A Hunting We Will Go

(Part 1 from 3)


The Emirate of Kobekistan is one of those wonderful places where a visitor feels that they have stepped back into a more leisurely, more dignified era of history, but without sacrificing any of the more useful gadgets of modern civilisation. Air-conditioning protects the inhabitants from the rigours of a sub-tropical climate. Motor cars whisk them from one building to another. Desalination provides ample water. The most modern medical advances are practised in the hospitals. Television shows umpteen channels. Education utilises the most modern computer-aided systems. Childbirth is no longer as dangerous as it used to be, even though eunuch doctors are the only ones available to the women of the harems. Becoming a eunuch is very rarely a fatal operation since it is carried out by experts in surgical conditions second to none. A girl being cut and sewn to make her incapable of sexual pleasure and virtually unusable by a man (except for sodomy) now has a less than one in a thousand chance of the patient contracting a dangerous infection. Moderation in all things is the watchword. Toleration extends to allowing alcohol to be sold to foreign workers in the country, though only within their company compounds. Women are taught to read and write, at least in some harems.

Of course, these facilities are not all available to all the population, but for all those who matter, the better families, they are taken for granted. A field slave might not benefit from all of them, but the medical services ensure that a slave no longer has to be put down if an over-enthusiastic owner damages it somewhat while administering discipline.

The disadvantages of civilisation as it is understood in the West are nevertheless kept at bay. Advertising is negligible. Tourists are not permitted to enter the country. Women are not allowed to show their faces on the streets. Marriages are arranged by parents who are wiser in their choices than the impulses of youth would be. There is none of the political brouhaha since the country is ruled by the Emir whom Allah has appointed. His word is law, literally. Were he to say "Off with his head," the miscreant would be executed in public within the hour.

All of this is made possible by the oil on which the Emirate rests. When all the oil reserves have been extracted, in some centuries time, the level of the land will have been lowered by an average of ten feet. The oil is a 'heavy crude' which is dug out of the ground in lumps looking for all the world like treacle toffee. There is none of the messy liquid to process and no unsightly wells.

In years gone by, when the Emir had considerable respect for the Allies who had just defeated Germany, his eldest son, Prince (later His Magnificence the Emir) Ibrahim, was sent to Sandhurst to learn the finer points of being an officer and a gentleman. He returned three years later having acquired a second wife, who was English and minor aristocracy, and a love of hunting, which he had first discovered while holidaying in Leicestershire. Indeed he had ridden with the Quorn on several occasions.

It was when he returned from his stay in England that his father made him Crown Prince and it was during that ceremony that an unfortunate incident occurred. A disaffected faction had seized on the younger half-brother of the new Crown Prince as a figurehead to topple the Emir and replace the old Establishment with a new idea they called democracy. Their idea was that Kobekistani citizens would have the vote and elect a government and a President. Naturally only sensible citizens would be allowed to vote and equally naturally only sensible candidates for President would be allowed. The protagonists of the change would, of course, decide who was considered sensible.

A crude bomb was thrown at the Emir. Fortunately for him it was actually caught in flight by one Mansur El-Najjar (later Hajji Mansur El-Najjar) and thrown back, but it exploded uncomfortably close to this heroic defender of the Emir's life and he lost one hand and one eye. The Emir immediately took him into the closest circle of Royal Advisors and he remained an honoured hero in the country until his death at a ripe old age. The miscreants were caught and such as had not managed to die in the fighting were publicly flayed and when the skin had been removed their remains were left for the dogs to eat. It was some days before the dogs felt really hungry again. The figurehead young prince was smothered and his mother was strangled, just in case.

The Emir himself lived another fifteen years and died in his bed, mostly of overindulgence in his bedroom. The Crown Prince inherited the Emirate and one of his first acts was to set up an artificial hunting ground close to the palace. It had grassland, swamp, forest, desert, hills, caves and all the other things the Emir deemed necessary. Thirty years later, it had grown into a tract over which decent hunting was possible, except for the long gallops, and the Royal Hunt met regularly.

The Sport of Emirs

For his eighteenth birthday, as he was now growing up, his father arranged for Ramzy El-Najjar to go hunting with the Emir; this was no holds barred full scale traditional English hunting, but in Kobekistan. An outfit of hunting pink was made for him and he was instructed in the etiquette of the chase. He was not yet a man, in Kobekistan that would not be until he attained his twenty-third birthday, and so must not be in the forefront of the hunt, but should trail a decent distance behind the Emir. He was not yet a man, so he should not participate in the 'kill', though he might watch his elders and betters take their turns with the 'quarry'.

An Englishman transported to Kobekistan and not forewarned might be forgiven for being confused by this hunt meet. The men, to be sure, were mostly of Arab appearance but that was to be expected in this country. They were mounted on superb horses, but that too was to be expected, since their forebears had been nomadic and were experts in breeding fine horseflesh. The costumes were perfect fitting absolutely correct pink, but Kobekistan was a rich country and the outfits were mostly made in Saville Row.

The first surprise was the hounds. They were hounds, it is true, but not foxhounds; the Emir's kennels contained the largest pack of pure-bred Irish Wolfhounds anywhere in the world. The chances of a fox against these pursuers would be slim indeed, but there were no foxes in Kobekistan. If our hypothetical Englishman were to follow the hunt until he caught a glimpse of the quarry, he would be even more surprised to see that it was some five feet at the shoulder, had little or no fur, except the great mane on its head, and used only two legs. It would be difficult to discern any other details against the rough country through which they hunted as its markings were an almost perfect camouflage. The dogs, of course, hunted more by scent than by sight, but men do not have that privilege.

If our man actually arrived in time to see the 'kill' he would discover that it could take two hours to deal with the quarry, once it was cornered. The protective camouflage would first be torn off, by the hunters not by the dogs. This would reveal a naked more-or-less beautiful young woman, usually a concubine of whom the Emir had tired, but occasionally a slave bought specifically for the purpose. The 'kill' consisted of any hunter who felt so inclined making use of any orifice he fancied for as long as he chose. When all had been satisfied in order of arrival at the kill, then the woman was returned to the harem from which she had come, sometimes to be brought back to fitness for another hunt, but usually to be prepared for sale.

The contest between hunters and quarry was not entirely one-sided, however. The woman was given an hour's start, a map of the hunting enclosure, and was tutored beforehand in the arts of evading capture. Any quarry not caught two hours after the hunt moved off had won the unbelievably valuable prize of her freedom and an annuity to live quietly in Europe or America for the rest of her natural life. Perhaps only one or two percent succeeded in escaping capture, but the Emir was a man of honour and observed the prize rules scrupulously, with the result that there were nine such women alive at the time Ramzy El-Najjar attended his first hunt.

Of course, the down side of being hunted by a pack of dogs was that sometimes the quarry was injured, though rarely by the dogs; the usual injuries were broken arms or legs during the chase. The dogs were well schooled and although they were very frightening, as they stood slavering and snarling round a fallen quarry, they never bit a human. Any dog which did so would have been destroyed forthwith.

The hunt took place over a purpose-built enclave some three miles by four with the triple palace in the south-west corner. The natural features of the area had been adapted and the foothills to the north of the Golden Palace formed a natural boundary. A small river flowed from the hills in a sweeping reverse curve to the side of the palace and could be crossed easily only at one point, where there was a ford. Groves of trees had been planted on either side of the river and at the northern end an artificial swamp had been made, complete with reeds and mud-holes. In the east, just below the foothills an area about a mile across was artificially drained and the topsoil had been replaced by sterilised sand to make a small artificial desert. This was kept drained and the water was used to maintain the swamp. The south-east quarter of the enclosure was a triangle about two miles by one of open grassland where tall grass had been planted and was kept well fertilised. The whole area was enclosed by a double twelve-foot high chain link fence topped with razor wire which served to keep the quarry in and unwanted animals out.

[Author's note: If you want a map of the hunting ground, send me feedback and I'll email one.]

Paths went from the meet to the ford, where two paths separated, the right hand one going through the thickest part of the woods and then skirting the outside of the desert and turning back west through the foothills to finish at an artificial lake which was fed by a small waterfall. It was not possible to cross this water barrier with a horse unless the traveller returned to the ford some two miles down stream, or nearly four miles away on horseback. The other branch of the path crossed the ford and meandered in two branches up to the swamp, where they rejoined having passed on either side of two low wooded hills. After crossing the swamp on a narrow route which was precarious on horseback, though relatively easy on foot, the path returned to the stream and turned north to the foot of the waterfall, past the entrances to some promising caves on the hillside. The path again turned west and wound its way through the foothills until eventually turning north and reaching the boundary fence after passing near some more caves.

One of the caves in the complex actually went through the hills and although the hunters knew about this, it was impassable to a horse, and so provided a way of gaining some twenty minutes for a hunted woman who could slip through the hill while her pursuers had to go round. The dogs would not go through either, since a barrier of chemical which repelled them but which humans could not smell was artificially maintained about half-way through. The woods provided places where a woman or the dogs could pass, but a horseman could not pass because of the density of the undergrowth. The swamp also allowed of passage on foot, but not mounted without serious risk of losing a horse. In the twenty-odd years since the enclosure had been created it had grown into a well varied hunting ground which gave the quarry some excellent chances of escape.


On the day that Ramzy El-Najjar attended his first hunt he was totally enraptured with the whole affair. He has seen pictures of English hunts, of course, and his contemporaries at Cornell University had regarded them as one of the "real quaint old English traditions", a "must see" on a trip to Europe which few of them had ever seen outside of a cinema. The real thing was even more romantic to his eighteen year old eyes than any imaginings could have been; the hunters resplendent in their red coats with their superbly turned out horses, and the dogs pacing between then, obviously eager for the off.

In a ceremony imported from English cold weather, stirrup cups were brought round filled with an odd-tasting sweet dark red liquid, which Ramzy El-Najjar later discovered was described to the Imam as grape juice but which was actually a vintage port. In another ceremony imported from England, but from the sailing community, a small cannon was fired and the hunt moved off slowly. This cannon was fired because the Emir had enjoyed visiting Cowes Week as a young man, but it also gave the quarry the opportunity of knowing when the chase started. It could not be heard from everywhere in the enclosure, so four other cannon were fired at the same time from points on the perimeter fence.

The experienced hunters took the lead, moving off at a walk and soon raising that to a trot along the path to the ford. Here the party split with a few of the older men taking some dogs along the right hand path and into the woods. Before the rest of the party had finished fording the stream in single file, they were back reporting that no scent had been found on that path. Unfortunately none was found on the far bank either; it was quickly concluded that the quarry had gone upstream in the water, thus preventing the dogs from picking up the scent. Ramzy El-Najjar remembered that this was one of the basic techniques taught to the quarry women during their training. Two men and a few dogs were detached to go the few hundred yards downstream to check whether the woman had tried to be subtle while the rest of them moved off along the river bank, ignoring the paths. When they reached the edge of the thick woodland which came right down to the water, a couple of men dismounted and took the dogs through the woods, while the rest of them rode round the woodland on the path. Ramzy El-Najjar and another youngster were given the reins of the spare horses to lead them. They hung back so as not to get in the way of the older riders and were ambling along the path so it was he saw the quarry as she tried to slip across the path to the woods on the other side and so escape behind the hunters.

Shouting, "View," as loud as he could, Ramzy El-Najjar turned his horse, dropping the spare horse's reins and set off after her.

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