Chapter XX.

6 May

Mem Samekh rode into the deserted district village with his overseer immediately behind him. The sound of hooves filled the cooling air of evening.

There were no lights or inhabitants in any of the huts.

The headmen of the militia units gathered around their leader.

“Where are all the tribers?”

“Where has their datto taken them?”

“In what direction shall we hunt for the curs?”

There was no ready answer in their queries, Mem realized.

“Let’s rest here a short time,” he called out in a loud voice. “The horses can use a little rest before we go on.”

From behind him, Khaph Daleth asked his master a question.

“You intend to proceed despite the darkness, sir?”

Samekh looked back at the overseer.

“We must penetrate deeper and deeper into the jungle, till we learn what they have done. Something very devious is going on. I do not underestimate the craftiness of these half-naked savages. We will have to press on, despite the fact that night has fallen. There is no other way.”

“Yes, I see that, sir.”

In a short while, the large posse of planters took to the forest once more.

Lea and Thav crawled under a kapok fiber blanket, wrapping themselves up in it.

Strange night calls came from a distant black and and yellow verdin, punctuated by the peals of a bellbird. Otherwise, the forest remained almost soundless.

“Try to fall asleep,” whispered the Tochian. “We will need all the energy we can generate for tomorrow.”

“I’m deeply worried about the outcome of our adventure,” admitted Lea. “My father could suffer because of my association with Varzean rebels.”

Thav thought for a moment before continuing her words of assurance.

“Things cannot go on the way they have,” she said softly. “The national government of Tochsylvania will have to intervene in order to restore peace and order. It is only a matter of time until that comes about.”

“I hope you are right, my friend,” murmured Lea. “What is tragic is the suffering of the tribers and those who try to help them.”

“You are thinking of the scientist, aren’t you?”

“He is still unconscious,” moaned the other. “Until Resh awakens, it will not be possible to gauge the degree of his pain and injury. That may turn out to be considerable when he is examined all over his body.”

“The Varzeans are doing all they can for him,” said Thav.

“A hospital facility may be necessary in a large town like Tochian City. A way to transport him there might have to be found.”

At that moment, Thav realized what the foreigner was unconsciously thinking and feeling. “You admire him to a degree, don’t you?” she abruptly asked.

For a fraction of a moment, Lea was entangled in a degree of self-examination.

“You are right,” she finally acknowledged. “There is a lot to admire in Resh Zayeth, I have learned the last few days. What do you think of him, Thav?”

No answer came from the kidnapped Tochian.

Both of the women were soon soundly asleep.

A shrill cry split the nocturnal air in the still hour just before dawn.

As soon as she opened her startled eyes, Lea knew who was the source of the alarm. Resh had at that time entered into consciousness and was suffering torturous pain.

She quickly crawled out from under the blanket covering her, springing to her feet and rushing toward the loud cries of pain.

The patient’s nurses had already gathered around the pallet he rested on. As Lea approached, she saw that Yod Teth and the datto had arrived before her and were standing beside the researcher.

One of the women was rubbing the injured man’s forehead with a cloth, while Rambatan was holding his wrist and taking his pulse.

The dacoit was the first to take note of Lea’s arrival.

“It is best that he try to stay awake after so long a period of sleep.”

“Where am I?” asked the man on the pallet. “What has happened to me?”

Rambatan began to speak to him.

“You suffered an attack from a powerful steed. It was on the road to our district village. We have had to flee into the jungle and took you along with us. It was impossible to leave you behind. The foreigner who was with you came with us, too.”

Lea moved closer, till she was on the edge of the rattan bed. She spoke to him gently.

“You were given very good treatment by skilled native nurses, Resh. They provided you a strong herbal sedative in order to ease the pain. It was necessary so that you could be transported with us. We have journeyed into the jungle forest in order to find shelter.”

“The trees are so tall,” exclaimed the dendrological researcher. “They remind me of my station reserve.”

“It is exactly that location,” she informed the startled Resh. “We have crossed over the boundary into the special experimental territory.”

“This is the only place that the planters would never think of looking for us, or be bold enough to invade,” added Yod Teth.

“Our people can only be safe from the militia within these precise limits,” said Rambatan. “As long as they remain outside this forest, we will enjoy a measure of security.”

Suddenly, the patient reached up from under his sheath of kapok and took hold of the hand of the woman who had traveled into the jungle with him.

Stay with me, his touch told her.

Do not leave, but remain here beside me.

She deciphered his message and decided to comply with it.

The daystar rose in green-colored magnificence. It was going to be a most glorious morning. Would this day turn out similarly?

Yod and the datto were engaged in preparing the caravan to move deeper into the experimental forest. The nurses, seeing the pacifying influence of the Landian, left her and the patient to converse by themselves.

“I can never repay you for what you did, Lea,” he told her in a sincere tone. “Without your going for help, I would have been in grave peril. My survival is due to one person’s bravery. My debt to you is an infinite one.”

“It was what anyone would have done,” she shyly said. “I do not feel all that heroic. You are too generous in your praise. Think of what the Varzean nurses accomplished with their tribal medicines and compresses. That was a miraculous feat. We have nothing of that sort in my country. Of course, there are no aboriginal cultures there at all.”

“Yes,” sighed the dendrologist. “Although we should be thankful for having them in the rainforest, we Tochians drive back, expel, and enslave our neighbors. We have been exceedingly brutal.

“Look at the present situation right here. The planters hunt down the tribers as if they were some kind of wild game. Local police have always refused to interfere. They dare not stand up against the landholders’ militia.”

“Doesn’t the rest of the country even care, Resh?” asked Lea.

For a short time, he made no reply as he thought about the question posed.

“No one has ever interfered with them,” he sadly concluded. “If the Varzeans are to be rescued and saved, they will have to accomplish it on their own, by themselves. That is the awful truth about how people are treated in this country.”

“How shameful!” she muttered with anger. “Shouldn’t the attempt be made to get word out about the situation in this district?”

“No one will do anything, Lea. No one can reverse what is happening, therefore the rest of Tochsylvania intends to ignore this final disposal of our regional tribers.”

She felt a chill shudder in her body. “Final disposal?”

His voice fell very low. “There is no going back for the planters, not after all that has happened. It is a war, and they have decided to annihilate all the tribe members who are still living freely in the rain forest. That has been their secret wish ever since they came to this district. There will be an end to the old way of life and those still adhering to it. Yes, a final disposal is what the planters are aiming at.”

Lea could feel an internal shaking within her.

The threat of violence hung like a fog beneath the shadows of the giant trees that towered above. It created a choking feeling in anyone who thought long or deeply about what was apt to happen to the remaining aborigines of the forest.

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