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 19

 

 Two days later, Fors and Jarl rode easily towards the approaching foothills. They were accompanied by Arskane, who would take custody of their horses when they reached the mountains. They spoke little, still awed by the great thing that had been done. When Fors looked at his Guardian, he saw that a great burden had been lifted. Jarl’s eyes were clear, and his face relaxed, even smiling from time to time. Eventually they reached the point from where the horses could go no further. They dismounted and donned their packs. In Fors’ Star Pouch was the Eyrie’s copy of the historic treaty. Before they parted, Arskane approached Jarl and offered his hand. “Guardian, you have done a great thing, one that will enshrine your memory among the tribes for many years.” He paused, looking at Jarl with obvious concern. “I fear that this may be our last farewell.”

Jarl took the proffered hand. “Your perception does you credit, High Chieftain. If we do meet again, I do not think it will be in this life.”

Arskane nodded gravely. “I do not know who will succeed you, but rest assured whoever that may be, he will have our trust and friendship.”

Jarl looked meaningfully at Fors. “If all goes well, you already have his.”

With knowledge dawning across Arskane’s countenance, the two mountaineers made their farewells and headed up the steep trail.

It was a difficult climb for Jarl, although he continually shrugged off Fors’ attempts to assist. “It is my last journey, and I will complete it fully.”

Finally, as the sun settled into dusk, the two crossed the North Ridge and entered the Main Circle. As weary and weak as he obviously was, Jarl nonetheless dispatched messengers to the Council members, ordering them to gather immediately.

The two travelers went immediately to the Council Chambers. Chera met them there and tenderly took her husband to his office. In moments, Fors found himself in Wenna’s arms. She had come running from the House of Healers when informed of their return. With difficulty, he separated himself slightly. Looking into her eyes, he said seriously, “You must see to Jarl immediately. He is not well.”

She drew in a sharp breath, then nodded and left. Fors went to the table and took his place in the seat of the Star Captain and waited.

“I understand we have been summoned to witness historic news.” Fors looked up into the face of Marlek, and immediately put himself on guard.

“The Guardian has ordered this assembly. The unusual timing would lead anyone to such an assumption.”

Marlek settled slowly into the seat next to Fors. “I have heard other things; that perhaps our beloved Guardian is gravely ill.” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What do you know, Star Captain?”

“ALL RISE!”

Fors returned a hard look. “Whatever I know, you will soon know also. Take your seat, Counselor.”

Marlek rose, gave Fors a look that laid bare the ambition of his soul.

Everyone in the room stood as Jarl walked in and took his seat. “Kinsmen, thank you for assembling so quickly. This is an unusual meeting, but the circumstances as they have unfolded make this session necessary.

“Three days ago, an historic accord was negotiated and signed ending the long war between the remaining tribes of humans and those we now know as Hamassa.” An audible gasp sounded throughout the large room. “No longer will anyone walk the lowlands in fear. And wherever we roam, we will find peace and friendship. As part of the agreement, we humans have been granted permission to continue our explorations of the cities. Now, we will be accompanied by Hamassa guides who will lead us to places we have never known to exist. The potential benefit to us all is beyond counting. Fors?”

The Star Captain rose from his seat and walked up to Jarl, removing from his Star Pouch the Peace Treaty. Jarl then stood, holding the document before them. “People of the Tribe of the Eyrie, we now have peace!”

The room erupted in cheers. Jarl allowed the celebration to go on for a little time, before calling once again for silence.

I have another announcement to present to you. I recognize the First Lady of the Tribe of the Eyrie, my beloved wife, Chera.”

Fors could see in her eyes a fear and sadness. But her strength and grace brought her upright before the council. “Council members of the Tribe of the Eyrie. I hold before you the traditional Document of Succession, which has been written and sealed in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Tribe. To Whit:

“I, Jarl of the Bear Clan, Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie, do hereby this day name my recommendation to succeed me as Guardian of the Tribe. This selection has been made after many weeks of careful thought and consideration, in regard first and foremost, for the welfare of the Eyrie. He is a man of proven courage, of inestimable wisdom, and the highest degree of honesty and integrity. The journey of his life in this Tribe makes him, in my estimation, uniquely and solely qualified to lead. Therefore with the authority granted me by the office of Guardian, and in full compliance with our laws and customs, I hereby designate Star Captain Fors of the Hawk Clan as my chosen successor. It is my hope and desire that you will accept him as Guardian, and will pledge yourselves to support him and follow his leadership as you have done for me.”

The room went dead silent. Jarl rose, unsteadily. “People of the Tribe of the Eyrie, my health has been in decline for some time now. I have arrived at the point where I soon will no longer be able to discharge the heavy duties required of this office. I have been told by the Chief Healer that…” He turned and looked towards Chera, who was now openly struggling with her emotions. “…that I will not be with you for very much longer. The trail of my life is coming to an end. Time is therefore short, and it is my desire that the matter of Tribal leadership be resolved quickly.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve you these many years of my life, first as a Star Man, then Star Captain, then as your Guardian. I thank you for your affection, your respect, and your willingness to accept my leadership.” He paused, looking down momentarily. “In accordance with the dictates of Law of Succession, I now will excuse myself from these proceedings so the issue of leadership can be addressed and discussed.” He looked around the room, his eyes radiating an uncharacteristic sadness. “I bid you farewell.” He turned, and with Chera on his arm, left the Council Chamber.

In the shocked silence, Fors could feel the eyes of everyone in the room turning towards him. He vowed silently to maintain his composure. What the tribe needed to see from him was strength.

Sofal, the Chief Justice, now took center stage to serve as leader, pro tem. “In accordance with law and tradition, the question of leadership succession is now laid before you. Who desires to speak?”

To Fors relief, one by one, the Clan Chiefs and the members of the Council voiced their support of Fors, and did honors to Jarl’s legacy. His relief was not born of his desire for office, but rather that the transition would be made with peaceful dignity. Then, it was Marlek’s turn to speak.

“Kinsmen, I rise to honor Jarl for the inestimable leadership he has given to us. His vision has led the Eyrie to a new awakening, and a new beginning. And it was through his efforts and his heartfelt desire that we apparently now are at peace for the first time in human memory.” He paused, then continued.

“It is with great respect for our laws and traditions, that I must voice my disagreement with the recommended successor. Fors is a man of great courage, honor, and vision. But his path has followed that of Jarl, and I believe the question must be asked if we truly believe that another Star Man, another Star Captain is the only one qualified to be Guardian. Fors’ duties as a Star Man have kept him absent from our Stronghold for much of the past twenty years. Only recently has he involved himself in learning what must be done to ensure our survival. Indeed, his time as Star Captain has been relatively short, and much of that time he has spent assisting Jarl in bringing this new peace to fruition. I submit that even with all we admire in Fors, he vastly lacks any of the experience or training necessary to function in the role as Guardian. Personally, I have only the greatest admiration and respect for our Star Captain. But a tribe cannot be led with admiration and respect alone. It is my opinion that there are others in this body who have been here, day in and day out, managing the affairs of our tribe. I think it only prudent that we look in another direction for our leader.”

Marlek’s voice had been smooth, unctuous, and even reasonable in tone. But his remarks created a rumble of discontent in the room. Sofal pounded his gavel and the noise subsided. “Are there others who wish to speak?”

Tauge, the Master of the Storehouse rose next. “Marlek speaks well, and while I also number myself among Fors’ admirers, I cannot help but think there is merit to what has been said.”

Darvid, the tall and strong Commander of the Sentries and Defenders rose. “Yes, Marlek speaks well. But what concerns me is what Marlek had not said. His ambition is no secret to any who have sat around this table. I am of the opinion that the direction Marlek speaks of is merely the direction of his own desires. I know Fors; I know Jarl, and I know the Guardian would not make such a recommendation without due regard for all the factors involved. To deny this choice is not only against tribal precedent, it also carries with it a sense of danger for this tribe.”

Marlek rose again. “Commander Darvid, I take exception to your charges! The only desire in my heart is the safety and survival of the Tribe of the Eyrie.”

Darvid growled, “So you say.”

The discussion went on for some time, the passions of those assembled swaying back and forth. The hour grew later, and still there was no end in sight. Then suddenly, Wenna came up to the Main Table and whispered to Sofal. Fors could see his face fall in sadness. He then rapped for attention, silencing the room.

“It is with great sadness that I must present to you sad news. “Jarl, our beloved and respected Guardian, has embarked on his last trail. He has passed from this life.”

The room fell into silence, broken only by muffled sobs. The Chief Justice, whom Fors knew to be close to Jarl, cleared his throat, and stated, “The time has come for a decision to be made. I now call for the vote of the council to approve or disapprove Fors of the Hawk Clan as Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie.” He looked around the room for a moment, and then said, “All those Council members who approve of the recommendation contained in the Document of Succession, please rise.”

Slowly, they began to rise. It took several minutes, during which everyone else in the room held their breath. By law, the vote for Guardian had to be unanimous. Finally all were standing except Tauge and Marlek. Tauge’s fists clenched and unclenched as he struggled in his mind. Then, he turned and looked at Marlek for a long moment, then he slowly shook his head. Slowly and with great dignity, Tauge stood. After hesitation, and with a shake of his head, Marlek joined him.

There was another long moment. Then Sofal, the relief clearly evident in his voice, said, “The vote is complete and unanimous. Star Captain Fors!”

Fors rose and faced the Chief Justice. “In accordance with the Law of Succession, by the unanimity of the Tribal Council, and with the authority granted me, I hereby convey upon you the office of Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie. May you be guided by wisdom and compassion, and may you find within you the strength necessary to do what must be done. The tribe has spoken.” He gestured with his hand. “Guardian, take your place as the leader of this Tribe.”

Fors left his seat and walked towards the Main Table, as in a dream. He stood beside the Guardian’s seat and waited as Chera came forward with the simple headband that symbolized the leadership of the twelve clans. Fors knelt as she carefully placed it over his silver hair. She then turned and gestured. Wenna came forward and stood beside her husband. Chera removed the ceremonial blue cape from her shoulders, and placed it on Wenna. She then leaned forward and began whispering in Wenna’s ear. When she finished, she smiled, if sadly, and the two women embraced. Chera then turned to the assembled multitude and announced, “People of the Tribe of the Eyrie! I present to you Fors and Wenna: Guardian and First Lady!”

The room that had for so many hours echoed in acrimony, now erupted in cheers. A man who had once been a mutant outcast, now stood at the completion of an improbable journey. Fors, a Star Man’s son, took his place as Guardian of the Tribe of the Eyrie.

 

 

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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.