Charles Saunders has posted a terrific short story over at the blog section of his website — the sort of story that would not have been out of place in a classic issue of Weird Tales. ‘Luendi’ is in four, rather short, parts, and gives us the fate of one Piet van Brug, a man that embodies all the vilest characteristics of imperialism. Colonial Africa in 1890 is the setting, or more precisely an unexplored section of the interior beyond the British and Boer possessions of South Africa dubbed ‘Azungaland’ by its conqueror. It is an area rich in diamonds — rich enough to bring the yoke down around the heads of the peaceful and previously unknown people that live there.
The Azunga rescued van Brug from disease and death in the wake of a disastrous expedition sponsored by Cecil Rhodes to explore the land “between the Zambezi River and the upper reaches of the Kalahari Desert.” Peaceful, living in a fabulous stone kraal akin to the ruins of Zimbabwe, the Azunga welcome van Brug with kindness and are repaid with treachery. When van Brug discovers they posses a rich seam of diamonds in a cave nearby, he returns to Johannesburg, raises an expeditionary army with the diamonds he managed to steal, and returns to enslave the people that had saved his life.
It would be easy to oversell a villain like van Brug, but Saunders recounts his actions and his contempt for the ‘Kaffirs’ in a matter-of-fact way that is all the stronger for its lack of embellishment or tricks. Anyone acquainted with colonial history — especially the partitioning of Africa — realizes that van Brug is a monster cut from the historical mold, a completely plausible specimen of the worst sort of imperialist. And while men like van Brug may have been of an uncommon sort, the attitudes that allow him the latitude for his actions were part-and-parcel of the everyday assumptions of the settlers, explorers, and administrators of the European colonial powers of this era.
But the tyrannical van Brug is uneasy, and the drumming of the Azunga in the night conjure in his imagination the tales of demons, shape-shifters, and avenging spirits that fill African folklore. Enter Luendi, a mysterious and alluring woman who is unlike the Azunga in features and hue, a stranger that arrives at the kraal one day and inflames van Brug’s lust — and embodies his ruin.
The story builds to a bloody climax, but I’ve said enough. This is an early piece by Saunders, originally published in the small press magazine The Diversifier in 1977, around the same time as the first Imaro stories were being written. Fans of Saunders will appreciate immediately his economy of language and the effortless fast pace he maintains in this story — and lovers of the eldritch and the weird aspects of the Imaro stories will feel right at home. ‘Luendi’ gives us not a fantasy Africa, but an Africa of the fantastic — one in which the mysteries beyond the light of the campfire are real, and the kind of just retribution found in folk stories is transposed to a time and place that sorely needed it.
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.