Chapter XXVIII.

24 Jun

After leaving Ereth at Feretrum, Ranid and Dixo continued on in the Blackwater Swamp.

Flocks of aquatic phalaropes flew up from their watery homes among the trees. The blackpoll, yellowhammer, anhinga, and ani flitted about in different directions, producing metal-like reflections. The sight was one of beautiful water fantasy, mesmerizing and enchanting.

The precious supply of mosquitoes slept in large boxes carried on mules supplied by Ereth. Slowly, the two travelers approached closer to their destination. They both grew impatient to get there.

But their arrival in Paludia was followed by an unexpected calamity.

Bad news was provided them by Dr. Sural, who greeted Ranid and his companion, the hermit, at the entrance to the inn where Glia was staying.

“She is ill with the fever,” said the medico in a trembling voice. “Her illness is at the critical breaking point. It has reached its climax.”

Ranid scurried to their room where his wife lay unmoving under layers of algodon sheets. Cooling perspiration gave a noticeable shine to her forehead.

Is she asleep? wondered Ranid, standing at her side.

All at once, as if sensing his presence, the stricken woman opened her eyes. With difficulty she recognized who had just entered the room.

Ranid bent over and kissed her on each of her swollen cheeks.

“I am back now,” he whispered. “We will have enough new mosquitoes to destroy the ones that carry the fever. But you must get well. You will, I know that you will. Everything will be improving from this moment forward.”

Glia opened her lips and began to purl forth into a gurgle. Finally, four words could be made out by her husband. “I love you, Ranid.”

As if by themselves, the lids lowered over her swollen eyes.

He watched her closely for a long time. Dr. Sural brought a chair for him, and after a while he sat down on it.

All of a sudden, Ranid remembered the hermit he had brought back with him. In a whisper, he told the doctor that the man should be taken to a vacant room and allowed to rest up there.

“I have already done so,” said Sural, making a sour face. “He told me that he is a Contemplator, whatever that is.”

“I’ll explain it to you later,” replied Ranid.

“You must be hungry. I’ll get you something to eat, and for the stranger as well.”

The doctor left him staring at the afflicted Glia, suffering in pain.

The recovery of the patient was slow and difficult, but her body began to cure itself of the horrible Blackwater Fever. On the other hand, the successful introduction of chaoborines occurred swiftly and immediately. The expected results upon public health were clearly noticeable. Fewer and fewer cases of the fever were evident. The culprits of contagion, the traditional gallinippers of the region, were rapidly replaced by the newly introduced species.

The general public of all Caecilia learned of this triumph of biology through the popular press. Credit was given to the group that included Ereth, Sural, and Ranid. The latter saw to it that the victors were all identified as spiritual Conjoiners. The control gained over the fever was attributed to the inspiration received from the new, innovative philosophy of general unity and comity.

Within a short time, Ranid and Glia were once again traveling about on the road, spreading the happy message of Conjoinism among growing numbers of Amphibiots of both persuasions.

One morning Eleth appeared in Paludia when Ranid was there. At the entrance to the Conjoiner missionary office the two men embraced each other. Then Ranid took the visitor to the niche where he had his own whitewood desk.

Once the two were seated the biologist explained why he was there.

“I will soon retire from my Feretrum post at the Frog Sump. What I wish to do is make a contribution to our unification movement. And I think that I’ve conceived of a way of achieving some success for our cause.”

“What is it?” asked Ranid with rising curiosity and interest.

Eleth made his mouth into a broad smile

“We call together everyone. Not only Conjoiners, but also the Salamandrites and the Anurans of all stripes. It is called the Great Assembly and is to be held in Caecilia City. This Unity Congress will be open to all ranks in all camps. No one will be excluded from either sect. Its objective is to be peace and brotherhood. If we are successful, the result will be the victory of our philosophy of spiritual oneness. We all are hunting for the odyle.”

Ranid suddenly and unexpectedly leaped to his feet, surprising the other.

“The idea is brilliant,” he boomed. “Let’s go over to the publicity office and outline your plan to Dixo and his colleagues.”

Eleth followed the exultant missionary out of his office.

Ranid told his two comrades the conclusions he had drawn from practical experience about the psychological effects of the Great Schism and the disunity and conflicts among Amphibiots.

“Where the Anurans are the dominant majority, they tend to become oppressive and masterful, even insolent, in action and manner. They swell up with self-regard and presumption. And I can attest that there is similar egotistic pride in the places where the Salamandrites prevail.

“On the other hand, when one of the spiritual movements is a small, weak minority, its members become abjectly secretive and self-deprecating. Experience has dispelled from my mind any doubts about these pernicious phenomena. They occur too frequently to be merely a random result of chance.

“I therefore conclude that the ancient division is a destructive influence on both majority and minority, both the dominant and subservient. Whatever the proportion in any particular place or region, all spiritual life will suffer from these tensions and problems.

“Neither side benefits from the endless schism.”

Eleth then spoke up with a single sentence. “It is time for climactic action.”

“You are right,” agreed Dixo. “We must hold a unification congress for all of Caecilia. As I have said for many decades, the separation deforms both our doctrines. The result is distortion of spiritual truth on both sides. Fundamental asymmetry of thought occurs through the friction of argument and disputation. Both sets of teachings become partisan and partial. They are only the broken fractions of an invisible whole. The thinking of our brains becomes disfigured through having been dogmatized. Each separate philosophy is a misshapen one because of the intellectual war being waged during all this time. Their adherents all become victims of the conflict, on both sides.

“So, a convention aimed at unification is the only means of reforming millions of minds and spirits.”

Ranid and Eleth did not add anything to what Dixo had put into words.

Their silence signified complete acceptance of all that had just been said to them.

A large meeting hall was needed in the capital where the convention could meet in safety and security. Ranid decided he had to go there to oversee the arrangements. It was almost seven years since he had seen his native city. He decided that the person he had to see first was Hyle Xalus, the Praeposter of the Salamandrine Archivum. There was no one else whom he trusted more than this loyal friend. Yes, he was certain that Hyle would be glad to help him obtain what he needed at this point in time.

They had not seen each other since Ranid had left Caecilia City as a fugitive. There had been no messages, no contact whatsoever. It was doubtful to him that Xalus knew of his involvement in Conjoinism. Ranid had always attempted to downplay his own name in the movement. Anonymity had been one of his main goals in all public appearances. He did not wish to enjoy any celebrity.

Had he kept himself in the shadows sufficiently so that his old enemies in the capital were unaware of his activity in the movement? Was he safe from the possibility of arrest on old charges from the early years when he had first become a questioner and heretic? These were vital questions he was unable to answer by himself.

Hyle Xalus would tell him much when they met after all that had happened since he had departed from the capital.

Both Ereth and Dixo had the desire to accompany him on the journey. But Ranid insisted it was best he went by himself, without a retinue of any sort about him. The trip was meant to be a short one. He planned to slip in, then out quickly. Nothing decisive was intended by the originator of the Conjoinist current of thought. The journey was to be merely exploratory.

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