flicking at the tips.

But they only served as mounts for yet another troop. Small heads of light cream, with big rings of darker fur about the eyes giving the faces an eternally inquiring look, were held high. Like the drummers these riders appeared to use their forepaws as we might our hands; they also carried cream-and dark-ringed tails pointing straight up.

The tapir-nosed mounts and their ring-featured riders paraded solemnly to the fore of the stage. And thereafter I witnessed sheer magic. I have seen many beast shows on many worlds, but nothing like unto this. There was no cracking of whip, no voiced orders from their mistress. They performed not as if they were doing learned tricks, but rather as though they were carrying out some ceremonies of their own, unwatched by those not of their species. And there was no sound from the audience, nothing save the different rhythms beat out by the furred musicians and the complicated series of cries the actors voiced now and again. The snouted beasts and their riders were only the first. I was too entranced to count all the acts. But when at last they paraded off-stage to a roar of applause, which they apparently did not hear, I thought we had seen at least ten different species.

She who was mistress came once more to the center of the platform and saluted us with her wand.

'My people are tired. If they have pleased you, Freesh, Freesha, they have had their reward. They will appear again tomorrow.'

I looked to Griss. 'Never have I—' I began when there was a touch on my shoulder and I turned my head to see the youth who had collected admissions.

'Gentle Homos,' he spoke in Basic and not in the speech of Yrjar, 'would you care to see the little ones more closely?'

Why such an invitation had been given us, I had no idea. But it was one which I was eager to accept. Then that caution ingrained in us asserted a warning, and I hesitated, looking to Griss. Since he appeared to know something of these Thassa (who or whatever they might be), I left the decision to him. But he seemed to have no doubts.

We drew apart from those who were reluctantly leaving and followed our guide to the stage and behind the draperies. There were strange scents here, those of animals, but clean and well-cared-for beasts, of bedding of vegetable matter, of food alien to our noses. The space fronting us was perhaps three times the size of the theater.

Lengths of wooden screen had been erected to enclose the area. Stationed alongside them were vans such as we had seen elsewhere for the transportation of wares. There was a line of picketed heavy draft animals, kasi, many of them now lying at ease chewing their cuds. Set in rows, almost in the form of a town with narrow streets, were a series of cages. At the end of the nearest of such rows was the woman. Woman—no—though I could not set age to her, she looked at this distance far more like a girl of few years. It was the elaborate coiling of her hair, the forehead decoration, and her vast assurance which gave the patina of years closer looks denied.

She still held the silver wand, slipping it back and forth between her pale fingers as if it were an anchor of sorts. Though why that thought crossed my mind I could not have said, for nothing else in her expression or manner would lead one to believe that she had ever known uneasiness of any kind.

'Welcome, Gentle Homos.' Her basic was low-toned as the native speech she had used on stage. 'I am Maelen.'

'Krip Vorlund.'

'Griss Sharvan.'

'You are from theLydis .' No question, but a statement. We nodded in confirmation. 'Malec,' she spoke to the youth, 'perhaps the Gentle Homos will take verfor with us.'

He made no answer but walked rapidly down one of the cage streets to a lattice wall structure at the right of the picketed beasts. Maelen continued to study us and then she pointed with her wand to Griss.

'You have heard something of us.' She swung that pointer to me. 'But you have not. Griss Sharvan, what have you heard of us? And be no more silent about the ill than the good, if good there has been.'

He was tanned darkly, as are all of us who live in space. Besides the fairness of this people he was almost black. And I was the same, but under that dark overlay he flushed now and I read self-consciousness .

'The Thassa are Moon Singers,' he said.

She smiled. 'Incorrect, Gentle Homo. Only some of us sing the Moon Power into use.'

'But you are such a one.'

She was silent and her smile was gone as if it had never been. Then she answered him. 'That is the truth—as far as you know it, man of the Traders.'

'All the Thassa are of another blood and kind. None of Yiktor, save perhaps themselves, know from whence and when they came. They are older than the lordships or temple-recorded time.'

Maelen nodded. 'That is the truth. What else?'

'The rest is all rumor—of powers for good and ill which mankind does not have. You can ill-luck a man into nothingness, and all his clan with him.' He hesitated.

'Superstition?' she asked. 'But there are so many ways of shadowing a man's life, Gentle Homo. Rumor always wears two faces, true and false, both at the same time. She must be harkened to and ignored. But I do not think that we can be accused of any over ill-wishing by any now living on this world. It is true that we are an old people and one content to live in our own fashion, troubling no one. What do you think of our little people?' Abruptly she swung from Griss to me.

'That I have never seen their equal on any world.'

'Do you think other worlds would welcome them?'

'You mean—take the show into space? But that would be chancy, Gentle Fem. The transportation of animals needing diverse foods, special care—some cannot adapt to space flight at all. There is a way of putting them into freeze between landings. But that has a high risk and some might die. I think, Gentle Fem, it would take much planning and perhaps a specially built and equipped ship which would—'

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