Chapter XXI.

6 May

Where have the tribers disappeared to?

At first, Mem Samekh shared the prevailing planter idea that the aborigines had made a speedy evacuation out of their villages in a northward direction, to the less settled part of the district, farthest from the Toch River. Where else was there for the Varzeans to flee?

Scores of night raids found village after village empty of even one individual. The hunters and their horses became exhausted. A rising sense of futility spread among the members of the militia.

Where are the tribers? How is it possible that they have all disappeared? What could have happened to them? How could dim-witted Vazeans have slipped past their planter masters and employers?

The situation did not at all make sense to the pursuers on horseback. Something had happened that should not have. But no one knew for certain what it was.

Mem, exhausted and frustrated, turned to his burly overseer. The steeds of both men were in need of food and sleep.

“Back to the district village,” said the planter. “That will be our temporary headquarters. The animals can be rested there while supplies are brought in from all the latifundia. We will have to rest before our assault can continue.”

“Yes, Master,” responded Khaph Daleth, his face and eyes full of a sudden rage. “Perhaps we can figure out what the Varzeans did if we looked through their huts once more. There might be some hint or clue there. We need to have an answer to this mystery.”

Thav made a fast exit from the small sanitation unit a short distance from the clearing. Only a few had been set up within the reserve and the camp of fugitives was heartily thankful for them. This one was greatly overworked and overused.

As Thav returned to the caravan of forest trekkers, she caught sight of the bronzed body of Yod Teth moving toward her.

Now is the appropriate time to be candid with him, she decided.

Tell him how right he had been about her brother. How wrong she had been about him and all the other landholders of the district.

But there was a certain fact about herself she dared not reveal. About her feelings concerning himself. For the present, that would have to be concealed, if she was able to manage it successfully. She must not reveal too much about her inner emotions. There was no good that could come from that at this time.

“Good morning, Thav,” said the Varzean when he was a span away from her. “How are you today?” Carbonado eyes glowed like burning coals. A persuasive aura seemed to extend out of him, capturing and possessing her emotions. She felt as if captured in some circle of his personal enchantment.

“It took me time to fall asleep,” she replied, stopping and gazing intently into his strong face. “The forest is a new night environment for me. I am not at all familiar with the conditions here. Everything is new to me in this forest.”

The triber smiled warmly. His eyes sparkled brightly.

“Tochians are used to having a roof over their heads when they sleep. But last night was a sudden necessity. It was unforeseeable and unexpected. Today, we will proceed to a location where there is material that can be used to set up several tents.

“Resh has plans for a regular settlement here in this special forest of his. It will provide our people a measure of comfort, I trust, along with its shield of protection from the planters.”

The young woman’s milky eyes darkened as she thought the situation over.

“Does that mean we will have to stay in these woods for a long time?” she plaintively asked him.

“I do not know the future, Thav,” confessed the dacoit. “The forces we face are armed and well equipped. We dare not face them in the open. They enjoy the benefit of many arms, as well as squadrons of horses.”

She cast her eyes down, fearing what she was about to say.

“I have been grossly mistaken about the planters. Each and every one of them, including my own brother. There is no hope for peace with them now, is there?”

For a second, Yod was uncertain how to reply. His attention focused on the smooth, clear skin of her face. She had never looked so beautiful before, an inner voice whispered to him. But why have I failed to see her this way up to now? Why have my thoughts concerning her been so blindly mistaken?”

Because she is Tochian and I am Verzean, his unconscious answered him.

All of a sudden, Thav spoke directly to that particular fact of ethnic difference.

“Because of who and what I am, my mind has never understood the truth about our two peoples and how they are related to each other. I did not perceive how oppressive, how cruel and brutal, the planters were till the incident of the three tribers. Then, my mind started to awaken to reality.

“I was blind to reality because the truth was much too ugly to look at. My preference was to ignore the evil of persons like Mem. I did not see what was there because I did not wish to. It was an ignorance that I willingly accepted. It was a result of what I myself wished it to be.”

She hesitated for a moment, then went on.

“Forgive me, if you can, Yod.”

The latter felt a spinning sensation in his head. It took him a short while before he recognized what he must say to her.

“There is nothing to forgive, since you yourself have not been involved in specific acts of persecution. Each individual must be judged by what he or she has done. Innocent Tochians cannot be justly punished for what the guilty ones have carried out. That is what I have learned from what has happened in recent days.”

Thav looked boldly, unashamedly into his diamond-like eyes.

“Until I met you, Yod, I had no idea of what your goal was. It was as if there was nothing but criminal banditry involved. But that has changed. Now I know what the truth is, and I have come to understand what you stand for. My view of you is completely changed from what I was taught to believe. That is the reason I must beg you to forgive me.”

His hand rose and stretched forward, taking hold of one of hers. He started to speak to her in a voice she had never heard come out of him.

“It was Rambatan who showed me that general liberation had to become the aim of my actions. He argued that taking back the land was our final, ultimate demand. Your abduction was meant to be the means of having the Samekh plantation returned, an example of what the Varzean must accomplish in order to win all that was stolen in the past from our ancestors.

“I cannot take credit for what the datto himself conceived. His brain was the one that first set forth the idea. He taught me what has to be done.”

The pair let their separate hands intertwine into a tight grip.

Each sensed how much there was to say to the other, but a sudden noise from the direction of the caravan created an interruption that caused them to take each hand back. Their privacy was gone with the arrival of a small group of Varzeans at the sanitation unit.

“We will talk later,” muttered Yod.

“Yes,” agreed the other. “There is much for us to share.”

Lea searched among the line of trekkers about to start out.

“What are you looking for?” asked Resh Zayeth, coming up behind her.

The petite woman turned about.

“Labo, the small boy,” she said excitedly. “Where is he? I can’t find him anywhere.”

The researcher frowned.

“That is unfortunate, but we must begin to go deeper into the forest, Lea. The lad will have to catch up with us. He has probably run off on his own. I can’t imagine what his reason might be, but the lad has vanished.”

“That is bad,” muttered Lea in a worried tone. “The important thing is that Labo has to know where we are headed. He shall hopefully be following us there. We shall hopefully catch sight of him once again.”

“How do you feel, Lea?” he asked, changing the subject.

“I feel very well after a good sleep. My energy level has been restored and I am ready to go forward once more. I am eager and ready to move forward.”

“You have taken quite well to an unfamiliar environment,” he grinned. “Have you ever roughed it this way back home in Landia?”

“My father at times took me on his leaf-collecting hikes. That was the extent of my outdoor experience. Up to now, I have spent my nights indoors. What is happening at present is completely new for me. I find all of it exciting and amazing. Everything seems to be new and different for me. I never imagined that life would ever hold such adventurous experiences for me. It is overwhelming in every sense. I feel as if a new life is beginning here for me.”

Resh looked her directly in the face.

“We are here for safety, of course. The militia will, sooner or later, discover the truth. But they dare not enter the reserve, less they alarm the national government of Tochsylvania. This area is under central authority and the planters cannot step onto it by force. That would be an illegal action  for sure. There would be serious repercussions if they did so, I am certain of that.”

Leas’s brow creased. “I fervently hope you are right, Resh. My fear is that in their mad hatred the landholders may disregard all legal restraints. The result of their passion could be tragic, should that come about.”

“That is the truth,” replied Resh. “That is why we must get to the central part of the forest. It will be safest for us there.”

He excused himself, then made his way to the front of the caravan of refugees in order to discuss their future course with Rambatan and the other elder tribers.

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