scouts which they answered with muted deer barks. They reached Sungei Api Api where Haji Ali and his men waited. From here the pirate ship was in full view, ablaze with light from storm lanterns. Tuai Rumah Jampi, whose longhouse was conveniently situated at Sungei Api Api, was also waiting for Manggoi. Ive got the two longboats that you requested, said Tuai Rumah Jampi, dispensing with formality. The grapnels? Youve got the grapnels? asked Manggoi urgently. We had to go down to Lingga for them. Youll find three in each prahu. The grapnels are attached to stout ropes with knots every three feet to facilitate climbing. Excellent, excellent, said Penghulu Manggoi. How many of your men are here? Thirty, replied Jampi. Good! Very good, said Manggoi. Very good work, Jampi!
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Turning to his own warriors, Manggoi reminded them: Our boats will board on separate sides! No yelling and whooping until we are aboard the pirate vessel! Spare the slaves unless they are armed! Jampis longboats, drawn up above the tide-line, rested on hard wood sleepers. Manggoi and his men got in, each gripping a paddle. Haji Ali and his men clambered into their own prahu. Jampi, position your men and when I give the word, push. Push with all your might! They all waited for Manggoi to give the order to launch the boats into the river, but he just sat there as immobile as a graven image. He seemed to be meditating or had fallen asleep. He was on the island with his men. There was a clear stream, its sparkling water gushed over rocks, splashed down an incline and ran merrily along its course, chuckling. The air was fresh and cool. With a joyous whoop, his men, who had been cooped up in war boats and had been drinking stale water, threw aside their parangs and jumped into the stream, not deigning to strip themselves first. Suddenly his head came up. He was now fully alert and listening intently. There was a murmur in the distance. The warriors could hear it now. The murmur gradually rose to a roar. The next moment, a wall of water rushed up, tumbling and rolling, churning over the mud flats above which Manggoi and his men were waiting with their boats. NOW! roared Penghulu Manggoi. PUSH! PUSH! Jampis men leapt into action, their muscles bunching as they propelled the boats down the sleepers into the flood. PADDLE! Paddle for your life! yelled Manggoi above the noise. Keep close behind the bore head! The wall of water hid them from the watchful eyes aboard the pirate ship. Suddenly, the ship loomed up before them. The grapnels! Throw the grapnels, screamed Manggoi above the frenzied roar which was not unlike that of a great beast in death throes.
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IV

Aboard the vessel, Nakhoda Hassim was making preparations for the ship to ride out the tidal bore. Though the night air was cool, beads of sweat studded his bald pate. He was feeling inordinately weary. As captain of the vessel, he had been on alert throughout the night, keeping watch with his men, and on his men. This was also the hour when men slept like the dead. The all-night party at Agams longhouse had also taken a toll on his nerves. The whoops and yells, the constant beating of gongs and the monotonic chants were amplified across the expanse of water. His skull throbbed. The natives were ringing their own death knell if they were going into battle roaring drunk, he thought. All the easier to cut them down with the kampilan. Let them taste its cold steel edge. Then he would blow the accursed longhouse to bits with his cannons and send the inhabitants to kingdom come. Nakhoda Hassim itched for action, wishing the night over. His malim came up to report that the manoeuvre to meet the tidal bore had been completed. Watch out for anchor drag! instructed the Nakhoda. Get two spare anchors up front. Aye, aye, Captain, answered the malim and shouted for a gang of sailors to do the job. The tidal bore was just a gentle murmur downstream. The master gunner came to report: All gun-ports and ammunition hatches are battened down. All cannon-lashings have been secured. Prime the cannons to fire. Make sure they dont get wet. They are all covered with tarpaulin.
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The tidal bore, towering ten feet high, growling and hissing like a sea monster, came charging towards them. Nakhoda Hassim braced himself for the pitch, roll and yaw. Something caught his eye. There was a big log bearing down on the ship. No, not one, but two, no . . . three. Logs throwing up water spray. Behind the bores head? The truth hit him like a clap of thunder. By Allah! They are war boats! To arms! he screamed. But his cry was lost in the roaring noise as the bore struck. There were cries of alarm as the rolling, pitching and yawing flung the men still in their cabins out of their bunks. As soon as he had gained his balance, the Nakhoda ran up the companionway and urgently pounded on the door of the Laksamanas cabin with the pommel of his sword. Penghulu Manggoi has arrived, my lord! he shouted. His Admiral was late in putting his appearance. He could hear sounds of raised voices and the wailing of women beyond the closed door. He did not wait for the Sea Tiger. This ship was his responsibility. Kampilan in hand, he ran down to the main deck, shouting orders as he went. It seemed that he was the only one who was keeping his head, for his men were running about like headless chickens. The malim was hurled against a mast. As he staggered to his feet, he heard the thump of an object falling onto the deck. Then he saw the grappling hooks. A grapnel! Allah, we are being boarded. He shouted for reinforcement as shadowy figures leapt head-first aboard, swords flashing in the light of the swinging storm lanterns. Before he had finished drawing his weapon, he was cut down. Whooping and yelling, Manggois warriors fell upon the sailors, swords swishing. Bodies thudded on to the deck, agonized screams mingled with cries for mercy. The men weltered in their own blood, slipping and skidding, while steel clanged against steel as blows were parried. Below deck, in the crews cabins and in the holds there was mayhem and carnage. A group of Manggois men had fought their way to the
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upper deck where Nakhoda Hassim and some of his men were bravely putting up a stubborn defence before the Sea Tigers cabin. One after another the pirates were decimated. Nakhoda Hassim fought as he had never fought before. The warrior engaging him was a wiry young buck, but he managed to ward off blow for blow. But he was tiring and losing concentration. As he deflected a feint to the stomach, he received a blow to his head from the young mans scabbard which stunned him. He never felt the thrust of his agile opponents sword. Meanwhile his young opponent was gaping in surprise at his own handiwork. Before he could let out a whoop and swing his parang down on Nakhoda Hassims fat neck, he was cut down from behind. Before the Laksamanas door, the few pirates left were making a last stand, wielding their kampilan with both hands, having dispensed with their shields. The door to the cabin swung violently open. A strong voice commanded: Stand back! The Harimau Laut stood before them, resplendent in full battle regalia. He was clad in a sleeveless jacket of pale yellow brocade embroidered with two leaping tigers in gold thread. He wore a pair of black silk trousers and a multicoloured sash around his lean waist. Tucked into his waist band on his right was a silver embossed one-ball pistol, on his left, a kris. In his powerful hands was a brand-new kampilan from whose hilt end hung a brightly-coloured silk tassel. He presented a fearsome sight. Manggois warriors drew back momentarily in respect. The Laksamanas men formed rank behind him. Stand back! Manggoi ordered his warriors who dutifully positioned themselves behind their Penghulu. The two adversaries faced each other. Manggoi had never met his sworn enemy, only heard tales of him that would have sent a lesser man into capitulation. What he saw of the Sea Tigers well-proportioned body impressed him. The Sea Tiger towered over the Penghulu by a
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head. Manggoi, naked save for his loin cloth, was a veritable runt beside him. He was short and squat, but sinewy. He showed no sign of fear or any emotion as he continued to study his opponent whose long arms with their rippling muscles had a longer reach. The Sea Tiger returned Manggois basilisk stare with one of malevolence. His handsome features with its European cast were contorted into a mask of hatred at the sight of his worst enemy. Harimau Laut, you invited me, and here I am, said Manggoi, calmly eyeing the Sea Tiger. You dog! You have eaten many times at my uncles house. You were his guest-friend. And this is how you repaid his hospitality! You killed him in a most cowardly manner! You struck him down from behind, snarled the Sea Tiger. I do not deny killing him. He came at me first! All his wounds are in front! You lie, Mangggoi! You left your sorely wounded henchman, Ajoi, for dead. My dukun nursed him back to health. He serves me now. He has led me to you and will bear witness to your dastardly act. Are you so sure that Ajoi is your man? He has fed you lies, and bided his time. He could have guided you further upstream to my longhouse and you would have caught me by surprise. Instead you were moored aimlessly before Agams longhouse the whole day and into the night. The Sea Tiger gave an roar of rage as the truth dawned on him. That treacherous ungrateful cur! I should have been suspicious when he showed himself so biddable! He bought you time! And you are a cunning man, Manggoi! I must congratulate you on the ingenuity of your plan in boarding my ship! spat the Sea Tiger, reaching for the pistol at his side. You are not your fathers son if you use that! cried Manggoi. You are right, I do not need this. The Sea Tiger flung the pistol carelessly through the open doorway of his cabin. It landed with a resounding thud. Manggoi waited
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with bated breath for the explosion, but the catch was on. You desire my head for your topmast. I intend to have yours which I swear will have a place of honour beside your uncles on the main post of my house, said Manggoi coolly. Well, lets see whos able to keep his head! jeered the Laksamana, laughing at the double entendre. Ready? The Sea Tiger started a slow sword dance, like a snake uncoiling, ready to strike. He was wielding his kampilan with both hands. Manggoi was mesmerized by the gleaming, pristine razor-sharp edge, which was still un-notched. How many men had the Sea Tiger killed that he needed a new sword, mused the Penghulu. The Sea Tiger seemed to read his mind. You shall have the honour of being the first, Manggoi! he snarled. Its going to cut its first tooth on you! He made a lightning move, using an overhead chop downward, which was immediately followed by an upward slice. This would have split the Penghulu in two if he had not possessed a lightning reflex. He had a warriors instinct of self-preservation, and for all his ungainliness, Manggoi was light-footed. He parried the blow with his sword which he held in his left hand, simultaneously hitting the Lakasamana a hard blow in the ribs with the scabbard he held in his right. The Sea Tiger fell back, winded by the force of the blow. Ah, a left-hander! remarked the Sea Tiger. That shouldnt be too difficult! Ive sent many a left-hander into the underworld. Shall we move down to the main deck? We have more room for sword-play there. Penghulu Manggoi backed down the companionway, keeping a wary eye on the Sea Tiger, who followed leisurely with a sneer of contempt. Space was hurriedly made in the centre of the deck for the two adversaries. The dead and wounded were unceremoniously dragged to the sides and the deck sluiced. The two warriors circled, keeping their eyes on each other. Like a flash, Manggoi pounced. Equally swift, the Sea Tiger parried. Steel clashed against steel. Thrust,
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parry. Thrust, parry. Sparks flew. The air vibrated with the nerve-tingling clang of metal against metal. The contestants broke apart, their chests heaving. Manggois hair-knot lay on the blood-spattered deck. This is just a warning! You wont be that lucky next time, Manggoi, because there wont be a next time. I wont miss your neck! taunted the Sea Tiger. You wont be missing it either! Take a look at yourself, Harimau Laut! snarled Manggoi. There were rivulets of blood on the Sea Tigers chest, arms and thighs. His apparel was ripped to ribbons. Hm, excellent swordsmanship, Manggoi! But these are merely scratches! Youre no better off yourself! Mere scratches! replied Manggoi, imitating the Sea Tigers arrogant tone. He strove to ignore the throbbing wound on his thigh and the multiple gashes on his sword arm. The two hostile parties again lunged at each other. Steel met steel with such force that the sound jarred on the ears of the onlookers. The sound carried over the water to Agams longhouse where the inhabitants crowded the drying platform, jostling for a view of the spectacle aboard the pirate vessel. Suddenly the Laksamana disengaged himself and stumbled to rest against the gunwale on port-side, breathing heavily. Penghulu Manggoi leaped forward to deliver the death blow. He sprang backwards in the nick of time as the Sea Tigers sword arm suddenly came up, and the kampilan missed his throat by a fraction of an inch. The Laksamana fell back panting. Manggoi eyed the Laksamana. That was a close one! His opponent, despite the loss of blood, was all the more dangerous, like a cornered wounded tiger. Very brilliant, Manggoi! Youve made little cuts on me, expecting me to bleed slowly to death with every exertion on my part. Im not dying yet. Ill kill you first, then throw your misshapen carcass minus head to the fish! The Sea Tigers eyes blazed. They held Manggoi
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hypnotically. Dreamily, Manggoi watched the Laksamana unwind himself like a snake ready to strike. Whose head, Manggoi? Want to bet? taunted the Sea Tiger, his sneer more like a grimace. Yours or mine? Manggoi crouched, all his muscles tensed, as he gathered his strength for a last well-aimed stroke. The Sea Tiger braced himself against the gunwale to lunge at Manggoi. There was a loud report. The Sea Tiger staggered back against the gunwale, a gaping wound in his chest gushing blood. There was a flicker of surprise in his eyes. Spare h... he gasped, then coughed and gurgled as blood spilled from his mouth. He plunged backwards over the gunwale into the water which turned crimson where he fell. There was a hush. Then all heads swivelled in the direction where the shot came from. A gasp of incredulity. WHY? roared Manggoi, chagrined at being cheated of his victory. The coup de grace had been delivered by a woman standing at the top of the companionway. She still held the Lakasamanas silver embossed pistol tightly in her hand, that same pistol he had flung into his cabin. The pistol was still smoking. The warriors fell back at the sight of her. She looked like an avenging goddess, her chalk-white face an inscrutable mask, with the unseeing eyes of a sleep-walker. Manggoi bounded up the stairs to confront her. You must be the Laksamanas lady! Why? thundered Penghulu Manggoi. Why? The woman gave a shuddering sigh as if she had woken from a deep trance. I loved him so! she whispered. She was on the verge of sobbing. With superhuman effort, she controlled herself, drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly, painfully. She drew herself straight and held her head high. I had to do it. It was the only way. She began to weep. Manggoi looked away.
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I loved him so! she sobbed. The pistol clattered to the floor. Manggoi now stared at the woman, perplexed. He had heard of this woman of noble Acehnese lineage and great beauty, whom the Sea Tiger had carried off (apparently quite willingly on her part) while she was on her way to Pulau Pinang to be joined in marriage to the son of a minor chief. Kill me! she demanded. With the Harimau Laut gone, there is no future for me and my child. I cannot return to my parents with a child who has no father. I have already disgraced them and the family honour. Manggoi the warrior never had to deal with hysterical women before. That was womens work. His wifes. This woman seemed to have lost her head though it still stayed fixed to her elegant neck, thought Manggoi with ironic humour. He looked at her with dislike. I do not kill women and children, said Manggoi haughtily. Why did you do it? he demanded. I could not let you take his head. Oh, the humiliation! The shame! The dishonour! she ranted. His family would demand vengeance. Manggoi stared incomprehensibly at the woman. He did not die at my hand, Lady, said Manggoi virtuously. You robbed me of that honour! If he had, his child would be expected to exact vengeance at any cost. Where is the virtue in that? I dont want my child to have to avenge his fathers death and meet the same fate. This senseless cycle of vengeance must end! cried the Laksamanas lady. She put protective hands over her belly. Her eyes blazed. She had the look of a tigress preparing to defend its cub. I had to stop it. This was the only way. An absurd image sprang in Manggois mind suddenly of a child hardly able to walk, but already wielding a sword, albeit a wooden one, taking the first lessons to kill. Then followed in quick succession the image of a fair youth with the look and strength of his father, laughing mockingly, lunging at him . . . Manggoi shook his head. Manggoi surveyed the carnage on the deck, the dead and
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dying. He suddenly felt very old and tired. What was the sense of it all? I talked him into giving up sea-roving and settle down. He had agreed. We could have been so happy together. But he owed his uncle the duty of avenging his death. I tried to talk him out of this senselessness, continued the woman. But does a tiger ever change his stripes? She was now looking wild-eyed. I would rather die than be your slave! Manggois warrior mind worked simply. This woman had transferred her loyalty from the Sea Tiger to her unborn child. This transgressed his warriors code of honour. He wanted her away. She was sial, bad medicine, if she remained. She was the Sea Tigers bad luck. She was not going to be his! She could also talk the hind end off the devil. She could be a formidable ally, or an equally formidable foe. Even his simple warriors mind could not deny the truth of what she was saying. He suddenly felt a grudging admiration for her. Yes, what is the sense of all this? Manggoi repeated. The Laksamana was a worthy opponent, said Manggoi generously. He was also once a friend. This is such a waste of good life. You are right, this madness must end. Go, and take what is left to you. You are young, yet wise. You will not want your child to follow in the footsteps of his father, for I sense that the time is changing. Let him learn another trade. Go in peace. I shall make sure that you have safe conduct when you sail out of the Batang Lupar. Go, before I change my mind! I loved him so, whispered the Laksamamnas lady. Then as the enormity of her deed began to sink in, she started to wail, tearing at her hair and clothes. Look to your lady! shouted Manggoi to the women cowering inside the cabin. To the Illanun marauders or what was left of them, Manggoi shouted: You will free your captives and slaves and hand them over to me. You will also hand over all your spoils to me. In return, I will give you food and fresh water for your journey back to your homeland. You have my leave to clean
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up your ship and perform whatever ceremony is needed for your dead. Then leave, and never show your face here again. I will lend you Ajoi to steer you through the shoals until you reach the mouth of the Batang Lupar. Ahoy, Penghulu, shouted Haji Ali, we have caught a few fish. Theres another that went overboard just now. That was the Laksamana. Its all over. Shall we fish him out for you? asked Haji Ali helpfully. His head? No! said Manggoi abruptly. There is no honour in that. The victory was not mine. Let the ebb-tide take him to his resting place. He felt deflated and depressed. That feeling of exhilaration that he was wont to experience after a victorious battle was missing. All Manggoi wanted now was to cleanse himself of the stench of death. He was not in the mood for wild celebrations. Many of his warriors were dead or mortally wounded. A subdued purification ceremony, he felt, was more in order. Good lives wasted, he muttered under his breath. Penghulu Manggoi shook himself. He had no time for philosophical musings. The new dawn was breaking, feathery wisps of clouds in the pearly grey sky were tinged with a rosy hue. The air was still cool. He still had many things to take care of before the stupefying heat of day set in, before Agam came running along with that cursed time-piece of his to tell him the time. Ahoy there! Agams head, feathered war-cap awry, eyes bright with anticipation, appeared over the gunwale. Grunting with exertion, he clambered up the last stretch of the assault rope and sprang awkwardly aboard the pirate vessel. The ship rolled, sending him sprawling at Manggois feet, the bundle of charms and talismans about his person rattling and clicking away. He regained his balance and whipped out his watch. Six thirty on the dot! he proclaimed, grinning broadly and triumphantly waving his silver time-piece. That was fast work indeed! Penghulu Manggoi winced. Agam looked at him closely.
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Oy! You have many wounds. I dont like the look of that gash on your thigh. It can fester if left untended. Let me send for my dukun, he said. Mere scratches! said Manggoi. Mere scratches, my dear Agam. However, I thankfully accept your offer of the service of your dukun.

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