by Ralph F. Couey


Chapter 1

The humid air lay heavy upon the land. The bright sun, sliding towards the horizon through the seemingly interminable mid-afternoon was a fierce white beacon in the hazy summer sky. Animals having sought the shade, the earth lay somnolent, waiting for the cool of evening. Walking with measured stride through a field of wild grain, Fors paced himself, occasionally taking sips from his canteen. Summers in the lowlands were days to be endured and Fors looked forward to the cool air of his mountain home. The good thing, he mused, was that the long days meant he could cover a lot of distance.

A stand of trees at the edge of the field provided a brief respite from the heat of the afternoon. A small stream ran among the trees and Fors decided to take a rest. Examining the water, he saw it ran steady and clear. Tasting it with his fingers, he decided to fill his canteens. As he leaned over to submerge the container, he studied his reflection. His face, beginning to show the lines of age, was weather-beaten and deeply tanned, which emphasized the silvery sheen of his close-cropped hair. His body, also browned by the sun, bore many scars, the remembrances of a life hard-lived. The canteens filled, Fors, after taking a hard look around, removed his heavy boots and with a contented sigh, lowered his feet into the cool water. Leaning back against a tree, Fors emptied his mind and tried to relax. After a few moments, a stray thought of impatience entered his mind, to which he responded with a comforting thought of his own. Shortly afterwards, his hearing, still keen after all these years, detected a familiar careful tread. A plaintive grumbling meow sounded behind him and a moment later the graceful form of the big hunting cat sunk into the grass at Fors’ side.

Nira had become Fors’ companion in the way of his mother. Lura had been Fors’ companion for over 15 years, accompanying him on his journeys across the wide land. They had shared food in front of countless fires, fought against foes, both two and four-legged. They had saved each other’s lives more times that memory could reliably count. But as the years passed, it had been hard for Lura to come to grips with her advancing age, rendering her once-lithe muscles stiff and sore. One day, while Fors labored in the Star House, Lura limped to the doorway, Nira by her side. Together they approached Fors. As they stood in front of the Star Man, Lura gazed intently into Nira’s eyes. After a few moments, Nira walked to Fors’ side and stood as if on watch. Lura’s gaze went to Fors eyes, and like so many times before, he caught a flash of emotion—sadness, and yet satisfaction. Lura then returned to the house they had shared. When Fors and Nira returned hours later, she was deeply asleep. Fors knelt down and gently stroked her still-beautiful coat, to which she responded with a deep purr. Sometime later that night, in the soft glow of mountain starlight, the great cat passed peacefully from life.

Fors was disconsolate. Certainly, he was no stranger to death, but the passing of one so close was painful.

Like Lura, Nira’s coat of cream and chocolate was the clear sign of his Siamese ancestor. He had been trained well and over time helped to fill the void left by Lura’s passing.

Presently, Fors removed his feet from the stream and placed them in a patch of sunlight to dry. Trusting Nira, he closed his eyes and took allowed himself to drift off. After a time, Nira impatiently nudged him awake, anxious to be on their way. Fors rubbed the sleep from his eyes, put on his boots, and with a slight groan and the cracking of stiffened joints, rose to his feet. He stretched briefly, then retrieved the canteens and Star Pouch and resumed his journey. From the angle of the sun, he estimated that about an hour had passed. He wasn’t sure at what point he had needed short naps and the need for them grated on him. You could not stop time; age was inevitable. As one who had spent his life seeking far trails and new horizons, he dreaded the day when the advancing years would no longer permit him to travel. Even now, as he strode steadily and confidently, he tried to ignore the occasional twinges of pain from his knees.

Fors traveled well into the evening, finally stopping when the sun was just disappearing behind the low hills. A bluff rose above another stream and there were places where rock overhangs provided shelter, some deep enough to qualify as small caves. Fors had stopped here many times over the years and as he crossed the stream he felt the comfort of familiar surroundings. He was perhaps half a day’s journey from the Eyrie.

Nira took a quick drink of water from the stream then bounded away to begin her hunt. Stringing his bow, Fors began to explore the areas along the stream. Within a short period of time, his search was rewarded. Several turkeys emerged from some underbrush. Quickly, Fors picked out the largest one and let fly a steel-tipped arrow. His aim was true and in short order he was on his way back. Stopping some distance away, he butchered the bird, leaving the remains where they could be easily found by night-roving carnivores. He jogged back to his campsite, lit a small fire, and roasted the meat. Sometime later, he relaxed in his cave watching the fire die to embers. As he drifted off to sleep, again he was visited by his memories. Nira slept nearby, her senses sharply alert.

The noise of morning birds roused him to wakefulness. He got up, stretching carefully, as his muscles had tightened up during his slumbers. Breakfast was leftover turkey for Fors and two rabbits for Nira. He removed his clothing and plunged into a small pool of water downstream from his cave. Emerging a few minutes later, he shook himself off and dried with his blanket. Shortly afterwards, the two left the quiet glade and struck due south.

By mid-morning, he was already scaling foothills, the mountains visible in the distance. By late morning he had reached the foot of one of the many trails that led directly to the Eyrie. To a stranger, the trails were invisible, but to an experienced traveler like Fors, the way up was as plainly visible as if it had been lined with torches. As he climbed, he began to pass the places he knew were under observation by the outpost sentries. He was careful not to look for them, as they were careful not to reveal their locations. This was for the safety of the Eyrie, in case a returning Star Man had been trailed by an enemy.

The sun had reached its zenith when Fors crested the north ridge, the stony natural fortification that marked the outer boundary of the Eyrie settlement. Picking his way down the winding trail into the small, nearly hidden valley, he began to smell wood smoke and hear the sound of his people. With a smile touching his lips, he emerged from the rocks into a large circular basin, rimmed by small buildings. On the south rim of the circle was the House of Elders. Flanking either side were buildings given over to the multitudinous official tasks of government. Storehouses, holding foodstuffs of various kinds, the House of Healers, and the Sentry and Defenders House completed the loop. But standing alone at the north end was the long, low building that was in many ways the spiritual center of the Eyrie: The Star House. Fors turned in that direction, returning the greetings of others on his way. It was heart-warming, Fors realized, to receive those cheerful greetings. In his youth, before the tribe was led to an awakening by Jarl, a Star Captain, he had been outcast, ignored, and even feared. He shook his head in wonder. How things had changed!

He entered the Star House, pulling aside the heavy wooden door engraved with a star. Closing it behind him, he turned to his right, heading for another door even more ornately decorated. Raising his hand, he knocked. A muffled voice from inside granted him entry. He opened this door and stepped into a small chamber with a roughly made table, the walls lined with symbols and treasures, memorials to decades of exploration and courage. An older man rose from behind the table in greeting. Fors drew himself to attention and repeated the ancient words:

“I, Fors of the Puma Clan; a Star Man of the Eyrie report my return. I have traveled over far lands in peace; showing not my sword or bow, save in defense of my life. Knowledge have I sought; and knowledge have I found; knowledge do I now lay before you.  To the Eyrie have I brought life; for knowledge is the life of the Eyrie.”

Torin, the Star Captain, replied, “To the sanctuary of the Eyrie I salute the return of a Star Man. I stand ready to receive the gift of the knowledge you have carried. The hearts of all the people of the Eyrie rejoice! For you have returned.”

In keeping with tradition, Torin summoned a Star novice, who accepted Fors’ weapons. Star Men, although highly skilled in the arts of combat, were primarily explorers, not warriors, and as a symbol of the commitment to knowledge, surrendered their weapons upon return to the Eyrie. Thus relieved, the two men grasped hands warmly.

Torin wore a look of relief on his sharply featured face. He said, “You have been gone a long time. We were beginning to worry that misfortune had befallen you.”

Fors replied, “It was a ceremony that lasted many days. As it turned out, not only was there a marriage between a Plainsman and a woman from the Southerners, there was also a ceremony where the two clans were merged into one. Before they were merely allies; now, they are brothers.”

Torin nodded. “How has the Southerners settlement grown?”

“There are now seven separate villages along the river valley. There is a lively trade between them and the Plainsmen. Jarl was right. They are well on their way to becoming one nation.” Fors sighed. “It is good to see peace.”

Torin rose and came from behind the rough table and placed a hand on Fors’ shoulder. “They have you to thank, my friend.” The Star Captain gestured toward his door. “Come, it is time for the mid-day meal.”

The two walked to a large common area dominated by a very long, wooden table surrounded by large chairs. It was here that those of the Star House took their meals, met in council, or worked in small groups. At the moment, there were 46 Star Men on roster, most of whom were out on the trails exploring the lowlands. Those who remained were instructors, each assigned to a novice and three others who were recovering from wounds. They all gathered around one end of the massive table as novices set the food was set before them. As they ate, Torin plied Fors with many questions about the events he had witnessed. The others listened closely.

Fors’ position in the Star House was unique. While other wore stars of five points, Fors’ star consisted of many points. He had been set aside by Jarl those many years ago in recognition of his unique talents at diplomacy, “binding together in peace swords that otherwise might be raised in war.” Over the years, the many clans of the Plainsmen and Southerners in the lowlands had learned to trust Fors’ counsel and insight. In the lowlands, he was known as a peace maker and a peace keeper and it was widely recognized that it was through his efforts that humanity had a real chance at unity after generations of conflict.

Yet, despite his talents, Fors was still an explorer at heart, more at home on the trails than within the Eyrie. He had grown up a loner and remained one; living a life somewhat detached from the others. Yet, he was honored by the tribe and deeply respected in the Star House. He was free to roam and explore within the bounds of his duties. After a difficult beginning, it had been a deeply satisfying life.

Later, after the meal had been cleared away and the group had scattered to their diverse responsibilities, Fors labored at his report. Referring frequently to the notes and entries in his Journal, he painstakingly recorded the details of his journey. He also updated the maps held by the Star House, carefully noting the locations of the new villages along the river valley, as well as additional information gleaned from the Plainsmen, who were now getting information about the lands to the far northwest.

According to the Plainsmen, the people who occupied those lands were divided into tribes. They wore the skins of animals and claimed that the entire continent had been theirs in the far distant past, a history that pre-dated even the Old Ones. They possessed horses in great numbers and were nomadic in nature, much like the Plainsmen. Relations between the two were cordial, a relationship the Plainsmen’s Recorder of Deeds felt had potential. He had suggested to Fors that his unique talents could be of use in this case and had invited the Star Man to accompany them on their next journey. The mission intrigued Fors but gazing at the map he realized that it would be a journey of several months’ duration, since the land controlled by those tribes lay over a thousand miles to the west. It was already mid-summer, and even on horseback such a journey could not possibly be accomplished before the snows fell and closed the trails. Perhaps next spring, Fors mused. A cooperative venture from all three tribes, extending brotherhood and diplomacy would continue the task of re-uniting humanity and rebuilding a nation.

Several hours later, Fors delivered his completed report to Torin, who received the sheaves of paper with enthusiasm. Fors prepared to return to his house but was told by the Star Captain that the Eyrie Guardian himself had asked to be briefed over supper. Although not unheard of, it was unusual for a returning Star Man to break bread with the leader of his tribe. Fors, still wearing travel clothes caked with the dust and sweat of his journey, returned to his house to prepare.

The afternoon was settling into evening as Fors strode through the Eyrie stronghold. Below the Main Circle, the log-and-stone structures that sheltered the people of the Eyrie lined trails that snaked out among the rocks off the main path. Each trail led to circles around which were gathered the 12 clans of the Eyrie. About a half mile from the Main Circle, Fors turned to his right, entering a trail between two massive boulders. Upon each boulder was etched the stylized Puma for which his clan was named. It was the smallest of the 12 clans, to which the number of dwellings along the trail attested. At the far end of the trail, perhaps 75 yards was the isolated house that belonged to Fors. The door stood ajar, having been opened by Nira. Locks were not used by the tribe, since thievery was virtually unknown among the Eyrie. Closing the door, he stood for a few moments in the deepening gloom. He had occasionally been a guest at the homes of other Star Men, as well as gatherings of his Puma Clan and been touched by the light, bustle, and love that had defined the word “home” for them. Although this had been Fors’ house, he had to acknowledge that his real “home” was out on the trails. He was an only child who had never known his mother and whose father had died a violent death when he was still young. The suspicion and fear with which he had been regarded as a youth forced him to learn the hard lessons of self-reliance, enforced by isolation. The man he had become, while alone much of the time, was rarely lonely, satisfied by the companionship of Lura, and now Nira.

The thought of the big hunting cat brought him out of the shadows. Nira walked around Fors, rubbing and nudging his beautiful coat along Fors’ legs. Fors shook himself, gave Nira a brief scratch behind the ears and began to prepare himself. He removed his filthy travel clothes and bathed, drawing water from the storage tank behind the house. In the winter, he kept a constant fire burning under the tank which kept the water from freezing and heated it enough to be comfortable. He dried himself and donned fresh clothing. Soon after, he left and returned to the Star House. Torin was waiting and the two walked across the compound to the largest home in the Eyrie.

The Eyrie Guardian functioned solely as a political leader instead of a war chieftain. He led with knowledge and wisdom, not with a sword. His home was large, not because of his exalted position, but because his functions as Guardian required the extra room. The Eyrie was rigidly democratic in that respect. Life in the mountains, particularly in winter, was equally hard on all. And since all shared that burden equally, so did they all share in the rewards. The Eyrie did possess a strong group of Defenders led by their Commander, but decades had passed since it had been necessary to call them out to defend the stronghold. In recent years, the Council, recognizing the restiveness of the warriors, had suggested that they accompany the Star Men on their journeys. There was resistance at first, since Star Men were by their very nature strongly independent. But Jarl insisted, pointing out that the now-common roving bands of Beast Things had made solitary travel much more hazardous. Mainly because of Jarl’s force of will, the experiment proved a success. As a result, fewer Star Men died on the trail. And the relationship between the Warriors and the Star Men, which had been tense and uneasy at times, improved dramatically.

The sun had slipped behind Bald Knob, darkening the Eyrie. Looking down the main trail, Fors and Torin could see windows beginning to glow with lamplight. It was a scene of beauty and warmth; it was “home.”

As the two Star Men approached the heavy door of the Guardian’s house, it swung ponderously open and the two were bade entry by the sentry. They were shown into a large room furnished by chairs and benches. The lamps were lit and there was a small fire burning in the fireplace. Fors sniffed appreciatively at the rich smells of a well-prepared meal that filled the room. After weeks on the trail eating fresh-killed game over a campfire, a good home-cooked meal was an event to be treasured.

At the far end of the room, another set of wooden doors opened and the Guardian’s wife, Chera, entered. Very much the lady of this house and the first lady of the Eyrie, she possessed a charm, grace, and dignity that warmed the hearts of all who had visited this house. She was a supremely intelligent and insightful person, a fitting partner to the man who guided the Eyrie.

“Star Captain Torin, welcome to our home.” She smiled warmly and grasped the offered hand. She then turned to Fors. “And welcome home to you Fors.” Following protocol, Fors, possessing no rank, bowed respectfully. “I am honored to enjoy the hospitality of the First Lady of the Eyrie.”

Gesturing towards a member of the house staff, the two Star Men were soon holding goblets filled with the deep red wine made from mountain berries. The three made conversation for a few minutes until the door at the end of the room opened again. On instinct, the conversation ceased and all three rose and turned toward the man who now entered the room. Once again, Fors felt a curious pride. In his travels, he had seen tribal leaders dressed in highly ceremonial garments, usually robes, and adorned with feathers, jewelry, and elaborate headdresses. In contrast, the man walking towards them was plainly dressed. The heavily nailed boots, leather trousers, leather vest covering a cloth jerkin laced to the neck were little different than what was worn by other men of the Eyrie. The sole expression of office was a silver headband upon which was engraved a grouping of stars, each decorated with a vivid gemstone. At his throat was a small chain holding a five-pointed star, a symbol of what he had once been. The two Star Men saluted and Torin spoke, “To the house of the Eyrie Guardian we have come bearing knowledge of far lands.”

Jarl was older now, his hair gone completely white. His muscles, once taut and smooth, had taken on the knotty appearance of age. But despite the advance of years, his eyes glowed sharply with intelligence and his carriage still commanded respect. This was a man born to lead others.

Jarl had been a very highly regarded Star Captain. When Horsford, the previous guardian, was killed suddenly by a lightning strike during a violent storm, the Tribe reached out to Jarl as a leader who had proven his sound vision during his time as a Star Man. Some of the Elders were reluctant to endorse the selection, citing the historic separation of fighters from leaders. But the will of the people prevailed, and Jarl had proven himself a wise and pragmatic leader, taking the Eyrie down a road that had largely ended the tribe’s self-imposed isolation. For almost 20 years, the former Star Captain had occupied the office of Guardian.

Jarl gestured towards the chairs and the three sat down. Chera absented herself, seeing to dinner preparations.

The three talked amiably for a while, catching Fors up on events that had taken place during his absence. Despite the setting, Fors found it difficult to relax. Jarl’s powerful aura of authority and dignity filled the room and Fors unconsciously kept moving to the edge of his chair. His listened closely to the conversation between Jarl and Torin, past and current Star Captains, as they discussed the challenges of leading the elite. He was fascinated as familiar events were retold from the unfamiliar point of view of leaders. Fors felt extremely fortunate to be present. There was wisdom to be learned from such talk.

Chera entered the room and invited them to join her at the table. The three followed her through the narrow archway into a large dining room. The table, large enough to hold the entire Tribal Council, was set only for four. Sitting down, the food was brought forth. On the trail, a typical meal for Fors had been fresh-killed game, gutted, skinned and cooked over an open fire. Along with the meat, came tough gristle and bone. It had been nourishment, little more. Arrayed on the platter before him was a fully cooked and delightfully seasoned pig from the Eyrie’s livestock. Accompanying the meat was an array of vegetables from the bounty of the cave-sheltered hydroponic farms. There was even a small bowl of fresh greens, something Chera referred to as a “salad.” Fors found it necessary to pull up all his discipline while eating, remembering where he was and who he was with. So deep was he in the appreciation of the food that he failed utterly to notice when the other conversation died. Suddenly becoming aware of the silence, Fors looked up, startled. The other three were watching him. Jarl, predictably, was expressionless, but both Torin and Chera were wearing expressions of barely repressed mirth. Torin spoke, “Long trail, Fors?”

Fors blushed and put his fork and knife down, unsure what to say. Having spent most of his life on the trails, his table manners were way past rusty. Saving the moment, Chera leaned over and placing her hand gently on his arm smiled and said, “It honors me to see you enjoy this meal.”

Torin laughed and even Jarl cracked a small smile.

After the meal, the four returned to the Great Room. Jarl began to ask Fors about his journey. He seemed particularly interested as Fors related how the two tribes were evolving into a single system of government. To his growing surprise, Fors found the Guardian was not only interested in the relation of facts, but Fors’ opinions on those growing political issues and how they could be resolved. 

The hour had grown late when Jarl rose and thanked the two Star Men for coming. Respects were paid to the First Lady and the two men headed for the door. Torin then bade good night and headed up the path towards the Star House, Chera returning to the house. After a moment of silence, Jarl spoke, “Walk with me, Fors.”


 "Star Man's Saga"
Copyright ~ Ralph F. Couey and the Estate of Andre Norton 2017
Online Rights -
Donated by – Ralph F. Couey

Revision: 2 ~ July, 2019

 Formatted by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ Nov. 2017 & Aug. 2019

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.