He was alone at last in the inner chamber of the Star House, that same chamber which he had violated. The empty hook where Langdon’s star pouch had once hung was a mute reminder of that offense. Too bad his venture had failed so completely. He would never be able now to prove the truth of his father’s dream. But even that thought did not prick him overmuch. He could go out again—and not by any favor of the council men.

There was the reflection of the council fire on the naked rock of the mountain wall out there. The elders were gathering to judge him. But it would be the Star Men who would have the final voice against him. It was the Star House he had looted, the Star tradition and mysteries he had flouted.

At an almost soundless footfall in the outer room Fors turned his head. One of the Star Novices had come for him—Stephen of the Hawk Clan. Fors followed him out into the circle of firelight, walled in by rows of white blurs which were faces without expression.

The elders were together, all of them, Healer, Recorder, Master of the Fields, Commanders of the Hunters and Defenders. And behind them were the tillers, the hunters, the scouts and guards. On the other side was the solid block of Star Men, Jarl at their head.

Fors came out on the smooth shelf of rock alone, his silver head high, his back and shoulders straight.

“Fors of the Puma Clan—” That was Horsford, the Eyrie Guardian.

Fors made courteous salute.

“You stand here because you have defied the traditions of the Eyrie. But against the wearers of the Star was your greater offense. So now it is the decision of the Council that the Star Men shall be given the right to pronounce against you and they shall deal with you as they see fit.”

Short and to the point. And fair enough, he had expected little else. So now what did the Star Men wish for him? It was up to Jarl. Fors turned to the tall Captain.

But Jarl was staring beyond him at the leaping flames. And so did they wait in silence for a long, long moment. When the Star Captain spoke it was not to pass sentence but to catch the atention of all who gathered there.

“We come, men of the Eyrie, to a place where two roads separate before us. And upon our choice of them depends the future of not only the clans gathered here, but also that of all true men in this land, perhaps on this earth. Therefore tonight I am breaking a solemn vow, the oaths taken in my green youth—that secret which has made of my kind men apart. Listen, all of you, to the inner story of our Stars.

“Now we who wear them are hunters of dim trails,, seekers of lost knowledge. But once this,” his hand went to the star, bright and hot in the firelight, at his throat, “had another meaning. Our forefathers were brought to this mountain hiding place because they were designed to be truly men of the Stars. Here were they being trained to a life which would be theirs on other worlds. Our records tell us that man was on the eve of conquering space when his madness fell upon him and he reached again for slaying weapons.

“We who were meant to roam the stars go now on foot upon a ravaged earth. But above us those other worlds still hang, and still they beckon. And so is the promise still given. If we make not the mistakes of the Old Ones then shall we know in time more than the winds of this earth and the trails of this earth. This is the secret we now publish abroad so that all men may know what was lost to us with the dread folly of the Old Ones and to what we may aspire if we make not the same error in our turn.”

Fors’ fingers clenched until nails bit into his palms. So this was what man had thrown away! The same longing which had torn him on the field of the dead bombing plains came to him again. They had been so great in their dreams—the Old Ones! Well, men must dream again.

“We stand before two roads, my people,” Jarl repeated slowly. “And this time we must take a better choice. It is the will of the Star Men that Fors of the Puma Clan, being of mixed blood and clan, shall no longer be held as lesser than we, in spite of the laws of our fathers. For now has come the time to break such laws.

“From this hour forth he shall be set apart in a different fashion. For he. shall be one who will carry the knowledge of one people to another, binding together in peace swords which might be raised in war.

“A mutant may have skills which will serve his tribe well. And so do we urge a new law—that a mutant be deemed a full man. And if he is born in a clan, then is he to be counted a man of that clan. Which of us can prove—” Jarl swung around to face the throng from which was now arising a growing murmur, whether of assent or dissent who could tell—“which of us can prove that we are of the same breed as the Old Ones? Do we wish to be as the Old Ones? Our fathers threw away the stars—remember that!”

It was the Healer who answered him. “By nature’s laws, if not man’s, you speak the truth. It is guessed that men are different today from what they once were. A mutant—” He coughted behind his hand. “Truly any here might be termed mutant to some degree.”

Horsf ord held up his hand to still the babble of sound. His powerful voice boomed around the circle.

“There has been a weighty thing done here tonight, brothers. The Star Men have broken faith with the past. Can we do less? They speak of two roads—I shall speak of growing. We have put our roots in narrow and stony ground. We have held stubbornly to it. But now comes a time when we must move or die. For the only end to growth is death. And in the name of the Council I am choosing growth. If the stars were once promised us— then shall we reach for them again!”

Someone raised a cheer—it came from the outer edges where the youths stood. And that cheer gathered voices and grew. Men were on their feet now, their voices eager, their eyes alight. Never had this reserved and too serious people seemed so like their cousins of the Plains. The tribe was coming to a new life.

“So be it,” Jarl’s voice broke through the din. At his gesture of command some of it died away. “From this hour we shall walk new ways. And in remembrance of that choice do we now set upon Fors a star which is like unto no other worn here. And in his turn, when the time comes, he shall raise up those who will wear it after him. Thus there will be always those among us who shall speak with other peoples as a friend, think with neutral minds, and hold the peace of nations in their hands!”

Jarl came to Fors holding out a chain from which hung a star, not of five points but of many, so that it was a compass sign pointing in all directions at once. And this fell cool and smooth below the mutant’s throat.

Then the tribe shouted the cry which was the welcome to a Star Man newly raised up. But in this too there was a difference. For now was a born a new star and from it would follow what no man standing there that night might rightly foresee—not even he who wore it as a trust.

Вы читаете Daybreak—2250 A.D.
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