The story so far:.
A young woman is with an archaeology team on a strange planet. They are there with government permission, but some of the natives object to aliens digging up their past. Some of the most aggressive sneak into the dig and capture her while she sleeps. She wakes in a boat floating down a river. Someone had stowed a lot of supplies in the boat, so after she wakes, and realises she is heading for a tall cataract, she manages to steer the boat to shore. She retrieves the supplies and send the boat off to crash over the falls. By the time she had made her was up from the river bank, it is late, so she sets up camp and settles for the night. She is wakened by the sound of yipping and howling and something circling the tent. When she peeks out, she sees natives dancing around. One sees her and forces her to come out of the tent.
The story continues:
Had I escaped one enemy, only to be caught by another? I took a deep breath to slow my pounding heart, and waited. He was so tall that I was facing a chest covered in a colourful vest. It was a web of coloured cords covered in bright beads and feathers.
I looked up, and saw a high cheek boned face as black and angular as polished obsidian. He stood a good two feet taller than my 5’6”, and was slender, though well-muscled. He pointed at me and the tent, and said something. I only had two words of his language ‘sorry and thanks’. I shook my head and said “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What do you want of me?”
He turned and called something, and another native came forward. He was only about 6’ tall, and his vest was plainer, with fewer beads and no feathers. He bent his head, and said “you to come, take you big town, see big man. Not harm you, help.”
“Yes,” I said. I turned and started taking down the tent. Soon there were three others helping me, and in an amazingly short time everything was packed and I was ready to go. I pulled the backpack over my shoulders, and followed them into the forest. It took us three days, they knew all the easiest paths, and where we could find food and water. Finally, we came to more open forest which gradually became fields, and just before sunset on the third day, we entered the city.
I was taken to what I thought of as the government building, and was presented to, I presumed, the rulers. I was greeted with extreme courtesy, and apologies. The ‘Flxl’, or President, spoke English, and he explained that Dr. Alexander, the lead archaeologist, had reported my disappearance. He also told them that my friend, Freda, had been packing survival gear in the boat, so I was well supplied. However, Freda had seen them carrying me and I was so limp she was sure I’d been drugged, and might not wake in time to avoid the cataract.
The Flxl sent parties out to scour the river all the way to the dig, in hopes that they could save me. He was much relieved that I had made it to shore by myself,
And promised to send word to Dr. Alexander, and told me I would be staying at his home. I told him I was very grateful for the help, it would have taken me so much longer to reach the city, if I made it at all. I could easily have become hopelessly lost in the forest.
Then I turned and took the backpack off, and dug in a hidden pocket. I took out a bundle of cloth, opened it, and showed them a statuette. It was about 5” tall, and carved from a shiny black stone that closely resembled their skin. It was a male figure, clad in a heavily beaded and feathered vest, and pants painted a black and white. He was wearing a feathered cape and a bronze circlet on his head with a curved band from front to back formed like a bird’s crest of crimson feathers.
They all gasped, and the Flxl reached out a hand to take it, then drew back. “Where did you get that?” he asked.
“We dug it up the morning of the day I was taken. Dr. Alexander asked me to keep it safe, not to put it with the other artifacts. I wrapped it and put it in my backpack, and told no one. Only he and I know about it, yet somehow the natives there knew, or suspected, we had found something special. I think that’s why I was taken. Perhaps they searched me and my tent, and in their anger set me a drift.”
I held it out to him. “Dr. Alexander wanted to give it to you. He knew it was a rare and precious relic of your past, and felt you were the legal custodian. Take it, sir, it belongs to you, and all the people of your planet.”
He reached again, and lifted it gently from my hand. He held it up and they all stared in awe. First one then another knelt, until everyone in the hall was on their knees. Slowly I knelt too. The atmosphere of reverence and awe in the room was so strong, I could do nothing else.