Chapter XVIII.

5 May

Three tribal nurses treated the wounds of Resh Zayeth under the supervision of the old datto.

Lea insisted on staying in the latter’s hut to watch everything being done to the man who had suffered such injury in assisting her.

It was not at all clear to the young woman what traditional aboriginal medicine among the tribals consisted of. Salves, oils, powders, and waxes were applied externally to the affected body areas. The bark of various trees was wrapped around the head of Resh Zayeth in wide ribbons. His treatment had been extensive and diverse, but a matter of mystery to the visitor from Landia.

Rambatan gave continual reports to her on the steps that were being taken for the physical recovery of the wounded dendrologist.

“No bones have been broken, fortunately,” he informed her in a low, guarded voice. “By some miracle, the horse did not smash or crack anything in his arm or shoulder. In time, his movements should be normal again. That is what my experience as a healer allows me to foresee. But it may take a length of time to occur. No one can be certain on how the recovery of his body will progress.”

She gave a sigh of relief, then rose from her stool.

“What are the nurses applying to his arm and shoulder?”

The datto described the variety of latex compounds used in the Varzean folk remedies that were being spread on the victim’s skin. “Balata gum from what we call the bully tree. Talipot, huon, and grugru saps combined with tolu balsam oil. A dressing of toyon and anil leaves, held together in caoutchouc and gum elastic. That are some of the traditional means of treatment we are making use of. They are what we Varzeans call our folk medicine.”

“I saw how they bathed his upper body with oil,” whispered Lea.

“That was eucalyptus,” explained the datto. “It cleans, soothes, and disinfects a wound. We mix it with the medicinal resins of copalm and copaiba trees. The results come slowly, but they are fully complete. Our tribe has had long experience in the use of these methods of healing. They are part of the tradition that we pass on to our descendants.”

Lea watched a nurse move away from the pallet on which the patient rested and come toward them. The woman, clothed in saranga, spoke to Rambaton.

“The Tochian has fallen asleep,” she murmured in a hushed tone. “He will rest in deep slumber for a long time. His body system will have opportunity to restore itself and find unity again. That is what usually happens in situations like this one.”

“Was a strong soporific given to him?” asked the datto.

“Yes. It contains poon tree oil and poppy juice.”

“That should keep him asleep for the present,I trust,” said Rambatan.

As the nurse returned to where her patient lay, the datto turned to Lea. “Will you walk with me to the settlement where Yod is holding the planter’s sister? After all, you came to see her. This is a good opportunity for you to do so, young woman.”

She gave a nod. “Yes, I would like to talk with Thav.”

The two exited through the single door of the round hut.

Rambatan pointed to a path leading northward, deeper into the rain forest.

“That is the way we will take,” he said to the woman who had come there on a mission to investigate the condition of the prisoner who had been abducted.

Mem Samekh stared intently at the rocky face of his overseer as the latter finished his report of what had happened on the secondary road into the jungle.

The planter sat at his desk, while Khaph stood at attention in front of it.

“You fool!” erupted Samekh with fury. “This ruins everything. Let me think a second on what we can do about it. Some remedial action is now necessary.”

The giant waited, frozen and speechless, while the Master ruminated, considering what his options were.

At long last, a decision was reached.

“Here it is,” fumed the landholder. “The time has come for us to attack. I intend to get on the photophone and contact the leading members of our district militia. They must be informed of the assault on you. The moment for decisive action by our people has finally arrived. It is impossible for the planters to remain passive any longer. I can foresee how my neighbors and colleagues will react to a plea for action coming directly from me.

“A general meeting is what the planters need to hold. It’s purpose will be to authorize a final action at once. There is no time to lose. We must seize the initiative.”

Khaph grew excited. “Final action, sir?” he asked in surprise.

“Indeed,” replied his employer. “I have in mind the occupation and cleaning out of the section of the forest still in triber hands. The capture of all criminal outlaws, and the imprisonment of the Varzean leadership, that is the plan.” His gray eyes flared with flaming hatred. “We must settle the problem of the aborigines, once and for all. No longer can we permit them to live in their forest settlements. All of them have to be moved onto plantations, or else…” He hesitated to say more.

Khaph Deleth finished the sentence for the planter.

“Remove them from this district forever. That will solve the problems that they are causing, sir.”

The Master frowned ferociously. “Yes, that is what must happen in the end. That is the answer to the problems we have had to deal with for generations. Either we chase the Vazeans out of the forests or else we continue to suffer at their hands.”

Thav watched the bronze-skinned brigand enter the hut and approach her.

“How are you today?” he asked without preamble.

“I cannot make any complaint, except for being here at all.”

Yod smiled with evident understanding.

“My hope is that, in time, you will realize that our aims are justifiable. You yourself know how brutal and oppressive planters like your brother can be. Is it wrong to fight for our right to live as we wish? Unless we do so, we shall die out as a people. In a short time, all of us will then disappear. No one anywhere would accept such a fate.”

She attempted to avoid his eyes, looking at the door he had left open when he entered.

“I can certainly sympathize with those who suffer mistreatment at the hands of landholders. But how different would conditions be if the Tochian planters had never moved here in the first place? Were there never any Varzeans who could be called oppressors?”

The dacoit seemed disconcerted for a fraction of a second.

“Our ancestors had ways of dealing with a datto who exploited his people. Informal vigilantes took measures to remove evil leaders who caused harm to their tribers. A bad ruler of a group was soon gone after his punishment by those under him. That is what would happen before the Tochians appeared and took over many of our forests. Our people knew how to deal with evil within their own society. They were not lawless savages, and they still continue to have strong rules to follow among themselves, believe me.”

It was now Thav’s turn to grope for a reply.

“Our father would never have tolerated the way our latifundium is managed today. Ask anyone. He was a kind, considerate master. But we live in a different time, economically speaking. Conditions have changed from what they were at the beginning of our arrival in this region. That explains much about the cruel treatment that arises today. It can be understood, though not excused or justified.

“I myself cannot defend the brutal behavior of our overseer toward the tribers working under him. It was inexcusable, in every way. Such violence has to be prohibited and stopped, and I plan to abolish it through making my own protest concerning such events.”

She looked down at the dirt floor, then raised her cloudy blue eyes.

“The overseer has been a corrupting influence on my brother for years. I place most of the blame for what has happened on him. He is a cruel, selfish lout. I will urge my brother to fire that evil man.”

Yod pursed his lips as he considered what to say next.

“You do not know every escapade your brother has engaged in, I can see that for certain.” He gave her a searching look, waiting for her reaction.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” she curtly responded. Signs of alarm appeared on her face.

The dacoit stepped back a little way, preparing to reveal a secret about Mem Samekh to her.

“When you were a child, a certain incident occurred.” His eyes, avoiding her gaze, focused on the ground in front of her feet. “It involved a Varzean unmarried woman he took a fancy to.”

He noted how her mouth opened in shock. The event was new to the planter’s young sister. She had no knowledge of any such scandal. The tale was unfamiliar to her. It shook her to her foundation.

“There was no way that assault charges could be brought by a triber against a Tochian,” whispered the outlaw. “It was her word against his. Your brother denied having attacked her, so that was the end of the whole affair. It was the normal, expected outcome in that type of case. Even today, the ending would not be too different. Such incidents have always been common, but hidden and not discussed. Assaults upon Vazean women are not unheard of, we hear of them at the present time, as our people have for generations, since the Tochians first came here and set up their plantations in our forests.”

In an instant, her eyes flooded with silent tears.

Yod gasped in surprise. This Tochian had a sense of guilt for the cruelties of her brother, that much he had to admit to himself. Her feelings of shame had been aroused. She was an individual of conscience, it was plain to him.

Thav Samekh possessed a soul full of goodness, he suddenly realized.

A Tochian with a moral conscience!

He reached out with his right arm, placing his large hand over her small one. She did not draw back or show any sign of fear. Moisture overflowed onto her smooth, soft cheeks. Thav was shedding tears of sorrow. She could not conceal the effects of what he had told her.

Neither of them sensed the slightest embarrassment at that moment.

Neither realized what had just begun within the other’s interior mind.

“Excuse me, Thav,” finally said the bronzed Varzean. “I must get back to my men. My intention has not been to cause pain to you, not at all. That was not what I wanted to happen.”

She took her hand away from his, looking away and saying nothing.

Yod Teth had disappeared by the time she turned her head back in his direction.

He was unable to stay in her presence any longer, she realized.

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