[Transcriber's note: This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact—Science Fiction November 1962, December 1962, January 1963, February 1963. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Vengeance is a strange human motivation— it can drive a man to do things which he neither would nor could achieve without it ... and because of that it lies behind some of the greatest sagas of human literature!
by H. Beam Piper
Illustrated by Schoenherr
They stood together at the parapet, their arms about each other's waists, her head against his cheek. Behind, the broad leaved shrubbery gossiped softly with the wind, and from the lower main terrace came music and laughing voices. The city of Wardshaven spread in front of them, white buildings rising from the wide spaces of green treetops, under a shimmer of sun-reflecting aircars above. Far away, the mountains were violet in the afternoon haze, and the huge red sun hung in a sky as yellow as a ripe peach.
His eye caught a twinkle ten miles to the southwest, and for an instant he was puzzled. Then he frowned. The sunlight on the two thousand-foot globe of Duke Angus' new ship, the Enterprise, back at the Gorram shipyards after her final trial cruise. He didn't want to think about that, now.
Instead, he pressed the girl closer and whispered her name, "Elaine," and then, caressing every syllable, "Lady Elaine Trask of Traskon."
"Oh, no, Lucas!" Her protest was half joking and half apprehensive. "It's bad luck to be called by your married name before the wedding."
"I've been calling you that in my mind since the night of the Duke's ball, when you were just home from school on Excalibur."
She looked up from the corner of her eye.
"That was when I started calling me that, too," she confessed.
"There's a terrace to the west at Traskon New House," he told her. "Tomorrow, we'll have our dinner there, and watch the sunset together."
"I know. I thought that was to be our sunset-watching place."
"You have been peeking," he accused. "Traskon New House was to be your surprise."
"I always was a present-peeker, New Year's and my birthdays. But I only saw it from the air. I'll be very surprised at everything inside," she promised. "And very delighted."
And when she'd seen everything and Traskon New House wasn't a surprise any more, they'd take a long space trip. He hadn't mentioned that to her, yet. To some of the other Sword-Worlds—Excalibur, of course, and Morglay and Flamberge and Durendal. No, not Durendal; the war had started there again. But they'd have so much fun. And she would see clear blue skies again, and stars at night. The cloud-veil hid the stars from Gram, and Elaine had missed them, since coming home from Excalibur.
The shadow of an aircar fell briefly upon them and they looked up and turned their heads, in time to see it sink with graceful dignity toward the landing-stage of Karval House, and he glimpsed its blazonry—sword and atom-symbol, the badge of the ducal house of Ward. He wondered if it were Duke Angus himself, or just some of his people come ahead of him. They should get back to their guests, he supposed. Then he took her in his arms and kissed her, and she responded ardently. It must have been all of five minutes since they'd done that before.
* * * * *
A slight cough behind them brought them apart and their heads around. It was Sesar Karvall, gray-haired and portly, the breast of his blue coat gleaming with orders and decorations and the sapphire in the pommel of his dress-dagger twinkling.
"I thought I'd find you two here," Elaine's father smiled. "You'll have tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow together, but need I remind you that today we have guests, and more coming every minute."
"Who came in the Ward car?" Elaine asked.
"Rovard Grauffis. And Otto Harkaman; you never met him, did you, Lucas?"
"No; not by introduction. I'd like to, before he spaces out." He had nothing against Harkaman personally; only against what he represented. "Is the Duke coming?"
"Oh, surely. Lionel of Newhaven and the Lord of Northport are coming with him. They're at the Palace now." Karvall hesitated. "His nephew's back in town."
Elaine was distressed; she started to say: "Oh, dear! I hope he doesn't—"
"Has Dunnan been bothering Elaine again?"
"Nothing to take notice of. He was here, yesterday, demanding to speak with her. We got him to leave without too much unpleasantness."
"It'll be something for me to take notice of, if he keeps it up after tomorrow."
For his seconds and Andray Dunnan's, that was; he hoped it wouldn't come to that. He didn't want to have to shoot a kinsman to the house of Ward, and a crazy man to boot.
"I'm terribly sorry for him," Elaine was saying. "Father, you should have let me talk to him. I might have made him understand."
Sesar Karvall was shocked. "Child, you couldn't have subjected yourself to that! The man is insane!" Then he saw her bare shoulders, and was even more shocked. "Elaine, your shawl!"
Her hands went up and couldn't find it; she looked about in confused embarrassment. Amused, Lucas picked it from the shrub onto which she had tossed it and draped it over her shoulders, his hands lingering briefly. Then he gestured to the older man to precede them, and they entered the arbored walk. At the other end, in an open circle, a fountain played; white marble girls and boys bathing in the jade-green basin. Another piece of loot from one of the Old Federation planets; that was something he'd tried to avoid in furnishing Traskon New House. There'd be a lot of that coming to Gram, after Otto Harkaman took the Enterprise to space.
"I'll have to come back, some time, and visit them," Elaine whispered to him. "They'll miss me."
"You'll find a lot of new friends at your new home," he whispered back. "You wait till tomorrow."
"I'm going to put a word in the Duke's ear about that fellow," Sesar Karvall, still thinking of Dunnan, was saying. "If he speaks to him, maybe it'll do some good."
"I doubt it. I don't think Duke Angus has any influence over him at all."
Dunnan's mother had been the Duke's younger sister; from his father he had inherited what had originally been a prosperous barony. Now it was mortgaged to the top of the manor-house aerial-mast. The Duke had once assumed Dunnan's debts, and refused to do so again. Dunnan had gone to space a few times, as a junior officer on trade-and-raid voyages into the Old Federation. He was supposed to be a fair astrogator. He had expected his uncle to give him command of the Enterprise, which had been ridiculous. Disappointed in that, he had recruited a mercenary company and was seeking military employment: It was suspected that he was in correspondence with his uncle's worst enemy, Duke Omfray of Glaspyth.
And he was obsessively in love with Elaine Karvall, a passion which seemed to nourish itself on its own hopelessness. Maybe it would be a good idea to take that space trip right away. There ought to be a ship leaving Bigglersport for one of the other Sword-Worlds, before long.
* * * * *
They paused at the head of the escalators; the garden below was thronged with guests, the bright shawls of the ladies and the coats of the men making shifting color-patterns among the flower-beds and on the lawns and under the trees. Serving-robots, flame-yellow and black in the Karvall colors, floated about playing soft music and offering refreshments. There was a continuous spiral of changing costume-color around the circular robo-table. Voices babbled happily like a mountain river.
As they stood looking down, another aircar circled low; green and gold, lettered PANPLANET NEWS SERVICE. Sesar Karvall swore in irritation.
"Didn't there use to be something they called privacy?" he asked.
"It's a big story, Sesar."
It was; more than the marriage of two people who happened to be in love with each other. It was the marriage of the farming and ranching barony of Traskon and the Karvall steel mills. More, it was public announcement that the wealth and fighting-men of both baronies were now aligned behind Duke Angus of Wardshaven. So it was a general holiday. Every industry had closed down at noon today, and would be closed until morning-after-next, and there would be dancing in every park and feasting in every tavern. To Sword-Worlders, any excuse for a holiday was better than none.
"They're our people, Sesar; they have a right to have a good time with us. I know everybody at Traskon is watching this by screen."
He raised his hand and waved to the news car, and when it swung its pickup around, he waved again. Then they went down the long escalator.
Lady Lavina Karvall was the center of a cluster of matrons and dowagers, around which tomorrow's bridesmaids fluttered like many-colored butterflies. She took possession of her daughter and dragged her into the feminine circle. He saw Rovard Grauffis, small and saturnine, Duke Angus' henchman, and Burt Sandrasan, Lady Lavina's brother. They spoke, and then an upper-servant, his tabard blazoned with the yellow flame and black hammer of Karvall mills, approached his master with some tale of domestic crisis, and the two went away together.
"You haven't met Captain Harkaman, Lucas," Rovard Grauffis said. "I wish you'd come over and say hello and have a drink with him. I know your attitude, but he's a good sort. Personally, I wish we had a few like him around here."
That was his main objection. There were fewer and fewer men of that sort on any of the Sword-Worlds.
A dozen men clustered around the bartending robot—his cousin and family lawyer, Nikkolay Trask; Lothar Ffayle, the banker; Alex Gorram, the shipbuilder, and his son Basil; Baron Rathmore; more of the Wardshaven nobles whom he knew only distantly. And Otto Harkaman.
Harkaman was a Space Viking. That would have set him apart, even if he hadn't topped the tallest of them by a head. He wore a short black jacket, heavily gold-braided, and black trousers inside ankle-boots; the dagger on his belt was no mere dress-ornament. His tousled red-brown hair was long enough to furnish extra padding in a combat-helmet, and his beard was cut square at the bottom.
He had been fighting on Durendal, for one of the branches of the royal house contesting fratricidally for the throne. The wrong one; he had lost his ship, and most of his men and, almost, his own life. He had been a penniless refugee on Flamberge, owning only the clothes he stood in and his personal weapons and the loyalty of half a dozen adventurers as penniless as himself, when Duke Angus had invited him to Gram to command the Enterprise.
"A pleasure, Lord Trask. I've met your lovely bride-to-be, and now that I meet you, let me congratulate both." Then, as they were having a drink together, he put his foot in it by asking: "You're not an investor in the Tanith Adventure, are you?"
He said he wasn't, and would have let it go at that. Young Basil Gorram had to get his foot in, too.
"Lord Trask does not approve of the Tanith Adventure," he said scornfully. "He thinks we should stay home and produce wealth, instead of exporting robbery and murder to the Old Federation for it."
The smile remained on Otto Harkaman's face; only the friendliness was gone. He unobtrusively shifted his drink to his left hand.
"Well, our operations are definable as robbery and murder," he agreed. "Space Vikings are professional robbers and murderers. And you object? Perhaps you find me personally objectionable?"
"I wouldn't have shaken your hand or had a drink with you if I did. I don't care how many planets you raid or cities you sack, or how many innocents, if that's what they are, you massacre in the Old Federation. You couldn't possibly do anything worse than those people have been doing to one another for the past ten centuries. What I object to is the way you're raiding the Sword-Worlds."
"You're crazy!" Basil Gorram exploded.
"Young man," Harkaman reproved, "the conversation was between Lord Trask and myself. And when somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means. What do you mean, Lord Trask?"
"You should know; you've just raided Gram for eight hundred of our best men. You raided me for close to forty vaqueros, farm-workers, lumbermen, machine-operators, and I doubt I'll be able to replace them with as good." He turned to the elder Gorram. "Alex, how many have you lost to Captain Harkaman?"
Gorram tried to make it a dozen; pressed, he admitted to a score and a half. Roboticians, machine-supervisors, programmers, a couple of engineers, a foreman. There was grudging agreement from the others. Burt Sandrasan's engine-works had lost almost as many, of the same kind. Even Lothar Ffayle admitted to losing a computerman and a guard-sergeant.
And after they were gone, the farms and ranches and factories would go on, almost but not quite as before. Nothing on Gram, nothing on any of the Sword-Worlds, was done as efficiently as three centuries ago. The whole level of Sword-World life was sinking, like the east coastline of this continent, so slowly as to be evident only from the records and monuments of the past. He said as much, and added:
"And the genetic loss. The best Sword-World genes are literally escaping to space, like the atmosphere of a low-gravity planet, each generation begotten by fathers slightly inferior to the last. It wasn't so bad when the Space Vikings raided directly from the Sword-Worlds; they got home once in a while. Now they're conquering planets in the Old Federation for bases, and staying there."
* * * * *
Everybody had begun to relax; this wouldn't be a quarrel. Harkaman, who had shifted his drink back to his right hand, chuckled.
"That's right. I've fathered my share of brats in the Old Federation, and I know Space Vikings whose fathers were born on Old Federation planets." He turned to Basil Gorram. "You see, the gentleman isn't crazy, at all. That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the galaxy."
"Well, maybe this is all new to you, captain," Rovard Grauffis said sourly, "but Lucas Trask's dirge for the Decline and Fall of the Sword-Worlds is an old song to the rest of us. I have too much to do to stay here and argue."
Lothar Ffayle evidently did intend to stay and argue.
"All you're saying, Lucas, is that we're expanding. You want us to sit here and build up population pressure like Terra in the First Century?"
"With three and a half billion people spread out on twelve planets? They had that many on Terra alone. And it took us eight centuries to reach that."
That had been since the Ninth Century, Atomic Era, at the end of the Big War. Ten thousand men and women on Abigor, refusing to surrender, had taken the remnant of the System States Alliance navy to space, seeking a world the Federation had never heard of and wouldn't find for a long time. That had been the world they had called Excalibur. From it, their grandchildren had colonized Joyeuse and Durendal and Flamberge; Haulteclere had been colonized in the next generation from Joyeuse, and Gram from Haulteclere.
"We're not expanding, Lothar; we're contracting. We stopped expanding three hundred and fifty years ago, when that ship came back to Morglay from the Old Federation and reported what had been happening out there since the Big War. Before that, we were discovering new planets and colonizing them. Since then, we've been picking the bones of the dead Terran Federation."
* * * * *
Something was going on by the escalators to the landing stage. People were moving excitedly in that direction, and the news cars were circling like vultures over a sick cow. Harkaman wondered, hopefully, if it mightn't be a fight.
"Some drunk being bounced." Nikkolay, Lucas' cousin, commented. "Sesar's let all Wardshaven in here, today. But, Lucas, this Tanith adventure; we're not making any hit-and-run raid. We're taking over a whole planet; it'll be another Sword-World in forty or fifty years."
"Inside another century, we'll conquer the whole Federation," Baron Rathmore declared. He was a politician and never let exaggeration worry him.
"What I don't understand," Harkaman said, "is why you support Duke Angus, Lord Trask, if you think the Tanith adventure is doing Gram so much harm."
"If Angus didn't do it, somebody else would. But Angus is going to make himself King of Gram, and I don't think anybody else could do that. This planet needs a single sovereignty. I don't know how much you've seen of it outside this duchy, but don't take Wardshaven as typical. Some of these duchies, like Glaspyth or Didreksburg, are literal snake pits. All the major barons are at each other's throats, and they can't even keep their own knights and petty-barons in order. Why, there's a miserable little war down in Southmain Continent that's been going on for over two centuries."
"That's probably where Dunnan's going to take that army of his," a robot-manufacturing baron said. "I hope it gets wiped out, and Dunnan with it."
"You don't have to go to Southmain; just go to Glaspyth," somebody else said.
"Well, if we don't get a planetary monarchy to keep order, this planet will decivilize like anything in the Old Federation."
"Oh, come, Lucas!" Alex Gorram protested. "That's pulling it out too far."
"Yes, for one thing, we don't have the Neobarbarians," somebody said. "And if they ever came out here, we'd blow them to Em-See-Square in nothing flat. Might be a good thing if they did, too; it would stop us squabbling among ourselves."
Harkaman looked at him in surprise. "Just who do you think the Neobarbarians are, anyhow?" he asked. "Some race of invading nomads; Attila's Huns in spaceships?"
"Well, isn't that who they are?" Gorram asked.
"Nifflheim, no! There aren't a dozen and a half planets in the Old Federation that still have hyperdrive, and they're all civilized. That's if 'civilized' is what Gilgamesh is," he added. "These are homemade barbarians. Workers and peasants who revolted to seize and divide the wealth and then found they'd smashed the means of production and killed off all the technical brains. Survivors on planets hit during the Interstellar Wars, from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries, who lost the machinery of civilization. Followers of political leaders on local-dictatorship planets. Companies of mercenaries thrown out of employment and living by pillage. Religious fanatics following self-anointed prophets."
"You think we don't have plenty of Neobarbarian material here on Gram?" Trask demanded. "If you do, take a look around."
Glaspyth, somebody said.
"That collection of over-ripe gallows-fruit Andray Dunnan's recruited," Rathmore mentioned.
Alex Gorram was grumbling that his shipyard was full of them; agitators stirring up trouble, trying to organize a strike to get rid of the robots.
"Yes," Harkaman pounced on that last. "I know of at least forty instances, on a dozen and a half planets, in the last eight centuries, of anti-technological movements. They had them on Terra, back as far as the Second Century Pre-Atomic. And after Venus seceded from the First Federation, before the Second Federation was organized."
"You're interested in history?" Rathmore asked.
"A hobby. All spacemen have hobbies. There's very little work aboard ship in hyperspace; boredom is the worst enemy. My guns-and-missiles officer, Vann Larch, is a painter. Most of his work was lost with the Corisande on Durendal, but he kept us from starving a few times on Flamberge by painting pictures and selling them. My hyperspatial astrogator, Guatt Kirbey, composes music; he tries to express the mathematics of hyperspatial theory in musical terms. I don't care much for it, myself," he admitted. "I study history. You know, it's odd; practically everything that's happened on any of the inhabited planets happened on Terra before the first spaceship."
The garden immediately around them was quiet, now; everybody was over by the landing-stage escalators. Harkaman would have said more, but at that moment he saw half a dozen of Sesar Karvall's uniformed guardsmen run past. They were helmeted and in bullet-proofs; one of them had an auto-rifle, and the rest carried knobbed plastic truncheons. The Space Viking set down his drink.
"Let's go," he said. "Our host is calling up his troops; I think the guests ought to find battle-stations, too."
The gaily-dressed crowd formed a semicircle facing the landing-stage escalators; everybody was staring in embarrassed curiosity, those behind craning over the shoulders of those in front. The ladies had drawn up their shawls in frigid formality; many had even covered their heads. There were four news-service cars hovering above; whatever was going on was getting a planetwide screen showing. The Karvall guardsmen were trying to get through; their sergeant was saying, over and over, "Please, ladies and gentlemen; your pardon, noble sir," and getting nowhere.
Otto Harkaman swore disgustedly and shoved the sergeant aside. "Make way, here!" he bellowed. "Let these guards pass." With that, he almost hurled a gaily-dressed gentleman aside on either hand; they both turned to glare angrily, then got hastily out of his way. Meditating briefly on the uses of bad manners in an emergency, Trask followed, with the others; the big Space Viking plowed to the front, where Sesar Karvall and Rovard Grauffis and several others were standing.
Facing them, four men in black cloaks stood with their backs to the escalators. Two were commonfolk retainers; hired gunmen, to be precise. They were at pains to keep their hands plainly in sight, and seemed to be wishing themselves elsewhere. The man in front wore a diamond sunburst jewel on his beret, and his cloak was lined with pale blue silk. His thin, pointed face was deeply lined about the mouth and penciled with a thin black mustache. His eyes showed white all around the irises, and now and then his mouth would twitch in an involuntary grimace. Andray Dunnan; Trask wondered briefly how soon he would have to look at him from twenty-five meters over the sights of a pistol. The face of the slightly taller man who stood at his shoulder was paper-white, expressionless, with a black beard. His name was Nevil Ormm, nobody was quite sure whence he had come, and he was Dunnan's henchman and constant companion.
"You lie!" Dunnan was shouting. "You lie damnably, in your stinking teeth, all of you! You've intercepted every message she's tried to send me."
"My daughter has sent you no messages, Lord Dunnan," Sesar Karvall said, with forced patience. "None but the one I just gave you, that she wants nothing whatever to do with you."
"You think I believe that? You're holding her a prisoner; Satan only knows how you've been torturing her to force her into this abominable marriage—"
There was a stir among the bystanders; that was more than well-mannered restraint could stand. Out of the murmur of incredulous voices, one woman's was quite audible:
"Well, really! He actually is crazy!"
Dunnan, like everybody else, heard it. "Crazy, am I?" he blazed. "Because I can see through this hypocritical sham? Here's Lucas Trask, he wants an interest in Karvall mills, and here's Sesar Karvall, he wants access to iron deposits on Traskon land. And my loving uncle, he wants the help of both of them in stealing Omfray of Glaspyth's duchy. And here's this loan-shark of a Ffayle, trying to claw my lands away from me, and Rovard Grauffis, the fetchdog of my uncle who won't lift a finger to save his kinsman from ruin, and this foreigner Harkaman who's swindled me out of command of the Enterprise. You're all plotting against me—"
"Sir Nevil," Grauffis said, "you can see that Lord Dunnan's not himself. If you're a good friend to him, you'll get him out of here before Duke Angus arrives."
Ormm leaned forward and spoke urgently in Dunnan's ear. Dunnan pushed him angrily away.
"Great Satan, are you against me, too?" he demanded.
Ormm caught his arm. "You fool, do you want to ruin everything, now—" He lowered his voice; the rest was inaudible.
"No, curse you, I won't go till I've spoken to her, face to face—"
* * * * *
There was another stir among the spectators; the crowd was parting, and Elaine was coming through, followed by her mother and Lady Sandrasan and five or six other matrons. They all had their shawls over their heads, right ends over left shoulders; they all stopped except Elaine, who took a few steps forward and confronted Andray Dunnan. He had never seen her look more beautiful, but it was the icy beauty of a honed dagger.
"Lord Dunnan, what do you wish to say to me?" she asked. "Say it quickly and then go; you are not welcome here."
"Elaine!" Dunnan cried, taking a step forward. "Why do you cover your head; why do you speak to me as a stranger? I am Andray, who loves you. Why are you letting them force you into this wicked marriage?"
"No one is forcing me; I am marrying Lord Trask willingly and happily, because I love him. Now, please, go and make no more trouble at my wedding."
"That's a lie! They're making you say that! You don't have to marry him; they can't make you. Come with me now. They won't dare stop you. I'll take you away from all these cruel, greedy people. You love me, you've always loved me. You've told me you loved me, again and again—"
Yes, in his own private dream-world, a world of fantasy that had now become Andray Dunnan's reality, in which an Elaine Karvall whom his imagination had created existed only to love him. Confronted by the real Elaine, he simply rejected the reality.
"I never loved you, Lord Dunnan, and I never told you so. I never hated you, either, but you are making it very hard for me not to. Now go, and never let me see you again."
With that, she turned and started back through the crowd, which parted in front of her. Her mother and her aunt and the other ladies followed.
"You lied to me!" Dunnan shrieked after her. "You lied all the time. You're as bad as the rest of them, all scheming and plotting against me, betraying me. I know what it's about; you all want to cheat me of my rights, and keep my usurping uncle on the ducal throne. And you, you false-hearted harlot, you're the worst of them all!"
Sir Nevil Ormm caught his shoulder and spun him around, propelling him toward the escalators. Dunnan struggled, screaming inarticulately like a wounded wolf. Ormm was cursing furiously.
"You two!" he shouted. "Help me, here. Get hold of him."
Dunnan was still howling as they forced him onto the escalator, the backs of the two retainers' cloaks, badged with the Dunnan crescent, light blue on black, hiding him. After a little, an aircar with the blue crescent blazonry lifted and sped away.
"Lucas, he's crazy," Sesar Karvall was insisting. "Elaine hasn't spoken fifty words to him since he came back from his last voyage—"
He laughed and put a hand on Karvall's shoulder. "I know that, Sesar. You don't think, do you, that I need assurance of it?"
"Crazy, I'll say he's crazy," Rovard Grauffis put in. "Did you hear what he said about his rights? Wait till his Grace hears about that."
"Does he lay claim to the ducal throne, Sir Rovard?" Otto Harkaman asked, sharply and seriously.
"Oh, he claims that his mother was born a year and a half before Duke Angus and the true date of her birth falsified to give Angus the succession. Why, his present Grace was three years old when she was born. I was old Duke Fergus' esquire; I carried Angus on my shoulder when Andray Dunnan's mother was presented to the lords and barons the day after she was born."
"Of course he's crazy," Alex Gorram agreed. "I don't know why the Duke doesn't have him put under psychiatric treatment."
"I'd put him under treatment," Harkaman said, drawing a finger across under his beard. "Crazy men who pretend to thrones are bombs that ought to be deactivated, before they blow things up."
"We couldn't do that," Grauffis said. "After all, he's Duke Angus' nephew—"
"I could do it," Harkaman said. "He only has three hundred men in this company of his. Why you people ever let him recruit them Satan only knows," he parenthesized. "I have eight hundred; five hundred ground-fighters. I'd like to see how they shape up in combat, before we space out. I can have them ready for action in two hours, and it'd be all over before midnight."
"No, Captain Harkaman; his Grace would never permit it," Grauffis vetoed. "You have no idea of the political harm that would do among the independent lords on whom we're counting for support. You weren't here on Gram when Duke Ridgerd of Didreksburg had his sister Sancia's second husband poisoned—"
They halted under the colonnade; beyond, the lower main terrace was crowded, and a medley of old love songs was wafting from the sound outlets, for the sixth or eighth time around. He looked at his watch; it was ninety seconds later than the last time he had done so. Give it fifteen more minutes to get started, and another fifteen to get away after the marriage toasts and the felicitations. And no marriage, however pompous, lasted more than half an hour. An hour, then, till he and Elaine would be in the aircar, bulleting toward Traskon.
The love songs stopped abruptly; after a momentary silence, a trumpet, considerably amplified, blared; the "Ducal Salute." The crowd stopped shifting, the buzz of voices ceased. At the head of the landing-stage escalators there was a glow of color and the ducal party began moving down. A platoon of guards in red and yellow, with gilded helmets and tasseled halberds. An esquire bearing the Sword of State. Duke Angus, with his council, Otto Harkaman among them; the Duchess Flavia and her companion-ladies. The household gentlemen, and their ladies. More guardsmen. There was a great burst of cheering; the news-service aircars got into position above the procession. Cousin Nikkolay and a few others stepped out from between the pillars into the sunlight; there was a similar movement at the other side of the terrace. The ducal party reached the end of the central walkway, halted and deployed.
"All right; let's shove off," Cousin Nikkolay said, stepping forward.
Ten minutes since they had come outside; another five to get into position. Fifty minutes, now, till he and Elaine—Lady Elaine Trask of Traskon, for real and for always—would be going home.
"Sure the car's ready?" he asked, for the hundredth time.
His cousin assured him that it was. Figures in Karvall black and flame-yellow appeared across the terrace. The music began again, this time the stately "Nobles' Wedding March," arrogant and at the same time tender. Sesar Karvall's gentleman-secretary, and the Karvall lawyer; executives of the steel mills, the Karvall guard-captain. Sesar himself, with Elaine on his arm; she was wearing a shawl of black and yellow. He looked around in sudden fright; "For the love of Satan, where's our shawl?" he demanded, and then relaxed when one of his gentlemen exhibited it, green and tawny in Traskon colors. The bridesmaids, led by Lady Lavina Karvall. Finally they halted, ten yards apart, in front of the Duke.
* * * * *
"Who approaches us?" Duke Angus asked of his guard-captain.
He had a thin, pointed face, almost femininely sensitive, and a small pointed beard. He was bareheaded except for the narrow golden circlet which he spent most of his waking time scheming to convert into a royal crown. The guard-captain repeated the question.
"I am Sir Nikkolay Trask; I bring my cousin and liege-lord, Lucas, Lord Trask, Baron of Traskon. He comes to receive the Lady-Demoiselle Elaine, daughter of Lord Sesar Karvall, Baron of Karvall mills, and the sanction of your Grace to the marriage between them."
Sir Maxamon Zhorgay, Sesar Karvall's henchman, named himself and his lord; they brought the Lady-Demoiselle Elaine to be wed to Lord Trask of Traskon. The Duke, satisfied that these were persons whom he could address directly, asked if the terms of the marriage-agreement had been reached; both parties affirmed this. Sir Maxamon passed a scroll to the Duke; Duke Angus began to read the stiff and precise legal phraseology.
Marriages between noble houses were not matters to be left open to dispute; a great deal of spilled blood and burned powder had resulted from ambiguity on some point of succession or inheritance or dower rights. Lucas bore it patiently; he didn't want his great-grandchildren and Elaine's shooting it out over a matter of a misplaced comma.
"And these persons here before us do enter into this marriage freely?" the Duke asked, when the reading had ended. He stepped forward as he spoke, and his esquire gave him the two-hand Sword of State, heavy enough to behead a bisonoid. Trask stepped forward; Sesar Karvall brought Elaine up. The lawyers and henchmen obliqued off to the sides. "How say you, Lord Trask?" he asked, almost conversationally.
"With all my heart, your Grace."
"And you, Lady-Demoiselle Elaine?"
"It is my dearest wish, your Grace."
The Duke took the sword by the blade and extended it; they laid their hands on the jeweled pommel.
"And do you, and your houses, avow us, Angus, Duke of Wardshaven, to be your sovereign prince, and pledge fealty to us and to our legitimate and lawful successors?"
"We do." Not only he and Elaine, but all around them, and all the throng in the gardens, answered, the spectators in shouts. Very clearly, above it all, somebody, with more enthusiasm than discretion, was bawling: "Long live Angus the First of Gram!"
"And we, Angus, do confer upon you two, and your houses, the right to wear our badge as you see fit, and pledge ourself to maintain your rights against any and all who may presume to invade them. And we declare that this marriage between you two, and this agreement between your respective houses, does please us, and we avow you two, Lucas and Elaine, to be lawfully wed, and who so questions this marriage challenges us, in our teeth and to our despite."
That wasn't exactly the wording used by a ducal lord on Gram. It was the formula employed by a planetary king, like Napolyon of Flamberge or Rodolf of Excalibur. And, now that he thought of it, Angus had consistently used the royal first-person plural. Maybe that fellow who had shouted about Angus the First of Gram had only been doing what he'd been paid to do. This was being telecast, and Omfray of Glaspyth and Ridgerd of Didreksburg would both be listening; as of now, they'd start hiring mercenaries. Maybe that would get rid of Dunnan for him.
The Duke gave the two-hand sword back to his esquire. The young knight who was carrying the green and tawny shawl handed it to him, and Elaine dropped the black and yellow one from her shoulders, the only time a respectable woman ever did that in public, and her mother caught and folded it. He stepped forward and draped the Trask colors over her shoulders, and then took her in his arms. The cheering broke out again, and some of Sesar Karvall's guardsmen began firing a pom-pom somewhere.
* * * * *
It took a little longer than he had expected to finish with the toasts and shake hands with those who crowded around. Finally, the exit march started, down the long walkway to the landing stage, and the Duke and his party moved away to the rear to prepare for the wedding feast at which everybody but the bride and groom would celebrate. One of the bridesmaids gave Elaine a huge sheaf of flowers, which she was to toss back from the escalator; she held it in the crook of one arm and clung to his with the other.
"Darling; we really made it!" she was whispering, as though it were too wonderful to believe.
Well, wasn't it?
One of the news cars—orange and blue, that was Westlands Telecast & Teleprint—had floated just ahead of them and was letting down toward the landing stage. For a moment, he was angry; that went beyond the outer-orbit limits of journalistic propriety, even for Westlands T & T. Then he laughed; today he was too happy for anger about anything. At the foot of the escalator, Elaine kicked off her gilded slippers—there was another pair in the car; he'd seen to that personally—and they stepped onto the escalator and turned about. The bridesmaids rushed forward, and began struggling for the slippers, to the damage and disarray of their gowns, and when they were half way up, Elaine heaved the bouquet and it burst apart among them like a bomb of colored fragrance, and the girls below snatched at the flowers, shrieking deliriously. Elaine stood, blowing kisses to everybody, and he was shaking his clasped hands over his head, until they were at the top.
When they turned and stepped off, the orange and blue aircar had let down directly in front of them, blocking their way. Now he was really furious, and started forward with a curse. Then he saw who was in the car.
Andray Dunnan, his thin face contorted and the narrow mustache writhing on his upper lip; he had a slit beside the window open and was tilting the barrel of a submachine gun up and out of it.
He shouted, and at the same time tripped Elaine and flung her down. He was throwing himself forward to cover her when there was a blasting multiple report. Something sledged him in the chest; his right leg crumpled under him. He fell—
He fell and fell and fell, endlessly, through darkness, out of consciousness.
He was crucified, and crowned with a crown of thorns. Who had they done that to? Somebody long ago, on Terra. His arms were drawn out stiffly, and hurt; his feet and legs hurt, too, and he couldn't move them, and there was this prickling at his brow. And he was blind.
No; his eyes were just closed. He opened them, and there was a white wall in front of him, patterned with a blue snow-crystal design, and he realized that it was a ceiling and that he was lying on his back. He couldn't move his head, but by shifting his eyes he saw that he was completely naked and surrounded by a tangle of tubes and wires, which puzzled him briefly. Then he knew that he was not on a bed, but on a robomedic, and the tubes would be for medication and wound drainage and intravenous feeding, and the wires would be to electrodes imbedded in his body for diagnosis, and the crown-of-thorns thing would be more electrodes for an encephalograph. He'd been on one of those robomedics before, when he had been gored by a bisonoid on the cattle range.
That was what it was; he was still under treatment. But that seemed so long ago; so many things—he must have dreamed them—seemed to have happened.
Then he remembered, and struggled futilely to rise.
"Elaine!" he called. "Elaine, where are you?"
There was a stir and somebody came into his limited view; his cousin, Nikkolay Trask.
"Nikkolay; Andray Dunnan," he said. "What happened to Elaine?"
Nikkolay winced, as though something he had expected to hurt had hurt worse than he had expected.
"Lucas." He swallowed. "Elaine ... Elaine is dead."
Elaine is dead. That didn't make sense.
"She was killed instantly, Lucas. Hit six times; I don't think she even felt the first one. She didn't suffer at all."
Somebody moaned, and then he realized that it had been himself.
"You were hit twice," Nikkolay was telling him. "One in the leg; smashed the femur. And one in the chest. That one missed your heart by an inch."
"Pity it did." He was beginning to remember clearly, now. "I threw her down, and tried to cover her. I must have thrown her straight into the burst and only caught the last of it myself." There was something else; oh, yes. "Dunnan. Did they get him?"
Nikkolay shook his head. "He got away. Stole the Enterprise and took her off-planet."
"I want to get him myself."
He started to rise again; Nikkolay nodded to someone out of sight. A cool hand touched his chin, and he smelled a woman's perfume, nothing at all like Elaine's. Something like a small insect bit him on the neck. The room grew dark.
Elaine was dead. There was no more Elaine, nowhere at all. Why, that must mean there was no more world. So that was why it had gotten so dark.
He woke again, fitfully, and it would be daylight and he could see the yellow sky through an open window or it would be night and the wall-lights would be on. There would always be somebody with him. Nikkolay's wife, Dame Cecelia; Rovard Grauffis; Lady Lavina Karvall—he must have slept a long time, for she was so much older than he remembered—and her brother, Burt Sandrasan. And a woman with dark hair, in a white smock with a gold caduceus on her breast.
Once, Duchess Flavia, and once Duke Angus himself. He asked where he was, not much caring. They told him, at the Ducal Palace.
He wished they'd all go away, and let him go wherever Elaine was.
Then it would be dark, and he would be trying to find her, because there was something he wanted desperately to show her. Stars in the sky at night, that was it. But there were no stars, there was no Elaine, there was no anything, and he wished that there was no Lucas Trask, either.
But there was an Andray Dunnan. He could see him standing black-cloaked on the terrace, the diamonds in his beret-jewel glittering evilly; he could see the mad face peering at him over the rising barrel of the submachine gun. And then he would hunt for him without finding him, through the cold darkness of space.
The waking periods grew longer, and during them his mind was clear. They relieved him of his crown of electronic thorns. The feeding tubes came out, and they gave him cups of broth and fruit juice. He wanted to know why he had been brought to the Palace.
"About the only thing we could do," Rovard Grauffis told him. "They had too much trouble at Karvall House as it was. You know, Sesar got shot, too."
"No." So that was why Sesar hadn't come to see him. "Was he killed?"
"Wounded; he's in worse shape than you are. When the shooting started, he went charging up the escalator. Didn't have anything but his dress-dagger. Dunnan gave him a quick burst; I think that was why he didn't have time to finish you off. By that time, the guards who'd been shooting blanks from that rapid-fire gun got in a clip of live rounds and fired at him. He got out of there as fast as he could. They have Sesar on a robomedic like yours. He isn't in any danger."
The drainage tubes and medication tubes came out; the tangle of wires around him was removed, and the electrodes with them. They bandaged his wounds and dressed him in a loose robe and lifted him from the robomedic to a couch, where he could sit up when he wished; they began giving him solid food, and wine to drink, and allowed him to smoke. The woman doctor told him he'd had a bad time, as though he didn't know that. He wondered if she expected him to thank her for keeping him alive.
"You'll be up and around in a few weeks," his cousin added. "I've seen to it that everything at Traskon New House will be ready for you by then."
"I'll never enter that house as long as I live, and I wish that wouldn't be more than the next minute. That was to be Elaine's house. I won't go to it alone."
* * * * *
The dreams troubled his sleep less and less as he grew stronger. Visitors came often, bringing amusing little gifts, and he found that he enjoyed their company. He wanted to know what had really happened, and how Dunnan had gotten away.
"He pirated the Enterprise," Rovard Grauffis told him. "He had that company of mercenaries of his, and he'd bribed some of the people at the Gorram shipyards. I thought Alex would kill his chief of security when he found out what had happened. We can't prove anything—we're trying hard enough to—but we're sure Omfray of Glaspyth furnished the money. He's been denying it just a shade too emphatically."
"Then the whole thing was planned in advance."
"Taking the ship was; he must have been planning that for months; before he started recruiting that company. I think he meant to do it the night before the wedding. Then he tried to persuade the Lady-Demoiselle Elaine to elope with him—he seems to have actually thought that was possible—and when she humiliated him, he decided to kill both of you first." He turned to Otto Harkaman, who had accompanied him. "As long as I live, I'll regret not taking you at your word and accepting your offer, then."
"How did he get hold of that Westlands Telecast and Teleprint car?"
"Oh. The morning of the wedding, he screened Westlands editorial office and told them he had the inside story on the marriage and why the Duke was sponsoring it. Made it sound as though there was some scandal; insisted that a reporter come to Dunnan House for a face-to-face interview. They sent a man, and that was the last they saw him alive; our people found his body at Dunnan House when we were searching the place afterward. We found the car at the shipyard; it had taken a couple of hits from the guns at Karvall House, but you know what these press cars are built to stand. He went directly to the shipyard, where his men already had the Enterprise; as soon as he arrived, she lifted out."
He stared at the cigarette between his fingers. It was almost short enough to burn him. With an effort, he leaned forward to crush it out.
"Rovard, how soon will that second ship be finished?"
Grauffis laughed bitterly. "Building the Enterprise took everything we had. The duchy's on the edge of bankruptcy now. We stopped work on the second ship six months ago because we didn't have enough money to keep on with her and still get the Enterprise finished. We were expecting the Enterprise to make enough in the Old Federation to finish the second one. Then, with two ships and a base on Tanith, the money would begin coming in instead of going out. But now—"
"It leaves me where I was on Flamberge," Harkaman added. "Worse. King Napolyon was going to help the Elmersans, and I'd have gotten a command in that. It's too late for that now."
He picked up his cane and used it to push himself to his feet. The broken leg had mended, but he was still weak. He took a few tottering steps, paused to lean on the cane, and then forced himself on to the open window and stood for a moment staring out. Then he turned.
"Captain Harkaman, it might be that you could still get a command, here on Gram. That's if you don't mind commanding under me as owner-aboard. I am going hunting for Andray Dunnan."
They both looked at him. After a moment, Harkaman said:
"I'd count it an honor, Lord Trask. But where will you get a ship?"
"She's half finished now. You already have a crew for her. Duke Angus can finish her for me, and pay for it by pledging his new barony of Traskon."
He had known Rovard Grauffis all his life; until this moment, he had never seen Duke Angus' henchman show surprise.
"You mean, you'll trade Traskon for that ship?" he demanded.
"Finished, equipped and ready for space, yes."
"The Duke will agree to that," Grauffis said promptly. "But, Lucas; Traskon is all you own."
"If I have a ship, I won't need them. I am turning Space Viking."
That brought Harkaman to his feet with a roar of approval. Grauffis looked at him, his mouth slightly open.
"Lucas Trask—Space Viking," he said. "Now I've heard everything."
Well, why not? He had deplored the effects of Viking raiding on the Sword-Worlds, because Gram was a Sword-World, and Traskon was on Gram, and Traskon was to have been the home where he and Elaine would live and where their children and children's children would be born and live. Now the little point on which all of it had rested was gone.
"That was another Lucas Trask, Rovard. He's dead, now."
Grauffis excused himself to make a screen call and then returned to excuse himself again. Evidently Duke Angus had dropped whatever he was doing as soon as he heard what his henchman had to tell him. Harkaman was silent until after he was out of the room, then said:
"Lord Trask, this is a wonderful thing for me. It's not been pleasant to be a shipless captain living on strangers' bounty. I'd hate, though, to have you think, some time, that I'd advanced my own fortunes at the expense of yours."
"Don't worry about that. If anybody's being taken advantage of, you are. I need a space-captain, and your misfortune is my own good luck."
Harkaman started to pack tobacco into his pipe. "Have you ever been off Gram, at all?" he asked.
"A few years at the University of Camelot, on Excalibur. Otherwise, no."
"Well, have you any conception of the sort of thing you're setting yourself to?" The Space Viking snapped his lighter and puffed. "You know, of course, how big the Old Federation is. You know the figures, that is, but do they mean anything to you? I know they don't to a good many spacemen, even. We talk glibly about ten to the hundredth power, but emotionally we still count, 'One, Two, Three, Many.' A ship in hyperspace logs about a light-year an hour. You can go from here to Excalibur in thirty hours. But you could send a radio message announcing the birth of a son, and he'd be a father before it was received. The Old Federation, where you're going to hunt Dunnan, occupies a space-volume of two hundred billion cubic light-years. And you're hunting for one ship and one man in that. How are you going to do it, Lord Trask?"
"I haven't started thinking about how; all I know is that I have to do it. There are planets in the Old Federation where Space Vikings come and go; raid-and-trade bases, like the one Duke Angus planned to establish on Tanith. At one or another of them, I'll pick up word of Dunnan, sooner or later."
"We'll hear where he was a year ago, and by the time we get there, he'll be gone for a year and a half to two years. We've been raiding the Old Federation for over three hundred years, Lord Trask. At present, I'd say there are at least two hundred Space Viking ships in operation. Why haven't we raided it bare long ago? Well, that's the answer: distance and voyage-time. You know, Dunnan could die of old age—which is not a usual cause of death among Space Vikings—before you caught up with him. And your youngest ship's-boy could die of old age before he found out about it."
"Well, I can go on hunting for him till I die, then. There's nothing else that means anything to me."
"I thought it was something like that. I won't be with you, all your life. I want a ship of my own, like the Corisande, that I lost on Durendal. Some day, I'll have one. But till you can command your own ship, I'll command her for you. That's a promise."
Some note of ceremony seemed indicated. Summoning a robot, he had it pour wine for them, and they pledged each other.
Rovard Grauffis had recovered his aplomb by the time he returned accompanied by the Duke. If Angus had ever lost his, he gave no indication of it. The effect on everybody else was literally seismic. The generally accepted view was that Lord Trask's reason had been unhinged by his tragic loss; there might, he conceded, be more than a crumb of truth in that. At first, his cousin Nikkolay raged at him for alienating the barony from the family, and then he learned that Duke Angus was appointing him vicar-baron and giving him Traskon New House for his residence. Immediately he began acting like one at the death-bed of a rich grandmother. The Wardshaven financial and industrial barons, whom he had known only distantly, on the other hand, came flocking around him, offering assistance and hailing him as the savior of the duchy. Duke Angus' credit, almost obliterated by the loss of the Enterprise, was firmly re-established, and theirs with it.
There were conferences at which lawyers and bankers argued interminably; he attended a few at first, found himself completely uninterested, and told everybody so. All he wanted was a ship; the best ship possible, as soon as possible. Alex Gorram had been the first to be notified; he had commenced work on the unfinished sister-ship of the Enterprise immediately. Until he was strong enough to go to the shipyard himself, he watched the work on the two-thousand-foot globular skeleton by screen, and conferred either in person or by screen with engineers and shipyard executives. His rooms at the ducal palace were converted, almost overnight, from sickrooms to offices. The doctors, who had recently been urging him to find new interests and activities, were now warning of the dangers of overexertion. Harkaman finally added his voice to theirs.
"You take it easy, Lucas." They had dropped formality and were on a first-name basis now. "You got hulled pretty badly; you let damage-control work on you, and don't strain the machinery till it's fixed. We have plenty of time. We're not going to get anywhere chasing Dunnan. The only way we can catch him is by interception. The longer he moves around in the Old Federation before he hears we're after him, the more of a trail he'll leave. Once we can establish a predictable pattern, we'll have a chance. Then, some time, he'll come out of hyperspace somewhere and find us waiting for him."
"Do you think he went to Tanith?"
Harkaman heaved himself out of his chair and prowled about the room for a few minutes, then came back and sat down again.
"No. That was Duke Angus' idea, not his. He couldn't put in a base on Tanith, anyhow. You know the kind of a crew he has."
There had been an extensive inquiry into Dunnan's associates and accomplices; Duke Angus was still hoping for positive proof to implicate Omfray of Glaspyth in the piracy. Dunnan had with him a dozen and a half employees of the Gorram shipyards whom he had corrupted. There was some technical ability among them, but for the most part they were agitators and trouble-makers and incompetent workmen. Even under the circumstances, Alex Gorram was glad to see the last of them. As for Dunnan's own mercenary company, there were about a score of former spacemen among them; the rest graded down from bandits through thugs and sneak-thieves to barroom bums. Dunnan himself was an astrogator, not an engineer.
"That gang aren't even good enough for routine raiding," Harkaman said. "They'd never under any circumstances be able to put in a base on Tanith. Unless Dunnan's completely crazy, which I doubt, he's gone to some regular Viking base planet, like Hoth or Nergal or Dagon or Xochitl, to recruit officers and engineers and able spacemen."
"All that machinery and robotic equipment and so on that was going to Tanith—was that aboard when he took the ship?"
"Yes, and that's another reason why he'd go to some planet like Hoth or Nergal or Xochitl. On a Viking-occupied planet in the Old Federation, that stuff's almost worth its weight in gold."
"What's Tanith like?"
"Almost completely Terra-type, third of a Class-G sun. Very much like Haulteclere or Flamberge. It was one of the last planets the Federation colonized before the Big War. Nobody knows what happened, exactly. There wasn't any interstellar war; at least, you don't find any big slag-puddles where cities used to be. They probably did a lot of fighting among themselves, after they got out of the Federation. There's still some traces of combat-damage around. Then they started to decivilize, down to the pre-mechanical level—wind and water power and animal power. They have draft-animals that look like introduced Terran carabaos, and a few small sailboats and big canoes and bateaux on the rivers. They have gunpowder, which seems to be the last thing any people lose.
"I was there, five years ago. I liked Tanith for a base. There's one moon, almost solid nickel iron, and fissionable-ore deposits. Then, like a fool, I hired out to the Elmersans on Durendal and lost my ship. When I came here, your Duke was thinking about Xipototec. I convinced him that Tanith was a better planet for his purpose."
"Dunnan might go there, at that. He might think he was scoring one on Duke Angus. After all, he has all that equipment."
"And nobody to use it. If I were Dunnan, I'd go to Nergal, or Xochitl. There are always a couple of thousand Space Vikings on either, spending their loot and taking it easy between raids. He could sign on a full crew on either. I suggest we go to Xochitl, first. We might pick up news of him, if nothing else."
* * * * *
All right, they'd try Xochitl first. Harkaman knew the planet, and was friendly with the Haulteclere noble who ruled it.
The work went on at the Gorram shipyard; it had taken a year to build the Enterprise, but the steel-mills and engine-works were over the preparatory work of tooling up, and material and equipment was flowing in a steady stream. Lucas let them persuade him to take more rest, and day by day grew stronger. Soon he was spending most of his time at the shipyard, watching the engines go in—Abbot lift-and-drive for normal space, Dillingham hyperdrive, power-converters, pseudograv, all at the center of the globular ship.
Living quarters and workshops went in next, all armored in collapsium-plated steel. Then the ship lifted out to an orbit a thousand miles off-planet, followed by swarms of armored work-craft and cargo-lighters; the rest of the work was more easily done in space. At the same time, the four two-hundred-foot pinnaces that would be carried aboard were being finished. Each of them had its own hyperdrive engines, and could travel as far and as fast as the ship herself.
Otto Harkaman was beginning to be distressed because the ship still lacked a name. He didn't like having to speak of her as "her," or "the ship," and there were many things soon to go on that should be name-marked. Elaine, Trask thought, at once, and almost at once rejected it. He didn't want her name associated with the things that ship would do in the Old Federation. Revenge, Avenger, Retribution, Vendetta; none appealed to him. A news-commentator, turgidly eloquent about the nemesis which the criminal Dunnan had invoked against himself, supplied it, Nemesis it was.
Now he was studying his new profession of interstellar robbery and murder against which he had once inveighed. Otto Harkaman's handful of followers became his teachers. Vann Larch, guns-and-missiles, who was also a painter; Guatt Kirbey, sour and pessimistic, the hyperspatial astrogator who tried to express his science in music; Sharll Renner, the normal-space astrogator. Alvyn Karffard, the exec, who had been with Harkaman longest of all. And Sir Paytrik Morland, a local recruit, formerly guard-captain to Count Lionel of Newhaven, who commanded the ground-fighters and the combat contragravity. They were using the farms and villages of Traskon for drill and practice, and he noticed that while the Nemesis would carry only five hundred ground and air fighters, over a thousand were being trained.
He commented to Rovard Grauffis.
"Yes. Don't mention it outside," the Duke's henchman said. "You and Sir Paytrik and Captain Harkaman will pick the five hundred best. The Duke will take the rest into his service. Some of these days, Omfray of Glaspyth will find out what a Space Viking raid is really like."
And Duke Angus would tax his new subjects of Glaspyth to redeem the pledges on his new barony of Traskon. Some old Pre-Atomic writer Harkaman was fond of quoting had said, "Gold will not always get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can get you gold."
* * * * *
The Nemesis came back to the Gorram yards and settled onto her curved landing legs like a monstrous spider. The Enterprise had borne the Ward sword and atom-symbol; the Nemesis should bear his own badge, but the bisonoid head, tawny on green, of Traskon, was no longer his. He chose a skull impaled on an upright sword, and it was blazoned on the ship when he and Harkaman took her out for her shakedown cruise.
When they landed again at the Gorram yards, two hundred hours later, they learned that a tramp freighter from Morglay had come into Bigglersport in their absence with news of Andray Dunnan. Her captain had come to Wardshaven at Duke Angus' urgent invitation and was waiting for them at the Ducal Palace.
They sat, a dozen of them, around a table in the Duke's private apartments. The freighter captain, a small, precise man with a graying beard, alternately puffed at a cigarette and sipped from a beaker of brandy.
"I spaced out from Morglay two hundred hours ago," he was saying. "I'd been there twelve local days, three hundred Galactic Standard hours, and the run from Curtana was three hundred and twenty. This ship, the Enterprise, spaced out from there several days before I did. I'd say she's twelve hundred hours out of Windsor, on Curtana, now."
The room was still. The breeze fluttered curtains at the open windows; from the garden below, winged night-things twittered.
"I never expected it," Harkaman said. "I thought he'd take the ship out to the Old Federation at once." He poured wine for himself. "Of course, Dunnan's crazy. A crazy man has an advantage, sometimes, like a left-handed knife-fighter. He does unexpected things."
"That wasn't such a crazy move," Rovard Grauffis said. "We have very little direct trade with Curtana. It's only an accident we heard about this when we did."
The freighter captain's beaker was half empty. He filled it to the brim from the decanter.
"She was the first Gram ship there for years," he agreed. "That attracted notice, of course. And his having the blazonry changed, from the sword and atom-symbol to the blue crescent. And the ill-feeling on the part of other captains and planet-side employers about the men he'd lured away from them."
"How many men and what kind?"
The man with the gray beard shrugged. "I was too busy getting a cargo together for Morglay, to pay much attention. Almost a full spaceship complement, officers and spacemen of every kind. And a lot of industrial engineers and technicians."
"Then he is going to use that equipment that was aboard, and put in a base somewhere," somebody said.
"If he left Curtana twelve hundred hours ago, he's still in hyperspace," Guatt Kirbey said. "It's over two thousand from Curtana to the nearest Old Federation planet."
"How far to Tanith?" Duke Angus asked. "I'm sure that's where he's gone. He'd expect me to finish the other ship and equip her like the Enterprise and send her out; he'd want to get there first."
"I'd thought that Tanith would be the last place he'd go," Harkaman said, "but this changes the whole outlook. He could have gone to Tanith."
"He's crazy, and you're trying to apply sane logic to him," Guatt Kirbey said. "You're figuring what you'd do, and you aren't crazy. Of course, I've had my doubts, at times, but—"
"Yes, he's crazy, and Captain Harkaman's allowing for that," Rovard Grauffis said. "Dunnan hates all of us. He hates his Grace, here. He hates Lord Lucas, and Sesar Karvall; of course, he may think he killed both of them. He hates Captain Harkaman. So how could he score all of us off at once? By taking Tanith."
"You say he was buying supplies and ammunition?"
"That's right. Gun ammunition, ship's missiles, and a lot of ground-defense missiles."
"What was he buying them with? Trading machinery?"
"Yes. Lothar Ffayle found out that a lot of gold was transferred to Dunnan from banks in Glaspyth and Didreksburg," Grauffis said. "He got that aboard when he took the ship, evidently."
"All right," Trask said. "We can't be sure of anything, but we have some reasons for thinking he went to Tanith, and that's more than we have for any other planet in the Old Federation. I won't try to estimate the odds against our finding him there, but they're a good deal bigger anywhere else. We'll go there, first."
The outside viewscreen, which had been vacantly gray for over three thousand hours, was now a vertiginous swirl of color, the indescribable color of a collapsing hyperspatial field. No two observers ever saw it alike, and no imagination could vision the actuality. Trask found that he was holding his breath. So, he noticed, was Otto Harkaman, beside him. It was something, evidently, that nobody got used to. Even Guatt Kirbey, the astrogator, was sitting with his pipe clenched in his mouth, staring at the screen.
Then, in an instant, the stars, which had literally not been there before, filled the screen with a blaze of splendor against the black velvet backdrop of normal space. Dead in the center, brighter than all the rest, Ertado's Star, the sun of Tanith, burned yellowly. The light from it was ten hours old.
"Pretty good, Guatt," Harkaman said, picking up his cup.
"Good, Gehenna; it was perfect," somebody else said.
Kirbey was relighting his pipe. "Oh, I suppose it'll have to do," he grudged, around the stem. He had gray hair and an untidy mustache, and nothing was ever quite good enough to satisfy him. "I could have made it a little closer. Need three microjumps, now, and I'll have to cut the last one pretty fine. Now don't bother me." He began punching buttons for data and fiddling with setscrews and verniers.
For a moment, in the screen, Trask could see the face of Andray Dunnan. He blinked it away and reached for his cigarettes, and put one in his mouth wrong-end-to. When he reversed it and snapped his lighter, he saw that his hand was trembling. Otto Harkaman must have seen that, too.
"Take it easy, Lucas," he whispered. "Keep your optimism under control. We only think he might be here."
"I'm sure he is. He has to be."
No; that was the way Dunnan, himself, thought. Let's be sane about this.
"We have to assume he is. If we do, and he isn't it's a disappointment. If we don't, and he is, it's a disaster."
Others, it seemed, thought the same way. The battle-stations board was a solid blaze of red light for full combat readiness.
"All right," Kirbey said. "Jumping."
Then he twisted the red handle to the right and shoved it in viciously. Again the screen boiled with colored turbulence; again dark and mighty forces stalked through the ship like demons in a sorcerer's tower. The screen turned featureless gray as the pickups stared blindly into some dimensionless noplace. Then it convulsed with color again, and this time Ertado's Star, still in the center, was a coin-sized disk, with the little sparks of its seven planets scattered around it. Tanith was the third—the inhabitable planet of a G-class system usually was. It had a single moon, barely visible in the telescopic screen, five hundred miles in diameter and fifty thousand off-planet.
"You know," Kirbey said, as though he was afraid to admit it, "that wasn't too bad. I think we can make it in one more microjump."
Some time, Trask supposed, he'd be able to use the expression "micro-" about a distance of fifty-five million miles, too.
"What do you think about it?" Harkaman asked him, as deferentially as though seeking expert guidance instead of examining his apprentice. "Where should Guatt put us?"
"As close as possible, of course." That would be a light-second at the least; if the Nemesis came out of hyperspace any closer to anything the size of Tanith, the collapsing field itself would kick her back. "We have to assume Dunnan's been there at least nine hundred hours. By that time, he could have put in a detection-station, and maybe missile-launchers, on the moon. The Enterprise carries four pinnaces, the same as the Nemesis; in his place, I'd have at least two of them on off-planet patrol. So let's accept it that we'll be detected as soon as we come out of the last jump, and come out with the moon directly between us and the planet. If it's occupied, we can knock it off on the way in."
"A lot of captains would try to come out with the moon masked off by the planet," Harkaman said.
The big man shook his tousled head. "No. If they have launchers on the moon, they could launch at us in a curve around the planet, by data relayed from the other side, and we'd be at a disadvantage replying. Just go straight in. You hearing this, Guatt?"
"Yeah. It makes sense. Sort of. Now, stop pestering me. Sharll, look here a minute."
The normal-space astrogator conferred with him; Alvyn Karffard, the executive officer, joined them. Finally Kirbey pulled out the big red handle, twisted it, and said, "All right, jumping." He shoved it in. "I suppose I cut it too fine; now we'll get kicked back half a million miles."
The screen convulsed again; when it cleared the third planet was directly in the center; its small moon, looking almost as large, was a little above and to the right, sunlit on one side and planetlit on the other. Kirbey locked the red handle, gathered up his tobacco and lighter and things from the ledge, and pulled down the cover of the instrument-console, locking it.
"All yours, Sharll," he told Renner.
"Eight hours to atmosphere," Renner said. "That's if we don't have to waste a lot of time shooting up Junior, there."
Vann Larch was looking at the moon in the six hundred power screen.
"I don't see anything to shoot. Five hundred miles; one planetbuster, or four or five thermonuclears," he said.
* * * * *
It wasn't right, Trask thought indignantly. Minutes ago, Tanith had been six and a half billion miles away. Seconds ago, fifty-odd million. And now, a quarter of a million, and looking close enough to touch in the screen, it would take them eight hours to reach it. Why, on hyperdrive you could go forty-eight trillion miles in that time.
Well, it took a man just as long to walk across a room today as it had taken Pharaoh the First, or Homo Sap.
In the telescopic screen Tanith looked like any picture of any Terra-type planet from space, with cloud-blurred contours of seas and continents and a vague mottling of gray and brown and green, topped at the pole by an icecap. None of the surface features, not even the major mountain ranges or rivers, were yet distinguishable, but Harkaman and Sharll Renner and Alvyn Karffard and the other old hands seemed to recognize it. Karffard was talking by phone to Paul Koreff, the signals-and-detection officer, who could detect nothing from the moon and nothing that was getting through the Van Allen belt from the planet.
Maybe they'd guessed wrong, at that. Maybe Dunnan hadn't gone to Tanith at all.
Harkaman, who had the knack of putting himself to sleep at will, with some sixth or n-th sense posted as a sentry, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Trask wished he could, too. It would be hours before anything happened, and until then he needed all the rest he could get. He drank more coffee, chain-smoked cigarettes; he rose and prowled about the command room, looking at screens. Signals-and-detection was getting a lot of routine stuff—Van Allen count, micrometeor count, surface temperature, gravitation-field strength, radar and scanner echoes. He went back to his chair and sat down, staring at the screen-image. The planet didn't seem to be getting any closer at all, and it ought to; they were approaching it at better than escape velocity. He sat and stared at it.
He woke with a start. The screen-image was much larger, now. River courses and the shadow lines of mountains were clearly visible. It must be early autumn in the northern hemisphere; there was snow down to the sixtieth parallel and a belt of brown was pushing south against the green. Harkaman was sitting up, eating lunch. By the clock, it was four hours later.
"Have a good nap?" he asked. "We're picking up some stuff, now. Radio and screen signals. Not much, but some. The locals wouldn't have learned enough for that in the five years since I was here. We didn't stay long enough, for one thing."
On decivilized planets that were visited by Space Vikings, the locals picked up bits and scraps of technology very quickly. In the four months of idleness and long conversations while they were in hyperspace he had heard many stories confirming that. But from the level to which Tanith had sunk, radio and screen communication in five years was a little too much of a jump.
"You didn't lose any men, did you?"
That happened frequently—men who took up with local women, men who had made themselves unpopular with their shipmates, men who just liked the planet and wanted to stay. They were always welcomed by the locals for what they could do and teach.
"No, we weren't there long enough for that. Only three hundred and fifty hours. This we're getting is outside stuff; somebody's there beside the locals."
Dunnan. He looked again at the battle-stations board; it was still uniformly red-lighted. Everything was on full combat ready. He summoned a mess-robot, selected a couple of dishes, and began to eat. After the first mouthful, he called to Alvyn Karffard:
"Is Paul getting anything new?" he asked.
Karffard checked. A little contragravity-field distortion effect. It was still too far to be sure. He went back to his lunch. He had finished it and was lighting a cigarette over his coffee when a red light flashed and a voice from one of the speakers shouted.
"Detection! Detection from planet! Radar, and microray!"
Karffard began talking rapidly into a hand-phone; Harkaman unhooked one beside him and listened.
"Coming from a definite point, about twenty-fifth north parallel," he said, aside. "Could be from a ship hiding against the planet. There's nothing at all on the moon."
* * * * *
They seemed to be approaching the planet more and more rapidly. Actually, they weren't, the ship was decelerating to get into an orbit, but the decreasing distance created the illusion of increasing speed. The red lights flashed once more.
"Ship detected! Just outside atmosphere, coming around the planet from the west."
"Is she the Enterprise?"
"Can't tell, yet," Karffard said, and then cried: "There she is, in the screen! That spark, about thirty degrees north, just off the west side."
Aboard her, too, voices from speakers would be shouting, "Ship detected!" and the battle station board would be blazing red. And Andray Dunnan, at the command-desk—
"She's calling us." That was Paul Koreff's voice, out of the squawk-box on the desk. "Standard Sword-World impulse-code. Interrogative: What ship are you? Informative: her screen combination. Request: Please communicate."
"All right," Harkaman said. "Let's be polite and communicate. What's her screen-combination?"
Koreff's voice gave it, and Harkaman punched it out. The communication screen in front of them lit at once; Trask shoved over his chair beside Harkaman's, his hands tightening on the arms. Would it be Dunnan himself, and what would his face show when he saw who confronted him out of his own screen?
It took him an instant to realize that the other ship was not the Enterprise at all. The Enterprise was the Nemesis' twin; her command room was identical with his own. This one was different in arrangements and fittings. The Enterprise was a new ship; this one was old, and had suffered for years at the hands of a slack captain and a slovenly crew.
And the man who sat facing him in the screen was not Andray Dunnan, or any man he had ever seen before. A dark-faced man, with an old scar that ran down one cheek from a little below the eye; he had curly black hair, on his head and on a V of chest exposed by an open shirt. There was an ashtray in front of him, and a thin curl of smoke rose from a cigar in it, and coffee steamed in an ornate but battered silver cup beside it. He was grinning gleefully.
"Well! Captain Harkaman, of the Enterprise, I believe! Welcome to Tanith. Who's the gentleman with you? He isn't the Duke of Wardshaven, is he?"
He glanced quickly at the showback over the screen, to assure himself that his face was not betraying him. Beside him, Otto Harkaman was laughing.
"Why, Captain Valkanhayn; this is an unexpected pleasure. That's the Space Scourge you're in, I take it? What are you doing here on Tanith?"
A voice from one of the speakers shouted that a second ship had been detected coming over the north pole. The dark-faced man in the screen smirked quite complacently.
"That's Garvan Spasso, in the Lamia," he said. "And what we're doing here, we've taken this planet over. We intend keeping it, too."
"Well! So you and Garvan have teamed up. You two were just made for one another. And you have a little planet, all your very own. I'm so happy for both of you. What are you getting out of it—beside poultry?"
The other's self-assurance started to slip. He slapped it back into place.
"Don't kid me; we know why you're here. Well, we got here first. Tanith is our planet. You think you can take it away from us?"
"I know we could, and so do you," Harkaman told him. "We outgun you and Spasso together; why, a couple of our pinnaces could knock the Lamia apart. The only question is, do we want to bother?"
By now, he had recovered from his surprise, but not from his disappointment. If this fellow thought the Nemesis was the Enterprise—Before he could check himself, he had finished the thought aloud.
"Then the Enterprise didn't come here at all!"
The man in the screen started. "Isn't that the Enterprise you're in?"
"Oh, no. Pardon my remissness, Captain Valkanhayn," Harkaman apologized. "This is the Nemesis. The gentleman with me, Lord Lucas Trask, is owner-aboard, for whom I am commanding. Lord Trask, Captain Boake Valkanhayn, of the Space Scourge. Captain Valkanhayn is a Space Viking." He said that as though expecting it to be disputed. "So, I am told, is his associate, Captain Spasso, whose ship is approaching. You mean to tell me that the Enterprise hasn't been here?"
Valkanhayn was puzzled, slightly apprehensive.
"You mean the Duke of Wardshaven has two ships?"
"As far as I know, the Duke of Wardshaven hasn't any ships," Harkaman replied. "This ship is the property and private adventure of Lord Trask. The Enterprise, for which we are looking, is owned and commanded by one Andray Dunnan."
The man with the scarred face and hairy chest had picked up his cigar and was puffing on it mechanically. Now he took it out of his mouth as though he wondered how it had gotten there in the first place.
"But isn't the Duke of Wardshaven sending a ship here to establish a base? That was what we'd heard. We heard you'd gone from Flamberge to Gram to command for him."
"Where did you hear this? And when?"
"On Hoth. That'd be about two thousand hours ago; a Gilgamesher brought the news from Xochitl."
"Well, considering it was fifth or sixth hand, your information was good enough, when it was fresh. It was a year and a half old when you got it, though. How long have you been here on Tanith?"
"About a thousand hours." Harkaman clucked sadly at that.
"Pity you wasted all that time. Well, it was nice talking to you, Boake. Say hello to Garvan for me when he comes up."
"You mean you're not staying?" Valkanhayn was horrified, an odd reaction for a man who had just been expecting a bitter battle to drive them away. "You're just spacing right out again?"
Harkaman shrugged. "Do we want to waste time here, Lord Trask? The Enterprise has obviously gone somewhere else. She was still in hyperspace when Captain Valkanhayn and his accomplice arrived here."
"Is there anything worth staying for?" That seemed to be the reply Harkaman was expecting. "Beside poultry, that is?"
Harkaman shook his head. "This is Captain Valkanhayn's planet; his and Captain Spasso's. Let them be stuck with it."
"But, look; this is a good planet. There's a big local city, maybe ten or twenty thousand people; temples and palaces and everything. Then, there are a couple of old Federation cities. The one we're at is in good shape, and there's a big spaceport. We've been doing a lot of work on it. And the locals won't give you any trouble. All they have is spears and a few crossbows and matchlocks—"
"I know. I've been here."
"Well, couldn't we make some kind of a deal?" Valkanhayn asked. A mendicant whine was beginning to creep into his voice. "I can get Garvan on screen and switch him over to your ship—"
"Well, we have a lot of Sword-World merchandise aboard," Harkaman said. "We could make you good prices on some of it. How are you fixed for robotic equipment?"
"But aren't you going to stay here?" Valkanhayn was almost in a panic. "Listen, suppose I talk to Garvan, and we all get together on this. Just excuse me for a minute—"
As soon as he had blanked out, Harkaman threw back his head and guffawed as though he had just heard the funniest and bawdiest joke in the galaxy. Trask, himself, didn't feel like laughing.
"The humor escapes me," he admitted. "We came here on a fools' errand."
"I'm sorry, Lucas." Harkaman was still shaking with mirth. "I know it's a letdown, but that pair of chiseling chicken thieves! I could almost pity them, if it weren't so funny." He laughed again. "You know what their idea was?"
Trask shook his head. "Who are they?"
"What I called them, a couple of chicken thieves. They raid planets like Set and Hertha and Melkarth, where the locals haven't anything to fight with—or anything worth fighting for. I didn't know they'd teamed up, but that figures. Nobody else would team up with either of them. What must have happened, this story of Duke Angus' Tanith adventure must have filtered out to them, and they thought that if they got here first, I'd think it was cheaper to take them in than run them out. I probably would have, too. They do have ships, of a sort, and they do raid, after a fashion. But now, there isn't going to be any Tanith base, and they have a no-good planet and they're stuck with it."
"Can't they make anything out of it themselves?"
"Like what?" Harkaman hooted. "They have no equipment, and they have no men. Not for a job like that. The only thing they can do is space out and forget it."
"We could sell them equipment."
"We could if they had anything to use for money. They haven't. One thing, we do want to let down and give the men a chance to walk on ground and look at a sky for a while. The girls here aren't too bad, either," Harkaman said. "As I remember, some of them even take a bath, now and then."
"That's the kind of news of Dunnan we're going to get. By the time we'd get to where he's been reported, he'd be a couple of thousand light-years away," he said disgustedly. "I agree; we ought to give the men a chance to get off the ship, here. We can stall this pair along for a while and we won't have any trouble with them."
* * * * *
The three ships were slowly converging toward a point fifteen thousand miles off-planet and over the sunset line. The Space Scourge bore the device of a mailed fist clutching a comet by the head; it looked more like a whisk broom than a scourge. The Lamia bore a coiled snake with the head, arms and bust of a woman. Valkanhayn and Spasso were taking their time about screening back, and he began to wonder if they weren't maneuvering the Nemesis into a cross-fire position. He mentioned this to Harkaman and Alvyn Karffard; they both laughed.
"Just holding ship's meetings," Karffard said. "They'll be yakking back and forth for a couple of hours, yet."
"Yes; Valkanhayn and Spasso don't own their ships," Harkaman explained. "They've gone in debt to their crews for supplies and maintenance till everybody owns everything in common. The ships look like it, too. They don't even command, really; they just preside over elected command-councils."
Finally, they had both of the more or less commanders on screen. Valkanhayn had zipped up his shirt and put on a jacket. Garvan Spasso was a small man, partly bald. His eyes were a shade too close together, and his thin mouth had a bitterly crafty twist. He began speaking at once:
"Captain, Boake tells me you say you're not here in the service of the Duke of Wardshaven at all." He said it aggrievedly.
"That's correct," Harkaman said. "We came here because Lord Trask thought another Gram ship, the Enterprise, would be here. Since she isn't, there's no point in our being here. We do hope, though, that you won't make any difficulty about our letting down and giving our men a couple of hundred hours' liberty. They've been in hyperspace for three thousand hours."
"See!" Spasso clamored. "He wants to trick us into letting him land—"
"Captain Spasso," Trask cut in. "Will you please stop insulting everybody's intelligence, your own included." Spasso glared at him, belligerently but hopefully. "I understand what you thought you were going to do here. You expected Captain Harkaman here to establish a base for the Duke of Wardshaven, and you thought, if you were here ahead of him and in a posture of defense, that he'd take you into the Duke's service rather than waste ammunition and risk damage and casualties wiping you out. Well, I'm very sorry, gentlemen. Captain Harkaman is in my service, and I'm not in the least interested in establishing a base on Tanith."
Valkanhayn and Spasso looked at each other. At least, in the two side-by-side screens, their eyes shifted, each to the other's screen on his own ship.
"I get it!" Spasso cried suddenly. "There's two ships, the Enterprise and this one. The Duke of Wardshaven fitted out the Enterprise, and somebody else fitted out this one. They both want to put in a base here!"
That opened a glorious vista. Instead of merely capitalizing on their nuisance-value, they might find themselves holding the balance of power in a struggle for the planet. All sorts of profitable perfidies were possible.
"Why, sure you can land, Otto," Valkanhayn said. "I know what it's like to be three thousand hours in hyper, myself."
"You're at this old city with the two tall tower-buildings, aren't you?" Harkaman asked. He looked up at the viewscreen. "Ought to be about midnight there now. How's the spaceport? When I was here, it was pretty bad."
"Oh, we've been fixing it up. We got a big gang of locals working for us—"
* * * * *
The city was familiar, from Otto Harkaman's descriptions and from the pictures Vann Larch had painted during the long jump from Gram. As they came in, it looked impressive, spreading for miles around the twin buildings that spired almost three thousand feet above it, with a great spaceport like an eight-pointed star at one side. Whoever had built it, in the sunset splendor of the old Terran Federation, must have done so confident that it would become the metropolis of a populous and prospering world. Then the sun of the Federation had gone down. Nobody knew what had happened on Tanith after that, but evidently none of it had been good.
At first, the two towers seemed as sound as when they had been built; gradually it became apparent that one was broken at the top. For the most part, the smaller buildings scattered widely around them were standing, though here and there mounds of brush-grown rubble showed where some had fallen in. The spaceport looked good—a central octagon mass of buildings, the landing-berths, and, beyond, the triangular areas of airship docks and warehouses. The central building was outwardly intact, and the ship-berths seemed clear of wreckage and rubble.
By the time the Nemesis was following the Space Scourge and the Lamia down, towed by her own pinnaces, the illusion that they were approaching a living city had vanished. The interspaces between the buildings were choked with forest-growth, broken by a few small fields and garden-plots. At one time, there had been three of the high buildings, literally vertical cities in themselves. Where the third had stood was a glazed crater, with a ridge of fallen rubble lying away from it. Somebody must have landed a medium missile, about twenty kilotons, against its base. Something of the same sort had scored on the far edge of the spaceport, and one of the eight arrowheads of docks and warehouses was an indistinguishable slag-pile.
The rest of the city seemed to have died of neglect rather than violence. It certainly hadn't been bombed out. Harkaman thought most of the fighting had been done with subneutron bombs or Omega-ray bombs, that killed the people without damaging the real estate. Or bio-weapons; a man-made plague that had gotten out of control and all but depopulated the planet.
"It takes an awful lot of people, working together at an awful lot of jobs, to keep a civilization running. Smash the installations and kill the top technicians and scientists, and the masses don't know how to rebuild and go back to stone hatchets. Kill off enough of the masses and even if the planet and the know-how is left, there's nobody to do the work. I've seen planets that decivilized both ways. Tanith, I think, is one of the latter."
That had been during one of the long after-dinner bull sessions on the way out from Gram. Somebody, one of the noble gentlemen-adventurers who had joined the company after the piracy of the Enterprise and the murder, had asked:
"But some of them survived. Don't they know what happened?"
"'In the old times, there were sorcerers. They built the old buildings by wizard arts. Then the sorcerers fought among themselves and went away,'" Harkaman said. "That's all they know about it."
You could make any kind of an explanation out of that.
As the pinnaces pulled and nudged the Nemesis down to her berth, he could see people, far down on the spaceport floor, at work. Either Valkanhayn and Spasso had more men than the size of their ships indicated, or they had gotten a lot of locals to work for them. More than the population of the moribund city, at least as Harkaman remembered it.
There had been about five hundred in all; they lived by mining the old buildings for metal, and trading metalwork for food and textiles and powder and other things made elsewhere. It was accessible only by oxcarts traveling a hundred miles across the plains; it had been built by a contragravity-using people with utter disregard for natural travel and transportation routes.
"I don't envy the poor buggers," Harkaman said, looking down at the antlike figures on the spaceport floor. "Boake Valkanhayn and Garvan Spasso have probably made slaves of the lot of them. If I was really going to put in a base here, I wouldn't thank that pair for the kind of public-relations work they've been doing among the locals."
That was just about the situation. Spasso and Valkanhayn and some of their officers met them on the landing stage of the big building in the middle of the spaceport, where they had established quarters. Entering and going down a long hallway, they passed a dozen men and women gathering up rubbish from the floor with shovels and with their hands and putting it into a lifter-skid. Both sexes wore shapeless garments of coarse cloth, like ponchos, and flat-soled sandals. Watching them was another local in a kilt, buskins and a leather jerkin; he wore a short sword on his belt and carried a wickedly thonged whip. He also wore a Space Viking combat helmet, painted with the device of Spasso's Lamia. He bowed as they approached, putting a hand to his forehead. After they had passed, they could hear him shouting at the others, and the sound of whip-blows.
You make slaves out of people, and some will always be slave-drivers; they will bow to you, and then take it out on the others. Harkaman's nose was twitching as though he had a bit of rotten fish caught in his mustache.
"We have about eight hundred of them. There were only three hundred that were any good for work here; we gathered the rest up at villages along the big river," Spasso was saying.
"How do you get food for them?" Harkaman asked. "Or don't you bother?"
"Oh, we gather that up all over," Valkanhayn told him. "We send parties out with landing craft. They'll let down on a village, run the locals out, gather up what's around and bring it here. Once in a while they put up a fight, but the best they have is a few crossbows and some muzzle-loading muskets. When they do, we burn the village and machine-gun everybody we see."
"That's the stuff," Harkaman approved. "If the cow doesn't want to be milked, just shoot her. Of course, you don't get much milk out of her again, but—"
The room to which their hosts guided them was at the far end of the hall. It had probably been a conference room or something of the sort, and originally it had been paneled, but the paneling had long ago vanished. Holes had been dug here and there in the walls, and he remembered having noticed that the door was gone and the metal groove in which it had slid had been pried out.
There was a big table in the middle, and chairs and couches covered with colored spreads. All the furniture was handmade, cunningly pegged together and highly polished. On the walls hung trophies of weapons—thrusting-spears and throwing-spears, crossbows and quarrels, and a number of heavy guns, crude things, but carefully made.
"Pick all this stuff up off the locals?" Harkaman asked.
"Yes, we got most of it at a big town down at the forks of the river," Valkanhayn said. "We shook it down a couple of times. That's where we recruited the fellows we're using to boss the workers."
Then he picked up a stick with a leather-covered knob and beat on a gong, bawling for wine. A voice, somewhere, replied, "Yes, master; I come!" and in a few moments a woman entered carrying a jug in either hand. She was wearing a blue bathrobe several sizes too large for her, instead of the poncho things the slaves in the hallway wore. She had dark brown hair and gray eyes; if she had not been so obviously frightened she would have been beautiful. She set the jugs on the table and brought silver cups from a chest against the wall: when Spasso dismissed her, she went out hastily.
"I suppose it's silly to ask if you're paying these people anything for the work they do or for the things you take from them," Harkaman said. From the way the Space Scourge and Lamia people laughed, it evidently was. Harkaman shrugged. "Well, it's your planet. Make any kind of a mess out of it you want to."
"You think we ought to pay them?" Spasso was incredulous. "Damn bunch of savages!"
"They aren't as savage as the Xochitl locals were when Haulteclere took it over. You've been there; you've seen what Prince Viktor does with them now."
"We haven't got the men or equipment they have on Xochitl," Valkanhayn said. "We can't afford to coddle the locals."
"You can't afford not to," Harkaman told him. "You have two ships, here. You can only use one for raiding; the other will have to stay here to hold the planet. If you take them both away, the locals, whom you have been studiously antagonizing, will swamp whoever you leave behind. And if you don't leave anybody behind, what's the use of having a planetary base?"
"Well, why don't you join us," Spasso finally came out with it. "With our three ships we could have a real thing, here."
Harkaman looked at him inquiringly. "The gentlemen," Trask said, "are putting this wrongly. They mean, why don't we let them join us?"
"Well, if you want to put it like that," Valkanhayn conceded. "We'll admit, your Nemesis would be the big end of it. But why not? Three ships, we could have a real base here. Nikky Gratham's father only had two when he started on Jagannath, and look what the Grathams got there now."
"Are we interested?" Harkaman asked.
"Not very, I'm afraid. Of course, we've just landed; Tanith may have great possibilities. Suppose we reserve decision for a while and look around a little."
* * * * *
There were stars in the sky, and, for good measure, a sliver of moon on the western horizon. It was only a small moon, but it was close. He walked to the edge of the landing stage, and Elaine was walking with him. The noise from inside, where the Nemesis crew were feasting with those of the Lamia and Space Scourge grew fainter. To the south, a star moved; one of the pinnaces they had left on off-planet watch. There was firelight far below, and he could hear singing. Suddenly he realized that it was the poor devils of locals whom Valkanhayn and Spasso had enslaved. Elaine went away quickly.
"Have your fill of Space Viking glamour, Lucas?"
He turned. It was Baron Rathmore, who had come along to serve for a year or so and then hitch a ride home from some base planet and cash in politically on having been with Lucas Trask.
"For the moment. I'm told that this lot aren't typical."
"I hope not. They're a pack of sadistic brutes, and piggish along with it."
"Well, brutality and bad manners I can condone, but Spasso and Valkanhayn are a pair of ignominious little crooks, and stupid along with it. If Andray Dunnan had gotten here ahead of us, he might have done one good thing in his wretched life. I can't understand why he didn't come here."
"I think he still will," Rathmore said. "I knew him and I knew Nevil Ormm. Ormm's ambitious, and Dunnan is insanely vindictive—" He broke off with a sour laugh. "I'm telling you that!"
"Why didn't he come here directly, then?"
"Maybe he doesn't want a base on Tanith. That would be something constructive; Dunnan's a destroyer. I think he took that cargo of equipment somewhere and sold it. I think he'll wait till he's fairly sure the other ship is finished. Then he'll come in and shoot the place up, the way—" He bit that off abruptly.
"The way he did my wedding; I think of it all the time."
* * * * *
The next morning, he and Harkaman took an aircar and went to look at the city at the forks of the river. It was completely new, in the sense that it had been built since the collapse of Federation civilization and the loss of civilized technologies. It was huddled on a long, irregularly triangular mound, evidently to raise it above flood-level. Generations of labor must have gone into it. To the eyes of a civilization using contragravity and powered equipment it wasn't at all impressive. Fifty to a hundred men with adequate equipment could have gotten the thing up in a summer. It was only by forcing himself to think in terms of spadeful after spadeful of earth, cartload after cartload creaking behind straining beasts, timber after timber cut with axes and dressed with adzes, stone after stone and brick after brick, that he could appreciate it. They even had it walled, with a palisade of tree-trunks behind which earth and rocks had been banked, and along the river were docks, at which boats were moored. The locals simply called it Tradetown.