Chapter XI.

30 Apr

“How dare he do this to me!” raged Mem Sanekh upon being told what had happened to his sister. “That dacoit will pay for what he has done. Such an outrage has never before been perpetrated by any of the outlaws in the past. They must be caught and hanged by the neck. My precious sister must be rescued and saved.”

Lea had waited until all the guests were gone before making her revelation to the Master of the Samekh plantation. The time for that had now arrived.

It amazed her that the planter waited that long before asking what had become of Thav. But now he mainly expressed his personal emotion at the insult to his position and dignity. Nothing like it had ever happened before, the owner of the latifundium said over and over. It hardly seemed possible to the planter that anyone dared to take his sister hostage. This was a personal insult to him.

“I cannot allow him to pose such a threat. If I had been told only a little earlier, I could have organized a posse of planters. Tomorrow, the neighbors must be summoned in order to hunt down this miscreant. The situation demands that we organize a vigilante force. Our district police are clearly inadequate to the task of capturing the kidnappers. But those loafers will have to be informed as to Thav having been kidnapped by brigands. But I believe we planters will have to do the job ourselves. That is the only way anything can be done.”

He began to pace back and forth, ignoring Lea and Gimel.

The latter turned to his daughter.

“He promised to contact you?”

She nodded yes. “I am to act as messenger, starting tomorrow.”

Gimel shivered. “Poor Thav is spending the night with a gang of criminals.” He thought a moment. “We had better go upstairs and get some rest. Things are going to become hectic around here, I expect.”

During the night, someone delivered a handwritten note for Lea, pinned to the door of the villa’s veranda.

“Go to the landing alone in a drosky. You will be contacted along the road. Do not bring anyone else or try any tricks. If anything goes wrong, Mistress Samekh will suffer. Her fate lies in your hands.”

There was no identifying signature on the communication, but it had to have come from Yod Teth, she instantly surmised. The demanded actions were to be carried out under threat of violence.

Lea waited impatiently while a horse was prepared and hitched up. She was able to eat only a bit of breakfast that morning. Her nerves felt electrified. Nothing like this had ever happened to her back in Landia. Life appeared to be highly dangerous here in Tochsylvania.

Wearing riding breeches that reached her knees, she climbed into the drosky and started out for the town landing. There was something different in the air, a mood of something ominous impending. The daystar was hidden behind a solid wall of dark cloud. Gloom had fallen on the tropical forest like a thick haze. Nature had taken on an ominous aspect. What might happen that day? she wondered to herself. How far from the normal might this matter stray?

There was no other traffic on the dark road to the landing. She had it all to herself.

Why was it that I was summoned for this perilous contact with the abductors? the lone driver asked herself again and again. She would have to wait and find out what the demands of the Varzean kidnapper were to be. The implicit threat to harm Thav terrified her house guest.

How much ransom would Mem Samekh be willing to pay for the release of his sister? That might turn out to be the deciding factor in the matter, Lea told herself. How much value did she hold in his mind? What was he willing to sacrifice to get her back safely?

She failed to see the short, naked little boy who sprang out of the rain forest till he was alongside the drosky, on her side of the vehicle.

Lea abruptly pulled back the reins, drawing the horse to a sudden stop.

Her eyes turned on the child who now stood close to her. His skin was a shining yellow shade of bronze. A wild fear radiated out of the innocent black eyes. “I have something to tell you, Mistress,” he boldly proclaimed in a squeaky, child’s voice.

“What can it be?” she inquired calmly and quietly.

“If you take me with you, I will show you the place where your friends of the forest are waiting.”

All of a sudden, Lea was compelled to grin. “What shall I call you, my young guide?”

The latter hesitated briefly before answering her.

“Labo.” was the boy’s reply. “My name is Labo. What is yours?”

“I am called Lea.”

“They say that you are a stranger from afar, from another country.”

“Yes,” replied the woman holding the reins of the drosky. “I am not a Tochian, but a visitor from a foreign land.”

“I, too, am not a Tochian,” asserted the naked lad. “Are you a Varzean?” he asked with doubt in his voice. “You look so different from the masters around here. Are you a triber like I am?”

“My home is the distant place called Landia. Have you heard of it?”

“No,” confessed Labo. “I am an orphan and do not go to school.”

Lea studied his shining face for a few seconds.

“Climb aboard beside me,” she told him briskly. “You can give directions as we ride along toward the landing. We shall be able to talk to each other.”

The young Labo did as he was told, jumping up into the drosky and aiding her in reaching her appointment with the outlaw chieftain.

Mem stared at the florid face on the tiny screen of his office photophone.

“I have a report from one of the posse members with a voice sender,” said the chief of the district police. “A strange series of events has transpired. A little while ago the woman in the drosky was stopped by a young tribal boy. She invited him to ride along with her, thinking that he is a messenger from the dacoits. For a time, they were out of sight of our hidden observers. But, fortunately, one of the planters concealed in the forest saw what happened when the drosky stopped.”

The official paused a few seconds in order to underline what he was about to say next.

“After the driver hitched the horse to a tree trunk, she followed the child along a path leading away from the road, into the forest depths. The man who had spotted them decided to follow. But he must not be too experienced as a stalker in the woods, because his presence was detected at once by the little Varzean scamp guiding the young woman.

“The result is that we have lost track of the two of them. I have ordered the entire posse into that area of the rain forest, but it is doubtful they can be found. Their trail has been lost.”

Samekh could feel the blood coursing throughout his body with force.

“I take it, then, that she is aware that the posse has been posted to follow her to the abductors.”

“Correct, sir,” admitted the other.

“There is nothing more that anyone can do this morning. Call all the men who are out there back. I shall have to wait until Lea returns and informs me what the kidnappers’ demands are. Then it can be decided what must be done.”

Sitting in deep thought at his desk, the planter fumed and boiled inside. It was clear to him that Yod Teth was an extremely clever and resourceful opponent. He was going to be difficult to deal with in every possible way.

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