Alen shook his head regretfully. 'The Rule of my Order forbids recourse to violence,' he said. 'Our only permissible weapon is the truth.'

'We're coming aboard,' said the officer grimly. 'I'll order my men not to harm your people. We'll just be collecting customs. If your people shoot first, my men will be under orders to do nothing more than disable them.'

Alen smiled and uttered a sentence or two in Algolian.

The officer's jaw dropped and he croaked, after a pause: 'I'll cut you to ribbons. You can't say that about my mother, you—' and he spewed back some of the words Alen had spoken.

'Calm yourself,' said the Herald gravely. 'I apologize for my disgusting and unheraldic remarks. But I wished to prove a point. You would have killed me if you could; I touched off a reaction which had been planted in you by your culture. I will be able to do the same with the men of yours who come aboard. For every race of man there is the intolerable insult that must be avenged in blood.

'Send your men aboard under orders not to kill if you wish; I shall goad them into a killing rage. We shall be massacred, yours will be the blame and you will be disgraced and disowned by your entire planet.' Alen hoped desperately that the naval crews of the Realm were, as reputed, a barbarous and undisciplined lot—

Evidently they were, and the proud Algolian dared not risk it. In his native language he spat again: 'You devil!' and switched back into Vegan. 'Freighter Starsong,' he said bleakly, 'I find that my space fix was in error and that you are not in Realm territory. You may proceed.'

The astrogator said from the detector board, incredulously: 'He's disengaging. He's off us. He's accelerating. Herald what did you say to him?'

But the reaction from blackboard was more gratifying.

Speechless, the trader took off his cap. Alen acknowledged the salute with a grave nod before he started back to his cubicle. It was just as well, he reflected, that the trader didn't know his life and his ship had been unconditionally pledged in a finish fight against a hundred-man battle cruiser.

Lyra's principal spaceport was pocked and broken, but they made a fair-enough landing. Alen, in full heraldic robes, descended from Starsong to greet a handful of port officials.

'Any metals aboard?' demanded one of them.

'None for sale,' said the Herald.

'We have Vegan gems, chiefly triple-fire.' He knew that the dull little planet was short of metals and, having made a virtue of necessity was somehow prejudiced against their import.

'Have your crew transfer the cargo to the Customs shed,' said the port official studying Starsong's papers. 'And all of you wait there.'

All of them—except Alen—lugged numbered sacks and boxes of gems to the low brick building designated. The trader was allowed to pocket a handful for samples before the shed was sealed—a complicated business. A brick was mortared over the simple ironwood latch that closed the iron-wood door, a pat of clay was slapped over the brick and the port seal stamped in it. A mechanic with what looked like a pottery blowtorch fed by powdered coal played a flame on the clay seal until it glowed orange-red and that, was that.

'Herald,' said the port official, 'tell the merchant to sign here and make his fingerprints.'

Alen studied the document; it was a simple identification form.

Blackbeard signed with the reed pen provided and fingerprinted the documented. After two weeks in space he scarcely needed to ink his fingers first.

'Now tell him that we'll release the gems on his written fingerprinted order to whatever Lyran citizens he sells to. And explain that this roundabout system is necessary to avoid metal smuggling. Please remove all metal from your clothes and stow it on your ship. Then we will seal that, too, and put it under guard until you are ready to take off.

We regret that we will have to search you before we turn you loose, but we can't afford to have our economy disrupted by irresponsible introduction of metals.' Alen had not realized it was that bad.

After the thorough search that extended to the confiscation of forgotten watches and pins, the port officials changed a sheaf of the trader's uranium-backed Vegan currency into Lyran legal tender based on man-hours. Blackbeard made a partial payment to the crew, told them to have a good liberty and check in at the port at sunset tomorrow for probable take-off.

Alen and the trader were driven to town in an unlikely vehicle whose power plant was a pottery turbine. The driver, when they were safely out on the open road, furtively asked whether they had any metal they wanted to discard.

The trader asked sharply in his broken Lyran: 'What you do you get metal? Where sell, how use?'

The driver, following a universal tendency, raised his voice and lapsed into broken Lyran himself to tell the strangers: 'Black market science men pay much, much for little bit metal. Study, use build. Politicians make law no metal, what I care politicians? But you no tell, gentlemen?'

'We won't tell,' said Alen. 'But we have no metal for you.'

The driver shrugged.

'Herald,' said the trader, 'what do you make of it?'

'I didn't know it was a political issue. We concern ourselves with the basic patterns of a people's behavior, not the day-today expressions of the patterns. The planet's got no heavy metals, which means there were no metals available to the primitive Lyrans. The lighter metals don't occur in native form or in easily-split compounds. They proceeded along the ceramic line instead of the metallic line and appear to have done quite well for themselves up to a point. No electricity, of course, no aviation and no space flight.'

'And,' said the trader, 'naturally the people who make these buggies and that blowtorch we saw are scared witless that metals will be imported and put them out of business. So naturally they have laws passed prohibiting it.'

'Naturally,' said the Herald, looking sharply at the trader. But blackboard was back in character a moment later. 'An outrage,' he growled. 'Trying to tell a man what he can and can't import when he sees a decent chance to make a bit of profit.'

The driver dropped them at a boardinghouse. It was half-timbered construction, which appeared to be swankier than Elwon looked at Alen,. who shook his head. 'Sorry, sir,' said the engineer apologetically.

'The Herald—'

'We are the freighter Starsong, Vegan registry,' said Alen into the audio mike as the trader choked. 'We are carrying Vegan gems to Lyra.'

'They're on us,' said the astrogator despairingly, reading his instruments. The ship-to-ship video flashed on, showing an arrogant, square-jawed face topped by a battered naval cap.

'Lyra indeed! We have plans of our own for Lyra. You will heave to—'

began the officer in the screen, before he noted Alen. 'My pardon, Herald,' he said sardonically. 'Herald, will you please request the ship's master to heave to for boarding and search? We wish to assess and collect Customs duties. You are aware, of course, that your vessel is passing through the Realm.'

The man's accented Vegan reeked of Algol IV. Alen switched to that obscure language to say: 'We were not aware of that. Are you aware that there is a reciprocal trade treaty in effect between the Vegan system and the Realm which specifies that freight in Vegan bottoms is dutiable only when consigned to ports in the Realm?'

'You speak Algolian, do you? You Heralds have not been underrated, but don't plan to lie your way out of this. Yes, I am aware of some such agreement as you mentioned. We shall board you, as I said, and assess and collect duty in kind. If, regrettably, there has been any mistake you are, of course, free to apply to the Realm for reimbursement. Now, heave to!'

'I have no intentions of lying. I speak the solemn truth when I say that we shall fight to the last man any attempt of yours to board and loot us.'

Alen's mind was racing furiously through the catalogue of planetary folkways the Rule had decreed that he master. Algol IV—some ancestor-worship; veneration of mother; hand-to-hand combat with knives; complimentary greeting, 'May you never strike down a weaker foe'; folk-hero Gaarek unjustly accused of slaying a cripple and exiled but it was an enemy's plot—

A disconcerted shadow was crossing the face of the officer as Alen improvised: 'You will, of course, kill us all. But before this happens I shall have messaged back to the College and Order of Heralds the facts in the case, with a particular

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