Eventually I conceded that the door, although undoubtedly existing, was for the moment beyond our discovery. After a frustrating discussion with Magowan and other officers, it was posited that individuals from the citadel may gain access via tunnels leading deep into the forest, from whence they could collect essential provisions. I refused to countenance this idea at first. It seemed impossible to me that such a system could provide the necessary supplies to feed such an army. It was suggested that perhaps the numbers were exaggerated. Such is the mythic way of speaking that these natives sometimes have, perhaps rumour had distorted the enumeration of the threat. After several hours of bad tempered debate, however, it was decided to send teams out to search for tunnel entrances in the surrounding jungle. I had no faith that we would find them. I was prepared to wait until we could achieve our entrance in the most explosive way. I did it to keep the men busy. Otherwise they’d sit around the compound we were clearing and play dice and swear and glower at my back. The jungle was infested with bad things; insects, sucking mud, whipping fronds that snapped across bare skin; the air itself had septic teeth. At the beginning of the second week the first victim of some malady quite like, but not, malaria became apparent. He lapsed into delirium in a way I had not seen in men of inferior resilience. I had him quarantined, to prevent contagion but also to keep him from the thoughts of the others. To do that I also had to have him gagged, as he howled incessantly. He died choking on that bloody rag. I ordered a cessation in all further expeditions. We had new concerns by then; thoughts to unseat the soldiers’ minds from which I failed to protect them.

One day a soldier entered my tent, where I was reading from the psalms, and told me that there was a man standing on the wall and calling in Chinese down to our encampment. I ordered for our interpreter, a literate Chinaman, apparently loyal yet unreadable like all his race, to be summoned that we might engage this unexpected dignitary in terms. Outside, my men craned upwards nervously. The man was dressed in priestly robes, his head and face were shaven and he seemed very still, serene and ancient. The interpreter hurried to my side and I ordered him to greet the stranger and explain who we were as well as our demands. The old man listened politely before responding.