blazed by the Star Men through the years, except by hearsay. And if he became lost— His fingers tightened around the roll of precious papers. Lost in the lowlands! To wander off the trails—!

Silky fur pressed against him and a round head butted his ribs. Lura had caught that sudden nip of fear and was answering it in her own way. Fors’ lungs filled slowly. The humid air of the lowlands lacked the keen bite of the mountain winds. But he was free and he was a man.

To return to the Eyrie was to acknowledge defeat. What if he did lose himself down here? There was a whole wide land to make his own! Why, he could go on and on across it until he reached the salt sea which tradition said lay at the rim of the world. This whole land was his for the exploring!

He delved deeper into the bag on his knee. Besides the notes and the torn map he found the compass he had hoped would be there, a small wooden case containing pencils, a package of bandages and wound salve, two small surgical knives, and a roughly fashioned notebook —the daily record of a Star Man. But to his vast disappointment the entries there were merely a record of distances. On impulse he set down on one of the blank pages an account of his own day’s travel, trying to make a drawing of the strange footprint. Then he repacked the pouch.

Lura’ stretched out on the leaf bed and he flopped down beside her, pulling the blanket over them both. It was twilight now. He pushed the sticks in toward the center of the fire so that unburnt ends would be consumed. The soft rumble of the cat’s purr as she washed her paws, biting at the spaces between her claws, made his eyes heavy. He flung an arm over her back and she favored him with a lick of her-tongue. The rasp of it across his skin was the last thing he clearly remembered. There were birds in the morning, a whole flock of them, and they did not approve of Lura. Their scolding cries brought Fors awake. He rubbed his eyes and looked out groggily at a gray world. Lura sat in the mouth of the cave, paying no attention to the chorus over her head. She yawned and looked back at Fors with some impatience.

He dragged himself out to join her and pulled off his roughly dried clothes before bathing in the pool. It was cold enough to set him sputtering and Lura withdrew to a safe distance. The birds flew away in a black flock. Fors dressed, lacing up his sleeveless jerkin and fastening his boots and belt with extra care.

A more experienced explorer would not have wasted

time on the forgotten town. Long ago any useful loot it might have once contained had either been taken or had moldered into rubbish. But it was the first dead place Fors had seen and he could not leave it without some examination. He followed the road around the square. Only one building still stood unharmed enough to allow entrance. Its stone walls were rank with ivy and moss and its empty windows blind. He shuffled through the dried leaves and grass which masked the broad flight of steps leading to its wide door.

There was the whir of disturbed grasshoppers in the leaves, a wasp sang past. Lura pawed at something which lay just within the doorway. It rolled away into the dusk of the interior and they followed. Fors stopped to trace with an inquiring finger the letters on a bronze plate. “First National Bank of Glentown.” He read the words aloud and they echoed hollowly down the long room, through the empty cage-like booths along the wall.

“First National Bank,” he repeated. What was a bank? He had only a vague idea—some sort of a storage place. And this dead town must be Glentown—or once it had been Glentown.

Lura had found again her round toy and was batting it along the cracked flooring. It skidded to strike the base of one of the cages just in front of Fors. Round eyeholes stared up at him accusingly from a half-crushed skull. He stooped and picked it up to set it on the stone shelf. Dust arose in a thick puff. A pile of coins spun and jingled in all directions, their metallic tinkle clear.

There were lots of the coins here, all along the shelves behind the cage fronts. He scooped up handfuls and sent them rolling to amuse Lura. But they had no value. A piece of good, rust-proof steel would be worth the taking—not these. The darkness of the place began to oppress him and no matter which way he turned he thought he could feel the gaze of that empty skull. He left, calling Lura to follow.

There was a dankness in the heart of this town, the air here had the faint corruption of ancient decay, mixed with the fresher scent of rotting wood and moldering vegetation. He wrinkled his nose against it and pushed on down a choked street, climbing over piles of rubble, heading toward the river. That stream had to be crossed some way if he were to travel straight to the goal his father had mapped. It would be easy for him to swim the thick brownish water, still roily from the storm, but he knew that Lura would not willingly venture in and he was certainly not going to leave her behind.

Fors struck out east along the bank above the flood. A raft of some sort would be the answer, but he would have to get away from the ruins before he could find trees. And he chafed at the loss of time.

Th’ere was a sun today, climbing up, striking specks of light from the water. By turning his head he could still see the foothills and, behind them, the blueish heights down which he had come twenty-four hours before. But he glanced back only once, his attention was all for the river now.

Half an hour later he came across a find which saved him hours of back-breaking labor. A sharp break in the bank outlined a narrow cove where the rive rose during the spring freshets. Now it was half choked with drift, from big logs to delicate, sunbleached twigs he could snap between his fingers. He had only to pick and choose.

By the end of the morning he had a raft, crude and certainly not intended for a long voyage, but it should serve to float them across. Lura had her objections to the foolishness of trusting to such a crazy woven platform. But, when Fors refused to stay safely ashore, she pulled herself aboard it, one cautions paw testing each step before she put her full weight upon it. And in the exact middle she squatted down with a sigh as Fors leaned hard on his pole and pushed off.

The weird craft showed a tendency to spin around which he had to work against. And once his pole caught in a mud bank below and he was almost jerked off into the flood. But as the salty sweat stung across his lips and burned in his blistered palms he could see that the current, though taking them downstream, was slowly nudging them toward the opposite bank.

Sun rays reflected by the water made them both warm and thirsty, and Lura gave small meowing whines of self-pity all the rest of the hour. Still, she grew accustomed enough to the new mode of travel to sit up and watch keen-eyed when a fish rose to snap at a fly. Once they slipped past a mass of decayed wreckage which must have been the remains of a boat, and twice swept between abutments of long-vanished bridges. This had been a thickly settled territory before the Blow-up. Fors tried to imagine what it had looked like when the towns had been lived in, the roads had been busy with traffic, when there had been boats on the river—

Since the current was taking them in the general direction of the route eastward he did not struggle too quickly to reach the other side. But when a portion of their shaky raft suddenly broke off and started a separate voyage of its own, he realized that such carelessness might mean trouble and he worked with the pole to break the grip of the current and reach the shore. There were bluffs along the river, cutting off easy access to the level lands behind them and he watched anxiously for a cove or sandbank which give them a fair landing.

He had to be satisfied with a very shallow notch where a landslide had brought down a section of the bank containing two trees which now formed a partial barrier out from the shore. The raft, after much back-breaking labor on his part, caught against these, shivered against the pull of the water, and held. Lura did not wait, but was gone in a single leap to the solid footing of the tree trunks. Fors grabbed up his belongings and followed, none too soon, as the raft split and whirled around, shaking into pieces which were carried on.

A hard scramble up the greasy clay of the bank brought them into open country once more. Grass grew tall, bushes spread in dusty blotches across the land and there were thickets of saplings reclaiming the old fields. But here the wild had not altogether conquered land tamed by centuries of the plow and the reaper.

Lura let him know that it had been too long since their last meal and she intended to do something about supplies. She set off across the faint boundaries of the old fields with grim purpose in every line of her graceful feline body. Grouse scuttled from underfoot and there were rabbits everywhere, but she disdained to notice such small game, pushing on, with Fors half a field behind her, toward a slope which was crowned with a growth of trees, almost a full wood.

Halfway up she paused, the tip of her tail quivered, the red rosette of her tongue showed briefly between her teeth. Then she was gone again, fading away into the tall grass as silently and effortlessly as the breeze might pass. Fors stepped back into the shade of the nearest tree. This was Lura’s hunt and he must leave it to her.

He looked out over the waving grass. It seemed to be some form of stunted grain, not yet quite ripe, for it had a seed head forming. The sky was blue with small white clouds drifting across it as if the storm winds had never torn them, although at his feet lay a branch splintered and broken by yesterday’s wind.

A hoarse bellowing brought him out of his half dream, bow in hand. It was followed by the spitting squall which was Lura’s war cry. Fors began to run up the slope toward the sound. But hunter’s caution kept him to such

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