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 8

 

The sun rose into a flawless sky.  It was one of those winter days when the air was exquisitely clear, if cold.  Fors, wrapped in his warmest clothes, stood alone at the Eastern Promontory.  He had risen early and had taken the time to clear his head and center his thoughts.  The last few weeks had been filled with activity as the date for the wedding approached.  Fors had been awestruck at the amount of details that required attention.  Fortunately, Wenna, a superbly organized person, navigated the dizzying process with a calmness that soothed everyone around her.  But finally, with Fors' help (or perhaps, he grimly decided, in spite of it) all the work and planning was complete.  And the day had arrived. 

 

He watched as the rising sun slowly lit the valley floor, feeling completely at peace.  His life would change this day more completely and fundamentally than at any other time since becoming a Star Man.  And yet, he knew he was ready.  He sighed, his breath briefly creating an icy cloud that quickly dissipated in the frigid breeze, reveling in the feelings of joy and elation that flooded his entire being.  

 

Presently, he turned and carefully made his way down the snow-packed path back to the Eyrie.  He headed down the Main Path, his boots crunching loudly in the quiet air.  As he walked, he systematically reviewed his responsibilities for this day.  Among the people of the Eyrie, the events of life, marriage, birth, and death, were marked by great ceremony and meaning.  Life in the mountains was challenging, even dangerous at times.  Blinding snow and biting cold in the winter, violent storms in summer, surrounded by rugged landscapes populated by animals who saw humans as just another meal.  Every year, the tribe lost members to the hazards of their homeland, and the dangers in the plains and prairies below.  Every occurrence and affirmation of life was a victory over the danger.  And victories were always a time for celebration.

 

Presently, he arrived at his home, or at least his home for a few more hours.  They had already decided that he would move in with Wenna and Kreston, out of consideration for minimizing the disruption to the boy's life.  Fors would formally become a member of the Hawk Clan.  He felt no great heartburn over that choice, knowing that he had no real investment in the Puma Clan, having spent most of his adult life away from the Eyrie.  Once news of that decision had gotten out, Wenna's Hawk Clan kinsmen embraced Fors with a warmth and affection that brought the old explorer to the edge of breaking down.  Now, as he and Nira stood inside the dwelling, he felt its cold emptiness for the last time.  His few possessions already in Wenna's house, the only thing remaining was his ceremonial uniform.  Picking it up, he took one last look around, and closed the heavy wooden door with a sense of finality. 

 

Upon his arrival at the Council Hall, he found it to be abuzz with activity.  The Council Staff had finished the decorating the day before and now were setting out the food for the Marriage Feast.  One of the staff, seeing Fors, directed him to the antechamber that would serve as his dressing room.  They entered, Nira, picking out a corner where a beam of sunlight warmed the wooden floor.  Fors laid out his things with care.  Wenna, after seeing the battered and somewhat moth-eaten condition of his old set, had insisted that he have a new set made.  After carefully inspecting the new uniform for loose bits of thread, he removed his clothes.  The first thing to go on was a snow-white long-sleeved shirt, made of the finest cloth the Eyrie's craftsmen had been able to produce.  Next went the leather trousers, dyed jet black.  Over the shirt went the leather vest, layered into something more like a shield.  The front was hand-tooled with the symbol for his new clan.  A cape made from beaver fur and trimmed by more black leather was tied to the shoulders of the leather shield.  A silver band, fronted by his new clan's symbol went around his head.  Around his neck he placed the silver chain holding the many-pointed star for which he had worked and sacrificed so much.  And last of all, a pair of leather gloves with gauntlets that covered half of his forearms.  Carefully, he slid the tall, polished leather boots over his feet and legs, careful to do nothing that would mar their mirror-like finish.  Now, all he had to do was wait. 

 

A firm knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.  He called out, "Enter."  The door opened and Marlek entered the antechamber.  "Good morning, Fors."

 

Fors nodded, "And to you as well, Counselor."  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nira roll into a ready crouch.  Plainly, there was something in Marlek he did not like.

 

Marlek extended his hand, which Fors grasped after a bare moment's hesitation.  "I wanted to extend to you personally my best wishes.  A wedding is always a joyous event, especially for one so honored by the people of the Eyrie."

 

Fors was immediately on guard.  Flattery was a powerful tool.  "I do not seek fame or position; I am but a man who has tried to serve the tribe to my utmost."

 

Marlek smiled.  "Your humility is misplaced, Star Man.  I have rarely seen the entire tribe so united in their support of any one person.  To not acknowledge such universal affection may infer insult."

 

Fors had been repeatedly honored as the Eyrie's ambassador, as Marlek certainly was aware.  Fors felt the old hot anger stirring at Marlek's barb.  He forced the emotion aside, focusing his mind.  Deliberately keeping his voice calm, almost casual, he said, "Humility is never misplaced.  It keeps us from being ruled by egos."

 

Marlek tilted his head slightly, acknowledging Fors' point.  "Still, the broad support of the people can be a stepping stone to...shall we say...a higher calling.  Perhaps in your knowledge and experience there lies the wisdom necessary to be a leader."  His face now bore an expression of naked calculation.

 

Fors recognized the trap.  Marlek was trying to divine the extent of Fors' ambition, and how that drive could conflict with his own.  Knowing the danger in any answer he could give, he replied with the most powerful tool in negotiation:  Dead, stony silence. 

 

After a long moment, Marlek shrugged.  "Well, no matter.  Again, I wish you and Wenna many years of joy together." 

 

"I am grateful, Counselor."

 

The two shook hands and Marlek turned to leave.  Before he reached the door, there was a swift knock and the door was opened by a staffer who announced, "The Eyrie Guardian."  Jarl entered, also clad in his ceremonial clothing.  Upon seeing Marlek, his face tightened and his sharp blue eyes glinted.  Fors knew that look, one that could freeze a man's insides in an instant.  Marlek, however, seemed to be unaffected.  Jarl nodded.  "Counselor."

 

Marlek bowed slightly.  "Guardian."  With that, the Counselor left the room.

 

Jarl turned to Fors, a questioning look on his face.  Fors grimaced and shook his head.  Not here, not now.  Jarl nodded and turned to the matter at hand.  Over the next few minutes, he reviewed the sequence of events for the ceremony, over which he would preside.  Once certain that Fors fully understood what was to take place, his voice turned more personal.

 

"There seems to be a pattern among men of enjoying the pursuit more than the capture.  I have seen too many young men who, after striving mightily to earn the hand of the one they desired, simply stopped trying.  They felt that once they possessed their chosen mate, there was no more battle to wage.  But Kinsman, I must urge you to always keep your desires for Wenna uppermost in your mind.  I know you will never stop loving her, but you must forever communicate that to her.  A woman, regardless of how strong she my seem to be, lives or dies on the love of her husband.  Treasure her always in the same way you treasure her today.  Honor her; respect her; cherish her; and she will respond with all her heart.  It is hard for us men to understand this, but a woman's heart is not only the strongest thing, it is also the most fragile."

 

Fors nodded. 

 

Jarl regarded the Star Man momentarily.  "Are you ready?"

 

Fors raised his head and met those eyes with his own.  "Yes."

 

"Then we shall proceed."  Jarl turned, his own cape flowing smoothly in his wake.  He opened the door, then in a move that surprised Fors, the Guardian stood aside, allowing Fors and Nira to go first.  They left the antechamber into a Council chamber buzzing with expectant conversation.  Fors saw that every seat was filled and people were lined up three deep almost all the way around the room.  The two mounted the Dais and halted.  Nira took a position to the side, sitting attentively.  At an invisible signal, a choir began to sing.  Fors recognized the stirring music as "People of the Mountains," the one song that served as much as any other as the Eyrie's tribal anthem.  From the words flowed the spirit of the tribe, a people forever dedicated to the sanctification of knowledge, and of its companion, wisdom.  It never failed to stir powerful emotions.

 

After the anthem ended, Jarl stepped forward and spoke.

 

"Kinsmen, today we have gathered to honor an important and vital arc in the great circle of life.  Before you today a man and woman of the Eyrie will speak the words of the sacred vow of marriage. 

 

“When two people discover love, a powerful bond is created, one that has been proven to survive all the tragedies that life might inflict; one that has brought long-lasting joy; one which is strong enough to last a lifetime.

 

"To perform this rite is for me always a great honor.  For each time a man and woman are thus joined, I know that the Eyrie, through each new union, survives and thrives.  It is particularly satisfying on this occasion.  Today, we have a woman who suffered a terrible tragedy, and yet has opened her heart once again.  And a man who in his early years suffered rejection and fear from his tribe, now will experience the deepest kind of acceptance.

 

"Today, a new family shall be created.  Because of that creation, today the Eyrie stands a little taller, a little stronger.  We, the people of the Eyrie, stand together in this place to honor, to support, and to celebrate.

 

"I now call forward Wenna, an upright woman of the Hawk Clan to stand beside the one she has chosen."

 

As tradition dictated, those in the large room who weren't already standing, now rose.  Drums began to beat, as two ranks of Star Men strode slowly, decorously, up the center aisle, taking positions along each row of seats.  When the last one was in place, they turned as one to face inward.  Two children, each carrying a banner of the Hawk Clan walked up the aisle next.  They mounted the dais and took up positions on the left and right.  The choir began another song, this one celebrating love. 

 

At that moment, a vision in pure white entered through the rear door and started up the aisle.  Fors was nearly overcome with emotion as he watched Wenna, clad in her flowing bridal gown, came up the aisle.  Before her, looking grown-up in his ceremonial garb, came Kreston, his young-old face wearing a most serious expression.  Usually, that position would have been filled by the bride's father, but Wenna's parents had been dead for several years, both victims of one of the rare bouts of illness that struck the tribe.  Today, Kreston would fill that role.  Almost too quickly, the procession reached the dais.  The choir finished the song, and in the silence that enveloped the room, Kreston, his voice ringing with conviction and pride, said:

 

"Fors of the Puma Clan!  I bring before you the woman who is my mother so that you may be joined together.  I freely present her to you, asking only that you honor her and protect her as has been my honor to do so, and love her, as long as the breath of life lives within you both."

 

Fors stepped forward.  "Kreston of the Hawk Clan!  It is with great joy that I accept the hand of your mother in marriage.  And it is with deep humility and gratitude that I receive your approval."

 

Turning toward his mother, Kreston took her hand and led her upon the dais.  He then joined Fors’ hand with Wenna's, placing his hand on top.  After a moment, he removed his hand and moved to the right of Fors, as they turned towards Jarl.

 

"Love has called and summoned you both to this place.  Today, your hearts shall become one; your lives shall become one.  Hearts which once stood alone shall never feel loneliness again.  And as you both experience the joy of this ceremony, know that the people of the Eyrie celebrate with you as well.

 

The Guardian turned towards Wenna.  "Wenna of the Hawk Clan, do you choose this man, Fors, to stand beside you, joining his life with yours for as long as you both shall live?

 

Wenna, her radiant joy apparent even behind her veil, replied, "I do."

 

Jarl's eyes now found Fors.  Fors of the Puma Clan, do you choose this woman, Wenna, to stand beside you, joining her life with yours for as long as you both shall live?

 

Fors found his voice, despite the lump in his throat.  "I do."

 

Jarl then turned to the boy.  “Kreston of the Hawk Clan, having heard the choice that has been made, do you accept this union, and this man, Fors, into your house?”

 

Kreston replied in his strongest voice.  "I do!"

 

Jarl almost cracked a smile at the boy's response.  "Prepare to receive the symbols of your union."

 

At this, Fors removed the gauntleted gloves, handing them to Kreston.  Jarl turned and picked up a small wooden box, which he then opened, revealing two matched gold rings.  Wenna took the larger one, and Fors the smaller.  Jarl directed the two to face each other.

 

Fors gently took the ring and placed it on the third finger of her left hand.  "Wenna, this ring, in its beauty, purity, and eternal existence symbolizes my love for you.  Each day of our lives this will tell of this day; when I chose you to complete my life."

 

Wenna then placed the larger ring on the same finger of Fors' hand, struggling a bit to slide it over the rough and gnarled knuckle.  "Fors, this ring, in its beauty, purity, and eternal existence symbolizes my love for you.  Each day of our lives this will tell of the day when I gave my heart, and my life to you."

 

The words were part of the rite, the tradition, but to hear them in her voice seemed to transcend the ceremony itself.  Fors felt overwhelmed with joy.

 

Jarl's was speaking again, but his voice was somehow different.  No longer the voice of the Eyrie Guardian, it was the voice of a loving father.

 

"Fors and Wenna, today you have committed to each other, joining your hearts and your lives together in love and devotion."  The Guardian's hand suddenly lay upon theirs.  "I, Jarl of the Bear Clan; the Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie from the Mountains that Smoke do today seal this marriage by the power and authority of my office."  He paused, then unexpectedly, "I wish for you both a lifetime of happiness."  A pause, then...

 

"Fors, Wenna; you may seal your love with your first kiss."

 

Carefully, Fors lifted the veil. And taking her face gently in his hands, they kissed.  The rest of the world vanished from their conscious thoughts, until they heard Jarl quietly clear his throat.  They turned and faced the tribe.  Jarl raised his hands above the couple and proclaimed,

 

"People of the Eyrie!  With honor and joy, I present to you Fors and Wenna!  Let us celebrate!"

 

With that, the room erupted.  To cheers and applause, Fors, Wenna and Kreston walked back down the center aisle under a canopy of the Star Mans’ swords.  Fors did not intend for it to happen, but his eyes found Marlek, who seemed withdrawn.  He was not looking at the new husband and wife.

 

He was looking at the crowd.

 

The celebration lasted for several hours.  It seemed that every member of the Eyrie wanted to express their best wishes.  Fors, a perpetual loner, was at first overwhelmed by the crowds and attention.  Gifts were mostly simple and practical, intended to help the new couple establish themselves in their home.  Jarl moved among the celebrants, seemingly at ease and enjoying the general good cheer.  It was rare that the entire tribe gathered at one time and place.  The only other time that the tribe gathered as one was during the Great Council Fire on the Night of Choosing.  However, that occasion was solemn and serious, the air thick with ceremony and tradition.  This day was filled with joy, a joy shared by the entire tribe. 

 

As the early dusk approached, the party finally began to break up, people leaving for their homes.  Finally, the last of the celebrants departed, leaving the Great Hall suddenly silent.  Kreston had already left to spend the next two nights with Morden and his family.  The new couple thanked the staff who had worked so hard on the reception.  Then they both donned their winter cloaks and started down the Main Path, Nira following silently. 

 

The sun had ducked beneath the horizon, although the western sky still showed the echoes of its light.  The air was still and very cold, but to Fors, his arm securely around his new wife, the frigid air lay beyond his cares.  They walked slowly, saying little.  At one point, Wenna sighed contentedly, her breath creating a bubble of fog.  Fors tightened his embrace, glancing down.  She looked up, gazing at him.  Her face, despite the dim light was radiant.  Fors slowed to a stop and turned to face her.

 

"I never dreamed that I could feel so happy."

 

Her hand, soft and warm, caressed his face.  "It is a joy we both share, my husband."

 

Her arms went around his neck and they embrace, holding each other and the moment.  After a few minutes, she murmured, "Fors, it is cold."  She raised her face again.  "I want to be warm...with you."

 

A few minutes later, they arrived at her...their front door, Fors reminded himself.  They entered and closed the heavy door behind them.  A fire was already burning in the fireplace and the lamps were lit but turned down low.  Nira retired to his now-familiar spot before the fireplace.  The new husband and wife removed their wraps, which Fors hung on the hooks beside the door. 

 

When he turned back, Wenna was standing before the fireplace, her face wearing a different look, one of yearning.  In the flickering light, she was transformed into a vision of loveliness that stirred his blood.  He removed his boots and moved towards her.  Their lips met, tenderly, softly.  Their clothing seemed to melt away and when their skin touched, it ignited a fire within them both.

 

Outside, as the rest of the Eyrie slept, the silver moonlight gently touched a house filled with unutterable joy.

 

 

 

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.