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 18

 

The day was warm, though not disagreeably so. In the preceding weeks, messengers had gone forth to the human tribes and to the Hamassa, inviting all to join in council. The replies had been received, the date and time set. Fors, along with Jarl, stood in an open field among rolling hills. Holtan, the recently raised High Chief of the Plains Tribes was present. There was little conversation. All that had to be said had been spoken in council. Now, they stood waiting. Fors watched Jarl carefully. The journey out of the mountains had been difficult for the Eyrie Guardian. Although he had tried to conceal his condition, it was apparent to Fors that Jarl was not well. It was clearly the strength of his formidable will that got him to this place of his last and greatest victory.

It was almost time for the Hamassa representatives to arrive. But Fors was concerned that the leader of the Southerners was still absent. Colinos, the High Chieftain, also had not been well at their last council meeting the previous morning.

A familiar presence arrived beside Fors. Without turning, he said, “Brother! I am glad you have come. When will the High Chieftain arrive?”

Arskane waited, then in a grim voice, said, “The High Chieftain is here.”

Fors turned and stepped back in surprise. His friend was now clad in the bright red robe and headdress of office. “Colinos departed us yesterday evening. I have reluctantly accepted the honor conveyed to me by the will of the Clan leaders to become High Chieftain of my tribe.”

Fors gripped his friend’s shoulder. “I mourn with your people. Colinos was a great leader. But your people have raised another great man to lead them forward.”

Arskane nodded. “I am grateful. In all honesty, however, I must tell you that this cape feels as heavy as a horse.”

Jarl said, “That is what leadership feels like, at least at first. I, too mourn the passing of Colinos. But also do I salute the wisdom of your tribe in the selection of his successor.”

Arskane nodded respectfully. “I am grateful, Guardian.”

Suddenly a voice rang out. “The Hamassa approach!”

All turned their attention to the north. Across the crest of a low hill, a line of grey had appeared. In other times, other places, such a sighting would have been followed by the sounding of alarms and the uglier sound of weapons being drawn. Now, however, the line of grey was met by leaders, not warriors. In fact, as Fors looked around, there was not one single soldier in view.

As the Hamassa came closer, Fors could hear the steady sound of feet swishing through the tall grass. Suddenly, a guttural order was given and fully two thirds of their number turned and marched back the way they had come. Those remaining continued to march until they halted at the prescribed distance of three spears. After a few moments of silence, broken only by the sound of the wind through the tall grass, the one Fors recognized as Veterik stepped forward.

“We have come to discuss peace. I have been empowered by Chieftain Nakkir and the Hamassa Ruling Council to negotiate and approve any agreement arising out of our negotiations.”

Jarl stepped forward. “We are honored by your presence and we express our gratitude that you have completed your journey safely. We, too, are here to discuss peace. For too many decades, our two peoples have fought one another. Countless lives have been lost, and for what purpose? The Old Ones fought themselves almost to extinction. We stand here the descendants of those who made those terrible decisions. It is up to us today to decide if we are truly wiser than our forebears.”

Veterik seemed to nod. “You have spoken good words, promising words. Let us sit in council together and see what miracles may be realized.”

Jarl and Veterik walked to the point midway between the two lines. Jarl extended his hand, and after a moment’s hesitation, Veterik grasped it in a firm handshake. The first step on the road to peace had been made.

They met in a large tent, and for three days they talked. Over that time, the Hamassa seemed to understand the need for the humans to explore; the desire to understand the mistakes of the past. For their part, the humans, led by Jarl, learned what it was like to have a homeland continually raided and robbed. And both sides experienced again the pain of loss that, in retrospect, seemed so unnecessary.

In between the sessions, the participants made the effort to get to know each other better. Fors and Arskane were relating the tale of how they had lain in the Hamassa bonds in the blowup lands when one of the Hamassa spoke up. “That was my father who spoke with you.” And thus, another connection had been made.

By the end of the third day, all the outstanding issues had been settled. They had begun work crafting the document which would finally bring peace. Runners from both groups had been dispatched to announce the coming end of hostilities to all, human and Hamassa. The sun had gone for the day, and the silvery light of a three-quarters moon gently bathed the land. Fors and Jarl were in their tent. The Guardian had retired, exhausted by the hard work of the previous three days, leaving Fors alone with his thoughts. While he had spent much of his life in pursuit of history, now he and the others were in the odd position of making history. He thought about how much had changed. When the Hamassa were known as the Beast Things, he never considered them as individuals. He had thought of them as a barely disciplined mob of violent primitives. But as the days had unwound, he had come to know them as individuals, as unique among each other as any of the humans he had known. Their relationship had been cordial, and there were the beginning of some real friendships. His gaze drifted through the tent opening, and towards the star-filled sky above. Perhaps, he mused, they would finally reach the stars, not as just the Eyrie, or humanity, but all who inhabited this once-broken planet. They all stood on the precipice of the greatest day since the Old One’s war.

“Fors.”

He turned at the sound of Jarl’s voice, surprised at how reedy and weak it sounded. “Yes, Guardian.”

“Kinsman, I feel I am coming to the end of my last trail. I am weak, have been for some time. It will be necessary for me to step down as Guardian upon our return to the Eyrie.”

Fors did not dispute Jarl’s statement. He had seen the Guardian’s physical decline, and had grimly come to that same conclusion himself. “You have served our tribe with wisdom and strength. You are truly a great leader, one who will be missed terribly.”

Jarl acknowledged Fors’ words with a nod. “I have one last task for you, Kinsman.”

“I am ready to serve.”

“It is traditional for the Guardian to recommend the next one who will lead. When Horsford was killed, he had not made any such recommendation, and there was a certain amount of…chaos after his death. I will not be a party to any such disarray. Before we left, I drafted the succession document and placed it in the care of my beloved wife, as is the custom. It will be my final wish that the recommendation made in that document will be accepted by the Council, and by the people of the Eyrie.”

Fors nodded. “Guardian, you have always, and will always have my full support. I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that document’s acceptance.”

Jarl held the Star Captain in an intense gaze. That is good, because my choice will necessitate the task of you recommending the next Star Captain.”

Suddenly Fors realized what Jarl meant. He was struck silent, the words echoing within his head. “You…are recommending me to be your successor? Guardian, surely there are others better qualified and trained for such responsibility.”

Jarls voice gained strength and the old authority that had always been a part of his makeup asserted itself. “We are never ready in our minds for what we must do. Yes, there are others who are qualified to lead, but they are the ones who seek power like a deer seeks water in a drought. They would only see their own authority, and not the needs of the people of the Eyrie. For that reason, they are manifestly unfit to lead.” He sighed. “Fors, when Horsford died, and the choice was laid before me, I realized that what I wanted had become irrelevant. The people of the Eyrie asked me to serve as their leader, and I put aside my doubts and reservations and answered that call. It is what you must do now.”

The Guardian struggled to an upright position. He put his hand on Fors’ shoulder and looked directly into the Star Captain’s eyes. “Fors, you are a man of uncommon wisdom and strength. Your courage is unquestionable, and you have in your heart the most important characteristic of a tribal leader: compassion for those whom you will lead. I trust in your intelligence to learn what you still need to know, and I will point you towards those whom I have come to trust, people who will advise you honestly.”

Fors placed his hand on top of Jarl’s. “I will serve the people of the Eyrie, if they will accept me.”

Jarl smiled softly. “This will truly be an historic moment for our tribe. Once you were known as mutant. Soon you will be called Guardian.” He lay back down. “It is permissible to feel overwhelmed. That only means you are qualified for the job.”

Soon after, Jarl fell asleep. Fors remained awake for many hours.

The next morning, the Peace Treaty was finalized. The document was then executed, with copies made for each of the tribes. In a final ceremony, all the documents were signed by the representatives of the Plainsmen, the Southerners, the Hamassa, and finally, Jarl himself. In the quiet moments afterwards, Jarl spoke.

“In accordance with the agreement ratified and signed this day, I now declare that the war between Hamassa and Human to be ended. Let the peace we have crafted here today stand in testament to the wisdom of all, to the universal desire for peace, and the unification of us all in this one task, that peace will reign, even through the inevitable difficult times ahead. The tribes in the far northwest related a story of one great chief who ended a war with some powerful words. I repeat those words today. From where the sun now stands, We will fight no more forever.”

 

 

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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.