Chapter XIII.

1 May

Resh drove the motor carriage along the unpaved river road, giving his passenger a scenic view of the waters of the Toch. Farther and farther away from the Samekh latifundium, said Lea to herself. Was it wise for her to listen to the dendrologist and trust a datto of the tribers? There is no alternative, she told herself, to going along with the man who is offering to help her find Thav and the bandits holding her. I must take this chance, whatever the outcome turns out to be. There was no realistic alternative.

Suddenly, the vehicle swerved off the main road, into a pathway taking them into a thick grove of virolas and andirobas. Back in the older tropical rain forest again, realized Lea from her position beside the man at the controls. Neither of them had said much since leaving the dendrology station. Both were concerned with personal thoughts and questions. Neither, at that time, had anything in mind that she or he believed worth communicating.

The driver broke the long silence with an unexpected question.”Have you ever heard of a tarva search, Lea?” he asked her. She turned her head to the left. “No. What is it?” He thought for a moment, then explained what he was talking about. “The Varzeans use the same word, tarva, to refer to both their inner spirits or souls and also the tree that they believe created each and every one of them.”

Lea felt a strange, uncanny confusion in her brain. “I don’t understand. What kind of tree can make a human being? That makes no sense at all. Can you explain that strange concept to me? I have never heard anything like this before.”

She turned her head so as to look at his profile, surprised and fascinated by what he had begun to tell her.

The land carriage rolled ever slower as the road narrowed. “The tradition of the natives tells them that they are placed into their mothers’ wombs by a tree, one for every tribe member who has ever been born. The human parents only produce a person’s body. But in order to contain the spirit of life, a man or woman must be given the tarva that inhabits a particular tree. It is the source of that individual’s life. At death, the tarva returns from where it came, back to its tree of origin, or else to one near where it once was rooted.

“You can see why the tribers opposed any cutting in the forests when we Tochians first arrived here. But they had to submit to our greater physical force and power. In their minds, what was happening was horrible sacrilege. The spirits of future tribers were being destroyed by the outsiders. How many persons shall never be given a living tarva because of the cutting down of so many forest trees? That worried our native population of tribers. That was a tragic burden to carry, one that still weighs on the aborigines of this country. They have been unable to see any rational reason for what we do to the trees of the forest. Their great fear is that by cutting down so many trees we are destroying the souls that might have belonged to individuals in future times.

“I have had great difficulty convincing them that my imported trees are no threat to the existing tarvas of the forest. But Rambatan has at last come to believe that I pose no danger to the tarva search and identification needed for the survival of his people. He trusts me to cause no harm to the trees. We have been able to communicate and understand each other to a certain degree. That has helped to smooth the way for the forest enhancement that I am developing at the tree station. I have won their trust and friendship.

“The tribers are evolving into supporters rather than opponents of my research and experimental activities, because they can see with their own eyes that results of my methods of growth enhancement.”

Lea then asked him a question. “You mention a search for tarvas. What is its nature? How do these people go about such a spiritual task?”

“Each tribe member must attempt to find the tree from which his or her spirit originated. The objective is to be buried as close to it as possible when one dies. Rambatan says that it is a return to a person’s beginning and origin. He sees it as a repayment for what that tree has granted, life itself. The burial is a final act of goodness and justice. It is acknowledgement of the value and importance of the tarva tree from which a person’s life originates.”

“It sounds to me like primitive superstition,” muttered the Landian. “I have never heard of any such beliefs before. Perhaps some day this tarva search will die out completely. It is old and outmoded in the world of today that we all live in. Such a custom is completely out of place and out of date, one would think. It is not in step with modern science at all.”

“There is a profoundly spiritual component in all of this. But I confess that it lies beyond anything that can be proven. It gives to the Verzeans a sublime reverence for all the trees around them. That much I have found out about the subject.” Resh ended with that, because the village of the datto they sought was suddenly in sight ahead of them.

Simple huts of fallen kapok and rattan formed a close circle. The cabin of the chief was no longer than the others, though it appeared stronger and more tightly built. Three tribers escorted the visitors to the humble shelter where Rambatan dwelled. An old, lean man with carbonado eyes in a triangular face met them at the entrance. He wore an orange loincloth, no different from that of his male neighbors. His alert, piercing eyes fastened upon the short, child-sized woman in shirt and field pants. He stared at her with transfixed attention, taking in every feature and detail, remaining silent.

“Let me explain who it is that I have brought here,” softly began Resh. “This woman came with her father from a foreign land, far from the great rain forest. She has a horrible problem, which I believe only you can help solve.” The datto peered at the stranger without self-consciousness, studying every aspect of what he saw of her. “Let us sit down inside,” said Rambatan quietly. His voice was a deep baritone. “We shall be comfortable and all to ourselves. We shall become acquainted with each other. We shall, each of us, reveal the matters that lie closest to the heart.”

The three entered the cabin, sitting down on three round stools at the center of the single circular room. Only a small amount of light flowed in through uncovered openings between the wall and ceiling. Not a sound was audible from outside. Rambatan pointed to a flat satinwood bowl in front of his guests. It held a sapota plum, bergamot pear, breadfruit, and a fiery red, egg-shaped rambatan. Lea could not help staring at the last one. It must be the datto’s favorite fruit, she secretly surmised from his name. Resh took the pear and Lea the plum.

As the two began to eat, the chief spoke to them candidly. “I know that the young woman is visiting the Samekh latifundium with her father, who intends to purchase the leaves of our trees from the planter. That is what has brought this pair here to our local forests.

“Mr. Mem Samekh is of a corrupted, poisonous character. I have been keeping my eyes on him for several years. What he did with his whip to the three workers is unpardonable. Locking them up, then starving these prisoners is criminal. That is what should someday be done to him, when he is brought to justice.”

The dendrologist swallowed the morsel in his mouth. “Have you been told of the rescue of these tribers by your kinsman, Yod? And how he took the planter’s sister with him as a hostage?” Both visitors looked at the datto expectantly, with searching eyes. What was he going to say to them?

From far away in the forest came an explosive noise. It took Lea several seconds to recognize the sound of thunder. In a moment, a flash of lightning illuminated the top of the room through the high vents on the walls. The splash of pounding rain provided an eerie backdrop for the datto when he finally addressed the last question from Resh. “Yod came to me for advice before he took action. I authorized only the releasing of the three men in the hoosgow. But early this morning he came to tell me how he seized the opportunity and took away the Samekh woman. I swear to you, it was an unexpected surprise to me. I had no knowledge that it was going to happen. The deed was totally unpredictable. He must have decided to carry it out at the last moment, when he faced the young woman at the jail building.”

From outside came the hard tapping of torrents of water. The cabin was suddenly much cooler. No break or lessening occurred in the downpour as it continued. Rambatan put an end to his own lengthy pause with a statement. “I have determined the ransom to be demanded for the sister of the planter. It will not be anything that can be moved or carried away. Nothing like that.”

Resh gaped a moment. “I don’t understand,” he whispered hollowly. The datto, raising his thin  torso, leaned his head forward and spoke. “All the forest that Samekh holds must return to the workers who labor for him. He and his sister are to depart and never return here. No more land claims by that family can be recognized. The trees will return to us. And that will be the first of many similar liberations that are to come in future days. The forest must be returned to the original inhabitants of this land. That must be done in order to restore local life to what it rightfully should be. The tribes that were originally here must regain all their trees and the tarvas that dwell in them. That is the only fair and just ending to all the trouble we have suffered.”

Both guests looked at the old man in breathless wonder. What the datto was proposing to carry out was fully revolutionary. He intended to restore to his people the ground, the trees, and their spiritual tarvas. The result would be complete change and reversal of the order imposed by the Tochian planters. All of present-day life would experience total transformation.

It was a daring agenda that the datto was presenting before his two visitors.

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