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 14

 

The little procession created quite a stir.  Fors, his bandaged arm still oozing blood, walking with Kreston in front of two novices carrying a litter with the captured Beast Thing.  Ignoring the reactions of his tribesmen, Fors went deliberately to the Hospital.  Upon entering, he saw what could only have been described as controlled chaos.  Lying along corridors and in beds were wounded Defenders, Sentries, and Star Men.  Fors looked around, unsure what to do next.  Suddenly, Wenna appeared, coming out of a treatment room.  Seeing Fors and Kreston, a wave of relief washed over her face, before her professional mien regained control.  She walked swiftly over. 

“You’re wounded.  Her voice could not contain her powerful emotions. 

Taking his arm in her hands, she briefly inspected the battle dressing.  “This is excellent work!  Who did this?”

Fors nodded his head towards Kreston, who was looking at the wounded Beast Thing with curious eyes.  Wenna smiled briefly, then said briskly, “Let’s get you stitched up.”

Fors shook his head, indicating the litter and its burden.  “I can wait.  It is important that you treat my…prisoner.”

Her eyes went wide and her face paled.  “Fors…I cannot…”

He took her chin in his hand and lifted it.  “We spoke.  Through him, it may be possible to negotiate; to end uncounted years of bloodshed.  His trust in us begins with our willingness to help him.”  She hesitated, then Fors played his trump card.

“You are a healer.  Heal this patient.”

Her eyes flashed.  “I do not need to be reminded of my responsibilities!  Fors, I do not know this creature’s anatomy, or how his system would respond to our drugs!  I would be wandering in the dark without light or map.”  She paused.  “I could accidently kill him.”

Fors nodded, his voice softening. “I understand.  Nevertheless, you must at least try.  Our future may depend on it.”

She turned, regarding the Thing.  Fors could sense her thoughts at war with each other.  Suddenly she came to a decision.  She pointed at the two Star Novices.  “Bring him.”

She led them to a room at the end of the hallway.  The litter was lifted onto a wooden platform.  The Novices began to strap the Thing down, but were halted by a harsh order from Wenna.  She walked to the head of the treatment bed and forced a smile. 

“I am the Healer Wenna.  What is your name?”

The Thing regarded her with suspicion, but responded, “Tarkus.”

“Tarkus, I will do my best to heal you, but I do not know how your body works.  I could end up doing more harm than good.  Do you wish me to proceed?”

The two locked eyes.  There was a wealth of knowledge that seemed to pass between them.  Tarkus asked, his voice incredulous:  “Heal…me?”

Wenna responded firmly, “No promises, except my best efforts.”

Tarkus turned to Fors.  “If my…death you truly…desired, I…would have been left…on the…field.”  Turning back to Wenna, he said, “Proceed.”

Wenna took a deep breath, then began to probe it’s…his…wounds.  Fors dismissed the Novices and took up station just outside the treatment room.  Emotions were running high amongst his tribe, and Fors wanted to make sure that nothing would happen.  He had been waiting there about an hour, occasionally looking inside the room.  Tarkus was lying quiescently as Wenna worked.  Suddenly Fors could hear the sounds of commotion coming from the front of the hospital.  People who had been rushing around were suddenly standing still, at attention.  Around the corner came the unmistakable form of the Eyrie Guardian, himself. 

Approaching Fors, he stopped.  “Kinsman, I understand the Star Captain fell in battle this day.  I offer my condolences to the Star House.”

The reminder of Torin’s death hit Fors hard.  Swallowing hard, he said, “On behalf of the Star House, I thank you.” 

“My time is short, and therefore there is no chance for ceremony.  I am designating you as Star Captain.  The Star Men have been told, and all who survived voiced their complete support.”

Fors’ jaw dropped in surprise.  “Guardian, I –

“You are the senior surviving member of the Star House.  Your peers have chosen you to lead them.  There will be no further discussion.”  Surprisingly Jarl smiled slightly, extending his hand.  “Congratulations, Star Captain Fors.”

Fors returned the grip firmly, meeting the old man’s eyes and seeing his confidence there, felt his own return.  “Thank you, Guardian.  I serve you and the people of the Eyrie in the discovery and preservation of knowledge.”

Jarl nodded.  His head then tilted slightly.  “I understand you brought a visitor with you.”

“And he is ready and eager to talk to you.”  Unseen, Wenna had appeared.  She gestured and the two entered the treatment room.

Tarkus’ wounds had been cleaned and dressed.  His right leg bore a splint, but he seemed to be comfortable.  “I did my best, considering we know nothing about them.  He hasn’t had any drugs, so we’ll have to be diligent in keeping his wounds clean and bandaged.  I took some blood, fluid, and tissue samples for analysis.  I hope that that will provide some information on what antibiotics we can give him.”

Jarl spoke, “Exceedingly well done, Healer.  I’m sure he knows that he owes you his life.  Can you excuse us?”

“I will leave one of my Novices just outside.  If you need me, I can be here in moments.”  With that, she left.

There was a long moment of silence as the two regarded each other.  Tarkus spoke first. 

“Who are you?”

“I am Jarl, Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie.”

“I am Tarkus, General of the Southern Army.”  He gestured minutely.  “This treatment I did not expect.  Do you intend to interrogate me?”

Jarl smiled, ever so slightly.  “No.  But you understand that I do have some questions for you to answer.”

Tarkus nodded in assent, although his eyes remained wary.

“Why did you attack us?”

“For years your people have invaded our cities without permission.  You walk our streets, taking things away.  Many of my forebears have died defending our territory from you.  And yet you still come.”

Jarl’s voice remained level, his tone reasonable.  “Our people are seekers of knowledge, Tarkus.  We try to understand how the Old Ones could have risen to such heights and then destroyed each other.  In those ruins lies also technology and information that will help us regain what we once were.  I tell you, Tarkus; in the many years of my life, this tribe has added not one acre to the land we call our own.”

Tarkus’ voice rumbled ominously.  “And yet you come to our homes, treating them like the territory is yours alone.  You steal from us.”  He paused.  “And you kill us.”

Fors listened, amazed.  With each passing moment, Tarkus was becoming more fluent in the Mountaineers’ language. 

Jarl leaned forward slightly.  “One cannot negotiate with a drawn sword, or in your case, a flung dart.”  Our explorers are sworn to never show blade nor bow unless attacked.  It has been our primary law these many years.”  The Guardian leaned back, his face grim.  “You are angry; doubtless do you feel the desire for vengeance in your heart.  Your comrades and friends lie dead upon the field of a battle you have clearly lost.  For decades, this hate and bitterness has been a cloud between our two peoples.  Perhaps that cloud has kept us from seeing each other clearly.”  Jarl thought for a moment.

“Tarkus, when you are fully healed, you will be free to return to your people.  I hope you will share with them the truth of how you were treated.”

Tarkus was clearly taken aback.  “You surprise me, Human.  Surely you know what fate awaited any one of you who lay in our hands.” The Beast Thing thought for a moment.

“Perhaps…perhaps it is not too late to try to wash away the bitterness between us.”

Jarl nodded.  “It is never too late for peace.”

Surprisingly, Tarkus heaved a sigh.  “This road we choose, you and I; it will be long and difficult.”  His eyes came up and met Jarl’s.  “But it seems to be the right road for the journey we must make…together.”

Unexpectedly, the spindly, yet powerful arm came up, the clawed fingers extended.  Without hesitation, Jarl extended his own hand, clasping the proffered hand.  Solemnly, the two shook hands.  Tarkus spoke,

“Our people are called “Hamassa.”  I think it is a far more agreeable term than “Beast Thing,” don’t you?”

Jarl smiled, an expression of genuine warmth.  “Indeed.  I must go.  Heal quickly.”

Tarkus hesitated a bare moment, “Thank you…my friend.”

Jarl nodded.  “You are welcome, my friend.”

The two left the room, Fors’ head swimming in amazement.  Jarl murmured, “History has been made here today.”  Raising his hand, he summoned two Defenders, who came with alacrity.  In his sternest voice, he said, “His name is General Tarkus.  His people are called Hamassa.  Him you will defend as you would me.” 

The two responded with startled looks, but quickly replied, “It will be as you wish, Guardian.”

As they made their way out of the hospital, Jarl said, “Star Captain, return to the Star House and see to your duties there.”  He turned briefly to Fors.  “I apologize for the lack of celebration.  I promise we will honor you when the time is more propitious.” 

Fors replied, “That I have your confidence is honor enough, Guardian.”

With a nod, the two parted.

Fors, seeing Wenna busy with another patient, caught her eye, waved farewell and left the hospital.  As he strode steadily up the Main Path towards the Star House, he tried to settle his swirling head.  It was almost too much to take in at once.  A battle won, an historic meeting of the minds, and his ascension to the leadership of the Star House.  Thus preoccupied, it was almost too soon that he found himself at the doorway.  With just a moment’s hesitation, he pushed the door open and stepped in. 

“STAND!”

With that word, the surviving Star Men and novices rose to attention and saluted Fors.  He returned the honor, grimly noting that this group was noticeably smaller than it had been this morning.  Marshalling his thoughts, he spoke to them.

“Star Men of the Tribe of the Eyrie, today we have seen a great battle, and an even greater victory.  But as in all battles, we have seen our brothers fall.  We mourn them all, especially Star Captain Torin.  Know that this sacrifice was not made in vain.  The Eyrie, threatened as it was, has been saved.”

He paused, then continued.  “Star Men have always been explorers first, and warriors only when that choice was forced upon us.  Yet, today you fought with great courage and skill.  Your valor and sacrifice has saved the lives of our tribesmen, and preserved the legacy of our people.”

He moved to the head of the long table, his head down, deep in thought.  “We captured the leader, and he has spoken with Jarl.”  At that, several Star Men exchanged looks.  “It would seem, based on that conversation, that the first step towards peace between us has been taken.  Those who we have always known as Beast Things call themselves Hamassa.  Our explorations of the dead cities they have seen as invasion and pillage.  What we have seen as cruel violence they see as defense of their homeland.  What the future may bring I do not know.  But clearly on this day we possess new knowledge.”

He paused again, then continued.  “We have lost several of this house, including our Star Captain.  We will honor them in the full tradition of the Star House.  And their memory we will carry with us always.”  Fors looked slowly around the room, carefully studying each face before him.  His voice softened.  “Let us prepare our fallen brothers.”

 

 

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 "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.