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 17

 

To Fors, it felt like the longest winter in his memory. The weather was no different, days of storm and heavy snow interspersed with brief periods of bright, even painful sunlight and bitter cold. What had changed was his immediate future. In accordance with Jarl’s decision, he had made his last trip into the lowlands. Come spring, instead of the excitement of planning and the immense satisfaction of exploration would no longer be his. As Star Captain, he would instead be parceling out such tasks to the Star Man under his command. He had always admired and respected his Star Captains, but had never for one moment felt the desire to become one. There was no question in his mind about the magnitude of the great honor to which he had been accorded. But Fors still had the sense that the walls were closing in on him, forever.

His own discomfiture did not take away his growing pride in his son. Kreston was growing in skill and knowledge, demonstrating great intelligence and careful judgement. He also exercised a natural gift of leadership over the other Star Novices. For one so young, he showed a great deal of dignity. If ever there was a boy born to wear the Star, Kreston was it.

Wenna continued to work carefully on the recovered medicines, and said she was close to being able to produce drugs of her own that would go far towards fighting infections. Without many patients to treat, Fors could see the excitement in her eyes and hear it in her voice. She had found a whole new path to fulfillment.

The Tribal Council sessions, which Fors now attended regularly, droned on throughout the winter. Issues presented were minor, and dealt with quickly. All along, Fors watched Jarl carefully, aware of the dangerous secret he carried. Clearly, he was waiting for the right moment to reveal the news about the pending negotiations with the Hamassa. But their relationship had changed. For most of his life, Fors had always been subordinate to Jarl’s leadership. But throughout the winter, Jarl invited Fors to his office and home regularly. In those visits, Jarl shared even more of the mountain of tasks and responsibilities of Guardian. During those long months, Fors sensed that they had become teacher and student. Still, Fors felt the Guardian’s tension, saw it expressed in his eyes and in the increasing wrinkles in his face.

It wasn’t until spring had fully returned and the Night of Choosing was upon them that the long awaited storm that Fors had feared finally broke.

It was a warm and somewhat humid evening, with scattered clouds scudding across the nearly full moon when the steady drum beats called the members of the tribe to the Ring of Ceremony. It was, as had always been, a night of great ceremony. Fors now stood at the head of the ranks of Star Men, while Kreston gathered with his fellow Star Novices nearby. Fors could not help but smile slightly when he saw that his son, in a move that was completely natural, took his place at the head of the ranks of Novices. He had grown much in the previous year, and it was clearly evident that he was no longer a boy, but was becoming a young man.

It was at the end of the ceremony when Jarl took center stage for what was expected to be his traditional closing remarks. In the flickering light from the dying bonfire, Fors could now clearly see how aged the Guardian had become. His walk, once so firm and confident, had become almost a shuffle. His movements were slower, more careful. And the firm, strong voice had become the slightly reedy sound of senescence. Suddenly Fors realized that perhaps the long road that had been Jarl’s life might be coming to an end.

Jarl stood for a moment, head bowed. Then he raised his eyes to the collected multitude and began to speak.

“Kinsmen, in the past months a new opportunity has presented itself, one that will result in drastic change for the Eyrie’s future. Last fall, Fors, accompanied by General Tarkus, went to the leadership of the Hamassa for the purposes of changing the violent nature of the relationship between them and all humanity. In those councils, it was decided that the Hamassa Chieftain, Nakkir, would meet with myself and the chieftains of the Southerners and the Plainsmen. It is hoped that these meetings will eventually bring peace to the lowlands, and an end to what I hope is mankind’s last war on this planet.”

Fors had never before heard the sound of thousands of simultaneous gasps. In a different setting, he might have found it humorous. The sound was followed by another, the muted thunder of mutterings throughout the crowd. Jarl held up his hands and the noise subsided.

“I wish to first of all, honor Star Captain Fors for his courage in accepting his mission. As a Star Man, he had lain in their bonds before, and knew intimately the violence with which such prisoners were treated. Indeed, it was such mistreatment that earned them the name we used to use, “Beast Things.” I will tell you that Fors was once again imprisoned, and I will tell you that he was once again beaten, along with his Southern brother Arskane. But through his courage, perseverance, and his unwavering commitment to the vision of peace, that he was able to achieve this historic breakthrough.

“Of all the diverse natures of interactions, nothing is more difficult to achieve and to maintain than trust. But events which transpired after the great battle fought on our sacred stronghold opened a door through which a ray of light has passed. This light, the light of peace, is one that I, as Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie have decided has too much promise to ignore. That door will remain ajar, with hope that eventually the door, and the entire wall of suspicion, anger, and hate can be taken down.

“This is a shock to many of you. Too many of our tribal members have met violent death at their hands, and I know that for some, emotions will run high. But if these negotiations bear fruit, and this last war can finally be ended, that we will be one stop closer to the goal of all sharing this world in peace.

“We began as people who looked to the stars; to the future. I ask you to remember that heritage as you consider what I have brought to you this night. Thank you.”

Jarl stepped back to his place at the center of the assembled Elders. The ensuing silence, as the thousands stood in shock and surprise, was eventually broken as the Master drummer belatedly signaled his charges to once again begin their steady slow beat.

Fors looked long and hard at the faces of the people as they slowly filed out of the Ring of Ceremony. They seemed to be an even mixture of hope, shock, dismay, and a few showing outright anger. He turned suddenly to address the Star Men. “I know the hour is late, but I ask that you assemble in the Star House as soon as possible.” The men nodded and broke ranks.

Fors looked over towards the Novices to find Kreston looking at him. In the dying light, he could see conflicting emotions on his face. At that moment, Fors remembered that Kreston’s first father, Stephen, had been killed by the Hamassa. He saw Kreston turn suddenly and walk away. He felt a warm touch on his arm and he turned to see Wenna. Her face was sober as well.

“You knew?’

Fors nodded. “Yes. The Guardian swore me to secrecy.”

She looked at him for a long moment. “I fear a storm is about to break. I am worried for you.”

Fors’ face turned grim. “Growing is never easy, even painful. Jarl felt that as a tribe, the time has come for us to grow beyond the prejudice of the past.”

Her eyes flashed, “But this is not merely prejudice. These are people who have suffered great personal loss. I do not know if that is something we can grow out of.”

He turned to face her, taking her hands in his. “Nevertheless, we must make the effort. Elsewise the killing will continue; the losses will continue to be suffered.” He paused. “I have called a Star Council.”

She nodded. “After you walk me home.”

As he approached the doors to the Star House, Fors was dealing with his anxiety. Star Men were, by nature, men of vision. But they were also those who had mourned the death of their brothers at the hands of those with whom now they were expected to make peace. He did not know what lie in wait behind those doors.

He entered and went to the main room. They were all standing as he entered and took his place at the head of the table, and bade them to be seated.

“The hour is late, and I will not waste time with unnecessary words. I want you to speak freely. What you say will not go beyond this room, but I need to know where your opinions lie on this matter. Of all of the tribe, we are the ones who have most often met the Hamassa in battle. We are the ones who have mourned the deaths of our brothers. And we are the ones who accept those risks whenever we leave the stronghold for the lowlands. But we are also the ones who understand fully what the coming of peace between us and the Hamassa will mean.” He paused and gestured with his hand. “Please, speak.”

There was a short silence as the assembled explorers considered their responses. The first to speak was Kellet, a veteran of the Star House, from the Orion Clan.

“We have fought them. We have mourned the deaths of our brothers at their hands. For those reasons, I am….reluctant.” He paused, frowning. “However, there are also good reasons to accept and support the Guardian’s initiative.” He ticked off his points with his fingers.

“First, if this brings peace to the lowlands, it vastly reduces the hazards of exploration. Secondly, if out of this we can achieve an agreement for us to continue our search of the dead cities, we can continue to fulfill our primary mission without having to constantly look over our shoulders. Perhaps the Hamassa could be guides for us, since they know those ruins best. Thirdly, we are bound by oath and practice to support the Guardian. Beyond that is the moral imperative attached to the fact that Jarl is one of us; a brother Star Man. Lastly, Jarl is the Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie. He possesses wisdom far beyond any of us, or any others of this tribe. It is why he is our Guardian.” His eyes met Fors. “I will not speak for others, but I will support Jarl.”

Kellet’s ringing words were followed by a general rumble of agreement. As Fors looked down the long table, he was filled with pride. Only exceptional men earned the Star, which made them worthy of respect. But Fors felt an even deeper sense of awe at their willingness to respond with wisdom to this wholly unique situation. He looked at them all. “Are there others who wish to speak?”

Meniston of the Bear Clan said, “Kellet has spoken my thoughts. In my view, there is nothing more to be said, except that you have once again lain in their bonds, and suffered at their hands. That you are still committed to this Peace with the Hamassa is even a stronger reason for our support.” He rose and stood at attention. “I am a Star Man. You are my Captain. I stand with you.”

At that, all of the Star Men rose and stood together, strong and united. Fors rose as well and said, “I am honored and humbled to lead such men as you.”

Kellet responded for them all. “The honor is ours.”

 

 

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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.