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1826 – a Werner Herzog movie pitch*

I Port Natal, New Year. Bare-chested natives dance under the unfinished walls of Fort Farewell. Many cattle are eaten.

II Port Natal, February. Short of livestock, the white settlers plan an expedition inland, to Shaka’s kraal. They hack the figurehead from their wrecked ship, the Mary, as a gift for the black Napoleon.

III The interior (Independent Kafraria). Nathaniel Isaacs [Klaus Kinski] and Henry Francis Fynn head north-east with two native bearers. They reach the Tugela River, but the floodwaters are impassable. They turn back.

IV The road. Isaacs hears tell of ‘a wondrous one-horned beast’ at a distant kraal. He travels alone for days through hostile territory,  in a state of great excitement.

V The kraal. Isaacs arrives at the kraal, exactly according to his information. The ‘wondrous beast’ is a goat. Isaacs returns to the settlement, dejected.

VI Port Natal, March. A messenger arrives from Shaka. He is at the Tugela. He has heard about the small boats of the white men, and wishes that one be brought to him.

VII The sandbar. On the command of James Saunder King, ship’s captain, the settlers retrieve the skiff from the wreck of the Mary.

VIII The interior. Isaacs sets out with a small band of natives, carrying the skiff overland. He attempts to recruit fresh porters at each kraal.

IX The interior. Mid-journey, Isaacs finds himself alone with the boat.

X A kraal. Isaacs complains to the chief about the abandonment of ‘the King’s property’. The chief orders immediate reprisals against his neighbours. The list of the dead includes two of his own brothers and five of their wives.

XI The interior. The boat reaches the Tugela without further delay.

XII The Tugela. The river is still raging, but Isaacs launches regardless, heading downstream in search of Shaka.

XIII Downstream. Spies bring news to the mighty king of the little boat bucking and leaping on the water. Shaka sends word to meet him at kwaBulawayo and hurriedly withdraws. Three of the messengers drown.

XIV North of the Tugela. Isaacs hears that Shaka is at war. He travels through a landscape littered with charred huts, bones and shattered skulls. Having cast off the remnants of his shoes, he finds the going hard. Rats eat at his toenails while he sleeps.

XV kwaBulawayo, April. The savage king is busy with executions. The bodies of local chieftains hang, impaled, from the fences.

XVI The court. Isaacs presents his gifts. Shaka ignores them.

XVII Shaka’s hut, next day. The emperor of the Nguni requests military aid from the white men. Dissembling, Isaacs attempts to convey the principles of rifles, and of firing from square in two ranks. The emperor of the Nguni scorns the method, asserting the supremacy of his impis and their assegais.

XVIII The road, two weeks later. Departing kwaBulawayo ‘with six head of cattle’, Isaacs is met by a message from one Captain Colledge at Delagoa Bay, three-hundred miles to the North. Colledge has learned of their shipwreck, and promises to put in at Port Natal on his return to Cape Town.

XIX The interior. Isaacs is intercepted by a second messenger. HMS Helicon has been at Port Natal a week, and can wait no longer. King has sailed with her, leaving his apologies.

XX Port Natal, May. Nathaniel Isaacs begins to lose hope.

* after Donald R. Morris, The Washing of the Spears, pp86-89

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