I was a member of an exploration group. We had come because Dr. Savage had heard rumours of a tribe who were almost never seen, living in the most primitive manner deep in the mostly impenetrable jungle. Their village was situated part way up a mountain, in a hidden valley, and the only way in was by boat, by a river that was almost impossible to navigate. That was why no one had ever visited them. No explorers had deemed it possible for boats to ascend that river, particularly because there were very rough rapids about half a mile up, and they extended for two or more miles of very steep going. Much steeper, and they would have been a series of water falls.
As it was, just as we finally reached the end of the rapids, I had fallen from the boat, and was swept down river. I hit several rocks on the way, and my left leg was broken in two places. I was rescued only because I had managed to get a firm grip on a large rock, and pull myself partly up on it. Even then, it was touch and go, as they had to keep the boat by the rock, fighting the strong current, and in pulling me in almost swamped it. So now, I sat in a primitive hut in a primitive village, waiting for them to come back for me. If they could.
The hut was, surprisingly, fairly clean, and the air was fresh touched with the scent of the big purple blossoms on the trees outside. My eyes rested on the raised platform, where a boy, 13 year old Bnocru, lay. He was the only son of Gnogru, the chief, and had been bitten by a poisonous spider the day before. Scrabti, the Shaman, had been in and out ever since, dancing and chanting, shaking rattles and burning some kind of bark and herbs. I knew he was worried. No one had ever survived such a bite, and the boy was failing fast. I had tried to get him to let me give him a dose of the antivenom medication we all carried for just such an emergency. However, he refused. He didn’t like or trust me, or any who had come with me. But that boy would die, in agony, if something wasn’t done soon.
The one thing he would allow me to do was sponge the boy’s body and face with cool water, and try to get him to drink some. I had been faithfully acting nurse, waiting my chance. Now I could act. The shaman had told me the last time he left that he was going to ‘commune with the spirits’ in hope of a healing. I knew that meant he would be in a drug induced stupor for at least a couple of hours. Taking the stick I’d been given to help me walk, I went to the door and looked out. No sign of the chief or the shaman, only the women at their work. Good.
I went back to my seat, and dug into my backpack. I took out my first aid kit, and found the antivenom capsules. First dose, two capsules, followed in six hours by another. I didn’t think I could get the capsules into him, as he was only swallowing small amounts at a time. I got the drinking vessel, filled it about half full, broke open the capsules and emptied them into it. I had to use my finger to stir it, but it was soon all dissolved. The boy was getting restless again, and that meant I could get him to drink.
It took me a good ten minutes to get all of the water into him. When that was accomplished, I felt better. He was still restless, and hot with fever, so I went to work with the cloth and cool water. How I wished for some ice! Really cold water would have lowered the fever so much better. By the time I was finished, Bnocru was quiet again, and soon fell into a deep sleep. This was the first time he had really slept, so I knew the medication was working.
Unfortunately, Scrabti would take all the credit for the healing, if my treatment worked. And the next person to suffer the bite would, like all the others, die, since he knew nothing of what I had done. At the moment, my only thought had been to heal Bnocru, but now I was thinking of the future. I was still standing by the sleeping platform, balanced on the stick, thinking deeply while I monitored the boy. His pulse rate had slowed, and I thought his temperature was down some. It was at this moment that his mother, Mlunga, came in with my midday meal.
She looked anxiously at her son, and then at me. I knew she wanted to know how he was, but we couldn’t converse. I smiled the happiest smile I could call up, touched his head, and nodded. She gazed at me for a moment, the putting the food down, came over. She touched Bnocru’s head, and looked up at me, questioningly. I nodded again, and tears filled her eyes. In pantomime, she asked if it was the shaman’s magic that was working, and in that instant, I put my life in her hands. I shook my head, and showed her the capsules. I mimed breaking two open, adding the powder to water, and getting Bnocru to drink all of it. She grasped my hands and kissed them, then put them to her forehead. With one last look up into my face, she put a hand to her heart, then moved it, cupped as if holding something, and place it to my chest. I knew she was thanking me. I bowed to her, and smiled. She turned quickly, and left.
I settled down to eat the food she had brought, and wondered what would happen next. Would she tell Gnogru? If she did, how would he take it? Would he have me killed for using foreign magic on his son, or would he in turn thank me for saving his heir’s life? There was nothing I could do, either way, so I took my own medication and settled down on the mat that was my bed while I waited for the pain in my leg to subside.
I must have fallen asleep, for the next thing I knew, the light of sunset was brightening the door, and there were loud voices right beside me. When I opened my eyes, I saw Scrabti, Gnogru and Mlunga, standing beside the sleeping platform. I looked at Bnocru, and he was awake, and looked a lot better. Then the shaman grabbed my arm, and tried to pull me off my mat. The chief stopped him, and with gestures, asked me to sit up.
There followed a long period of gestures, questions for me, my answers, and the demand to see the capsules. I showed them, and the shaman made a grab at them. I was fast enough to keep him from taking them. I knew he would destroy them. He was angry, angrier than I had ever seen anyone in my whole life. Gnogru intervened, and said something that brought Scrabti to a stiff halt, indignation in every bone of his body.
He went into an impassioned speech, stabbing at his own chest, at the chief’s, and at Broncru. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I could those vehement gestures. He had served the chief and the tribe all of his life. How could the chief think he didn’t want the boy to live? Gnogru responded, his gestures saying that he knew how devoted the shaman was. But then why was he so angry that this stranger’s magic had done what they all knew to be impossible? Bnocru lived, was healing, the stranger’s magic was stronger. Should they not all rejoice that the Gods had sent this man at just this time? When his magic was so needed? Scrabti deflated, and stood with shoulders drooping. That was not good, he needed his confidence, the tribe needed his skills. And they were not without merit.
I reached out and touched the chief’s arm. When he turned to me, I managed, with gestures and the few words I had picked up, to tell him that Scrabti could learn to use this same medicine. It came from a plant that grew in abundance in the jungle around. I could show him how to prepare it, if he would let me.
And so it was that when Dr. Savage and the others arrived the next morning, Broncru was sitting up and eating, Scrabti and I were hunched over a stone bowl with a short knobbed stick, crushing leaves of the Spiderbane plant. The whole story was told over lunch, and Dr. Savage gave Scrabti two bottles of the capsules. She was also able to give him more directions on the drying and preparation of the plant. And Scrabti, and the whole tribe, accepted the strange white men as friends. And me? I was a hero. Unbelievable!