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 7

 

 

Fors approached the Council House with no small amount of trepidation. It was truly one of those moments when he had absolutely no idea what lay ahead. He realized with a jolt that he was even unaware of what the proper protocol was for entering, no small consideration in a tribe so bound to its traditions. All too soon, he stood before the heavy wooden double doors. He paused momentarily, then with an apparent assurance he most assuredly did not feel, grasped the handle, pulled the door open, and entered. Crossing the threshold, he noted with relief that he was actually in an antechamber of sorts, the walls lined with hooks. He removed his wraps and snowshoes. As he was so engaged, two women came in, talking animatedly. They quickly removed and hung up their wraps, then without hesitation, walked through the inner doorway. Shrugging inwardly, Fors followed.

 

The council chamber was large and dominated by two tables, set at right angles to each other. One table sat across one end of the rectangular room and was set with thirteen high-backed chairs. Twelve chairs were surmounted by elaborately carved symbols, marking the seats of the Elders who led the twelve clans of the Eyrie: Hawk, Eagle, Falcon, Bear, Timber Wolf, Raccoon, Beaver, Fors' own clan Puma, Elk, Orion, Sirius, and Vega. The thirteenth chair sat in the middle, flanked by six seats to its right and left. This chair sat on a slightly higher platform and was decorated by the symbol of the Eyrie itself, a mountain under an arc of twelve stars. Obviously, the seat of the Eyrie Guardian.

 

At a right angle to the Elder's table, another table, shaped vaguely triangular along which were more chairs, while still ornate in their own right were not as ostentatious. Carved on their backs were the symbols for the House of Healers, the Sentry and Defenders, Master of the Fields, Master of the Storehouse, the Recorder and Historian, Chief Justice, Chief of Legal Counsel, Master Builder, Master of Commerce and Trade, Chief Educator, Master of Labor Resources, Master of the Treasury, The Star Captain, and several unmarked chairs. This second table narrowed as it flowed away from the Elders, so that everyone could see and be seen by all. Beyond the two tables were a large number of benches, neat in symmetrical as they trailed away towards the back of the large room . The Eyrie Council meetings were open to any member of the tribe. Light dishes, like the ones in the hydroponic caves, were positioned by each window, deflecting sunlight upward onto the whitewashed ceiling, which then reflected the light throughout the room. It was here that the business of the Eyrie got done.

 

Fors moved to one of the benches about halfway back and sat down. Several women were in the room, setting out books and containers of water. The first council member to arrive was Torin. Fors was relieved to see a familiar face, feeling like an intruder in this room. Seeing Fors, Torin walked over and the two shook hands. The Star Captain offered his congratulations on Fors' engagement, Fors accepting with slight embarrassment. The news had flowed quickly from the House of Healers throughout the tribe. The reaction had been uniformly joyful, inflicting on the Star Man a lot of unaccustomed attention. The two spoken briefly, then the Star Captain excused himself and took his seat at the table. The room began filling rapidly, the air buzzing with many conversations. Fors knew from his vast experience in the lowlands that most governments consisted of three elements: form, function, and personality. The first two were set in stone, written into laws and custom. The wild card was personality. It was this unpredictable human element that determined the particular dynamics of government. Fors watched carefully, using his experience to identify the ones who would lead, those who would follow, those who would compromise, and those who would stand their ground.

 

One man caught Fors' attention. He looked to be one of the youngest in the room, but that wasn't what Fors saw. His face was sharp, his eyes reflecting his obvious intelligence. He moved with quick assuredness, as if he always knew where he was going. He pulled out the chair marked with the crest of the Chief of Legal Counsel and sat down. He reached for the papers that had been set before him but in that motion, Fors saw him glance ever so subtly towards the seat of the Eyrie Guardian. For a bare moment, a look of pure, naked ambition flashed across his face. Like a flash of light, it was gone. But in that moment, Fors saw into the man's soul.

 

The type was familiar enough. In every tribe, in every clan there was always one who sought power as others sought food. The acquisition and wielding of authority was central to their very existence. In Fors experience, they were almost always a danger to their tribe because the only interests they held were their own. The tribe could collapse around them, but as long as they were in charge, nothing else mattered. He sat there calm, seemingly innocuous. But in that moment when he glanced towards the seat of power, Fors saw danger.

 

The room was full now, all the seats filled. The benches were filled as well, as members of the Eyrie had filed in to witness the session. The Council Secretary rose and walked to the back of the room, opening the door that led to the Guardian's offices. After a moment, he pulled the door open fully, turned to the rest of the chamber and in stentorious tones announced,

 

"Members of the Tribe of the Eyrie, seekers of truth and knowledge. Rise as one and Honor our Guardian!"

 

With a sound like muted thunder, every person in the room stood. In the sudden silence, Fors heard the measured tread of nailed boots on wood. Fors turned and watched as Jarl, his head high, his face characteristically expressionless, strode up the center aisle. The Guardian mounted the dais and paused beside his chair. Facing the chamber and those within, he said,

 

"Members of the Tribe of the Eyrie, I thank you. Please be seated."

 

Once the room was settled, a brisk sense of business enveloped the room. Jarl opened the leather-bound book before him and announced, "This meeting of the Council of the Tribe of the Eyrie is in session. Secretary will read the minutes."

 

The meeting seemed to swing into an easy rhythm as Jarl moved smoothly through the agenda. Fors watched carefully. Jarl gave each item his full attention, even the ones that seemed to Fors to be mundane or pedestrian in nature. At the appropriate moment, the attention shifted to those who sat in front of the council. Starting with the Mistress of the House of Healers and moving along the table, each offered a report covering the activities and issues relevant to their particular responsibilities. To each leader, Jarl gave his full and undivided attention, listening carefully, occasionally asking pointed questions. He also recognized and acknowledged accomplishments, no matter how small or momentous. Fors appreciation of Jarl's abilities, already considerable, grew even more. Through his gestures and words, each person was made to feel equally vital to the proceedings. There was no condescension, no sense that any group was more or less important than the other. It wasn't until the Guardian swung his attention to the Chief of Legal Counsel that Fors senses, sharpened by years of negotiation, caught a subtle shift in Jarl's attitude.

 

The Secretary intoned, "The Council will now hear the report of the Chief of Legal Counsel."

 

Jarl's face moved to the sharp-faced young man. Suddenly the Guardian's eyes acquired a glint, his face became somehow harder. Even his voice seemed to acquire an edge as he inquired, "What say you, Marlek?"

 

Marlek's voice, smooth, oily, and unctuous, grated on Fors. Yet in the midst of his distaste, he recognized the danger of intrigue this man represented. On the surface, he seemed disarmingly pleasant, his inflection pleasant, and at times humorous. Charm, Fors grimly decided, was Marlek's most dangerous tool.

 

Jarl's questions directed to the Legal Counsel were sharper, more pointed. He was obviously on his guard. Eventually, he moved on to the next report, his body visibly relaxing, his face softening, and the edgy challenge in his voice gone.

 

After the reports, each one of the Clan Chieftains spoke, giving news of births, deaths, marriages, their needs with regards to food and other items from the Eyrie stores. The Bear Clan's Chief spoke of the Eyrie's growing numbers and suggested that the Tribe needed to secure additional sources of fresh water to stave off the effects of the cyclical droughts that struck the mountains. After some discussion, Jarl ordered the Master Builder to begin plans to construct additional vats to collect snowfall over the winter.

 

With that, Jarl adjourned the meeting. Once again, the people in the room rose to their feet as the Guardian left the way he had entered. The door closed behind him, and immediately the crowd began to mill around and converse. After a moment, Fors began to move towards the exit.

 

"Star Man."

 

Fors turned around, finding himself facing the Council Secretary. "The Guardian asks the honor of your presence in his office."

 

Fors nodded and gestured for the Secretary to lead the way. The two left the room and passed through the heavy wooden door, cutting off the buzz of voices from the Council Chamber as it was closed. In this room, it was quieter, but the atmosphere was bustling, as men and women hurried back and forth, carrying documents. Fors was led through the maelstrom of activity through an archway and down a hall. The Secretary paused before the door at the end of the hallway and knocked. A muffled voice responded and the Secretary entered, motioning for Fors to follow.

 

The Guardian's office was large and sparsely furnished. Light came from two small windows and lamps. Jarl sat behind a large desk, beautifully hand-carved and polished. Two men and a woman stood before him, waiting as he read and affixed his signature and seal to a number of documents. Finishing, he handed the documents back to the three waiting staffers, all of whom departed swiftly. Jarl looked up at the Secretary expectantly, who formally announced Fors. Jarl nodded and responded, "Thank you, Bashtar. That will be all for now." Bashtar departed immediately, closing the door behind him.

 

Jarl motioned Fors to one of the chairs in front of the desk. I thank you for coming, Kinsman. I trust you found your first Council meeting of interest."

 

Fors shook his head ruefully. "I was utterly unaware of the complexity involved in keeping our tribe functional."

 

Jarl seemed to smile slightly. "No one person could do this alone. It requires the work of many skilled people, people whose dedication to their work and the Eyrie is total and beyond question. They ensure that when I am presented with a decision, that I have all the facts I need to render it. Without their careful work, I could not do mine." He paused and regarded Fors through slightly narrowed eyes. "Did you observe anything else of interest?"

 

Fors hesitated. He felt very much the interloper, and unsure if his "observations" would be useful, or even welcome. Jarl, typically, recognized the Star Man's discomfiture. "Speak freely, Fors. I find no benefit in silence."

 

Fors knew Jarl to be a frank man, so he set aside his reluctance and spoke frankly.

 

"You have an enemy on the Council, one who seeks your office for himself. My impression is that he is a seeker of power only and not one who places the needs of the Eyrie above his own."

 

In the ensuing silence, Fors waited apprehensively. After a long moment, Jarl spoke slowly, with emphasis.

 

"That is a very serious allegation."

 

Fors felt his shoulders tense.  Setting aside his nervousness, he pressed on.

 

"Guardian, these many years have I spent studying human beings.  I have sat in halls and tents of great ceremony, and on the torn ground of countless battlefields.  In order to ensure my own survival, I have learned that as much as a person may desire to hide their innermost desires, their words, tone of voice, gestures, even the manner in which they sit and stand can lay naked even the deepest of secrets.  I am bound by oath to defend the Eyrie and its people with my very life, if need be.  When I detect such a threat, I am required by law and custom to report the same."  Jarl's eyes narrowed slightly, but his face remained expressionless.  Of all the people he had known, this man remained a closed book despite Fors' best efforts.

 

The room went silent, so quiet that Fors could hear the sounds of activity through the heavy wooden door.  As he watched, Fors saw Jarl's face relax slightly.  In a flat tone, he asked, "Whom have you identified as this…stone in my boot?"

 

"Marlek."

 

Jarl's head tilted slightly.  "Most people think him to be a pleasant, admirable young man; very solicitous, always helpful, and extraordinarily intelligent.  As the Chief of Legal Counsel, he is also very, very good at his job.  Those tribesmen who find themselves athwart the law have known him to be a tireless advocate for their rights.  And yet, you see him as a threat."  Jarl leaned forward, nailing Fors with his eyes.  "Why?"

 

Fors did not hesitate.  "My experience has taught me to see things to which others are blinded.  Expectation and assumption are the enemies of truth.  That is why I always look at people with a fresh set of eyes."

 

Jarl replied quietly, almost kindly.  "No wonder friendship has been difficult for you." 

 

The statement hit Fors with the power and accuracy of a Plainsmen's lance.  In the nick of time he choked back the wave of defensive anger that threatened to overwhelm him.  Taking a moment to compose himself, he said, "A friendship based on deception is no friendship."

 

Jarl leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingertips.  After a long moment, he spoke.

 

"Your honesty is a measure of your trust, for which I am grateful.  But always be mindful that in the political arena of the Eyrie Council, silence is often the more powerful weapon.  Thank you for your time, Kinsman."

 

Fors rose, saluted, and left.  Closing the heavy door behind him, he stood still for a moment, deep in thought.  Looking up, he saw Marlek speaking with two others.  Despite the targets of his conversation, his eyes were on Fors.  They were eyes of cold calculation.

 

 

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.