They pushed on, partly out of fear, and partly at Murphy's insistence, backed by his hired guns. It was little more than a forced march at this point, with the Collinsworths having more or less broken down. Now, they were prodded ahead by Closterman—or, more accurately, his sawed-off double-barreled shotgun.
Eventually, the branches and vines gave way, and Indy, with the machete in mid-swing, stumbled forward with the inertia. The jungle had been cleared out here, the trees torn up from the roots, and they were staring at an open expanse stretching out for several hundred yards. The clearing was dotted with small, wooden huts with thatched roofs, and in the emptiness, short, lean villagers.
"This is it," Indy breathed. "The Tapajos." Despite the nightmare of the voyage so far, Indy felt a rush of excitement. They were dressed more or less as he'd surmised based on his understanding of the indigenous tribes in this region—animal skin tunics, jewelry made of feathers and polished stones. Some had heavily-gauged earlobes which hung down to their shoulders. A few had face paint, but not many, and not in the garish, savage style of popular imagination. They chattered amongst themselves. Children ran played with sticks and homemade toys, while their mothers sang songs under their breath while they went about the day's business, cooking, darning clothes, and repairing their homes.
It was only a few moments before they noticed the interlopers. There was a cry of alarm from one, and soon the rest were staring and pointing. They stood and began to back away.
"Talk to them, Jones," Murphy urged. "Find out where the treasure is."
"Hello," Indy said in Tupi, which he thought would probably be close enough to their dialect.
"Who are you?" a voice came from the crowd. An old man stepped from the crowd of villagers and walked toward them. He was heavily browned and weathered from a long and hard life in the jungle. He wore a tall headdress festooned with long feathers and a gold amulet around his neck. Chieftain, Indy surmised.
"We are explorers. We have traveled here to meet you." It sounded better than "we came to plunder you."
"You are not the first outsiders we have met. The tall ones whose skin has never been touched by the sun. We have nothing for you to find. We have nothing to trade. All that we have we take from the jungle and from the river. You can take it by yourself. Go from this place now."
"What did he say?" Murphy demanded. "What did he say?"
"He's not rolling out the red carpet," Indy said. "Let me see what I can do." He turned back to the chieftain. "Please listen to me. These men have weapons. They will hurt you if you resist them. If you help me, we can make them go away and no one will be harmed."
The chieftain waved dismissively, "Your kind always arrives with weapons. We do not fear them. Come. Join us for a meal. You will see we have nothing you want and then you will go away. Or you will stay and die."
"He's inviting us to dinner," Indy explained to the group. They were momentarily speechless. Indy shrugged and walked toward the Tapajos.
"Well, I'm starving…"
They settled in among the villagers, who went back to their business, sparing them only the occasional sidelong glance or curious look. Indy sat with the chieftain, who introduced himself as Otan, and shared a dinner of fish and jungle fruits.
"I am surprised you can speak our language. You do not speak it well, but it is good enough."
"I study languages and people, communities," Indy explained, mentally groping for vocabulary. "That is why these people use me as a guide."
"I understand. But we do not fear them."
"Perhaps you should. Their weapons will make fire and death. Your bravest warriors will not be able to stand against them."
Otan shook his head. "We have no warriors. We fish and we hunt, but we do not make war or conquer others. Others do not make war against us. We are protected, and that is enough. Look…" The old man produced a scroll made of tightly-woven palm fronds. "Here is our story."
The scroll showed the history of the Tapajos. Otan explained as Indy took in the drawings. They had once been nomadic, as had been most of the indigenous tribes of Brazil. After many years, they found this place. The fishing was good, and there many animals and edible plants and fruits in the area. They decided to stay, but soon they discovered that they were not alone.
"At first we fought the river-people, but in the water they were stronger and faster than we were. They attacked our fishing boats and we went hungry. One leader, a great chieftain called Urqui, decided we should not treat the river-people like animals. He saw that they were cunning and smart. He treated them with respect. Fishing boats brought offerings of freshly killed game they dropped into the water and they did not cast their nets or lines until the offering was eaten. When they did this, the river-people left them to fish. We have done this for many years, and they have left us alone."
"Why don't the river-people catch their own fish?" Indy asked. The story was losing him. Was there another, more warlike tribe further upriver?
"Of course they eat the fish. But the jungle animals are their favorite. It is a treat for them."
"They don't hunt?"
Otan laughed, a sound like brittle wood splintering. "Oh, they try sometimes. When the river is low and the fish go into hiding. But they do not catch much. They are slow on land. They don't walk well. They are clumsy. We feed them in those times. They belong in the water with the other fish."
"The other…" Indy's hackles rose with the sudden understanding. "The river-people aren't men, are they?"
Otan gestured. "Come. I show you." He stood and walked Indy over to the edge of the clearing, to an old thick-trunked rubber tree encased in moss. "One of my ancestors made this when we still fought them." Otan cleared away the moss. Carved into its trunk was an astoundingly-detailed relief of the creature they'd just killed.
"And there it is," Indy whispered.
"I do not understand your words, but they don't sound afraid."
"One of those things attacked us in the jungle," Indy said.
"Then you are very lucky you were not hurt."
"We killed it."
Otan sighed and shook his head. "Then you are in very great danger."
Behind them there were frantic voices. Murphy and someone else were shouting.
"What now?" Indy groused.
Then a gunshot split the still air, followed by screams.