Just before their car set down, Flandry protested to Kossara, “God damn
it, why does your parliament have to meet in person? You’ve got holocom
systems. Your politicians could send and receive images … and we
could’ve rigged untraceable methods to call them and give them the facts
“Hush, darling.” She laid a hand across his fist. “You know why.
Electronics will do for ornamental relics. The Skupshtina is alive, it
debates and decides real things, the members need intimacies,
“But you, you have to go among murderers to reach them.”
“And I fear for you,” she said quietly. “We should both stop.”
He looked long at her, and she at him, in the seat they shared. Beryl
eyes under wide brow and bronze hair, strong fair features though her
smile quivered the least bit, height, ranginess, fullness, the warmth of
her clasp and the summery fragrance of herself: had she ever been more
beautiful? The vitality that surged in her, the serenity beneath, were
no work of a drug; it had simply let her put aside shock, exhaustion,
grief for this while and be altogether Kossara.
“If there is danger today,” she said, “I thank God He lets me be in it
He prevented himself from telling her he felt no gratitude. They kissed,
very briefly and lightly because the car was crammed with ychans.
It landed in a parking lot at the edge of Zorkagrad,
None farther in could have accommodated the swarm of battered vehicles
which was arriving. Besides, a sudden appearance downtown might have
provoked alarm and a quick reaction by the enemy. A march ought to have
a calming effect. Flandry and Kossara donned cowled cloaks, which should
hide their species from a cursory glance when they were surrounded by
hemianthropoid xenos, and stepped outside.
A west wind skirled against the sun, whose blaze seemed paled in a pale
heaven. Clouds were brighter; they scudded in flocks, blinding white,
their shadows sweeping chill across the world, off, on, off, on. Winged
animals wheeled and thinly cried. Trees around the lot and along the
street that ran from it–mostly Terran, oak, elm, beech, maple–cast
their outer branches about, creaked, soughed Delphic utterances though
tongue after fire-tongue ripped loose to scrittle off over the pavement.
Rainpuddles wandered and wandered. All nature was saying farewell.
The ychans closed in around the humans. They numbered a good four
hundred, chosen by their steadcaptains as bold, cool-headed, skilled
with the knives, tridents, harpoons, and firearms they bore. Ywodh of
Nanteiwon, appointed their leader by Kyrwedhin before the
parliamentarian returned here, put them in battle-ready order. They
spoke little and showed scant outward excitement, at least to human eyes
or nostrils; such was the way of the Obala. They did not know the ins
and outs of what had happened, nor greatly care. It was enough that
their Gospodar had been betrayed by the enemy of their forefathers, that
his niece had come home to speak truth, and that they were her soldiers.
The wind snapped two standards in their van, star white on blue of Yovan
Matavuly, ax red on gold of Gwyth.
“All set,” Ywodh reported. A shout: “Forward!” He took the lead. Flandry
and Kossara would fain have clasped hands as they walked, but even
surrounded must clutch their cloaks tight against this tricksy air. The
thud of their boots was lost amidst digitigrade slither and click.
At first it was predictable they would encounter nobody. Here was a new
district of private homes and clustered condominium units, beyond the
scope of forcefield generators that offered the inner city some
protection. Residents had sought safer quarters. An occasional militia
squad, on patrol to prevent looting, observed the procession from a
distance but did not interfere.
Farther on, buildings were older, higher, close-packed on streets which
had narrowed and went snakily uphill: red tile roofs, stucco walls of
time-faded gaudiness, signs and emblems hung above doorways, tenements,
offices, midget factories, restaurants, taverns, amusements, a
bulbous-domed parish church, a few big stores and tiny eccentric shops
by the score, the kind of place that ought to have pulsed with traffic
of vehicles and foot, been lively with movement, colors, gestures broad
or sly, words, laughter, whistling, song, sorrow, an accordion or a
fiddle somewhere, pungencies of roast corn and nuts for sale to keep the
passerby warm, oddments in display windows, city men, landmen,
offworlders, vagabonds, students, soldiers, children, grannies, the
unforgettably gorgeous woman whom you know you will never glimpse again
… A few walkers stepped aside, a few standers poised in doorways or
leaned on upper-story sills, warily staring. Now and then a groundcar
detoured. A civilian policeman in brown uniform and high-crowned hat
joined Ywodh; they talked; he consulted his superiors via minicom,
stayed till an aircar had made inspection from above, and departed.
“This is downright creepy,” Flandry murmured to Kossara. “Has everybody
evacuated, or what?”
She passed the question on. Untrained humans could not have conveyed
information accurately in that wise; but soon she told Flandry from
Ywodh: “Early this morning–the organizers must have worked the whole
night–an ispravka started against Imperial personnel. That’s when
ordinary citizens take direct action. Not a riot or lynching. The people
move under discipline, often in their regular Voyska units; remember,
every able-bodied adult is a reservist. Such affairs seldom get out of
control, and may have no violence at all. Offenders may simply be
expelled from an area. Or they may be held prisoner while spokesmen of
the people demand the authorities take steps to punish them. A few
ispravkai have brought down governments. In this case, what’s happened
is that Terrans and others who serve the Imperium were rounded up into
certain buildings: hostages for the Gospodar’s release and the good
behavior of their Navy ships. The Zamok denounced the action as illegal
and bound to increase tension, demanded the crowds disperse, and sent
police. The people stand fast around those buildings. The police haven’t
charged them; no shots have yet been fired on either side.”
“I’ve heard of worse customs,” Flandry said.
Puzzled, she asked, “Shouldn’t the plotters be pleased?”
Flandry shrugged. “I daresay they are. Still, don’t forget the vast
majority of your officials must be patriotic, and whether or not they
prefer independence, consider civil war to be the final recourse. The
top man among them issued that cease-and-desist order.” He frowned.
“But, um, you know, this nails down a lot of our possible helpers, both
citizens and police. The enemy isn’t expecting us. However, if too many
parliament members refuse to board the secession railroad, he’ll have a
clear field for attempting a coup d’etat. Maybe the firebrand who
instigated that, uh, ispravka is a Merseian himself, in human skin.”
The wind boomed between walls.
A minor commotion occurred on the fringes of the troop. Word flew back
and forth. “Chives!” Kossara gasped.
The ychans let him through. He also went cloaked to muffle the fact of
his race from any quick glance. Emerald features were eroded from spare
to gaunt; eyes were more fallow than amber; but when Flandry whooped and
took him by the shoulders, Chives said crisply, “Thank you, sir. Donna
Vymezal, will you allow me the liberty of expressing my sympathy at your
“Oh, you dear clown!” She hugged him. Her lashes gleamed wet. Chives
suffered the gesture in embarrassed silence. Flandry sensed within him a
They continued through hollow streets. A fighter craft passed low above
chimneys. Air whined and snarled in its wake. “What’ve you been doing?”
Flandry asked. “How’d you find us?”
“If you have no immediate statement or directive for me, sir,” the
precise voice replied, “I will report chronologically. Pursuant to
instructions, I landed at the spaceport and submitted to inspection. My
cover story was approved and I given license, under police registry, to
remain here for a stated period as per my declared business. Interested
in exotics, many townspeople conversed with me while I circulated among
them in the next few planetary days. By pretending to less familiarity
with Homo sapiens than is the case, I gathered impressions of their
individual feelings as respects the present imbroglio. At a more
convenient time, sir, if you wish, I will give you the statistical
“I must confess it was a complete surprise when a Naval patrol entered
my lodgings and declared an intention to take me in custody. Under the
circumstances, sir, I felt conformity would be imprudent. I endeavored
not to damage irreparably men who wore his Majesty’s uniform, and in due
course will return the borrowed blaster you observe me wearing.
Thereupon I took refuge with a gentleman I suspected of vehement
anti-Terran sentiments. May I respectfully request his name and the
names of his associates be omitted from your official cognizance?
Besides their hospitality and helpfulness toward me, they exhibited no
more than a misguided zeal for the welfare of this planet, and indeed I
was the occasion of their first overt unlawful act. They sheltered me
only after I had convinced them I was a revolutionary for my own
society, and that my public designation as a Merseian agent was a
calumny which the Imperialists could be expected to employ against their
kind too. They were persuaded rather easily; I would not recommend them
for the Intelligence Corps. I got from them clothes, disguise materials,
equipment convertible to surveillance purposes, and went about
collecting data for myself.
“They do possess a rudimentary organization. Through this, via a phone
call, my host learned that a large delegation of zmays was moving on the
Capitol. Recalling Donna Vymezal’s accounts of her background, and
trusting she and you had not perished after all, I thought you might be
here. To have this deduction confirmed was … most gratifying, sir.”
Flandry chewed his lip for a while before he said,
“Those were Imperials who came to arrest you? Not Dennitzans?”
“No, sir, not Dennitzans. There could be no mistake.” Chives spoke
mutedly. His thin green fingers hauled the cowl closer around his face.
“You went unmolested for days, and then in a blink–” Flandry’s speech
chopped off. They were at their goal.
Well into Old Town, the party passed between two many-balconied
mansions, out onto a plateau of Royal Hill. Constitution Square opened
before them, broad, slate-flagged, benches, flowerbeds, trees–empty,
empty. In the middle was a big fountain, granite catchbasin, Toman
Obilich and Vladimir locked in bronze combat, water dancing white but
its sound and spray borne off by the wind. Westward buildings stood well
apart, giving a view down across roofs to Lake Stoyan, metal-bright
shimmer and shiver beyond the curve of the world. Directly across the
square was the Capitol, a sprawling, porticoed marble mass beneath a
gilt dome whose point upheld an argent star. A pair of kilometers
further on, a rock lifted nearly sheer, helmeted with the battlements
and banners of the Zamok.
Flandry’s gaze flickered. He identified a large hotel, office buildings,
cafes, fashionable stores, everything antiquated but dignified, the gray
stones wearing well; how many Constitution Squares had he known in his
life? But this lay deserted under wind, chill, and hasty cloud shadows.
A militia squad stood six men on the Capitol verandah, six flanking the
bottom of the stairs; their capes flapped, their rifles gleamed whenever
a sunbeam smote and then went dull again. Aircraft circled far overhead.
Otherwise none save the newcomers were in sight. Yet surely watchers
waited behind yonder shut doors, yonder blank panes: proprietors,
caretakers, maybe a few police–a few, since the turmoil was elsewhere
in town and no disturbance expected here. Who besides? He walked as if
through a labyrinth of mirages. Nothing was wholly what he sensed,
except the blaster butt under his hand and a stray russet lock of
She had no such dreads. As they trod into the plaza, he heard her
whisper, “Here we go, my brave beloved. They’ll sing of you for a
He shoved hesitation out of his mind and readied himself to fight.
But no clash came. Despite what they told him when the move was being
planned, he’d more or less awaited behavior like that when a gaggle of
demonstrators wanted to invade a legislative session on any human planet
he knew–prohibition, resistance, then either a riot or one of the sides
yielding. If officialdom conceded in order to avoid the riot, it would
be grudgingly, after prolonged haggling; and whatever protesters were
admitted would enter under strict conditions, well guarded, to meet
Dennitza, though, had institutionalized if not quite legalized
procedures like the ispravka. Through the officer he met on the way,
Ywodh had explained his band’s intent. Word had quickly reached the
Chief Justice. Four hundred zmays would not lightly descend on
Zorkagrad, claiming to represent the whole Obala; they could be trusted
to be mannerly and not take an unreasonable time to make their points;
urged by Kyrwedhin, a majority in the third house of the Skupshtina
endorsed their demand. No guns greeted them, aside from those of the
corporal’s guard at the entrance; and they bore their own arms inside.
Up the stairs–past armored doors that recalled the Troubles–through an
echoful lobby–into a central chamber where the parliament in joint
session waited–Flandry raked his glance around, seeking menaces to his
woman and shelters for her.
The room was a half ellipsoid. At the far-end focus, a dais bore the
Gospodar’s lectern, a long desk, and several occupied chairs. To right
and left, tiers held the seats of members, widely spaced. Skylights cast
fleetingness of weather into steadiness of fluorescents, making the
polished marble floor seem to stir. On gilt mural panels were painted
the saints and heroes of Dennitza. The lawmakers sat according to their
groupings, Lords in rainbow robes, Folk in tunics and trousers or in
gowns, Zmayi in leather and metal. After the outdoors, Flandry breathed
an air which felt curdled by fear and fury.
Banners dipped to an old man in black who sat behind the lectern. Slowly
the fishers advanced, while unseen telescanners watched on behalf of the
world. In the middle of the floor, the ychans halted. Silence
encompassed them. Flandry’s pulse thuttered.
“Zdravo,” said the Chief Justice, and added a courteous Eriau “Hydhref.”
His hand forgot stateliness, plucked at his white beard. “We have …
let you in … for unity’s sake. My understanding is, your delegation
wishes to speak relevantly to the present crisis–a viewpoint which
might else go unheard. You in turn will, will understand why we must
limit your time to fifteen minutes.”
Ywodh bowed, palms downward, tail curved. Straightening, he let his
quarterdeck basso roll. “We thank the assembly. I’ll need less than
that; but I think you’ll then want to give us more.” Flandry’s eyes
picked out Kyrwedhin. Weird, that the sole Dennitzan up there whom he
knew should bear Merseian genes. “Worthies and world,” Ywodh was saying,
“you’ve heard many a tale of late: how the Emperor wants to crush us,
how a new war is nearly on us because of his folly or his scheming to
slough us off, how his agents rightly or wrongly charged the Gospodar’s
niece Kossara Vymezal with treason and–absolutely wrongly–sold her for
a slave, how they’ve taken the Gospodar himself prisoner on the same
excuse, how they must have destroyed the whole homestead of his
brother-in-law the voivode of Dubina Dolyina to grind out any spark of
free spirit, how our last choices left are ruin or revolution–You’ve
“I say each piece of it is false.” He flung an arm in signal. With a
showmanship that humans would have had to rehearse, his followers opened
their ranks. “And here to gaff the lies is Kossara Vymezal, sister’s
daughter to Bodin Miyatovich our Gospodar!”
She bounded from among them, across the floor, onto the dais, to take
her place between the antlers of the lectern. A moan lifted out of the
benched humans, as if the fall wind had made entry; the zmayi uttered a
surflike rumble. “What, what, what is this?” quavered the Chief Justice.
Nobody paid him heed. Kossara raised her head and cried forth so the
“Hear me, folk! I’m not back from the dead, but I am back from hell, and
I bear witness. The devils are not Terrans but Merseians and their
creatures. My savior was, is, not a Dennitzan but a Terran. Those who
shout, ‘Independence!’ are traitors not to the Empire but to Dennitza.
Their single wish is to set humans at each other’s throats, till the
Roidhun arrives and picks our bones. Hear my story and judge.”
Flandry walked toward her, Chives beside him. He wished it weren’t too
disturbing to run. Nike of Samothrace had not borne a higher or more
defenseless pride than she did. They took stance beneath her, facing the
outer door. Her tones marched triumphant:
“–I escaped the dishonor intended me by the grace of God and the
decency of this man you see here, Captain Sir Dominic Flandry of his
Majesty’s service. Let me tell what happened from the beginning. Have I
your leave, worthies?”
Gunshots answered. Screams flew ragged. A blaster bolt flared outside
Flandry’s weapon jumped free. The tiers of the Skupshtina turned into a
yelling scramble. Fifty-odd men pounded through the doorway. Clad like
ordinary Dennitzans, all looked hard and many looked foreign. They bore
“Get down, Kossara!” Flandry shouted. Through him ripped: Yes, the enemy
did have an emergency force hidden in a building near the square, and
somebody in this room used a minicom to bring them. The Revolutionary
Committee–they’ll take over, they’ll proclaim her an impostor–
He and Chives were on the dais. She hadn’t flattened herself under the
lectern. She had gone to one knee behind it, sidearm in hand, ready to
snipe. The attackers were deploying around the room. Two dashed by
either side of the clustered, bewildered fishers.
Their blaster beams leaped, convergent on the stand. Its wood exploded
in flame, its horns toppled. Kossara dropped her pistol and fell back.
Chives pounced zigzag. A bolt seared and crashed within centimeters of
him. He ignored it; he was taking aim. The first assassin’s head became
a fireball. The second crumpled, grabbed at the stump of a leg, writhed
and shrieked a short while. Chives reached the next nearest, wrapped his
tail around that man’s neck and squeezed, got an elbow-beaking
single-arm lock on another, hauled him around for a shield and commenced
“I say,” he called through the din to Ywodh, “you chaps might pitch in a
bit, don’t you know.”
The steadcaptain bellowed. His slugthrower hissed. A male beside him
harpooned a foeman’s belly. Then heedless of guns, four hundred big
seafarers joined battle.
Flandry knelt by Kossara. From bosom to waist was seared bloody
wreckage. He half raised her. She groped after him with hands and eyes.
“Dominic, darling,” he barely heard, “I wish–” He heard no more.
For an instant he imagined revival, life-support machinery, cloning …
No. He’d never get her to a hospital before the brain was gone beyond
any calling back of the spirit. Never.
He lowered her. I won’t think yet. No time. I’d better get into that
fight. The ychans don’t realize we need a few prisoners.
Dusk fell early in fall. Above the lake smoldered a sunset remnant.
Otherwise blue-black dimness drowned the land. Overhead trembled a few
stars; and had he looked from his office window aloft in the Zamok,
Flandry could have seen city lights, spiderwebs along streets and single
glows from homes. Wind mumbled at the panes.
Finally granted a rest, he sat back from desk and control board, feeling
his chair shape its embrace to his contours. Despite the drugs which
suppressed grief, stimulated metabolism, and thus kept him going,
weariness weighted every cell. He had turned off the fluoros. His
cigarette end shone red. He couldn’t taste the smoke, maybe because the
dark had that effect, maybe because tongue and palate were scorched.
Well, went his clockwork thought, that takes care of the main business.
He had just been in direct conversation with Admiral da Costa. The
Terran commander appeared reasonably well convinced of the good faith of
the provisional government whose master, for all practical purposes,
Flandry had been throughout this afternoon. Tomorrow be would discuss
the Gospodar’s release. And as far as could be gauged, the Dennitzan
people were accepting the fact they had been betrayed. They’d want a
full account, of course, buttressed by evidence; and they wouldn’t
exactly become enthusiastic Imperialists; but the danger of revolution
followed by civil war seemed past.
So maybe tomorrow I can let these chemicals drain out of me, let go my
grip and let in my dead. Tonight the knowledge that there was no more
Kossara reached him only like the wind, an endless voice beyond the
windows. She had been spared that, he believed, had put mourning quite
from her for the last span, being upheld by urgency rather than a need
to go through motions, by youth and hope, by his presence beside her.
Whereas I–ah, well, I can carry on. She’d’ve wanted me to.
The door chimed. What the deuce? His guards had kept him alone among
electronic ghosts. Whoever got past them at last in person must be
authoritative and persuasive. He waved at an admit plate and to turn the
lights back on. Their brightness hurt his eyes.
A slim green form in a white kilt entered, bearing a tray where stood
teapot, cup, plates and bowls of food. “Your dinner, sir,” Chives
“I’m not hungry,” said the clockwork. “I didn’t ask for–”
“No, sir. I took the liberty.” Chives set his burden down on the desk.
“Allow me to remind you, we require your physical fitness.”
Her planet did. “Very good, Chives.” Flandry got down some soup and
black bread. The Shalmuan waited unobtrusively.
“That did help,” the man agreed. “You know, give me the proper pill and
I might sleep.”
“You–you may not wish it for the nonce, sir.”
“What?” Flandry sharpened his regard. Chives had lost composure. He
stood head lowered, tail a-droop, hands hard clasped: miserable.
“Go on,” Flandry said. “You’ve gotten me nourished. Tell me.”
The voice scissored off words: “It concerns those personnel, sir, whom
you recall the townsmen took into custody.”
“Yes. I ordered them detained, well treated, till we can check them out
individually. What of them?”
“I have discovered they include one whom I, while a fugitive,
ascertained had come to Zorkagrad several days earlier. To be frank,
sir, this merely confirmed my suspicion that such had been the case. I
must have been denounced by a party who recognized your speedster at the
port and obtained the inspectors’ record of me. This knowledge must then
have made him draw conclusions and recommend actions with respect to
“Needless to say, sir, I make no specific accusations. The guilt could
lie elsewhere than in the party I am thinking of.”
“Not measurably likely, among populations the size we’ve got.” Beneath
the drumhead of imposed emotionlessness, Flandry felt his body stiffen.
Seldom did he see Chives’ face distorted. “Lieutenant Commander Dominic
Hazeltine, sir. Your son.”
Two militiamen escorted the prisoner into the office. “You may go,”
Flandry told them.
They stared unsurely from him, standing slumped against night in a
window, to the strong young man they guarded. “Go,” Flandry repeated.
“Wait outside with my servant. I’ll call on the intercom when I want
They saluted and obeyed. Flandry and Hazeltine regarded each other,
mute, until the door had closed. The older saw an Imperial undress
uniform, still neat upon an erect frame, and a countenance half Persis’
where pride overmastered fear. The younger saw haggardness clad in a
“Well,” Flandry said at last. Hazeltine extended a hand. Flandry looked
past it. “Have a seat,” he invited. “Care for a drink?” He indicated
bottle and glasses on his desk. “I remember you like Scotch.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Hazeltine spoke as low, free of the croak in the opposite
throat. He smiled, and smiled again after they had both sat down holding
their tumblers. Raising his, he proposed, “Here’s to us. Damn few like
us, and they’re all dead.”
They had used the ancient toast often before. This time Flandry did not
respond. Hazeltine watched him a moment, grimaced, and tossed off a
swallow. Then Flandry drank.
Hazeltine leaned forward. His words shook. “Father, you don’t believe
that vapor about me. Do you?”
Flandry took out his cigarette case. “I don’t know what else to
believe.” He flipped back the lid. “Somebody who knew Chives and the
Hooligan fingered him. The date of your arrival fits in.” He chose a
cigarette. “And thinking back, I find the coincidence a trifle much that
you called my attention to Kossara Vymezal precisely when she’d reached
Terra. I was a pretty safe bet to skyhoot her off to Diomedes, where she
as an inconvenient witness and I as an inconvenient investigator could
be burked in a way that’d maximize trouble.” He puffed the tobacco into
lighting, inhaled, streamed smoke till it veiled him, and sighed: “You
were overeager. You should have waited till she’d been used at least a
few days, and a reputable Dennitzan arranged for to learn about this.”
“I didn’t–No, what are you saying?” Hazeltine cried.
Flandry toyed with the case. “As was,” he continued levelly, “the only
word which could be sent, since the Gospodar would require proof and is
no fool … the word was merely she’d been sold for a slave. Well, ample
provocation. Where were you, between leaving Terra and landing here? Did
you maybe report straight to Aycharaych?”
Hazeltine banged his glass down on the chair arm. “Lies!” he shouted.
Red and white throbbed across his visage. “Listen, I’m your son. I swear
to you by–”
“Never mind. And don’t waste good liquor. If I’d settled on Dennitza as
I planned, the price we’d’ve paid for Scotch–” Flandry gave his lips a
respite from the cigarette. He waved it. “How were you recruited? By the
Merseians, I mean. Couldn’t be brainscrub. I know the signs too well.
Blackmail? No, implausible. You’re a bright lad who wouldn’t get
suckered into that first mistake they corral you by–a brave lad who’d
sneer at threats. But sometime during the contacts you made in line of
Hazeltine’s breath rasped. “I didn’t! How can I prove to you, Father, I
“Simple,” Flandry said. “You must have routine narco immunization. But
we can hypnoprobe you.”
Hazeltine sagged back. His glass rolled across the floor.
“The Imperial detachment brought Intelligence personnel and their
apparatus, you know,” Flandry continued. “I’ve asked, and they can take
you tomorrow morning. Naturally, any private facts which emerge will
Hazeltine raised an aspen hand. “You don’t know–I–I’m
“Yes, of course, of course. I can’t be ‘probed … without my mind being
Flandry sighed again. “Come, now. We don’t deep-condition our agents
against giving information to their own people, except occasional
supersecrets. After all, a ‘probe can bring forth useful items the
conscious mind has forgotten. Don’t fear if you’re honest, son. The
lightest treatment will clear you, and the team will go no further.”
Abruptly Hazeltine cast himself on his knees before Flandry. Words burst
from his mouth like the sweat from his skin. “Yes, then, yes, I’ve been
working for Merseia. Not bought, nothing like that, I thought the future
was theirs, should be theirs, not this walking corpse of an
Empire–Merciful angels, can’t you see their way’s the hope of humankind
too?–” Flandry blew smoke to counteract the reek of terror. “I’ll
cooperate. I will, I will. I wasn’t evil, Dad. I had my orders about
you, yes, but I hated what I did, and Aycharaych doubted you’d really be
killed, and I knew I was supposed to let that girl be bought first by
somebody else before I told you but when we happened to arrive in time I
couldn’t make myself wait–” He caught Flandry by the knees. “Dad, in
Mother’s name, let my mind live!”
Flandry shoved the clasp aside, rose, stepped a couple of meters off,
and answered, “Sorry. I could never trust you not to leave stuff buried
in your confession that could rise to kill or enslave too many more
young girls.” For a few seconds he watched the crouched, spastic shape.
“I’m under stim and heavy trank,” he said. “A piece of machinery. I’ve a
far-off sense of how this will feel later on, but mostly that’s
abstract. However … you have till morning, son. What would you like
while you wait? Ill do my best to provide it.”
Hazeltine uncoiled. On his feet, he howled, “You cold devil, at least
I’ll kill you first! And then myself!”
He charged. The rage which doubled his youthful strength was not amok;
he came as a karate man, ready to smash a ribcage and pluck out a heart.
Flandry swayed aside. He passed a hand near the other.
Razor-edged, the lid of the cigarette case left a shallow red gash in
the right cheek. Hazeltine whirled for a renewed assault. Flandry gave
ground. Hazeltine followed, boxing him into a corner. Then the knockout
potion took hold. Hazeltine stumbled, reeled, flailed his arms, mouthed,
and caved in.
Flandry sought the intercom. “Come remove the prisoner,” he directed.
Day broke windless and freezing cold. The sun stood in a rainbow ring
and ice crackled along the shores of Lake Stoyan. Zorkagrad lay silent
under bitter blue, as if killed. From time to time thunders drifted
across its roofs, arrivals and departures of spacecraft. They gleamed
meteoric. Sometimes, too, airships whistled by, armored vehicles
rumbled, boots slammed on pavement. About noon, one such vessel and one
such march brought Bodin Miyatovich home.
He was as glad to return unheralded. Too much work awaited him for
ceremonies–him and Dominic Flandry. But the news did go out on the
‘casts; and that was like proclaiming Solstice Feast. Folk ran from
their houses, poured in from the land, left their patrols to shout,
dance, weep, laugh, sing, embrace perfect strangers; and every church
From a balcony of the Zamok he watched lights burn and bob through
twilit streets, bonfires in squares, tumult and clamor. His breath
smoked spectral under the early stars. Frost tinged his beard. “This
can’t last,” he muttered, and stepped back into the office.
When the viewdoor closed behind him, stillness fell except for chimes
now muffled. The chill he had let in remained a while. Flandry, hunched
in a chair, didn’t seem to notice.
Miyatovich gave the Terran a close regard. “You can’t go on either,” he
said. “If you don’t stop dosing yourself and let your glands and nerves
function normally, they’ll quit on you.”
Flandry nodded. “I’ll stop soon.” From caverns his eyes observed a
The big gray-blond man hung up his cloak. “I’ll admit I couldn’t have
done what got done today, maybe not for weeks, maybe never, without
you,” he said. “You knew the right words, the right channels; you had
the ideas. But we are done. I can handle the rest.”
He went to stand behind his companion, laying ringers on shoulders,
gently kneading. “I’d like to hide from her death myself,” he said.
“Aye, it’s easier for me. I’d thought her lost to horror, and learned
she was lost in honor. While if you and she–Dominic, listen. I made a
chance to call my wife. She’s at our house, not our town house, a place
in the country, peace, woods, cleanness, healing. We want you there.” He
paused. “You’re a very private man, aren’t you? Well, nobody will poke
into your grief.”
“I’m not hiding,” Flandry replied in monotone. “I’m waiting. I expect a
message shortly. Then I’ll take your advice.”
“Interrogation results from a certain Mers–Roidhunate agent we
captured. I’ve reason to think he has some critical information.”
“Hoy?” Miyatovich’s features, tired in their own right, kindled. He cast
himself into an armchair confronting Flandry. It creaked beneath his
“I’m in a position to evaluate it better than anyone else,” the Terran
persisted. “How long does da Costa insist on keeping his ships here ‘in
case we need further help’?–Ah, yes, five standard days, I remember.
Well, I’ll doubtless need about that long at your house; I’ll be numb,
“I’ll take a printout in my luggage, to study when I’m able. Your job
meanwhile will be to … not suppress the report. You probably couldn’t;
besides, the Empire needs every drop of data we can wring out of what
enemy operatives we catch. But don’t let da Costa’s command scent any
special significance in the findings of this particular ‘probe job.”
The Gospodar fumbled for pipe and tobacco pouch. “Why?”
“I can’t guarantee what we’ll learn, but I have a logical suspicion–Are
you sure you can keep the Dennitzan fleet mobilized, inactive, another
couple of weeks?”
“Yes.” Miyatovich grew patient. “Maybe you don’t quite follow the
psychology, Dominic. Da Costa wants to be certain we won’t rebel. The
fact that we aren’t dispersing immediately makes him leery. He hasn’t
the power to prevent us from whatever we decide to do, but he thinks his
presence as a tripwire will deter secessionism. All right, in five
Terran days his Intelligence teams can establish it’s a bogeyman, and he
can accept my explanation that we’re staying on alert for a spell yet in
case Merseia does attack. He’ll deem us a touch paranoid, but he’ll
return to base with a clear conscience.”
“You have to give your men the same reason, don’t you?”
“Right. And they’ll accept it. In fact, they’d protest if I didn’t issue
such an order, Dennitza’s lived too many centuries by the abyss; this
time we nearly went over.”
Miyatovich tamped his pipe bowl needlessly hard. “I’ve gotten to know
you well enough, I believe, in this short while, that I can tell you the
whole truth,” he added. “You thought you were helping me smooth things
out with respect to the Empire. And you were, you were. But my main
reason for quick reconciliation is … to get the Imperials out of the
Zorian System while we still have our own full strength.”
“And you’ll strike back at Merseia,” Flandry said.
The Gospodar showed astonishment. “How did you guess?”
“I didn’t guess. I knew–Kossara. She told me a lot.”
Miyatovich gathered wind and wits. “Don’t think I’m crazy,” he urged.
“Rather, I’ll have to jump around like sodium in the rain, trying to
keep people and Skupshtina from demanding action too loudly before the
Terrans leave. But when the Terrans do–” His eyes, the color of hers,
grew leopard-intent. “We want more than revenge. In fact, only a few of
us like myself have suffered what would have brought on a blood feud in
the old days. But I told you we live on the edge. We have got to show we
aren’t safe for unfriends to touch. Otherwise, what’s next?”
“Nemo me impune lacessit,” Flandry murmured.
“No matter. Ancient saying. Too damned ancient; does nothing ever change
at the heart?” Flandry shook his head. The chemical barriers were
growing thin. “I take it, then, in the absence of da Costa or some other
Imperial official–who’d surely maintain anything as atavistic as
response to aggression is against policy and must in all events be
referred to the appropriate authorities, in triplicate, for debate–in
the absence of that, as sector governor you’ll order the Dennitzan fleet
on a retaliatory strike.”
Miyatovich nodded. “Yes.”
“Have you considered the consequences?”
“I’ll have time to consider them further, before we commit. But … if
we choose the target right, I don’t expect Merseia will do more than
protest. The fact seems to be, at present they are not geared for war
with Terra. They were relying on a new civil war among us. If instead
they get hit, the shock ought to make them more careful about the whole
“What target have you in mind?”
Miyatovich frowned, spent a minute with a lighter getting his pipe
started, finally said, “I don’t yet know. The object is not to start a
war, but to punish behavior which could cause one. The Roidhunate
couldn’t write off a heavily populated planet. Nor would I lead a
genocidal mission. But, oh, something valuable, maybe an industrial
center on a barren metal-rich globe–I’ll have the War College study
“If you succeed,” Flandry warned, “you’ll be told you went far beyond
“That can be argued. Those powers aren’t too well defined, are they? I
like to imagine Hans Molitor will sympathize.” The Gospodar shrugged.
“If not, what becomes of me isn’t important. I’m thinking of the
children and grandchildren.”
“Uh-huh. Well, you’ve confirmed what–Hold on.” The phone buzzed.
Flandry reached to press accept. He had to try twice before he made it.
A countenance half as stark as his looked from the screen. “Lieutenant
Mitchell reporting, sir. Hypnoprobing of the prisoner Dominic Hazeltine
has been completed.”
“Results?” The question was plane-flat.
“You predicted aright, sir. The subject was deep-conditioned.” Mitchell
winced at a recollection unpleasant even in his line of work. “I’d never
seen or heard of so thorough a treatment. He went into shock almost at
once. In later stages, the stimuli necessary were–well, he hasn’t got a
forebrain left to speak of.”
“I want a transcript in full,” Flandry said. “Otherwise, you’re to seal
the record, classified Ultimate Secret, and your whole team will keep
silence. I’ll give you a written directive on that, authorized by
“Yes, sir.” Mitchell showed puzzlement. He must be wondering why the
emphasis. Intelligence didn’t make a habit of broadcasting what it
learned. Unless–“Sir, you realize, don’t you, this is still raw
material? More incoherent than usual, too, because of the brain
channeling. We did sort out his basic biography, details of his most
recent task, that kind of thing. Offhand, the rest of what we got seems
promising. But to fit the broken, scrambled association chains together,
interpret the symbols and find their significance–”
“I’ll take care of that,” Flandry snapped. “Your part is over.”
“Yes, sir.” Mitchell dropped his gaze. “I’m … sorry … on account of
the relationship involved. He really did admire you. Uh, what shall we
do about him now?”
Flandry fell quiet. Miyatovich puffed volcanic clouds. Outside, the
“Let me see him,” Flandry said.
Interlinks flickered. In the screen appeared the image of a young man,
naked on a bed, arms spreadeagled to meet the tubes driven into his
veins, chest and abdominal cavities opened for the entry of machines
that kept most cells alive. He stared at the ceiling with eyes that
never moved nor blinked. His mouth dribbled. Click, chug, it said in the
background, click, chug.
Flandry made a noise. Miyatovich seized his hand.
After a while Flandry stated, “Thank you. Switch it off.”
They held Kossara Vymezal in a coldvault until the Imperials had left.
This was by command of the Gospodar, and folk supposed the reason was
she was Dennitza’s, nobody else’s, and said he did right. As many as
were able would attend her funeral.
The day before, she was brought to the Cathedral of St. Clement, though
none save kin were let near. Only the four men of her honor guard were
there when Dominic Flandry came.
They stood in uniform of the Narodna Voyska, heads lowered, rifles
reversed, at the corners of her bier. He paid them no more mind than he
did the candles burning in tall holders, the lilies, roses, viyenatz
everywhere between, their fragrance or a breath of incense or the
somehow far-off sound of a priest chanting behind the iconostasis, which
filled the cool dim air. Alone he walked over the stones to her. Evening
sunlight slanted through windows and among columns, filtered to a domed
ceiling, brought forth out of dusk, remote upon gold and blue, the
Twelve Apostles and Christ Lord of All.
At first he was afraid to look, dreading less the gaping glaring
hideousness he had last seen–that was only what violent death
wrought–than the kind of rouged doll they made when Terran bodies lay
in state. Forcing himself, he found that nothing more had been done than
to cleanse her, close the eyes, bind the chin, gown and garland her. The
divided coffin lid showed her down to the bosom. The face he saw was
hers, hers, though color was gone and time had eased it into an inhuman
This makes me a little happier, dear, he thought. I didn’t feel it was
fitting that they mean to build you a big tomb on Founders’ Hill. I
wanted your ashes strewn over land and sea, into sun and wind. Then if
ever I came back here I could dream every brightness was yours. But they
understand what they do, your people. A corner of his mouth bent upward.
It’s I who am the sentimental old fool. Would you laugh if you could
He stooped closer. You believed you would know, Kossara. If you do,
won’t you help me believe too–believe that you still are?
His sole answer was the priest’s voice rising and falling through
archaic words. Flandry nodded. He hadn’t expected more. He couldn’t keep
himself from telling her, I’m sorry, darling.
And I won’t kiss what’s left, I who kissed you. He searched among his
languages for the best final word. Sayonara. Since it must be so.
Stepping back a pace, he bowed three times very deeply, turned, and
Bodin Miyatovich and his wife waited outside. The weather was milder
than before, as if a ghost of springtime flitted fugitive ahead of
winter. Traffic boomed in the street. Walkers cast glances at the three
on the stairs, spoke to whatever companions they had, but didn’t stop;
they taught good manners on Dennitza.
Draga Miyatovich took Flandry by the elbow. “Are you well, Dominic?” she
asked anxiously. “You’ve gone pale.”
“No, nothing,” he said. “I’m recovering fast, thanks to your kindness.”
“You should rest. I’ve noticed you hour after hour poring over that
report–” She saw his expression and stopped her speech.
In a second he eased his lips, undamped his fists, and raised memory of
what he had come from today up against that other memory. “I’d no
choice,” he said. To her husband: “Bodin, I’m ready to work again. With
you. You see, I’ve found your target.”
The Gospodar peered around. “What? Wait,” he cautioned.
“True, we can’t discuss it here,” Flandry agreed. “Especially, I
suppose, on holy ground … though she might not have minded.”
She’d never have been vindictive. But she’d have understood how much
this matters to her whole world: that in those broken mutterings of my
son’s I found what I thought I might find, the coordinates of Chereion,
The raiders from Dennitza met the guardians of the red sun, and
Within the command bridge of the Vatre Zvezda, Bodin Miyatovich stared
at a display tank. Color-coded motes moved around a stellar globe to
show where each vessel of his fleet was–and, as well as scouts and
instruments could learn, each of the enemy’s–and what it did and when
it died. But their firefly dance, of some use to a lifelong
professional, bewildered an unskilled eye; and it was merely a sideshow
put on by computers whose real language was numbers. He swore and looked
away in search of reality.
The nearest surrounded him in metal, meters, intricate consoles,
flashing signal bulbs, dark-uniformed men who stood to their duties, sat
as if wired in place, walked back and forth on rubbery-shod feet.
Beneath a hum of engines, ventilators, a thousand systems throughout the
great hull, their curt exchanges chopped. To stimulate them, it was cool
here, with a thunderstorm tang of ozone.
The Gospodar’s gaze traveled on, among the view-screens which studded
bulkheads, overhead, deck–again, scarcely more than a means for keeping
crew who did not have their ship’s esoteric senses from feeling trapped.
Glory brimmed the dark, stars in glittering flocks and Milky Way shoals,
faerie-remote glimmer of nebulae and a few sister galaxies. Here in the
outer reaches of its system, the target sun was barely the brightest, a
coal-glow under Bellatrix. At chance moments a spark would flare and
vanish, a nuclear burst close enough to see. But most were too distant;
and never another vessel showed, companion or foe. Such was the scale of
And yet it was not large as space combats went. Springing from
hyperdrive to normal state, the Dennitzan force–strong, but hardly an
armada–encountered Merseian craft which sought to bar it from
accelerating inward. As more and more of the latter drew nigh and
matched courses with invaders, action spread across multimillions of
kilometers. Hours passed before two or three fighters came so near, at
such low relative speeds, that they could hope for a kill; and often
their encounter was the briefest spasm, followed by hours more of
maneuver. Those gave time to make repairs, care for the wounded, pray
for the dead.
“They’ve certainly got protection,” Miyatovich growled. “Who’d have
expected this much?”
Scouts had not been able to warn him. The stroke depended altogether on
swiftness. Merseian observers in the neighborhood of Zoria had surely
detected the fleet’s setting out. Some would have gone to tell their
masters, others would have dogged the force, trying to learn where it
was bound. (A few of those had been spotted and destroyed, but not
likely all.) No matter how carefully plotted its course, and no matter
that its destination was a thinly trafficked part of space, during the
three-week journey its hyperwake must have been picked up by several
travelers who passed within range. So many strange hulls together,
driving so hard through Merseian domains, was cause to bring in the
If Miyatovich was to do anything to Chereion, he must get there, finish
his work, and be gone before reinforcements could arrive. Scouts of his,
prowling far in advance near a sun whose location seemed to be the
Roidhunate’s most tightly gripped secret, would have carried too big a
risk of giving away his intent. He must simply rush in full-armed, and
“We can take them, can’t we?” he asked.
Rear Admiral Raich, director of operations, nodded.
“Oh, yes. They’re outnumbered, outgunned. I wonder why they don’t
“Merseians aren’t cowards,” Captain Yulinatz, skipper of the
dreadnaught, remarked. “Would you abandon a trust?”
“If my orders included the sensible proviso that I not contest lost
cases when it’s possible to scramble clear and fight another day–yes, I
would,” Raich said. “Merseians aren’t idiots either.”
“Could they be expecting help?” Miyatovich wondered. He gnawed his
mustache and scowled.
“I doubt it,” Raich replied. “We know nothing significant can reach us
soon.” He did keep scouts far-flung throughout this stellar vicinity,
now that he was in it. “They must have the same information to base the
same conclusions on.”
Flandry, who stood among them, his Terran red-white-and-blue gaudy
against their indigo or gray, cleared his throat. “Well, then,” he said,
“the answer’s obvious. They do have orders to fight to the death. Under
no circumstances may they abandon Chereion. If nothing else, they must
try to reduce our capability of damaging whatever is on the planet.”
“Bonebrain doctrine,” Raich grunted.
“Not if they’re guarding something vital,” Miyatovich said. “What might
“We can try for captures,” Yulinatz suggested: reluctantly, because it
multiplied the hazard to his men.
Flandry shook his head. “No point in that,” he declared. “Weren’t you
listening when he talked en route? Nobody lands on Chereion except by
special permission which is damn hard to get–needs approval of both the
regional tribune and the planet’s own authorities, and movements are
severely restricted. I don’t imagine a single one of the personnel we’re
killing and being killed by has come within an astronomical unit of the
“Yes, yes, I heard,” Yulinatz snapped. “What influence those beings must
“That’s why we’ve come to hit them,” the Gospodar said in his beard.
Yulinatz’s glance went to the tank. A green point blinked: a cruiser was
suffering heavily from three enemy craft which paced her. A yellow point
went out, and quickly another: two corvettes lost. His tone grew raw.
“Will it be worth the price to us?”
“That we can’t tell till afterward.” Miyatovich squared his shoulders.
“We could disengage and go home, knowing we’ve thrown a scare into the
enemy. But we’d never know what opportunity we did or did not forever
miss. We will proceed.”
In the end, a chieftain’s main duty is to say, “On my head be it.”
Flandry’s word brought their eyes to him. “I anticipated some such
quandary,” he stated. “What we need is a quick survey–a forerunner to
get a rough idea of what is on Chereion and report back. Then we can
Raich snorted. “We need veto rights over the laws of statistics too.”
“If the guard is this thick at this distance,” Yulinatz added, “what
chance has the best speedster ever built for any navy of getting
Miyatovich, comprehending, swallowed hard.
“I brought along my personal boat,” Flandry said. “She was not built for
“No, Dominic,” Miyatovich protested.
“Yes, Bodin,” Flandry answered.
Vatre Zvezda unleashed a salvo. No foes were close. None could match a
Nova-class vessel. She was huge, heavy-armored, intricately
compartmented, monster-powered in engines, weapons, shielding fields,
less to join battle than to keep battle away from the command posts at
her heart. Under present conditions, it was not mad, but it was
unreasonable that she fired at opponents more than a million kilometers
distant. They would have time to track those missiles, avoid them or
blow them up.
The reason was to cover Hooligan’s takeoff.
She slipped from a boat lock, through a lane opened momentarily in the
fields, outward like an outsize torpedo. Briefly in her aft-looking
viewscreens the dreadnaught bulked, glimmering spheroid abristle with
guns, turrets, launch tubes, projectors, sensors, generators, snatchers,
hatches, watchdomes, misshapen moon adrift among the stars. Acceleration
dwindled her so fast that Yovan Vymezal gasped, as if the interior were
not at a steady Dennitzan gravity but the full unbalanced force had
crushed the breath from him.
In the pilot’s chair, Flandry took readings, ran off computations,
nodded, and leaned back. “We won’t make approach for a good
three-quarters of an hour,” he said, “and nothing’s between us and our
nominal target. Relax.” ‘
Vymezal–a young cadre lieutenant of marines, Kossara’s cousin and in a
sturdy male fashion almost unendurably like her–undid his safety web.
He had been invited to the control cabin as a courtesy; come passage
near the enemy destroyer they were aimed at, he would be below with his
dozen men, giving them what comfort he could in their helplessness, and
Chives would be here as copilot. His question came hesitant, not
frightened but shy: “Sir, do you really think we can get past? They’ll
know pretty soon we’re not a torp, we’re a manned vessel. I should think
they won’t be satisfied to take evasive action, they’ll try for a kill.”
“You volunteered, didn’t you? After being warned this is a dangerous
Vymezal flushed. “Yes, sir. I wouldn’t beg off if I could. I was just
wondering. You explained it’s not necessarily a suicide mission.”
The odds are long that it is, my boy.
“You said,” the earnest voice stumbled on, “your oscillators are well
enough tuned that you can go on hyper-drive deep into a gravity
well–quite near the sun. You planned to make most of our transit that
way. Why not start at once? Why first run straight at hostile guns? I’m
just wondering, sir, just interested.”
Flandry smiled. “Sure you are,” he replied, “and I’m sorry if you
supposed for a minute I suppose otherwise. The reason is simple. We’ve a
high kinetic velocity right now with respect to Chereion. You don’t lose
energy of relativistic motion merely because for a while you quantum-hop
around the light-speed limit. Somewhere along the line, we have to match
our vector to the planet’s. That’s better done here, where we have elbow
room, than close in, where space may be crammed with defenses. We gain
time–time to increase surprise at the far end–by
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows
posing as a missile while we adjust our velocity. But a missile should
logically have a target. Within the cone of feasible directions, that
destroyer seemed like our best bet. Let me emphasize, the operative word
Vymezal eased and chuckled. “Thank you, sir. I’m a dice addict. I know
when to fade.”
“I’m more a poker player.” Flandry offered a cigarette, which was
accepted, and took one for himself. It crossed his mind: how strange he
should still be using the box which had snapped shut on his son, and
give it no particular thought.
Well, why throw away a tool I’d want duplicated later? I’ve been taught
to avoid romantic gestures except when they serve a practical demagogic
Vymezal peered ahead at the ruby sun. Yes, his profile against the
star-clouds of Sagittarius was as much like Kossara’s as young Dominic’s
had been like Persis’. What can I write to Persis? Can I? Maybe my
gesture is to carry this cigarette case in my pocket for the rest of my
“What information have we?” the lieutenant almost whispered.
“Very little, and most we collected personally while we approached,”
Flandry said. “Red dwarf star, of course; early type, but still billions
of years older than Sol or Zoria, and destined to outlive them. However,
not unduly metal-poor,” as Diomedes is where I put her at stake for no
more possible win than the damned Empire. “Distribution of higher
elements varies a good bit in both space and time. The system appears
normal for its kind, whatever ‘normal’ may mean: seven identified
planets, Chereion presumably the only vitafer. We can’t predict further;
life has no such thing as a norm. I do expect Chereion will be, m-m,
And not an inappropriate place to leave my bones. Flandry inhaled
acridity and gazed outward. With all the marvels and mysteries yonder,
he wasn’t seeking death. In the last few weeks, his wounds had scarred
over. But scar tissue is not alive. He no longer minded the idea of
death. He wished, though, it had been possible to leave Chives behind,
and Kossara’s cousin.
A magnifying screen emblazoned the Merseian destroyer, spearhead on a
field of stars.
“Torpedo coming, sir,” Chives stated. “Shall I dispose of it?” His
fingers flicked across the gun control board before him. A firebolt
sprang hell-colored. Detector-computer systems signaled a hit. The
missile ceased accelerating. Either its drive was disabled or this was a
programmed trick. In the second case, if Hooligan maintained the same
vector, a moment’s thrust would bring it sufficiently close that
radiation from the exploding warhead could cripple electronics, leave
her helpless and incidentally pass a death sentence on her crew.
“Keep burning till we’re sure,” Flandry ordered. That required a quick
change of course. Engines roared, steel sang under stress,
constellations whirled. He felt his blood tingle and knew he was still a
Flame fountained. A crash went through hull and flesh. The deck heaved.
Shouts came faintly from aft.
Gee-fields restabilized. “The missile obviously had a backup detonator,”
Chives said. “It functioned at a safe remove from us, and our force
screens fended off a substantial piece of debris without harm. Those
gatortails are often inept mechanicians, would you not agree, sir?” His
own tail switched slim and smug.
“Maybe. Don’t let that make you underestimate the Chereionites.” Flandry
studied the readouts before him.
His pulse lifted. They were matched to their goal world. A few minutes
at faster-than-light would bring them there, and–
“Stand by,” he called.
The eeriest thing was that nothing happened.
The planet spun in loneliness around its ember sun. Air made a thin
bordure to its shield, shading from blue to purple to the winter sky of
space. Hues were iron-rusty and desert-tawny, overlaid by blue-green
mottlings, hoar polar caps, fierce glint off the few shrunken seas which
remained. A small, scarred moon swung near.
It had to be the world of Flandry’s search. No other was possible. But
who stood guard? War raved through outer space; here his detectors
registered only a few automatic traffic-control stations in orbit,
easily bypassed. Silence seeped through the hull of his vessel and
filled the pilot’s cabin.
Chives broke it: “Analysis indicates habitability for us is marginal,
sir. Biotypes of the kind which appear to be present–sparsely–have
adapted to existing conditions but could not have been born under them.
Given this feeble irradiation, an immense time was required for the loss
of so much atmosphere and hydrosphere.” He paused. “The sense of age and
desolation is quite overwhelming, sir.”
Flandry, his face in the hood of a scannerscope, muttered, “There are
cities. In good repair, fusion powerplants at work … though putting
out very little energy for complexes their size … The deserts are
barren, the begrown regions don’t look cultivated–too saline, I’d
guess. Maybe the dwellers live on synthetic food. But why no visible
traffic? Why no satellite or ground defenses?”
“As for the former, sir,” Chives ventured, “the inhabitants may
generally prefer a contemplative, physically austere existence. Did not
Aycharaych intimate that to you on various occasions? And as for the
latter question, Merseian ships have maintained a cordon, admitting none
except an authorized few.”
“That is”–the tingle in Flandry sharpened–“if an intruder like us ever
came this close, the game would be up anyway?”
“I do not suggest they have no wiles in reserve, sir.”
“Ye-e-es. The Roidhunate wouldn’t keep watch over pure philosophers.”
Decision slammed into Flandry like sword into sheath. “We can’t learn
more where we are, and every second we linger gives them an extra chance
to notice us and load a trap. We’re going straight down!”
He gave the boat a surge of power.
Nonetheless, his approach was cautious. If naught else, he needed a
while to reduce interior air pressure to the value indicated for the
surface ahead of them. (Sounds grew muffled; pulse quickened; breast
muscles worked enough to feel. Presently he stopped noticing much,
having always taken care to maintain a level of acclimation to thin air.
But he was glad that gravity outside would be weak, about half a gee.)
Curving around the night hemisphere, he studied light-bejeweled towers
set in the middle of rock and sand wastes, wondered greatly at what he
saw, and devised a plan of sorts.
“We’ll find us a daylit place and settle alongside,” he announced on the
intercom. “If they won’t talk to us, we’ll maybe go in and talk to
them.” For his communicator, searching all bands, had drawn no hint of–
No! A screen flickered into color. He looked at the first Chereionite
face he could be certain was not Aycharaych’s. It had the same spare
beauty, the same deep calm, but as many differences of sculpture as
between one human countenance and the next. And from the start, even
before speech began, he felt a … heaviness: nothing of sardonic humor
or flashes of regret.
“Talk the conn, Chives,” he directed. A whistling had begun, and the
badlands were no longer before but below him. Hooligan was an easier
target now than she had been in space; she had better be ready to dodge
and strike back.
“You are not cleared for entry,” said the screen in Eriau which was
mellow-toned but did not sing like Aycharaych’s. “Your action is
forbidden under strict penalties, by command of the Roidhun in person,
renewed in each new reign. Can you offer a justification?”
Huh? jabbed through Flandry. Does he assume this is a Merseian boat and
I a Merseian man? “Em–emergency,” he tried, too astonished to invent a
glib story. He had expected he would declare himself as more or less
what he was, and hold his destination city hostage to his guns and
missiles. Whether or not the attempt could succeed in any degree, he had
no notion. At best he’d thought he might bear away a few hints about the
beings who laired here.
“Have you control over your course?” inquired the voice.
“Yes. Let me speak to a ranking officer.”
“You will go approximately five hundred kilometers northwest of your
immediate position. Prepare to record a map.” The visage vanished, a
chart appeared, two triangles upon it. “The red apex shows where you
are, the blue your mandatory landing site, a spacefield. You will stay
inboard and await instructions. Is this understood?”
“We’ll try. We, uh, we have a lot of speed to kill. In our condition,
fast braking is unsafe. Can you give us about half an hour?”
Aycharaych would not have spent several seconds reaching a decision.
“Permitted. Be warned, deviations may cause you to be shot down.
Proceed.” Nor would he have broken contact with not a single further
Outside was no longer black, but purple. The spacecraft strewed thunder
across desert. “What the hell, sir?” Chives exploded.
“Agreed,” said Flandry. His tongue shifted to an obscure language they
both knew. “Use this lingo while that channel’s open.”
“What shall we do?”
“First, play back any pictures we got of the place we’re supposed to
go.” Flandry’s fingers brushed a section of console. On an inset screen
came a view taken from nearby space under magnification. His trained
eyes studied it and a few additional. “A spacefield, aye, standard
Merseian model, terminal and the usual outbuildings. Modest-sized, no
vessels parked. And way off in wilderness.” He twisted his mustache.
“You know, I’ll bet that’s where every visitor’s required to land. And
then he’s brought in a closed car to a narrowly limited area which is
all he ever sees.”
“Shall we obey, sir?”
“Um, ‘twould be a pity, wouldn’t it, to pass by that lovely city we had
in mind. Besides, they doubtless keep heavy weapons at the port; our
pictures show signs of it. Once there, we’d be at their mercy. Whereas I
suspect that threat to blast us elsewhere was a bluff. Imagine a
stranger pushing into a prohibited zone on a normal planet–when the
system’s being invaded! Why aren’t we at least swarmed by military
“Very good, sir. We can land in five minutes.” Chives gave his master a
pleading regard. “Sir, must I truly stay behind while you debark?”
“Somebody has to cover us, ready to scramble if need be. We’re
Intelligence collectors, not heroes. If I call you and say, ‘Escape,’
Chives, you will escape.”
“Yes, sir,” the Shalmuan forced out. “However, please grant me the
liberty of protesting your decision not to wear armor like your men.”
“I want the full use of my senses.” Flandry cast him a crooked smile and
patted the warm green shoulder. “I fear I’ve often strained your
loyalty, old chap. But you haven’t failed me yet.”
“Thank you, sir.” Chives stared hard at his own busy hands. “I …
endeavor … to give satisfaction.”
Time swooped past.
“Attention!” cried from the screen. “You are off course! You are in
absolutely barred territory!”
“Say on,” Flandry jeered. He half hoped to provoke a real response. The
voice only denounced his behavior.
A thump resounded and shivered. The tone of wind and engines ceased.
They were down.
Flandry vaulted from his chair, snatched a combat helmet, buckled it on
as he ran. Beneath it he already wore a mindscreen, as did everybody
aboard. Otherwise he was’ attired in a gray coverall and stout leather
boots. On his back and across his chest were the drive cones and
controls of a grav unit. His pouchbelt held field rations, medical
supplies, canteen of water, ammunition, blaster, slugthrower, and
Merseian war knife.
At the head of his dozen Dennitzan marines, he bounded from the main
personnel lock, along the extruded gangway, onto the soil of Chereion.
There he crouched in what shelter the hull afforded and glared around,
fingers on weapons.
After a minute or two he stepped forth. Awe welled in him.
A breeze whispered, blade-sharp with cold and dryness. It bore an iron
tang off uncounted leagues of sand and dust. In cloudless violet, the
sun stood at afternoon, bigger to see than Sol over Terra, duller and
redder than the sun over Diomedes; squinting, he could look straight
into it for seconds without being blinded, and through his lashes find
monstrous dark spots and vortices. It would not set for many an hour,
the old planet turned so wearily.
Shadows were long and purple across the dunes which rolled cinnabar and
ocher to the near horizon. Here and there stood the gnawed stump of a
pinnacle, livid with mineral hues, or a ravine clove a bluff which might
once have been a mountain. The farther desert seemed utterly dead.
Around the city, wide apart, grew low bushes whose leaves glittered in
rainbows as if crystalline. The city itself rose from foundations that
must go far down, must have been buried until the landscape eroded from
around them and surely have needed renewal as the ages swept past.
The city–it was not a giant chaos such as besat Terra or Merseia;
nothing on Chereion was. An ellipse defined it, some ten kilometers at
the widest, proportioned in a right-ness Flandry had recognized from
afar though not knowing how he did. The buildings of the perimeter were
single-storied, slenderly colonnaded; behind them, others lifted ever
higher, until they climaxed in a leap of slim towers. Few windows
interrupted the harmonies of colors and iridescence, the interplay of
geometries that called forth visions of many-vaulted infinity. The heart
rode those lines and curves upward until the whole sight became a silent
Silent … only the breeze moved or murmured.
A time passed beyond time.
“Milostiv Bog,” Lieutenant Vymezal breathed, “is it Heaven we see?”
“Then is Heaven empty?” said another man as low.
Flandry shook himself, wrenched his attention away, sought for his
purposefulness in the ponderous homely shapes of their armor, the guns
and grenades they bore. “Let’s find out.” His words were harsh and loud
in his ears. “This is as large a community as any, and typical insofar
as I could judge.” Not that they are alike. Each is a separate song. “If
it’s abandoned, we can assume they all are.”
“Why would the Merseians guard … relics?” Vymezal asked.
“Maybe they don’t.” Flandry addressed his minicom. “Chives, jump aloft
at the first trace of anything untoward. Fight at discretion. I think we
can maintain radio contact from inside the town. If not, I may ask you
to hover. Are you still getting a transmission?”
“No, sir.” That voice came duly small. “It ceased when we landed.”
“Cut me in if you do … Gentlemen, follow me in combat formation.
Should I come to grief, remember your duty is to return to the fleet if
possible, or to cover our boat’s retreat if necessary. Forward.”
Flandry started off in flat sub-gee bounds. His body felt miraculously
light, as light as the shapes which soared before him, and the air
diamond clear. Yet behind him purred the gravity motors which helped his
weighted troopers along. He reminded himself that they hugged the ground
to present a minimal target, that the space they crossed was
terrifyingly open, that ultimate purity lies in death. The minutes grew
while he covered the pair of kilometers. Half of him stayed cat-alert,
half wished Kossara could somehow, safely, have witnessed this wonder.
The foundations took more and more of the sky, until at last he stood
beneath their sheer cliff. Azure, the material resisted a kick and an
experimental energy bolt with a hardness which had defied epochs. He
whirred upward, over an edge, and stood in the city.
A broad street of the same blue stretched before him, flanked by dancing
rows of pillars and arabesque friezes on buildings which might have been
temples. The farther he scanned, the higher fountained walls, columns,
tiers, cupolas, spires; and each step he took gave him a different
perspective, so that the whole came alive, intricate, simple, powerful,
tranquil, transcendental. But footfalls echoed hollow.
They had gone a kilometer inward when nerves twanged and weapons snapped
to aim. “Hold,” Flandry said. The man-sized ovoid that floated from a
side lane sprouted tentacles which ended in tools and sensors. The lines
and curves of it were beautiful. It passed from sight again on its
unnamed errand. “A robot,” Flandry guessed. “Fully automated, a city
could last, could function, for–millions of years?” His prosiness felt
to him as if he had spat on consecrated earth.
No, damn it! I’m hunting my woman’s murderers.
He trod into a mosaic plaza and saw their forms.
Through an arcade on the far side the tall grave shapes walked,
white-robed, heads bare to let crests shine over luminous eyes and
lordly brows. They numbered perhaps a score. Some carried what appeared
to be books, scrolls, delicate enigmatic objects; some appeared to be in
discourse, mind to mind; some went alone in their meditations. When the
humans arrived, most heads turned observingly. Then, as if having
exhausted what newness was there, the thoughtfulness returned to them
and they went on about their business of–wisdom?
“What’ll we do, sir?” Vymezal rasped at Flandry’s ear.
“Talk to them, if they’ll answer,” the Terran said. “Even take them
prisoner, if circumstances warrant.”
“Can we? Should we? I came here for revenge, but–God help us, what
filthy monkeys we are.”
A premonition trembled in Flandry. “Don’t you mean,” he muttered, “what
animals we’re intended to feel like … we and whoever they guide this
He strode quickly across the lovely pattern before him. Under an ogive
arch, one stopped, turned, beckoned, and waited. The sight of gun loose
in holster and brutal forms at his back did not stir the calm upon that
golden face. “Greeting,” lulled in Eriau.
Flandry reached forth a hand. The other slipped easily aside from the
uncouth gesture. “I want somebody who can speak for your world,” the man
“Any of us can that,” sang the reply. “Call me, if you wish, Liannathan.
Have you a name for use?”
“Yes. Captain Sir Dominic Flandry, Imperial Navy of Terra. Your
Aycharaych knows me. Is he around?”
Liannathan ignored the question. “Why do you trouble our peace?”
The chills walked faster along Flandry’s spine. “Can’t you read that in
my mind?” he asked.
“Sta pakao,” said amazement behind him.
“Hush,” Vymezal warned the man, his own tone stiff with intensity; and
there was no mention of screens against telepathy.
“We give you the charity of refraining,” Liannathan smiled.
To and fro went the philosophers behind him.
“I … assume you’re aware … a punitive expedition is on its way,”
Flandry said. “My group came to … parley.”
Calm was unshaken. “Think why you are hostile.”
“Aren’t you our enemies?”
“We are enemies to none. We seek, we shape.”
“Let me talk to Aycharaych. I’m certain he’s somewhere on Chereion. He’d
have left the Zorian System after word got beamed to him, or he learned
from broadcasts, his scheme had failed. Where else would he go?”
Liannathan curved feathery brows upward. “Best you explain yourself,
Captain, to yourself if not us.”
Abruptly Flandry snapped off the switch of his mind-screen. “Read the
answers,” he challenged.
Liannathan spread graceful hands in gracious signal. “I told you,
knowing what darkness you must dwell in, for mercy’s sake we will leave
your thoughts alone unless you compel us. Speak.”
Conviction congealed in Flandry, iceberg huge. “No, you speak. What are
you on Chereion? What do you tell the Merseians? I already know, or
think I know, but tell me.”
The response rang grave: “We are not wholly the last of an ancient race;
the others have gone before us. We are those who have not yet reached
the Goal; the bitter need of the universe for help still binds us. Our
numbers are few, we have no need of numbers. Very near we are to those
desires that lie beyond desire, those powers that lie beyond power.”
Compassion softened Liannathan’s words. “Terran, we mourn the torment of
you and yours. We mourn that you can never feel the final reality, the
spirit born out of pain. We have no wish to return you to nothingness.
Go in love, before too late.”
Almost, Flandry believed. His sense did not rescue him; his memories
did. “Yah!” he shouted. “You phantom, stop haunting!”
He lunged. Liannathan wasn’t there. He crashed a blaster bolt among the
mystics. They were gone. He leaped in among the red-tinged shadows of
the arcade and peered after light and sound projectors to smash.
Everywhere else, enormous, brooded the stillness of the long afternoon.
The image of a single Chereionite flashed into sight, in brief white
tunic, bearing though not brandishing a sidearm, palm
uplifted–care-worn, as if the bones would break out from the skin, yet
with life in flesh and great garnet eyes such as had never burned in
those apparitions which were passed away. Flandry halted. “Aycharaych!”
He snatched for the switch to turn his mindscreen back on. Aycharaych
smiled. “You need not bother, Dominic,” he said in Anglic. “This too is
only a hologram.”
“Lieutenant,” Flandry snapped over his shoulder, “dispose your squad
“Why?” said Aycharaych. The armored men gave him scant notice. His form
glimmered miragelike in the gloom under that vaulted roof, where sullen
sunlight barely reached. “You have discovered we have nothing to resist
You’re bound to have something, Flandry did not reply. A few missiles or
whatever. You’re just unwilling to use them in these environs. Where are
you yourself, and what were you doing while your specters held us quiet?
As if out of a stranger’s throat, he heard: “Those weren’t
straightforward audiovisuals like yours that we met, were they? No
reason for them to put on a show of being present, of being real, except
that none of them ever were. Right? They’re computer-generated
simulacrums, will-o’-the-wisps for leading allies and enemies alike from
the truth. Well, life’s made me an unbeliever.
“Aycharaych, you are in fact the last Chereionite alive. The very last.
Abruptly such anguish contorted the face before him that he looked away.
“What did they die of?” he was asking. “How long ago?” He got no answer.
Instead: “Dominic, we share a soul, you and I. We have both always been
For a while I wasn’t; and now she is; she is down in the aloneness which
is eternal. Rage ripped Flandry. He swung back to see a measure of
self-command masking the gaunt countenance. “You must have played your
game for centuries,” he grated. “Why? And … whatever your reason to
hide that your people are extinct … why prey on the living? You, you
could let them in and show them what’d make your Chereionites the …
Greeks of the galaxy–but you sit in a tomb or travel like a
vampire–Are you crazy, Aycharaych? Is that what drives you?”
Flandry had once before heard the lyric voice in sorrow. He had not
heard a scream: “I am not! Look around you. Who could go mad among
these? And arts, music, books, dreams–yes, more, the loftiest spirits
of a million years–they lent themselves to the scanners, the
recorders–If you could have the likenesses to meet whenever you would
… of Gautama Buddha, Kung Fu-Tse, Rabbi Hillel, Jesus the Christ, Rumi
… Socrates, Newton, Hokusai, Jefferson, Gauss, Beethoven, Einstein,
Ulfgeir, Manuel the Great, Manuel the Wise–would you let your war lords
turn these instruments to their own vile ends? No!”
And Flandry understood.
Did Aycharaych, half blinded by his dead, see what he had given away?
“Dominic,” he whispered hastily, shakily, “I’ve used you ill, as I’ve
used many. It was from no will of mine. Oh, true, an art, a sport–yours
too–but we had our services, you to a civilization you know is dying, I
to a heritage I know can abide while this sun does. Who has the better
right?” He held forth unsubstantial hands.
“Dominic, stay. We’ll think how to keep your ships off and save
Almost as if he were again the machine that condemned his son, Flandry
said, “I’d have to lure my company into some kind of trap. Merseia would
take the planet back, and the help it gives. Your shadow show would go
“Yes. What are a few more lives to you? What is Terra? In ten thousand
years, who will remember the empires? They can remember you, though, who
saved Chereion for them.”
Candle flames stood around a coffin. Flandry shook his head. “There’ve
been too many betrayals in too many causes.” He wheeled. “Men, we’re
“Aye, sir.” The replies shuddered with relief.
Aycharaych’s eidolon brought fingers together as if he prayed. Flandry
touched his main grav switch. Thrust pushed harness against breast. He
rose from the radiant city, into the waning murky day. Chill flowed
around him. Behind floated his robot-encased men.
“Brigate!” bawled Vymezal. “Beware!”
Around the topmost tower flashed a score of javelin shapes. Firebeams
leaped out of their nozzles. Remote-controlled flyer guns, Flandry knew.
Does Aycharaych still hope, or does he only want revenge? “Chives,” he
called into his sender, “come get us!”
Sparks showered off Vymezal’s plate. He slipped aside in midair, more
fast and nimble than it seemed he could be in armor. His energy weapon,
nearly as heavy as the assailants, flared back. Thunders followed
brilliances. Bitterness tinged air. A mobile blast cannon reeled in
midflight, spun downward, crashed in a street, exploded. Fragments
ravaged a fragile facade.
“Shield the captain,” Vymezal boomed.
Flandry’s men ringed him in. Shots tore at them. The noise stamped in
his skull, the stray heat whipped over his skin. Held to his protection,
the marines could not dodge about. The guns converged.
A shadow fell, a lean hull blocked off the sun. Flames reaped. Echoes
toned at last to silence around smoking ruin down below. Vymezal shouted
triumph. He waved his warriors aside, that Flandry might lead them
through the open lock, into the Hooligan.
Wounded, dwindled, victorious, the Dennitzan fleet took orbits around
Chereion. Within the command bridge, Bodin Miyatovich and his chieftains
stood for a long while gazing into the viewscreens. The planet before
them glowed among the stars, softly, secretly, like a sign of peace. But
it was the pictures they had seen earlier, the tale they had heard,
which made those hard men waver.
Miyatovich even asked through his flagship’s rustling stillness: “Must
“Yes,” Flandry said. “I hate the idea too.”
Qow of Novi Aferoch stirred. Lately taken off his crippled light
cruiser, he was less informed than the rest. “Can’t sappers do what’s
needful?” he protested.
“I wish they could,” Flandry sighed. “We haven’t time. I don’t know how
many millennia of history we’re looking down on. How can we read them
before the Merseian navy arrives?”
“Are you sure, then, the gain to us can justify a deed which someday
will make lovers of beauty, seekers of knowledge, curse our names?” the
zmay demanded. “Can this really be the center of the opposition’s
“I never claimed that,” Flandry said. “In fact, obviously not. But it
must be important as hell itself. We here can give them no worse setback
than striking it from their grasp.”
“Your chain of logic seems thin.”
“Of course it is! Were mortals ever certain? But listen again, Qow.
“When the Merseians discovered Chereion, they were already
conquest-hungry. Aycharaych, among the ghosts those magnificent
computers had been raising for him–computers and programs we today
couldn’t possibly invent–he saw they’d see what warlike purposes might
be furthered by such an instrumentality. They’d bend it wholly to their
ends, bring their engineers in by the horde, ransack, peer, gut, build
over, leave nothing unwrecked except a few museum scraps. He couldn’t
bear the thought of that.
“He stopped them by conjuring up phantoms. He made them think a few
million of his race were still alive, able to give the Roidhunate
valuable help in the form of staff work, while he himself would be a
unique field agent–if they were otherwise left alone. We may never know
how he impressed and tricked those tough-minded fighter lords; he did,
that’s all. They believe they have a worldful of enormous intellects for
allies, whom they’d better treat with respect. He draws on a micro part
of the computers, data banks, stored knowledge beyond our imagining, to
generate advice for them … excellent advice, but they don’t suspect
how much more they might be able to get, or by what means.
“Maybe he’s had some wish to influence them, as if they learned from
Chereion. Or maybe he’s simply been biding his time till they too erode
from his planet.”
Flandry was quiet for a few heartbeats before he finished: “Need we care
which, when real people are in danger?”
The Gospodar straightened, walked to an intercom, spoke his orders.
There followed a span while ships chose targets. He and Flandry moved
aside, to stand before a screen showing stars that lay beyond every
known empire. “I own to a desire for vengeance,” he confessed. “My
judgment might have been different otherwise.”
Flandry nodded. “Me too. That’s how we are. If only–No, never mind.”
“Do you think we can demolish everything?”
“I don’t know. I’m assuming the things we want to kill are under the
cities–some of the cities–and plenty of megatonnage will if nothing
else crumble their caverns around them.” Flandry smote a fist hurtfully
against a bulkhead. “I told Qow, we don’t ever have more to go on than
“Still, the best guess is, we’ll smash enough of the system–whether or
not we reach Aycharaych himself–”
“For his sake, let’s hope we do.”
“Are you that forgiving, Dominic? Well, regardless, Intelligence is the
balance wheel of military operations. Merseian Intelligence should be
… not broken, but badly knocked askew … Will Emperor Hans feel
“Yes, I expect he’ll defend us to the limit against the nobles who’ll
want our scalps.” Flandry wolf-grinned. “In fact, he should welcome such
an issue. The quarrel can force influential appeasers out of his regime.
“And … he’s bound to agree you’ve proved your case for keeping your
own armed forces.”
“So Dennitza stays in the Empire–” Miyatovich laid a hand on his
companion’s shoulder. “Between us, my friend, I dare hope myself that
what I care about will still be there when the Empire is gone. However,
that scarcely touches our lifetimes. What do you plan to do with the
rest of yours?”
“Carry on as before,” Flandry said.
“Go back to Terra?” The eyes which were like Kossara’s searched him. “In
God’s name, why?”
Flandry made no response. Shortly sirens whooped and voices crackled.
The bombardment was beginning.
A missile sprang from a ship. Among the stars it flew arrow slim; but
when it pierced air, hurricane furies trailed its mass. That drum-roar
rolled from horizon to horizon beneath the moon, shook apart wind-carven
crags, sent landslides grumbling to the bottoms of canyons. When it
caught the first high dawnlight, the missile turned into a silver comet.
Minutes later it spied the towers and treasures it was to destroy, and
plunged. It had weapons ready against ground defenses; but only the
spires reached gleaming for heaven.
The fireball outshone whole suns. It bloomed so tall and wide that the
top of the atmosphere, too thin to carry it further, became a roof;
therefore it sat for minutes on the curve of the planet, ablaze, before
it faded. Dust then made a thick and deadly night above a crater full of
molten stone. Wrath tolled around the world.
And more strikes came, and more.
Flandry watched. When the hour was ended, he answered Miyatovich: “I
have my own people.”
In glory did Gospodar Bodin ride home.
Maidens danced to crown him with flowers. The songs of their joy rang
from the headwaters of the Lyubisha to the waves of the Black Ocean, up
the highest mountains and down the fairest glens; and all the bells of
Zorkagrad pealed until Lake Stoyan gave back their music.
Springtime came, never more sweet, and blossoms well-nigh buried the
tomb which Gospodar Bodin had raised for St. Kossara. There did he often
pray, in after years of his lordship over us; and while he lived, no
foeman troubled the peace she brought us through his valor. Sing, poets,
of his fame and honor! Long may God give us folk like these!
And may they hearten each one of us. For in this is our hope.