Chapter XVII.

3 May

Lea rode along in the motor carriage beside Resh. To their left, daystar light sparkled on the surface of the Toch River. “This is where the side road begins,” said the driver, turning off of the pavement onto the soil surface.

Their speed suddenly slowed to a near crawl.

“What do you think of our tribers, Lea?” the scientist asked after they had proceeded a way into the towering forest. There was no sound or movement anywhere about them. All was still.

“They have a unique culture, all their own,” she said after some thought. “It may take years of contact for me to understand them. Everything about them is strange and new to me. I find them interesting to the highest possible degree.”

Resh grinned. “I have known them for over ten years, yet much about them remains dark and mysterious. They are enigmatic and hard to know. It takes a lot of effort to find out what the truth is about these tribers.”

“A happy outcome in these matters depends on the two of us,” she muttered. “Will we be able to negotiate the release of Thav? I wonder.”

He slowed the motor carriage even more. “It depends upon the influence that Rambatan can exercise over the outlaw leader, Yod Teth. That may turn out to be the decisive factor involved. It is impossible to predict how the matter turns out. That remains to be seen.”

“The old man is an impressive individual,” she admitted. “I think that I like him.”

“He is a good person to have as one’s friend.”

All at once, Resh drove onto the edge of the narrow roadway and braked. Leaning over to her, he whispered. “Someone is following us. Be quiet and do not move from your seat.”

She watched as her escort leaped out of his side of the vehicle and headed back in the direction from which they had just come.

A nervous chill traveled up her legs, then along the back bone. What sort of danger lurked back there? She twisted her head about to find out.

All that was visible to her was Resh receding forty span behind the motor carriage.

The scientist proceeded cautiously, stopping several times and looking into the forest on both sides of the unpaved road. It seemed that he could not find what he was after.

Lea thought she heard a sound like the snort of an animal.

In a second, Resh was running off the road, into the heartwood jungle.

“Stop!” he yelled out. “Stop and show yourself!”

What happened next came with lightning swiftness.

Lea heard the sudden pounding of heavy hooves. A horse appeared on the edge of the shadow-covered forest. As it passed by the scientist who had brought her here, he reached forth to try to grab onto the leg of the burly rider.

A terrible collision of bodies occurred before her eyes. She gasped for breath, a helpless witness to a horrible disaster.

The rider, holding back the horse, freed his leg from the grasp of the assailant with a powerful kick. Reeling back, Resh lost his balance. He fell to the surface of the road. Then, even worse happened to him.

Lea stood up in the open motorized carriage, watching in horror as the horse was turned about so that it could trample the tall young man on the ground.

Brutally and mercilessly, the rider allowed his horse to stamp on the one who had dared try to stop them. Again and again, the animal’s hooves battered the victim lying prone before it.

The Landian jumped out of the carriage, racing toward the violent scene as if in a living nightmare. Her face was now livid and covered with wetness. What was happening? she wondered. How serious were the injuries suffered by her companion? What was going to happen next?

A front foot struck the figure on the ground with full force, coming close to crushing him.

All of a sudden, Lea stopped in her tracks and shrieked with all the force within her. The wail of desperation distracted the rider. When he turned his face in her direction, she instantly recognized who it was.

By now, Resh had succeeded in rolling a few span away from the steed and its murderous legs.

Lea started forward once more, throwing away all caution.

Khaph Daleth shook the reins, directing his animal into an accelerating trot away from the two he had followed to this place of conflict and collision. Back toward the river road he fled at a racing pace, disappearing into the heartwoods within seconds.

When she reached the fallen dendrologist, her head began to spin as if in some sort of spell. Her thoughts were confused and overwhelmed. She had to decide quickly what was possible for her to do. How severe were his injuries? she endeavored to find out as fast as possible.

His left arm and shoulder were a bloody red. Great quantities of the liquid soaked his shirt and pants. An expression of intolerable pain covered his face.
The bleeding he was undergoing failed to stop, but became continuous.

Lea was afraid that he had lost consciousness till a moaning sound came from his throat.

“Get help!” he desperately muttered. “Get help!”

What to do? she asked herself as she bent over his injured body.

All at once, she realized what course of action made the most sense.

“Stay still, Resh,” she ordered the victim. “I know how to drive the carriage. It will take a couple of moments to get it back here. I hope that you can get into it, with my help. Then, we will have to decide which way to go.”

He began to move his lips, making out words with difficulty.

“Do not take me to the landing or the station,” he advised her. “On to the triber village. Rambatan will surely know what to do once we are there with him. We shall have to depend upon him for guidance. He alone is our hope.”

Lea obeyed with alacrity, hardly thinking at all.

She ran back to the motor carriage, then drove it in reverse back to the place where her companion lay, battered and trampled.

With a tremendous effort, she helped him to his feet.

Step by step, the two reached the side of the motorized vehicle, its hydrazine engine still running. With great effort, she helped lift him into the passenger side, where he slumped down in a heap on the passenger seat.

Lea climbed in behind the controls and turned on the engine, taking command of the hydrazine motor vehicle.

She glanced at the swooning scientist, then made a desperate effort with the vehicle to get him to the Verzeans for first-aid.

His very survival appeared to lie in her hands.

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