Chapter IXX.

5 May

Two figures came into the village clearing at the same time.

“Here we are,” said Rambatan, suddenly stopping. Lea did the same.

A small boy without loincloth was the only person visible at that moment. He stood peering at the newcomers, his charcoal eyes ablaze with fear and astonishment.

Lea recognized yesterday’s guide in the jungle.

“Hello, Labo,” she called out. “Is this where you live?”

No answer was given by the frightened little triber. He stood still, as if unable to speak.

“We are here to talk with Yod Teth,” said the datto in a sternly serious voice. “Do you know where he is at the moment?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the naked lad, raising a hand to point toward the other end of the clearing. “He is in the last of the huts.”

Rambatan turned to his walking companion. “That is where the dacoits keep their arms and meet together.” His eyes went back to Labo. “You may run to the hut and inform Yod Teth that the tribal datto needs to speak with him.”

In a flash, the youngster took off through the center of the village, hurrying to deliver the message just given to him.

Within less than a minute, the head of the outlaws was with them. Yod looked with surprise at Lea. He was clearly astounded to be seeing her there at that precise moment.

“This is the female visitor from Landia staying at the Samekh latifundium,” explained the Varzean chief. “She was the one you called for to act as intermediary in the return of the planter’s sister.”

Yod gave Lea a slight bow.

“Welcome to our forest,” he said with formality.

“I have been unable to reach you until now,” revealed Lea. “A number of obstacles have delayed my arrival.”

Rambatan then related what had happened on the forest road.

“The scientist suffered serious injury and is lying unconscious,” concluded the datto. “The danger from Mem Samekh will be all the greater now that his overseer has turned to violence. Desperate actions may now be taken against all the people of our tribe. The consequences could turn out horrendous.”

“Indeed,” agreed the brigand. “A lookout has just reported to me that the planter militia, fully armed, has begun to assemble at the river landing. Something large is being planned, some sort of attack. It will certainly pose a terrible danger to all of us. A momentous climax may now occur. The result could be a catastrophe.”

The white-haired elder frowned with worry.

“Such a mighty force indicates they are going to comb the forest. I fear our enemies intend to seize and occupy the settlements, including the district village. That has long lurked in the back of their minds. They have decided, it appears, that the moment for a final attack by them has arrived. All that we see and hear portends terrible evil is about to descend upon us.”

Yod nodded his concurrence with these thoughts.

“The militia will try to surround and trap us,” predicted Yod. “They can ride about on horses, while we have only our feet. The advantage of movement is wholly on their side. They will enjoy a great tactical advantage through their speed and mobility.”

The datto bit his lip. “Where are we to retreat to?” he asked in desperation. “They will follow us wherever we try to hide. There is no safe shelter left for us. What can we do? Where can we escape?”

For a brief time, no one said a word. Serious thoughts engulfed everyone.

“I have an idea,” finally said Yod. “It may be impractical and crazy, but we have no other alternative.”

“What are you thinking of?”

It was Lea who asked him this question.

“The station reserve,” answered the dacoit. “The planters would never think of hunting for us in the experimental forest there. Besides that, it is illegal to trespass into that part of the jungle. There is no alternative refuge anywhere else. That is our only remaining hope. I can think of nothing else.”

Rambatan raised his hand to scratch his jaw. He furrowed his brow.

“If we could move into it unseen…”

“There is nowhere else to hide,” asserted Yod breathlessly. “We must move our people at once. All of them.”

Lea thought of someone unable to make the trek on his own.

“What about Resh Zayeth?”

“Several of my men can transport him by litter,” proposed the outlaw leader. “As long as he is unconscious, there cannot be much pain for him. We can have him carried to the safety of the experimental forest.”

His eyes fell on the datto.

“That must be our plan, then,” decided the latter. “It is a chance that must be taken. We have to start to mobilize immediately, so that everyone can reach the reserve. Speed will be essential for us. Many lives will be at stake.”

Yod turned to Lea. “You can accompany Miss Samekh. Follow me, I will take you to her. She will be happy to see you.”

In just a few minutes, the Varzeans began to organize their flight into the dendrological station’s forest. Excitement reigned among all the tribers.

A tightly fitted body sack was quickly constructed of rattan and kapok to hold the sedated Tochian scientist. With Resh Zayeth snuggly inside, it was mounted onto a balsa wood litter used for carrying cargo through the rain forest. Four strong men thus transported the injured man past the boundaries of the experimental reserve, into supposedly safe territory of the experimental forest.

The daystar was near its time for setting when the caravan of fugitives stopped to make night camp in a small open area. Lea had hiked all afternoon beside Thav. The two had helped each other along the winding path through stands of amaranths, sapeles, and utiles, into a zone of towering andiobas, virolas, ekkis, and gaboons.

Lea, from her previous visit to the station, was able to recognize some of the species. Crabwoods, heartwoods, greenhearts, and purplehearts were already familiar to her. She marveled at the great heights of the towering trees on all sides. These were scenes she could never have seen at home in Landia. All that she saw astounded her with its spectacular size and height.

When the procession stopped for brief rests, Yod came back from the front to see how the two women were doing.

“How is Resh taking the bumping and jostling?” Lea asked him.

“The man is still fast asleep,” he answered.

Thav was gazing upward at the tops of the tall trees etched against the turquoise sky. “I can see long, narrow boxes up there. Those must be the optical pulsers used on the trees to make them grow fast to great heights. Each one of them seems to be pointed at the closest neighboring trunk. They are aimed at the intended targets of their special light rays.”

Yod and Lea both looked up where she pointed.

“Many of the tribers took it for evil witchcraft when the devices were first brought here,” noted the dacoit with a sigh. “Though we have learned better, there still exists a great deal of fear about those strange apparatuses. They were considered the nesting places of devilish afreets, of demonic spirits. There remains a primitive fear of them among many of our people.”

“That is nonsense,” reacted Thav. “Your people are still very suspicious, I’m sorry to say. They are superstitious and uneducated.”

Yod gave her a severe look. “The Varzean believes that the most precious part of existence has to do with the tarva. That is the original soul from which the spark of life comes to each one of us. And when we die, our tarvas return to the tree from which we trace our origin. Is that so different from what other nations on the Continent believe? Should that be considered ignorant superstition? I take it to be the profoundest wisdom, the truest knowledge possible. There may be valid reasons to fear those projectors of strange light. Who can say that they cause no harm to the souls lodged within the trees? There are deep reasons why our people hold such beliefs about trees and their tarvas.”

“I’m sorry for having said that, then,” apologized Thav Samekh. “No one should lightly judge the basic beliefs of another culture. I must admit that, even though I have lived all my life in this district, my knowledge of our Varzean neighbors is weak. I have never been curious enough to try to learn what the truth about them is. That is my fault alone, I have to confess.”

He smiled at her. “That will have to be remedied soon,” was the brigand’s gentle reply. “For instance, have you ever heard of our talking trees?”

“No,” she replied. “The term sounds interesting. What does it refer to among the Varzeans of your tribe?”

“A person who becomes familiar with the tree from which his or her tarva came, will hear the silent voice of that tree by concentrating and listening with care to what can be heard late at night. One must be quiet and thoughtful, but the tree that gives one a tarva soul will provide wise advice to the person who takes the time to listen to that tree.

“That is an idea that every triber learns from parents and elders. No one has ever doubted its truth.

“What do you think of our talking trees, Miss?” he asked her.

Lea decided to stay silent and make no definite reply to his question.

Can a Vazean tarva tree talk to a triber? she wondered to herself.

Dusk turned into twilight as the trekkers made camp for the night. The time for temporary rest had arrived for the fleeing triber group. Everyone appeared to be tired from all they had done and accomplished.


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