Chapter X.

29 Apr

Two satchels of edibles were waiting for Thav to pick up on the way to the lock-up behind the stable.

The two figures in party dresses made their way through the darkness, walking cautiously and silently. Would there be anyone about? Preparation of the fireworks display should be drawing all attention to the opposite side of the villa, away from the direction they were headed in. This area should be vacant, except for the prisoners. That was the expectation of the two women as they left the main house. There should be safety for them in everyone’s focus on the fireworks display.

Lea followed the lead of her friend, each of them carrying part of the food items. They moved slowly, cautiously, hoping not to be seen by anyone. What they were involved in held a large amount of hazard for them.

All of a sudden, about twenty feet away from the housgow, Thav made an abrupt stop, cautioning her friend to do the same by raising her free hand.

Both stood motionless for several moments. Then Thav lowered her arms as she again moved forward toward the housgow that held three tribers.

Did she happen to hear something? shuddered Lea, following behind with the large bundle of food in both arms. Perhaps Thav has keener hearing than I do, she told herself. Her senses may have picked up something a foreigner would not have taken notice of.

From somewhere in the forest came the forlorn notes of a trogon bird.

Thav, drawing close to the lock-up door, stopped and motioned to her assistant to come nearer to her. Giving the other her own bundle, she reached into the hidden pocket of her dress for the copper key she had taken from her brother’s office when she had visited it that afternoon.

It took surprisingly little time to unlock the strong, hard fiddlewood door. Inside, a silent darkness reigned. Nothing human revealed itself.

Are the three tribers still alive? both of them wondered as they searched in the shadows.

Finally, Thav decided to say something.

“We have brought some food for you,” she said in a hushed tone. “Do not be afraid. No one knows that we are here. Come forward toward us and we will give you what we have with us.”

Instantly, an emaciated, ghostlike face appeared in the dim light from the tropical sky. A second one materialized, then a third.

All three had the Varzean physiognomy: the high forehead, pug nose, and receding jaw. They looked frightened and confused. Their breathing was slow and guarded.

One of the prisoners began to whisper in an almost inaudible tone.

“Thank you, kind mistress,” he fearfully stammered. “We have not eaten since the overseer put us in here. Our stomachs are empty and we have to make our water in a corner of our tollbooth. You have saved us and the gods of the rainforest will bless both of you for such mercy. This deed of yours shall not be forgotten. We shall forever bless you for the kindness that you show us.”

“Come, get the food,” urged Thav. “We dare not stay much longer.”

As the trio of tribers quickly lunged forward, the sound of a footstep arose from behind the two women.

Lea, first to pick it up, turned about to see what might be there.

Carbonado eyes, as hard and opaque as a black diamond, stared at her.

Thav handed her load to one of the prisoners, then turned about. She gasped upon making out the husky, bulky form of a dacoit.

The brigand was immediately joined by two, then three comrades.

Lea, remembering why she was there, whirled around and took a step forward.

As if nothing untoward had happened, she handed her satchel to one of the waiting tribers. Then, drawn back to the new arrivals, she turned to stare at their leader, who stood nearest the fiddlewood door.

All three intruders wore the orange piassava pants they had seen on Yod Teth. That could mean that he was there and in charge of this small band of outlaws.

The one who had given them a warning on the road from the landing now began to speak.

“We arrived some time ago but were unable to break the lock,” he murmured in a calm, assured voice. “Thank you for doing this for us. Both of you will be remembered as friends of the oppressed.”

“You are the bandit called Yod Teth,” said Thav breathlessly. “What is your purpose here tonight? What are you doing on our latifundium at this hour of night?”

The dacoit chief moved closer. “I wish to liberate the men in the housgow. They have been unjustly imprisoned.” He set his charcoal eyes on each of the workers in turn. “You are welcome to come with us into the forest. We can take you to a place where no one can trace the trail. There is a safe shelter for those in your situation. We promise to protect the three of you from recapture. You shall not be in danger with us. We promise to protect and take care of your needs.”

Still holding their packets of food, two of the prisoners came out of the lock-up.

The last one turned around to the remaining Varzean. “Do you want to stay here and see the Master again? Are you hungry for a new beating from him?”

The question convinced the hesitant, frightened triber to join the flight to freedom with the other two. He rushed through the open door to join his fellows on the outside.

Thav reached out to take the hand of Lea into her own. She felt a slight tremble in the heartbeat of her companion. That was completely understandable to the one sensing the anxiety of the visitor from Landia.

All of a sudden, Yod Teth focused his gaze on the milky white eyes of the planter’s sister.

“I think we will take you along with us,” he solemnly pronounced.

Thav felt the night sky fall on her. “What are you after?” she succeeded in asking him. Her mouth was, all at once, dry and bitter.

“It is of interest to me to find out how much your brother is willing to give in order to have you back with him,” explained the leader of the outlaws. “Someone might call it a sort of scientific experiment. Yes, I know those Tochian words. This will be my experiment with the Samekh family. How much is a brother willing to give in order to recover his sister? It shall be most interesting to learn that, I doubt not.”

For a brief moment, there was a profound silence.

Then, Yod turned to Lea and spoke directly to her.

“I appoint you our intermediary with Mem Samekh. It will be your responsibility to pick up the messages that I send and deliver them to him. This is serious business. Nothing can be allowed to go wrong. Understand?”

“Yes,” the shaken young woman nodded. “When can I expect to hear from you, and what am I to tell Mem Samekh tonight?” She made a great effort to concentrate her mind on what the dacoit was about to tell her. It was going to be very important business.

“No harm will come to Mistress Thav if our demands are fulfilled,” he promised. “I will let him think the situation over for tonight. Tomorrow, you will be told what the terms of her release are to be.”

With that, Yod signaled his men to escort the hostage away from the housgow, into the rainforest. The released tribers followed in the wake of their rescuers. The group quickly disappeared from sight.

Lea watched, powerless and helpless, as her friend disappeared into the darkness.

What was she to do now?

Best to wait till the soiree finished before informing anyone.

As she started back to the villa, a brilliant light exploded in the sky.

The promised tourbillion, remembered Lea. The fireworks were now beginning.

Flare after flare rose into the darkness as she walked back fast.

Candles, spin wheels, spirals, disintegrations, chromatic transformations: all of these occurred. Cutting sounds followed the explosions of pyro-chemicals.

On and on went the bombardment and entertainment.

A smell of nitrate filled the evening air.

Mem Samekh enjoys playing the part of a magnificent landowner, realized Lea.

But now everyone shall see him in a new, unforeseeable role due to his sister’s abduction, realized the trembling Lea. He will be placed in an uncomfortable, awkward circumstance.

What will the avaricious planter attempt to do to save his abducted sister?

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