of blood flying, and squealed in rage and pain. Under the prod of pain it lost its cunning, wishing now only to tusk and trample the dancing figure before it—to root the life of the enemy away—

As Fors saw the heavy shoulders tense he took a step backward, groping for firm footing on which to maneuver. And in so doing he nearly lost the fight. His heel caught and was held as if a trap had snapped on it. He was still trying to pull loose as the boar charged for the third time.

And that pull unbalanced him so that he fell forward almost on top of the mad creature. There was a red dagger of pain across his leg and a foul stench filled his nostrils. He stabbed wildly, and felt his steel strike bone and slip deep beneath the mangy hide. Blood f ountained over both of them and then the sword was wrenched from Fors’ blood-slippery hand as the boar pulled away. It staggered out into the full sunlight and fell heavily, the hilt of the sword protruding behind its powerful shoulder. Fors rocked back and forth, his face twisted with pain, his fingers trying to rip away the cloth about a nasty-looking, freely bleeding slash down the outer side of his left leg above the knee.

Lura emerged from the bushes. There were unpleasant stains on her usually fastidiously kept coat and she moved with an air of general satisfaction. As she passed the boar she snarled and gave the body a raking clout with one front paw.

Fors worked his heel free from the rotten board which had clamped it and crawled toward the Star pouch. He needed water now—but Lura would sniff that out for him. The worst would be going lame for a while. He would be lucky if he did not have to stay where he was for a day or two.

Lura did find water, a spring a little beyond the farmhouse. And he crawled to it painfully. With dry twigs he kindled a fire and set a tiny pan of the clear water to boil. Now he was ready for the worst—boar’s tusks were notoriously dirty and deadly.

Setting his teeth he cut and tore away the cloth of his leggings until the skin around the still oozing slash was bare. Into the bubbling water he dropped a minute portion of the wound salve from the Star pouch. The secret of that salve belonged to the Healer of the tribe and the Captain of the Star Men alone. It was wisdom from the old days which had saved many lives. A wound anointed with it did not rot.

Fors let the water cool until he could just bear it and then poured more than half of it into that ragged tear in skin and muscle. His fingers were shaking when he thrust them into the water left in the pan, holding them there for a minute before tearing open the packet of bandage. With an end of the soft material he washed and dabbed delicately along the cut. Then he smeared some of the unheated paste across it and bound a pad tightly over it. The bleeding had almost stopped, but the wound was like a band of stinging fire from hip socket to ankle bone, and his eyes were misty as he worked, following the instructions which had been drilled into him since his first hunting trip.

At last he could put out the fire and lie quietly. Lura stretched out beside him and put a velvet-gloved paw on his arm. She purred soothingly, once or twice drawing her rough tongue across his flesh in her favorite caress. The burning in his leg eased, or else he was growing accustomed to the torment. He stared into the sky. Pink and gold streamed across it in wide swaths. It must be close to sundown. He would have to have shelter. But it was a struggle to move and his leg had stiffened so that even when he got up and clutched at bushes to pull himself along he made slow progress.

Lura went down the slope and he stumbled after her, glad that only tall grass covered most of it. She headed for the farmyard, but he did not call her back. Lura was hunting shelter for them both and she would find it, if any such existed.

She did bring him to the best housing they had had since they had left the Eyrie, a stone-walled, single- roomed building. He had no idea for what purpose it had been built. But there was only one door, no windows, and part of the roof was still in place. It could be easily defended and it was shelter.

Already small scavengers were busy about the bodies of the pigs. And with the dark the scent of blood would draw more formidable flesh eaters. He had not forgotten the quarrels over the bodies of the cow and calf. So Fors pushed loose stones into a barrier about his door and decided upon a fire. The walls would hide it from all but birds flying overhead.

He ate sparingly of dried corn. Lura jumped the barrier and went hunting on her own, questing through the twilight. But Fors nursed his point of fire and stared out into the gathering darkness. Fireflies made dancing sparks under the straggling limbs of ancient orchard trees. He watched them as he drank from the water in his canteen. The pain in his leg was now a steady throb which arose into his head and settled in his temples—beat—beat-beat —

Then Fors suddenly realized that that steady rhythm was not born of pain and fever. There was an actual sound, hanging on the night air, low, carrying well, a measured note which bore no resemblance to any natural noise he had heard before. Only, something in it suggested the queer crooning song of the fisherman. If some-tiling not unlike the same series of notes was being tapped out on the head of a drum now—

Fors jerked upright. Bow and sword were within reach of his hand. The night, which was never as dark for him as it was for others, was peaceful and empty—save for that distant signal. Then it stopped, abruptly, almost in mid-note, with a suggestion of finality. He guessed that he would not hear it again. But what could it mean?

Sound carried well in these lowlands—even if listeners did not have his keenness of ear. A message sent by such a drum might carry safely across miles.

His fingernails dug into the flesh of his palms. There was a trace of sound again—coming from the far south— a disturbance in the air so faint it might only be born of his imagination.

But he did not believe that. The drummer was receiving an answer. Under his breath Fors counted off seconds —five, ten, fifteen, and then again silence. He tried to sort out his impressions of the fisherman—and again came to the same conclusion. He was not native to these lowlands, which meant that he was probably a scout, an explorer from the south. Who or what was now moving up into these lands?


Even before dawn it began to rain, a steady, straight downpour which would last for hours. Fors’ wound was stiff and he had trouble crawling back into the corner of the hut where the broken roof still afforded some protection. Lura rolled against him and the warmth of her furry body was a comfort. But Fors was unable to drop back into the restless, dream-broken sleep which had held him most of the night.

It was the thought oj the day’s travel still before him which plagued him. To walk far would reopen the gash and he thought that he had a degree or so of fever. Yet he had to have food and better shelter. And that drumming—Being disabled he wanted to get out of the near vicinity of the drummer—fast.

As soon as it was light enough for him to distinguish a black line on white paper he got out his scrap of map, trying to guess his present position—if it were on that fragment at all. There were tiny red figures printed between certain points—the measured miles of the Old Ones who kept to the roads. By his reckoning he might yet be at least three days’ journey from the city—if, of course, he was now where he believed himself to be. Three days’ journey for a strong and tireless traveler, not for a crippled limper. If he had a horse now—

But the memory of Jarl with the horse herders put that thought out of his mind. If he went to the Plains camp and tried to trade, the Star Captain would hear of it. And for a novice to steal a mount out of one of the well- guarded herds was almost impossible even if he were able-bodied. But he could not banish his wish—even by repeating this argument of stern commonsense.

Lura went out hunting. She would bring back her kill. Fors pulled himself up, clenching his teeth against the pain that such movement gave his whole left side. He had to have some sort of crutch or cane if he wanted to keep going. There was part of a sapling among the wood within reach. It appeared almost straight and he hacked it down with his knife and trimmed off the branches. With this aid he could get around, and the more he moved the more the stiffness seemed to loosen. When Lura returned, a plump bronze-feathered turkey dragging out of her jaws, he was in a better frame of mind and ready to eat breakfast.

But the pace at which they started out was not a speedy one. Fors hissed between set teeth when now and again his weight shifted too heavily on the left leg. He turned instinctively into what once had been the lane tying the farmstead to the road, and brushed between the encroaching bushes, leaning heavily on his cane.

Rain made sticky mud of every patch of open ground and he was afraid of slipping and falling. Lura kept up a

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