Join Date: Nov 2008
The boat slowed as it approached the bank. The number of natives that had appeared from the undergrowth had increased still, and between the warriors Indiana now discovered that there were children and old persons, and even a few women. And they, too, were armed.
The sight confused him. The South American Indians – especially the tribes that still existed – were not necessarily his specialty, but he knew that the people of the Aymara were not particularly large. They were peaceful and known for their friendly nature. Indiana could only guess as to what could have provoked them enough to attack a passing ship and its crew without warning.
The ship grinded through the maze of overhanging branches and the tangled roots in the shallow water below until it at last came to a tangible halt with a tremble. Some of the natives stepped back, and in spite of the distance between them and the colorful dyes they had painted their faces with, Indiana could see their insecurity and mistrust clearly. Many of the blowguns were pointed directly at them, and he could feel the nervousness from Reuben’s mercenaries. He prayed to heaven that none of them would lose their calm and let off a shot. In spite of their superior firepower, there was very little chance they would be able to defeat so many enemies.
But the danger passed without incident. Reuben remained motionless for a few moments with his hands raised at the railing, and then he very slowly lowered his arms and called a single word in a dialect Indiana had never heard before. At first, it seemed as if there would be no response, but then two or three Aymara stepped aside in order to make room for an old, grizzled man wearing a coat of green and red feathers. He moved with the laborious, shuffling steps of a really old man as he slowly traversed the difficult vegetation, leaning heavily on one side with a twisted stick, and his left arm was supported in a sling made of vines and leaves. And now, Indiana noticed that the old man was not the only one injured – many carried heavy sticks to lean on or wore patches of vegetation and fiber to cover wounds, some of which were fresh and not yet healed. Some even had makeshift splints where their legs had been broken. Nevertheless they had all come to participate in the attack on the boat. What in the world had happened here? thought Indiana, frightened.
The door beside Indiana opened up, and Marian took a half a step onto the deck outside before she noticed the native army. She stopped mid-step. She looked up in fright, and clasped her hands over her mouth in order to suppress a scream.
“Stay where you are!” Indiana said hastily. Reuben also turned and threw Marian a frightened glance.
Restlessness overcame the natives on the shore. Still more weapons were directed at the small ship and its crew, and for a tiny moment Indiana felt the electricity in the air reach a dangerous point. But once again calmness prevailed in front of his very eyes – the natives maintained their calm and along with the mercenaries, everyone kept their nerves. The natives hesitantly lowered most of their weapons. Most of them. Not all of them.
Reuben turned with measured movements back toward the bank and looked at he old native again. From his clothing and the respect garnered by the other Aymara natives, Indiana concluded the old man must have been their chieftain or a medicine man. Despite his apparent wounds and disabilities, the old man maneuvered as close to the edge of the river as possible. The fever and pain in his flushed cheeks had receded, and he stood proudly in front of his people.
Indiana threw Marian an uncertain view, and then slowly stood up from behind the rudderhouse structure he had been using as cover. He was eyed suspiciously by the now fifty to a hundred men who had gathered near the shore, so he followed Reuben’s example and made slow, deliberate and exaggerated movements for all to see. He had holstered his weapon and then made his way slowly to the railing next to Reuben. The FBI agent nodded almost imperceptibly at him to show his agreement, the movement noticed by the old native. The old Aymara alternated his gaze from Reuben to Indiana. His perceptiveness stood in glaring contrast to his flushed and wrinkled face. Finally he said something to Reuben which Indiana did not understand, but it caused the FBI agent to let out a deep sigh of relief. Although concern still registered on the FBI agent’s face, Indiana felt and invisible load had been taken off Reuben’s shoulders.
“What did he say?” Indiana asked.
Rueben hastily shook his head from side to side, and then answered the old native in the same language. Indiana’s respect for the FBI agent had risen throughout the ordeal. Obviously he had prepared extremely well for this journey. Or, whispered a quiet and stubborn voice in his head, Henley and Reuben had not told him the entire truth and they knew much more than they had let on.
Reuben spoke with the natives for several minutes in a strange-sounding throaty dialect that Indiana had never heard before. He then turned back towards the ship and with an arm movement announced: “Put away your weapons. All of them.”
What immediately followed was not something Indiana had counted on. He was surprised when not only Henley but all of the remaining men he had so far suspected were mercenaries obeyed instantly. Quickly and quietly, with no opposition, all of their weapons were placed onto the ship’s deck – not only the rifles but pistols and knives as well. Without a word, Reuben turned his attention immediately to Indiana, who was the only one left standing on deck that had not given up his weapons. Indiana hastily unbuckled the gunbelt with the pistol and held it out in front of him for a second before lowering it to the ground. He kept the bullwhip coiled in his hand. At first, Reuben regarded it disapprovingly but quickly came to the conclusion it was not worth saying something about.
“What happened?” asked Indiana. “Why did they attack us?”
“Later,” Reuben answered quietly. “Please say nothing more about it, Dr. Jones.”
He took another look at the natives on the shore, particularly at the old man, and then quickly swung himself over the railing in a fast but not surprising movement to the natives, jumping down into the river below. Even here, so near the bank, the water was deep – rising almost to Reuben’s chest. He spread his arms to balance as he slowly made his way to the bank and climbed ashore, using the branches and vines overhead to pull himself up to dry land with the natives. Although he came extremely close to some of them, none offered to help him onto the bank. However, none tried to attack him either.
Indiana heard Henley mumble something under his breath, obviously shocked by what he saw, that sounded like “is he nuts?” or something similar. Meanwhile, Marian and the mercenaries slowly moved forward toward the railing, stunned at Reuben’s actions as well.
Reuben spent a lot of time conversing with the old man. Those left behind on board the ship could not understand what the discussion was about as the two men raised and lowered their voices and gestured wildly – apparently the old man was very agitated and very suspicious of them, but Reuben seemed to speak with an angel’s tongue and was eventually able to calm him down. A couple of times during the conversation, Indiana was not sure of the extent of Reuben’s success as the warriors gathered protectively close to their leader, and more than one expressed his displeasure at the presence of the FBI agent. But finally the old man, in a tired gesture, waved the warriors back and appeared to relax again. Reuben turned back to the ship and cupped his mouth so those on the ship could hear and understand: “Dr. Jones! Mrs. Corda! You will come ashore!”
Indiana shot a surprised glance at first with Marian, then with Henley, but something in Reuben’s voice made it clear that now was not the time to ask questions or even discuss the proceedings. With a quick movement he climbed over the railing, held the rusty rails with his left hand and uncoiled the whip in his right. With a single, skillful movement he snapped the whip at the shore, where it wrapped like a lasso around a thick overhanging branch. He then solicited Marian with a small head movement. “May I?”