STAR MAN’S SAGA

--Ralph F. Couey

 star.mans.saga

 cover art by O. Polishchuk from 1992 Russian omnibus titled Daybreak 2250 A.D.

 

Chapter 2

 

Night had taken the Eyrie. Above, the sky glowed with the light of thousands of stars, giving a silvery luminescence to the land below. Jarl looked up and remarked, “I take time, now and then, to study the stars. It reminds me of the destiny that was thrown away by the old ones; the destiny that we must always keep in front of us. I did this when I was a new Star Man, years ago, and I urged my fellow wearers of the Star to do that as well.” He paused, and then continued. “Times change; people are born, live a full life, and then die. And yet, whenever we look up at night, we see a sky that never seems to change. There is comfort, I think, in seeing permanence in the heavens when swimming in a sea of change here on Earth.”

 

The two began to walk slowly down the trail. Behind them, the watchful Defender followed at a discreet distance. The wind soughed through the pine trees while crickets sang their songs among the rocks. Fors glanced at the Guardian, seeing Jarl apparently deep in thought. After a moment, the former Star Captain spoke.

 

“Becoming a Star Man was the greatest honor I have ever experienced. To have earned the right to wear the star and the Tribe’s trust to take to the trails is a weighty thing. I can still remember with great clarity the adventure of that first exploration. The trails I traveled; the cities I explored, the knowledge I gained and recorded. I remember the first fight; facing a pack of wolves with only sword and bow, and how triumphant that first victory felt. Especially I remember the day I returned and made my report to the Star Captain.

 

“I made many journeys out of these mountains, but few stand out as clearly as that first one. Over the years, I managed to gain knowledge and wisdom, sometimes painfully. Each lesson I applied to my tasks, making subsequent efforts less problematic.”

 

Fors listened closely. He had never heard Jarl speak this personally, this frankly.

 

The Guardian smiled softly. “I loved those years. I desired no other life than that of an explorer. I truly felt that I would have been happier to expend my life on the trail, rather than spend my last days confined to the Eyrie. But that moment came when I was told that my time of exploration had ended; that I must now become a teacher. It was a sad day, although I had known for some time that such a day would arrive.

 

“Despite my initial selfishness, I found a measure of satisfaction in teaching novices. I realized that wisdom and knowledge are useless unless they are shared and passed along. All of my novices earned the Star; of that accomplishment I take a measure of pride, and a deep satisfaction that I gave back to the Star House, and the Eyrie a measure of what I had been given.

 

“Then came the day when my Star Captain, a man named Retrik, informed me that I would be his successor. Despite the honor, I felt disappointment. I was happy in my labors. I had no ambitions for office or honors. But Retrik, seeing my…discomfort, told me that men who chose not to grow beyond themselves, were as good as dead to their tribe. He said that the Star House needed me, and therefore the Eyrie needed me and I must lay aside my selfish whims and do that which must be done.

 

“Being a Star Captain is a difficult challenge. You must know the strengths and weaknesses of every Star Man, so that you can match a man’s skills with the mission at hand. You find out that some must be led, and some must be pushed; and some must be leashed. And when a Star Man failed to return to the Eyrie, I, alone, bore the burden of knowing that I had sent him to his death.”

 

He slowed to a stop, and then turned his steady gaze on Fors. “That night those many years ago when you defied tradition and left the Eyrie to set out on your own, I understood your anger. There were many Star Men who angrily wished to hunt you down and return you to this place bound and gagged to face judgment. But I knew that although your mind was angry, your heart was clear. The fact that you took Langdon’s pouch, but left his Star was all the proof I needed. Therefore, against tradition and the wishes of the Star House, I chose to go alone into the lowlands once more, but not to bring you back under arrest. I wanted to find you and make sure you understood the consequences of the choice you had made. As you discovered, renegades are not treated well among the other tribes. After all, no one abandons his tribe without dark cause.”

 

He began to walk again, then continued.

 

“I had been unsettled for some time about the Eyrie’s treatment of those who were… different. I must tell you that on that those nights at the council fire, those nights of choosing, I had great hopes that you would finally be chosen and follow in Langdon’s footsteps. It was, in fact, my recommendation to the Council. I can tell you now that you were one of the most highly qualified young men I had ever seen. But the prejudices and narrow view of the members of the Tribal Council rendered my wishes moot. I discovered that even as the Star Captain, there were limits to my authority. There is no more implacable foe than fear. 

 

“When we returned after the battle against the Beast Things I had in my heart the certainty that we could no longer afford such attitudes. I made the decision to open the books of tradition so that all would understand what we gave up, and more importantly, what we could have again. So, when the call came from the Tribe for me to assume the office of Guardian, I saw it as my chance to lead the people of the Eyrie away from isolationism and the narrow path of prejudice and mistrust.”

 

Jarl hesitated. “Kinsman, I had hoped that over these many years that you would raise up another to follow in your footsteps. But you have not even taken a wife.” He sighed. “And the days are passing. I find it distasteful to involve myself in the personal affairs of others, but in your case I felt, it was necessary to speak of this.”

 

He stopped, turned and looked straight into Fors’ eyes for a long moment. He hesitated again, and Fors could see that Jarl was clearly bracing himself.

 

“Fors, after your journey next summer to the Northwest, It is my order that you remain within the Eyrie. You should involve yourself in the affairs of this tribe, and learn the many details of how it functions and the things that have to happen in order for us to survive.” To Fors’ surprise, Jarl placed a hand on the Star Man’s shoulder. “It is time for you to set aside the past and prepare for the future.”

 

Fors was swept by a maelstrom of emotion. His strong disappointment at being taken off the trails was overwhelmed by the power of Jarl’s last words. Reading the shock and confusion in his face, Jarl smiled slightly. “Think on this in the coming days. If you desire additional guidance my door will be open to you.” He paused, “Rest well, Kinsman. It has been an eventful day.”

 

With that, the Guardian turned and walked back up the path towards his home. The Defender emerged from the shadows and after a long look at Fors, followed silently.

 

Fors stood stock-still, trying to sort his thoughts out of a flood of emotion. Yes, he was being taken off the trail, but not until he made one last journey. He recalled the words that Jarl had spoken, the story of his life. The Eyrie was a relatively small tribe, so secrets were rare. But Jarl had revealed a side of him and his life that he had kept hidden from others, probably shared only with his wife. And to what future did he refer? Fors’ future? The future of the Star House? Of the Eyrie itself? He shook his head, realizing that sleep would not come easily this night, despite his fatigue. Instead of taking the path to his house, Fors instead headed for the steep trail that led to the Eastern Promontory.

 

As a youth, he had gone there many times, seeking solitude; pushed there by isolation and sorrow. The climb was steep and narrow, but eventually Fors emerged upon the surface of a large, flat boulder. From here, he could see across the broad valley that defined the perimeter of the Eyrie Stronghold. His enhanced night vision could clearly pick out the details of rocks, trees, and the succession of mountain peaks beyond, all lined up like the waves of a granite ocean. He sat down, fearlessly dangling his long legs over the edge of the rock and the sheer drop to the valley floor below.

 

Fors sat there for a long time, carefully sorting out his thoughts. His life was indeed about to change, but it was frustrating to know that and not know exactly what the change would be. At some point, the full moon rose above the mountain peaks, bathing the valley in a bright silvery glow. The effect was breath-taking and Fors relaxed and took in the view.

 

As one of mixed blood and a mutant to boot, Fors had long ago rejected the idea of courtship. The Eyrie women, strongly pragmatic, had been simply dismissive of Fors’ clumsy approaches. But, he had to admit, in the last few years, their attitudes had softened somewhat. Perhaps it was time to…what was Arskane’s phrase?...”test the waters.” He was unaccountably shy around women, a habit of protecting himself learned in his youth. There was at the moment a larger number of women than men in the tribe, Fors mused. Perhaps there was one who would welcome his attentions.

 

Suddenly, his senses went on the alert. His sensitive hearing had detected the scrape of claws on rock behind and above him. Instantly, he rolled to his feet, his hand going instinctively to his belt only to remember he was unarmed. He looked up and stared into the face of a mountain lion, one of Nira’s wild cousins. Seeing that his prey was alerted, the big cat roared, hoping to freeze Fors in fear. But the Star Man’s instincts took over and as the animal leapt, Fors darted towards the rock, causing the cat to overshoot. He then turned and faced the animal. His mouth was dry and his heart raced, but his mind stayed clear. The cat slinked left and right, looking for an opening, Fors mirroring the movements. He was careful to keep the rock wall behind him and himself away from the drop-off. In the moonlight he considered his attacker. Although large, the animal did not appear to be full grown. Its coat was clean and unmarked by scars. A young cat, inexperienced in the hunt and attack. Fors felt a ray of hope. If he was smart, he could survive. He saw the cat stop and gather itself. Seeing that, he braced himself for the attack. The cat jumped on Fors, its jaws of long white teeth reaching for his throat. But Fors had been ready. Both hands were now grasping large amounts of skin around the front of the cat’s neck. As he strained to keep the cat’s jaws away from his neck, he twisted the fur savagely, restricting the flow of air. He was rewarded by the sound of rasping. The cat responded with claws, inflicting deep cuts on the Star Man’s shoulders and back. Despite the searing pain, Fors hung on, knowing he was in an all-too-familiar fight for his life. He twisted his hands even further and the big cat’s eyes began to widen. He could feel the animal weakening, but his own strength was fading as well. It would be a race to see who could last the longest.

 

Without warning, another feline snarl issued behind Fors and out of the corner of his eye, Fors saw a flash of cream and chocolate on legs of steel springs. Nira’s charge knocked the mountain lion off of Fors ripped and bleeding body. Still week from lack of oxygen, the animal struggled to get to its feet, giving Nira the opening he needed. Another leap, a vicious bite to the throat, and the tawny-colored body laid still, its life-blood pooling upon the rock. Nira spat at the dying mountain lion and immediately went to Fors side. Standing there, the big cat tilted his head back and screamed loud and long. Within moments, there came the sound of many feet running up the narrow path from the Eyrie. In the last moments before losing consciousness, Fors saw the figures of Eyrie Defenders bending over him.

 

At first Fors could see nothing, only darkness. Then, he began to hear muffled voices which gradually became clearer. With a great effort, he forced his eyes open. He tried to voice a question, but could only produce a shallow croak. At that sound, a blurry shape detached itself from the background and came close. “Lie still.” Fors obeyed the voice. A hand hovered over his face and he felt cool drops in his eyes. Blinking rapidly, he vision became much clearer. He felt an arm beneath his shoulders, which lifted him gently to receive a cup at his lips. He sipped the cool water, then took a larger swallow. “That’s enough for now. Let’s see how your stomach takes it.”

 

Fors could see clearly enough to identify his caretaker as one of the healers, a woman named Wenna standing beside his bed. He turned his head experimentally and his eyes caught sight of the bandages swathing his body. He was feeling pain from his shoulders, back and legs, but at the moment anyway, it was manageable. He tried to ask a question, but the healer shushed him and said, “You were attacked by a mountain lion. Between you and your cat, your attacker was killed. You were severely wounded by the lion’s claws, but we managed to stop the bleeding and infection. You have been asleep for almost 4 days, but it appears that you will survive.”

 

The healer turned away momentarily. “Please tell the Star Captain that Fors is awake.” Out of the shadows, Fors saw another Star Man rise from a chair and leave the room with alacrity.

 

Fors indicated the bandages and croaked, “How bad?”

 

Wenna smiled slightly, “Not as bad as it could have been. You have long arms and that kept the lion from getting a firm grip on you. Some of the cuts were pretty deep, but we were able to sew them shut. Also, you were very weak from blood loss. But the Old One’s knowledge of blood transfusion that you brought back some years ago enabled us to replace most of your losses. So, in a way, you saved your own life.”

 

Fors vaguely remembered finding the remains of a medical college, from which he had discovered almost intact a treasure trove of books that had been preserved in an airtight container in an underground storage room. Beset almost immediately by Beast Things, he had been forced to fight his way out of the building, but not without removing some well-chosen volumes which survived the trip back to the Eyrie. There had been great excitement among the Healers when Fors returned. And for the first time, that community began to regard him with affection and respect instead of a science experiment gone wrong.

 

Fors nodded and tried to relax. He was still very tired and weak. Wenna brought another cup to his mouth. “Drink,” she ordered. Whatever it was had a slightly bitter aftertaste, but in the next few moments, Fors felt his pain ebb and fade. With that distraction eliminated, he fell back to sleep almost immediately.

 

The next two days were marked by a few fog-bound times of wakefulness interspaced by many hours of sleep. On the third day, with the assistance of Wenna and one of her novices, Fors sat upright dangling his long legs off the side of the bed. He was swept by a wave of dizziness, but was kept upright in their firm grasp. Two days after that, he was helped to his feet and managed to shuffle the length of the treatment chamber without falling over. He could feel his strength returning, walking further and firmer with every effort.

 

Since he was currently the only patient of the Healers, he was able to spend a great deal of time talking to Wenna. Always shy with women, he found in talking to her a sense of comfort and acceptance that truly touched his heart.

 

She was of the Badger Clan and had been noticed early as a child with exceptional intelligence. In her youth, she had gravitated to the study of healing and in her 15th year had been selected as a Healer Novice. A few years later, she wed another Star Man, Stephen of the Hawk Clan. They had a child, a boy, and were living happily until Stephen met the tragic fate of too many Star Men, a fatal encounter with the Beast Things. That had been 10 years ago. She had thrown herself into her profession, doing research and experiments, working hard to expand the knowledge of disease and treatments. She had never wed again, choosing to raise her young son by herself.

 

Wenna possessed an inner strength and independence and also the will to go her own way despite the views of others, an attitude Fors intimately understood. He began to look forward to the times when her duties permitted her to spend time with him. Over time, Fors noted that the clipped official tone of voice had softened. Her eyes became less clinical, more interested. She encouraged Fors to speak of his past. When the old, bad memories resurfaced and his tone turned harsh and angry, she patiently listened. At one point, he spoke of his father’s death and the devastation and loneliness that had overwhelmed him. To his surprise, tears came to his eyes and in her gentle presence he wept, truly mourning the loss for the first time in his life.

 

Finally after 8 long days and nights, Wenna released her patient, with the caution that he rest at least two more days. Fors still wore bandages over the deeper gashes, but his skin was healing rapidly without infection. He would, however, wear the scars of that fight for the rest of his life. Wenna walked him to the door, her hand softly and gently grasping his arm. They paused at the doorway, Fors blinking away the bright sunlight. He turned to Wenna and said, “I thank you for your care. The Eyrie is fortunate to have someone as skilled as you.

 

Wenna smiled at his formal tone. “It is always an honor to treat a Star Man.”

 

Fors looked down at his feet, trying to marshal his thoughts. The strength of his emotions and the scrambling effect they seem to be having on his mind surprised him. He looked up shyly. “I have never enjoyed recovering from injury. But I have enjoyed the many talks we had.” He paused. He was nervous. And sweating. “I, uh, hope we can have them again some time.”

 

She cocked her head and there was a glint of interest in her eyes, almost if she was seeing Fors for the first time. “I enjoyed them as well. And you don’t have to be injured or sick to visit this House.”

 

Fors hesitated, then nodded and smiled, then turned and walked out into the sunlight. His pace was slow, but steady. At one point he glanced back, seeing Wenna still standing in the doorway, her arms crossed. He raised his hand in a farewell gesture, which she returned with a warm smile.

 

While the House of Healers was in the Main Circle, the hospital was actually further down the main path, located centrally to the Clan Circles. Fors walked back to his house, but upon arriving felt restless. Knowing that he would find no rest there, he changed his clothes, then left and began to work his way up the Main Path to the Star House. After 8 days of lying in a bed, he was weak. But he was feeling better than he had since the attack. He walked carefully, measuring his fatigue and wind. As he made his way up, he was greeted by many members of the tribe as they went about their business. At one point, he passed the schoolhouse as the children were lining up to return to class after morning recreation. Seeing the battered Star Man, the children went silent, regarding Fors with wide eyes. Embarrassed, he raised his eyes toward them and smiled slightly. Their teacher, sensing his discomfort speedily herded them back inside, favoring Fors with an apologetic look.

 

It was a long hike, but eventually the Star House beckoned and with a tired sigh, Fors entered and sank gratefully onto one of the chairs at the big table. He sat there for several moments, fighting the dizziness from his exertion. He had certainly walked too far, but here he had tasks to occupy his mind, and if he didn’t want to make the long walk back, he could avail himself of one of the duty bunks.

 

He gestured at one of the Novices, asking for a stylus and ink and a blank logbook. Within moments, the requested items were laid before him. He had intended for some time to write down his thoughts on the methods of diplomacy, thinking that this was a subject that wasn’t touched on among the volumes that made up the Star House library. After thinking for a few moments, he picked up the stylus, dipped it in the inkwell and started to write. He was thus engaged several hours later when the Star Men gathered for the mid-day meal. Fors was mildly surprised; he had been unaware of the passage of time, so absorbed was he in his task. After the meal, he returned to the logbooks, continuing to work until the evening sun began to dip behind the mountain peaks to the southwest. He sat back with a sigh. Looking at the table, he saw seven full logbooks and noted that he was substantially through the eighth one. The Novice returned, took the completed books to the library, and returned the writing materials to the proper cabinet.

 

Fors slowly rose from his chair, feeling a sudden wave of nausea wash through him. He looked up to see Torin regarding him. “How do you feel?”

 

Fors shook his head. “Still weak.”

 

Torin summoned one of the novices. “Prepare a duty bunk for Fors.” The novice left the room. At that moment, there was a knock at the door. One of the other novices opened it and there in the doorway stood the healer, Wenna.

 

“The Healer Wenna asks entry to the Star House.” The novice glanced back at Torin who replied, “Your entry is granted. Welcome to the Star House.”

 

Wenna strode confidently through the doorway. She walked right up to Fors and with a set jaw and flashing eyes that brooked no argument, said, “You were supposed to be resting today.”

 

Fors, discomfited, glanced at Torin, who raised his hands, almost in self-defense. Wenna continued. “You cannot heal if you will not rest. No man is invincible, even a Star Man, although it seems I must continually remind the members of this house of that fact. Go to bed. Stay there for at least two more days. Then we can start making you stronger.”

 

Fors hesitated. Wenna’s eyes narrowed. “Fors, do not force me to impose my authority upon you.”

 

Slightly shocked, Fors nodded numbly and turned towards the bunkroom. Healers, alone possessed the authority to order anyone off duty, even the Guardian. Suddenly, the room spun. Wenna leapt forward, catching the Star Man with a surprisingly strong grip. An instant later, she was joined by Torin and two other Star Men. Together, they helped him to the bunkroom. His boots and vest were removed and he was carefully laid down. She knelt down and as she adjusted the blanket, her face softened and for a brief moment, the coldly clinical look in her eyes was replaced by something warmer, more personal. Her voice softened, “I will return to check on you.” She hesitated. Fors could see that she was fighting against an unidentifiable impulse. She rose quickly and left. Torin’s eyes followed her exit, and then turned back to Fors, his face wearing a puzzled expression. One of the other Star Men, Meniston of the Bear Clan, leaned forward. “Fors, do you require anything from your home?”

 

Fors fought his fading consciousness for an answer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement and turned to see Nira glide in. The big cat surveyed the situation and promptly curled up on the mat in front of the bunk. Fors reached out and stroked his fur. Looking up, he replied, “I have all I need for now.”

 

With that, Torin shooed everyone out of the bunk room. Fors closed his eyes and slept.

 

 

 Contents          Next

 

 "Star Man's Saga"
Copyright ~ Ralph F. Couey and the Estate of Andre Norton 2017
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Ralph F. Couey

 

Formatted for online viewing by Jay Watts aka: “Lotsawatts” ~ November, 2017

 

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.