Chapter XXII.

7 May

Labo knew it would be difficult to recover his silver forest felid. The deep jungle contained packs of wild, ferine cats. It was as an orphan of only five that the lad had found the abandoned kitten. The event was a shaping one for him.

Do not try to tame it, that cannot be done, said many an adult of the tribe. Yet Labo had succeeded where few had believed he could. What they told him to be impossible the small boy had accomplished. He had made the small animal into his personal friend, his intimate companion.

The tiny felid grew into an authentic pet, loyal to the small child who took care of it. Its feral nature had somehow been suppressed or replaced. A form of love had formed between the boy and the cat.

Datto Rambutan had often praised him for his persistence with the silver felid. Keep it up, said the old man. Do not give up your effort with the baby cat. It is a valuable and noble effort, a project that will prove worthwhile.

But in the sudden evacuation of the district village, Labo had only for a moment considered his dear, beloved pet, the cat he had himself tamed. He fled without taking the little friend along with him.

Only after crossing the boundary of the reserve did he think of the safety of the animal he had named Felis. It was a tragic mistake to have made.

Labo looked through the line of fugitives, but found no trace of the small cat.
It was absent and out of view.

The absence gnawed at his conscience all that night, preventing any sleep at all. He was concerned about what might have happened to it.

I must go back and find Felis. Can I ever forgive myself for abandoning my companion? I must save Felis from the hateful planters on their horses. That must be done, for the fate of the creature is in the balance.

It was easy to sneak close to the village and make his way to the hut of the parentless orphans. Indeed, his pet was there, huddled in a dark corner. It came forth as soon as it caught sight of Labo.

Felis meowed a welcome and climbed into his arms.

Labo gently stroked the silver fur of the purring felid.

“Come with me,” he warmly whispered. “We must escape without being seen.”

The cat under his right arm, Labo crawled from the rear opening of his hut, into the darkness of the rain forest. His steps were careful and slow. Not a sound must be let out. The enemy can not be allowed to see or hear the two of them. One span from the nearest tree, though, a steed with no rider on it appeared from around the corner of a nearby hut.

A loud neigh of alarm issued from the large chestnut animal’s mouth.

Again and again it sounded as Labo rushed into the thick forest.

Labo, holding the pet tightly to his breast, ran away at top speed. There was no use in worrying about being discovered. That danger was past, now that the horse had started its loud noise of alarm.

Within only seconds, two mounted riders were in hot pursuit of Labo and his pet.

Several more militia members ran from out of the huts.

“What happened?”

“Is it an attack?”

“One of their scouts came into the village and was making an escape.”

“Catch the little savage!”

“What direction did he take?”

“Southward.”

“Southward?”

“Yes, that is where he is headed.”

“Catch the spy!” shouted Mem Samekh, jumping up into his saddle.

Either we shall force this triber to talk, thought the planter, or he will lead us to the disappearing Varzeans we are hunting for. This may provide us an opportunity to win a fast victory. We must take advantage of the opportunity provided to us.

As Lea walked along the path beside Thav, her mind kept returning to the question of the missing orphan boy. What had happened to him during the mass flight?

“Don’t worry,” said the Tochian woman. “Labo will catch up with us. He is familiar with the paths and obstacles of the jungle.”

Lea looked at her but said not a word.

“I have no idea how it will end,” continued Thav. “But we are under wise leadership, of that I am certain. In that fact I place my hope.”

She was thinking of both Rambutan and Yod Teth, especially the latter.

In a short while, the caravan of quiet walkers came to a halt for its first rest of the morning. The air of the forest was becoming warmer by the minute. A new day was rapidly approaching.

Both young women kneeled down to take the weight off their feet. But from behind them they could make out the sound of someone running.

Lea looked back along the trail they had been following.

“Labo,” she called out as soon as she spotted the naked little boy.

He rushed up to where the two females had stopped. Both of them were now on their feet again.

Panting for breath, the child leaned his perspiring head against the right hip of Lea. Around his small bare feet scampered the silver felid he had returned to save from the mounted enemy.

“I went back there to get my Felis,” his high voice screeched. “They saw me and gave chase, but I rescued her in time. We are both safe now with our friends.”

The cat brushed against his thin, dark leg.

Thav grabbed his tiny hand.

“Did they follow you into the reserve, past the boundary fence?” she demanded vehemently.

“I don’t think so,” shuddered the terrified little triber. “I can’t be sure, because I did not look back to see.”

Thav turned to Lea.

“We had better report this up in front,” she cautiously murmured. “They will want to know what the situation is.”

Resh watched as the tribers formed themselves into a long line for the coming movement into the heart of the Research Forest.

His mind suddenly focused upon Chak Dara in the distant capital of Tochian City. How much did his comrade know about what was occurring here in this locality? Did he realize that physical warfare was on the verge of breaking out between the Vazeans and the planters who had taken so much forest land and turned it into privately-owned plantations?

How was he progressing with his attempts to arouse public opinion against planter abuses, in defense of the rights of the aborigine population at this location and throughout the forests of Tochsylvania?

Is it too late for the capital press of the Tochian reformers to have any positive effect on the course of official actions? Can anyone from outside have any effect on local and regional events?

Perhaps the situation in Tochsylvania had already become hopeless. Perhaps the cause of the Vazeans was doomed and hopeless. That was a terrible conclusion to be forced by circumstances to make.

All of a sudden, Resh resolved to continue the course that he had begun.

It is too late to turn back, turn away, or take another direction.

I shall go on as I have decided I must, the researcher decided.

If the odds of winning are against me and my allies, that is unfortunate.

Resh shook himself, staring into the brightening green sky.

A new day is here and I have work to do, he told himself with renewed resolution.

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