C H R O N I C L E
F I F T Y - S E V E N
A N N O
S T E L L A E
8 5 0 7
2 Lords of Ahpikondia
For the final time, the Torch of humanity now passed to the Southlands!
It was an epochal juncture in the Wargame, but Wally was too ragged to make much of a celebration, even if he marked the event. He was worn thin, virtually an “also ran” in the cosmic marathon! He had started bushy-tailed and bright-eyed at the start of the Game, a commander flying a miniaturized AWACS command center to various terrific theaters of war on giant blue wings, but over five thousand years of fighting for every inch of territory on the board had left him--well, a pedometer instead of a supercomputer, a mere Skipper compared with the magnificent Morpho still gliding, despite the rigors of the Re-location that rubbed out many a more powerful species, through South American rain forests
If only Tutasix his main base hadn’t collapsed! With it he knew he could come up with a winning hand, the trump Dr. Pikkard was famous for in his halcyon Reno days. Now, with his severely limited resources, he was obliged to be a passive spectator while others made the moves. It was most frustrating to him after having played so vital a part in the Game.
As far as he knew, that big trouble-maker, the insidious Topaz, was still extant, hiding out in some deep cavern under the sea or beneath some mountain. When it would come out of retirement and assert its powers again, that was the great and troubling question that cost Wally much peace of mind.
Would humanity rise to the new challenge? Or would the star-stone of mayhem and disharmony sweep everything before it like desert storm fronts swept the dusty earth?
Then, again, the Topaz probably had more of its kind who would like to carve out a piece of the gameboard. The Goldstone was, apparently, out of the picture entirely. That left the Sapphire and the clandestine Topaz and whatever new star-stone that came down the pike. Would they ever stop coming? It seemed that somewhere there was an unlimited supply of these devious, highly aggressive, starlike
jewels! How in the world had they ever evolved or been created? It had to be a dark day when they saw the light!
How things had changed, too! The Almighty Invisible God had become a major player, by His own choice, after eons of seeming passivity. It altered the entire strategy of Dr. Pikkard. These “deliverers,” for example. They were divinely empowered, evidently, by the letters and instruction they received from sacred military writings. It was most odd! Even more odd were the “Letter Knights” or “Dawidums”! D was quite acceptable, a most noble, splendidly-gifted youth and later great statesman. But U? He was nothing more than half-baked Tasmanian devil the women attending his birth mistook for a “pea”! What a sad end, too! But he had managed, before his death, to put quite a dent in the Sapphire and also the plans of the Algol. Scorched by U, they had beat a strategic retreat, pulling back temporarily from large sections of the Earth, and so humanity could at last come out of hiding, thanks to U’s efforts. But what would be next? Was U the last of his kind? If he was strange, would his successor be even moreso?
Wally shuddered at the thought. As he looked out on the world scene, he thought it had grown much more barbaric, savage, and bitter. The Algol retreat left wilderness in which strange and fantastic life-forms held sway--a virtual Sahara of the Bizarre! Where had all these monsters come from? Wally wondered. From half-submerged South America to the two continental islands of the northern hemisphere, the once single land mass of North America, beasts of all description and ferocity roamed freely! It was chaos, the jungle returned! Certainly not Eden, it was filled with predators and the fleeing prey--the legacy of the Algol’s sudden pull-back and some long-ago disasters. A Dire Night, indeed, had settled on the stricken Earth. Would civilization ever revive to former levels? Wally wondered. It hardly seemed likely. Thanks to the Algol and the insidious star-stones, darkness seemingly had fastened its grip on the world indefinitely.
With the Algol pull-back to Atlantis, it was a chance for humankind left on the South Continent to regain some lost ground--the South Continent, what there was of it after the submersion of the Amazon basin. The tropics and subtropics were temporarily free of aliens, but for what purpose, and how long?
The Atlanteans--who by now were beyond Wally’s ken and interference--saw their opportunity, even in the midst of the Algol defeat and retreat. They now leaped to take the spoils But what were the spoils? Depopulated, the Earth was good for the Algol but not much else. That meant a loss in human plasma. The Romany allies of the Algol could not be tapped significantly, since the Algol depended on them as their prime source of plasma. So that meant that humans would have to be rounded up and the vacant wildernesses restocked. It was quite a task to find suitable specimens! Most had died, and the few that remained were pitiful, too degenerate to serve the purpose. Yet if one suitable male could be found and coupled with one suitable female, much could be done, the laboratory taking over from that point to alter the female in such a way as to produce offspring almost exponentially. And, after a hard search, a suitable male was found, a young chieftain-to-be of Polynesian/Hawaiian stock residing on the Isla de los Reyes, a former Atlantean outpost and power plant. After making plans to transport him to South America, the Atlanteans went in search of a suitable consort from among the Rom gene pool.
The Atlanteans’ view was correct. Most of Earth now stretched anarchic, with tooth and claw and fang the rule of the day. Finding the door of Roncommon hanging ajar, undefended, some monsters had also escaped into the Upper World. They quickly settled into what seemed to them a Heaven on Earth-- Ahpikondia in the wilds of the southernmost continent. Once there and installed, their long-submerged and forgotten ambitions played out in a way impossible while they were imprisoned in the depths, held at bay by the watchful eye and sharp trident of a blue centaur.
Yet here, too, there was bound to be trouble. Monster-fragments from Roncommon and long-destroyed Atlantis I, added to biological anomalies and freaks of a radioactive southern continent, were liable to encounter each other, and the meeting might well be violent. It was into this volatile mixture that the Atlanteans--always assured of success because of past glories--intended to plant their versions of Adam and Eve, right in the shadow of the Crystal Mountain, site of the chief of those former glories.
On the Lago Negro in Ahpikondia swam Scraper. Having become a full-grown constrictor snake,
a python-fragment with gray and white striped body and a head black-crowned stretched and curved his length through the soft, green water of Paradise. His ninety-foot length moved slowly. He was half-asleep, having just eaten dinner, a large one, and Belly rode low and heavy in the water. The gray-winged but featherless bird he had licked with a rough tongue before swallowing was not only big but pregnant with young. He had caught her in the shallows, pulled her into deep water, away from her frantically-attacking lizard-mate, and crushed and drowned her.
The light now was growing red and fading. In Scraper’s journey across the vast Lago Negro, in his meandering course, he turned one direction and then another for no particular reason. With such small eyes and a low, flat brow haired in a human fashion, it was difficult to look about. Head was difficult to raise in the water. A broad triangle, Head peered into two curving infinities at the same time, confusing itself.
Scraper’s instinct for direction was not very good. Which way exactly was Kingston his capital? He had no idea, not being able to pin down south from north. As often happened, he forgot where he was going in search of a signet ring he had lost sometime, somewhere in the distant past. Close to nightfall, Scraper found the opposite shore--no small feat for him. In the remaining light he skirted a reef of razor-sharp corals that lay between him and the beach.
Now among the ancient sea-combs and wrecks of past civilizations--relics of a starship of the 21st Century and also a steamship of the 25th--Rahab, a dragon-fragment, had rather recently taken up abode. She too had escaped from Roncommon’s prison. Having been among the first of a long series going back as far as the Creators on Atlantis, she was very, very advanced in age, far beyond Scraper’s lifespan, in fact. Once her kind was numerous, but she had ceased to bear young, and there came no mates to fight with, so the race dwindled to just herself. A dowager-dragon, she had outlived all her spawn who had died or fragmented by fighting each other to pieces.
Rahab’s great age was proving her greatest burden. Her scales hung loose and green-mossed. She was also sick, not with disease but age itself. It had taken something out of her to escape from the prison in the Dark Region underlying Ahpikondia’s brightness. Her senses benumbed, permanently blinded by the sun, she was not aware of many things these days. Lately, she had lost appetite, though her teeth were as beautiful as ever, as new ones automatically grew beneath old ones and pushed them out of her huge jaws.
In the Roncommon past, snake and dragon fragments held different territories and so were kept out of each other’s way. But Rahab’s blindness and the absence of any centaur-guardian had broken down all the boundaries. Her temper short due to the miseries of declining strength and vigor, she snapped at anything that so much as touched her tail.
At last, after getting lost for a time in a wrecked starship’s innards, then a lot of tentative, exploratory pushes and thrusts at another big barrier, Scraper decided to cross over the coral in its path, sharp as it was. Burdened by its dinner, it began dragging its vast, powerful but tender body over the reef when it bumped something. Suddenly, from the darkness fangs sprang out and clamped onto the black-marked head like a steel vise.
Surprised, the serpent gave Head a hearty shake. But that did no good. Those teeth only sank deeper in the soft skull, frightening the tiny brain, which in turn terrified the long neural cord connecting the enormous Body and Tail. Constricting round its assailant, thrashing its titanic bulk about, also did no good. Scraper could not get rid of the teeth. And the cruel crystals beneath slashed its bird-and-lizard stuffed belly, ripping and disemboweling in large sections along its length. Within less than a few minutes of fighting, the brain, Scraper’s tiny eye on the world, was crushed to nothingness. Yet in tremendous, witless agony Scraper continued to struggle.
Roaring deep in her throat, just as she had once roared in the zoos of long-lost Atlantis I, delighting the lords and ladies touring their latest creations, Rahab held her grip despite everything Scraper could do. Her own body was torn open on the coral, until she too was as good as dead, her hoary dragon carcass cut to shreds by coral and crushed in Scraper’s looped coils. Evenso, she did not relax her grip.
Everything Rahab did, especially now, was determined by the most ancient laws. In death, as in life, Rahab obeyed them. They were laws, or rather genetic commands, given at the time of her creation. Like a child she followed them. Without having to think, she did what was necessary: attack and fight, attack and fight. In show after show in the Water Circus Pool of her birth, she had done since her inception some nineteen thousand years hitherto. It was only the unexpected incarceration in the Dark Region that had prevented her carrying out her destiny since she first crawled from her natal egg. The Water Circus had broken up when the sea flooded into the capital with huge waves. Then when she reached the surface, bright winged creatures had herded her to a spot where a thousand other creatures like herself were thrashing in the waters. The water was spinning, and suddenly she found herself sucked down, down, down, finally coming out into a Dark Region where a blue centaur held sway.
Scraper, on the other hand, had a different nature. He lived only for himself. That was his instinct for being, from first to last. Roncommon, even with a nasty centaur that had severed his original spider-snake body in two distinct pieces, had not damped that reason for being. He had always associated his existence with a signet ring and a return to “Kingston,” and an even more nebulous “London.” Roncommon had, thus, proved a most frustrating experience. But up in Ahpikondia, everything seemed favorable to his finding his dreams--until the attack, that is, of the unknown assailant.
Even with ferocity on her side, Rahab was too old for this sort of thing. In better days, she would have finished off the long, wriggling worm without too much difficulty. But the coral had been her undoing, just as it was Scraper’s.
Both monsters perished in a moonlight soft and green as ahpi leaves. Corals were soaked with blood and strewn with great chunks of bleeding flesh, the same corals that had struck and disemboweled ships of long-ago expeditions. Quickly, hosts of quicksilvery, red-spotted piranha swarmed up and leaped in a feeding frenzy, feasting on tons of dragon and serpent.
After the piranha finished their banquet, nothing was left of Scraper and the dragoness but well-picked bones and sets of giant claws, fangs and teeth. Hearing the commotion on the reef, waiting for the fish to go away, by the time the jaguar-man reached the site, he found nothing worth his trouble of swimming out. He crushed a dragon pelvis bone in his square jaws. But instead of delicious marrow, it was moldy, worn-eaten in taste. His saliva contaminated with decay, the lord of Ahpikondia’s shorelands returned to solid ground. Wailing, he climbed up into his forest. His stomach cavity, roused to fury by the scent of so much blood around, rumbled as he searched for new prey in the violet gloom under the trees and strangler vines.
Cat in nature, he loved to chew on certain grasses and leaves. Steering clear of a huge, glowing cabbage flower of rotten stench--its center a face like a sweetmeat’s but greenish in color--he did not have to look very hard. Scenting a particular mint, he chewed a few leaves. One ahpi leaf satisfied hunger for a time. Two or more put sounds, lights, and other wonders in his head. This time he took a paw and handful of leaves because he felt so hungry. Lights and music appeared, bursting from quartz boulders, ahpi bushes and datura palms.
A slight rustling of leaves overhead suddenly doused the symphony for him. The jaguar-man listened intently, then sprang to a tree trunk and began to climb, his human hands fisted and his jaguar-claws making short shrift of the long, big trunk. His spotted red pelt rippled and trembled as he made a swift, noiseless ascent. Air too was his element.
Tightly-interlocked musculature of vines and tree branches shut out moonlight, but the jaguar-man’s instincts guided him in pitch darkness toward that occasional, shy, hesitant movement above. Sliding cautiously along, the jaguar-man slowed as he caught a good, strong scent. Ah, a sweetmeat! Rare as they were in the forest, the jaguar-man was especially fond of sweetmeats.
It was slow going, however, once he neared the scent. A single scrape of leaves could give his presence away. Then he would have to chase the agile sweetmeat from palm to palm. How ungraceful that would be! He hated having to go to that much trouble.
Yet a jaguar-man could wait until the Last Trump, if need be. One of a kind like so many species on the isolated southern continent (the land bridge cut long before by a comet falling on Panama), but without a clew how rare he was in number, the jaguar-man settled down on a limb as if his race had all the time in the world and drew the scent carefully into his nostrils. Yes, it said, there are no others.
The jaguar-man waited. After some minutes a slight parting of palm leaves alerted him. He crouched low as possible, merging with the moon-dappled darkness, and he saw his prey.
Sweetmeat’s pale, peltless face struck through the palm branches. His bland features shone moonlike among the leaves while black-haired fingers scrambled busily among a large cluster of peach-palm fruits. Smacking lips, the sweetmeat nibbled several, rejecting a sour or wormy one with a grunt of disgust. When he had finished eating, the sweetmeat belched, and drew back into his comfortable canopy of leaves.
Watching, the jaguar-man dug his claws into the wood of his branch. Then he edged back down, crossed to the peach palm and climbed to where he could hear the sweetmeat’s soft breath. There was more smacking of lips and a long, lazy belch.
Suddenly, startling the jaguar-man, the sweetmeat sighed and began making odd noises. “She take much time!” the sweetmeat burst out. “She afraid leave maloca! She afraid women beat her.”
Breaking off, the sweetmeat yawned, then continued jabbering as before, even more excitedly as time passed.
Listening, the jaguar-man was used to sweetmeats, though few in number. Their sounds were familiar, especially their screams whenever he happened to find them in various hiding places and chased them out their back tunnels.
But his experience did not prepare him for understanding their mouth sounds. He could not tell what their jabberings meant, and it puzzled him that one should make such sounds to himself alone. Of course, sweetmeats could do him no harm. They had soft bones, dull teeth, no claws to speak of, and never could move fast enough on the ground, or in the trees, or even in the water to escape him. Such prey was so easy, he had grown lazy hunting them, and some had escaped, this being one of them.
Their taste was good. It was salt and sweet. Relishing the combination, he liked hunting them, since the time they first appeared in Ahpikondia out of hole in a mountain.
Finally, the sweetmeat stopped making his strange little barks to himself. The jaguar-man came to life. he struck and pounced on the sweetmeat, catching him asleep, lost in a sweetmeat’s dreams despite the insistent, warning jangling of a nearby bell-bird.
The jaguar-man left the stripped carcass to hang in the tree. Replete, he backed down the peach palm. He stretched out luxuriously on a mossy cotton tree and licked himself, taking especial care with the paws that were formed more like human hands than jaguar paws--they were weak and always required special care or they caused him trouble.
From his roost he had a good view of the lake and mountains. But scenery did not interest jaguar-men. For him it did not exist. It possessed no flesh, no blood or inviting scent. So the jaguar-man gazed serenely, indifferently, into the wide, moonlit spaces of Ahpikondia, a great uneatable nothing as far as he was concerned, which stretched all the way to the bright circuit of lights above, which for him was also a nothingness, scentless and inedible. Lights that swarmed in myriads gleamed in his eyes as he gazed blankly against the firmament. He did not even stir when a shining, bluish light detached itself from the mass of lights and then descended to circle the lake, growing in size and brilliance as it flew nearer the roost of the resting jaguar-man.
Ignoring the shining bird-thing, the jaguar-man yawned. He rose and back down the cotton tree, springing to the ground when he was only twenty feet above it. He heard a muffled scream, then found one paw had landed on a cabbage orchid’s face. Withdrawing in haste, the jaguar-man rubbed his paw furiously in grass and dirt to get the stench off. Feeling thirst, he sought a certain rivulet that poured from the mountain, the same mountain the sweetmeats had taken to hide their dens in.
A small stream, it was stagnant in spots where quartz slabs, earthquake or comet-torn, blocked its course, but he used it for drinking because of its convenience and seclusion under the big trees. He followed a path he had worn. Nothing stirred around him in his forest. Before the rains and also the flood from the mountain there was always a complete hush, while the lights above the canopy gleamed brightest. He knew he must not linger, since the flood might come out of the mountainside at any moment and roar down the bed of the stream, tumbling boulders and carrying vines and trees into the lake.
The jaguar-man drank at his little waterhole. It was so badly-shrunken he tasted mud. The only sound was his lapping tongue. Even the nasty-tasting frog-people that infested the pool were silent, buried deep in the bottom silt, awaiting the next flood.
Finished, the jaguar-man marked several favorite bushes and trees on the site, then bounded up a slab of crystal, wrenched from the mountainside in some old upheaval. He followed a path as it climbed around the vast belly of the mountain. It led to a clearing he knew of, a place where female sweetmeats cleared away vines and brush and planted manioc, squash, corn, and beans. He had watched them a long time, so he knew what they did, though not the reason for their actions. Now and then he would spring out, seize a sweetmeat and carry her off. But he never killed all of them. Like a flock of birds, they would not come back to roost, and he would have to search harder for them in the deep forest, or even go into the mountain after them, which was something he had no instinct to do, since he preferred his forest domain.
He wasn’t hungry, so this time he had just come to watch the sweetmeats dig the ground with long pointed sticks and jabber at each other.
Pausing at the clearing edge, he waited, but no sweetmeat game appeared. Born of the forest, he did not like clearings, and so stayed where he was, out of sight beneath the overhanging tangle of vines and branches that arched low over the path. Just as she turned away he heard footsteps. Soft and hesitating, they approached the clearing from the other side. Moving a few feet off the path, he waited.
Suddenly, a blue light swept overhead with a high-pitched ringing that irritated the jaguar-man’s fine ears. Then it flashed with lights along its belly. At that moment a startled sweetmeat nearly ran into the jaguar-man. Seeking shelter from the strange bird-thing, she shrank down, her hand over her mouth, before screaming and then dashing off. She dropped a basket of squash and beans gathered for her mate.
Distracted by the lighted bird, the jaguar-man let the sweetmeat go without a chase. Growling and snarling from the pain in his ears, he sank back into deep forest, flocks of man-faced parrots shrieking above him. Since it was burning away the canopy with bolts of light from its belly, the bird-thing took some time to land, and the jaguar-man got a good look at it despite his displeasure over what it was doing to his ears.
Where he stood, small creatures began to stream around him, trying to escape the widening devil of flame that swiftly cleared the sweetmeat’s little garden and moved outwards into the forest. Knowing no fear on his own territory, the jaguar-man flicked the scarlet tip of his tail, waited and listened to the bird’s hissing breath. The bird’s scent grew stronger as its blue-streaming body plumage scorched the air and dissolved whole trees. But he still could not tell if this new thing were flesh and blood as other things were. While losing interest, he watched the bird move downwards to the greatly-enlarged clearing and settle on legs amidst flickering flames and smoke.
Within reach now, it revived the jaguar-man’s interest. New game occasionally crossed his path in Ahpikondia--prey that he realized was new because of its strange taste and texture. The sweetmeats were relatively new game, ever since he had grown to hunting size and his dam led him to the lake. He had been lord of the lake for quite some time before they appeared from out of the mountain. It was a surprise to them when he started hunting them. That was after they settled in some huts in the clearing they made for their gardens. Now they were harder to get, the females mostly fleeing back into the mountain, and the males driven out to fend for themselves. He had killed and eaten most of the males, but the females still stayed in the mountain, coming out only now and then to tend the gardens. Now this big bird had appeared from the sky. He would kill and taste it, to see if it were edible. The bird sat on circular feet among the ashes of trees and young plantains.
Intent on the bird, the jaguar-man did not notice a group of sweetmeats moving stealthily in his rear, toward the one that had fled him.
Careless of the hot ashes, the jaguar-man ran and sprang at the bird, intending to rip its belly open with one swipe of his claw, but he struck something very hard unlike flesh and bounced back to the ground. This was very unusual. He was amazed, but he spread his jaws and roared his challenge at the bird that had defied him. His voice, with the thunder of the race of jaguar-men, filled the clearing, but the bird was still and did not attempt to flee, as creatures naturally would when frightened.
Puzzled, the jaguar-man did not know quite what to do. He tried sinking his teeth into one of the bird’s legs, but found his mighty teeth could not even penetrate the bird’s skin.
His second roar, raw with frustration, filled the clearing. It had not yet died when his paw encountered a hot coal. He hastily jumped, then licked the spot. Above him, unnoticed, the breast of the bird parted. Something golden-skinned like certain birds of the forest--the golden pheasants--leaped out, or was thrown out.
Legged, bodied, armed, faced like a sweetmeat, but was it? It’s color was not a sweetmeat’s, and it was considerably larger, his own size. Despite his puzzlement, the jaguar-man snarled and crouched to leap. But, no, it was not a sweetmeat. Sweetmeats cowered, cried out, and tried to run away at his presence. This being stood up, tall and erect, and its movements were different, not clumsy and furtive like a sweetmeat’s.
Jaguar-man and the new being looked at each other. Catching no scent he recognized, the jaguar-man could not tell if it was something he wanted to eat, but something told him this was flesh and blood and that was enough for him. He reared back for a leap he was never allowed to make.
The golden man, Brun O’Kele of New Sera-i-i, or Isla de los Reyes, was too good a hunter to be willing food for a big, over-grown cat with a man’s features and man’s hands. Fortunately, his chief weapon was thrown out with him. Strange beast as it was, though dropped suddenly into hot ashes in a strange land, he struck from long practice and slew the cat-man with his javelin, impaling it by the throat. He held the clawing and roaring cat-man away from him until it weakened. Then he threw it down and finished it off with a thrust in the heart. He then watched it thrash on the ground, slashing out with its claws in its death agony. Very soon it was over, and Brun exulted over his magnificent catch. The red, black-marked pelt was worthy to grace his shoulders, the shoulders of a chieftain. His rare golden color, like his father’s and mother’s confirmed his royal lineage. That was why his father had given him the name of the first founding chief, Lord Brun, who in the ancient tales rode a sky canoe to the island from Chi-i-i his pa in ancestral Helani and settled it with his people, after which he performed many great feats of strength and daring.
Rich, red blood pouring into a puddle that cooled his feet, the bearer of so illustrious a name could not wait for heat to destroy the kill and so he drew his knife from a sheath pinned to his waist by a thin leather cord and went to work, removing the glorious skin of a creature that would never appear again on the earth. Hearing a noise, he glanced up and saw faces of the white-robed ones who had captured him, seizing him when he was asleep on a mountain, then binding him and taking him into their big sky canoe. Now they were watching him, but though he wanted to leap back and punish them for dragooning him, he finished what he was doing. He had been taken without his feather cloak, or any clothing for that matter. A chieftain could not run about shamelessly like a mere child! He had to have a cloak and loin cloth at least!
He had just finished when lightning flashed above in the darkening sky. Fine! Rain to wash the pelt! he thought, not knowing the ferocity of storms in these mountains.
He was spreading the pelt and a strip for his loins, intending to use the paws for sandals, when he glanced again at the sky canoe.
Revenge glowed in his heart and burned like fire from behind his honey-brown eyes. He seized his javelin and stepped toward one of the legs of the canoe. He tried to climb up after a big leap, but he slid back down. This was too undignified for a chieftain’s son, so he challenged the men of the sky canoe with his javelin and flung several good curses up and then left the clearing with the pelt. He took the first path he found--the jaguar-man’s--downwards, looking for more water to bathe his singed feet and wash the pelt.
Finding water that stretched to far shores, with a swan riding an incoming wave. At the same time the rains struck both of them. The downpour blinded him. He drew the pelt over his head for a shield, and it was only when the swan stood honking and flapping its wings directly in his face that he saw it again. Bruno again drew his knife, but the swan-man seemed to have no fear of him or his knife. Then Brun understood why. It was one of the monsters, of which there were many, many kinds, though not many in each tribe because they often could not breed true even if they could find a mate of their particular kind. true. This monster had little human hands sticking out from beneath frantically-beating wings, and its eyes and nose were a man’s.
Loath to consider this creature food worthy of a chieftain, Brun backed away from the attacking swan. The fury of the storm burst fully upon them, and he lost all sight of it. Thrown apart by flying sand and spray, he gave the monster bird no more thought as he struggled to find shelter. Kidnapped by the sailors of the sky canoe, cast out and lost in an unknown land, now caught in a storm that threatened his life, his plight made him angry.
It was no mere storm. He heard a roaring sound, and he knew it had to be something long-feared on his own island, an avalanche from the steep-sided upper slopes of their mountain.
Slipping on vines and branches, unable to see ahead, he lost the jaguar-man’s path and was soon imprisoned in a thicket of thorn-bushes with barbs so impenetrable he decided to wait out the storm where he was. In misery he squatted with his sodden cope over his head, which was not enough to keep him from being drowned or buried alive, if either a flood or an avalanche should find him. He blamed the sky argonauts, for casting a charm on him, then carting him off to this terrible place. Were they safe and dry in their canoe and laughing down on him? Well, he would laugh too, after he stuck his javelin in each of their throats!
He, Brun the Second, would make them feel his anger. Descendant of the great hero who had fathered his sons, his mother said, with a shower of gold on his sleeping wives, he ached to wreak vengeance on the sky canoe as soon as the rain stopped.
Now he remembered! It was coming back to him more and more, how he had been captured. It wasn’t sleep that betrayed him but a most powerful charm. The tricksters had come down on the mountain with their sky canoe, then greeted him with smiles and soft manners, inviting him in and showing him the inside of the great canoe. A chieftainess had shown him her quarters as well, where she pressed a jewel in her hand and held it out toward him. Taking it, he was suddenly bound in an unbreakable net that formed all around his body, an unbending web that did no good to resist. The tricksters did this to a chief of the noble line of Brun! The more he fought the tighter it squeezed. With all his strength he was made a helpless baby. He struggled for his freedom, nevertheless, until he could no longer breathe, and then darkness closed his eyes. When he awoke he found himself hurled down into a strange land, his weapon with him, and a red, black-marked cat-man waiting to greet him.
Brun’s foot kicked out in wrath, struck a thorn, and he howled. The thorn-tip, a devilishly barbed thing, broke off in his heel, and his foot gushed blood.
This new misfortune, however, cleared his head somewhat of his rage. To an extent that sobered him, he saw how foolish he had been, railing against the sky canoe and its tricksters. He went quickly to work, binding the foot with a piece of pelt, and let the rain wash out the wound after he extracted the thorn with his knife. When this was done, he saw and wondered what he should do once the rain and the floods ended.
Great Brun’s descendant was not accustomed to much thinking. He loved to hunt, fish, dive off cliffs, and swim. He loved the village feasts. He loved even more the feats of strength against other young and mighty warriors. He loved to do almost anything except think. But he saw he had no choice. This was not New Sera-i-i, with its easy life as a royal-blooded chieftain’s elder son. He must decide what to do, and quickly, if he wanted to get himself out of his predicament and find his way home.
His brow creased with the effort. Yet all he could do was think back to how it all began. And as he thought it over, more pieces came into his mind, completing the picture at last. He was out hunting on Mount Spear, on his island of the kings. He was suddenly interrupted by LIGHT brighter than the day’s moon. The light turned out to be a shining canoe, and it moved rapidly across the sea, circled the mountain, then descended like a burning arrow directly at his head where he stood, transfixed, in an open spot of grass and flowers. It happened to be an open hummock of flowers, ferns, and grasses, with several big burrows leading down into it.
While he watched his heart stopped, and his eyes strained from their sockets as palms, bamboo, flowers and ferns blackened in the heat of the canoe. Feeling scorched, he shouted for the sky canoe of the god Maui, for thus he thought it must be, not to come closer. But the flaming canoe continued to approach.
To save himself he tried to fend it off with an arrow. It was his best, tipped with obsidian, but how the warriors of the sky canoe must have laughed when his arrow swerved wide of its mark! It might have been bewitched, he thought at the time, for it grew soft and weak and dropped flaming to the ground. Seemingly, there was no power in his weapons. They were bewitched and useless in his hands. But he had no time to lament the fact. He was shriveling in the terrible splendor pouring down upon him. Feeling he would die if he did not force the god to relent, he let fly another arrow, then watched, dumb-struck, as it bent in mid-air and flew off in the opposite direction. What could have caused that? Or made the air suddenly so cool around his body?
Wrenching his thoughts off his recent abduction, the weather had changed around him. Brun noticed sunlight gleaming between fierce bursts of rain. It was growing time to make his escape from the thorn-bush prison. Due to his cut heel, he could not go as fast as he liked. But he could walk, for the wound was slight, and as the air cleared of rain he could see to crawl through the thorns that walled his way out.
Back on the path, he hurried. He had thought of the sky canoe. It had brought him here. He would force the men and chieftainess who sailed it to return him to his island. Rushing up the winding path, he could think only of the sky canoe, how much he wanted it, though only a short time before it had been a more hateful prison than the thorns, a cage he had been lured into by tricksters led by a bejeweled Minnehune with the red scar of a serpent encircling one arm and a gold serpent twined on the other.
The cape flapping around his body, its paws tied round his neck, Brun reached the clearing. He sprang forward into it, then dropped down on his knees where the sky canoe should have been. He knew it was his own fault. He should not have left it and taken the jaguar pelt. What good was the pelt now, when he had lost his homeland?
All his pride and anger forgotten, he groaned in great anguish. The Day Moon suddenly sprayed red and golden in waterfall from the dark, swirling clouds, bathing him with showers of red gold mixed with light-crystalled rain droplets so fine they feathered like peacock plumes. For a few moments it was unlike any other place in the world. Even flowered and rainbowed New Sera-i-i could not compare, for many of the flowers here had faces. One had a woman's, and with her orange headdress she looked like a queen.
Another had a man's, but with its hooked nose it was ugly to the eyes.
Suddenly, the sparkling colors that played upon his golden skin and the foliage and face-bearing flowers, and the uncountable little bows that fanned above the heads of the palm trees, wee gone, replaced by gray and fading light. Bruno wept, having seen nothing
wonderful in the scene. Torn from his home, he felt so lost and sick at heart that Paradise itself was a horror.
Renewal of the storm broke into his commiserations. He heard, then saw black, boiling clouds swoop down, rip off the palms’ branches, ands leave the headless trunks to jerk and toss like a frenzy of snakes. He knew he should seek cover, find shelter somewhere quickly. But he paused, his eye on a burnt stick. It was different from the charred plantains and remnants of small trees left in the clearing. A planting stick!
His mother’s servants used on much like it! They were expensive, made from ironwood brought to the island by traders who would never tell where they found such hard wood.
Throwing down the stick, he took a few steps and stared. What next? Toward the clearing, ahead of a raging storm swarmed even darker clouds, multitudes of bat-people, caught outdoors by the return of the storm. Engulfed by manlike faces and webbed wings, Brun fought to free himself, but together the bats he was swept and spun about like a leaf. Suddenly, the earth, its supporting canopy of roots and vines burned away by the sky canoe’s coming and going, collapsed inwards. Brun and the bat-people were tumbled in a dark whirlwind, and clung to each other momentarily for support before being separated. Then he felt himself thrown downwards, across slopes made slippery with blood of masses of bats crushed as he fell.
At the bottom he found his footing again. Dazedly, he rose. He reached for his javelin, then realized he had lost it. He looked for the clearing, but it was gone, replaced by a dim, twilit entrance full of fallen vines, ash, and stones. It led to a larger room, flooded, but only up to his knees. There he found the remnants of chairs awaiting kings who had long since passed, a number of handmade children’s toys, and the remnants of a circle of small huts built with many strange and colorful materials. In one, on a floating chest carved with a big heart inscribed “ORFEO VINCIT OMNIA” and many tiny marks grouped and slashed with diagonal lines, even fanciful, Greek and Byzantine-style names of female conquests such as “Andromeda” and “Theodora” and “Irene,” but it meant nothing to him. Beyond the little village lay a vast space, but there were larger spaces beyond cut from the mountain’s innards. In them he felt no longer than a grain of sand. He could not even guess at the use or witchery of the objects in them. And the bat-people? The survivors had fled through a large crack in a wall, and looking in he found a tunnel that stretched a glowing curve into the depths of the earth.
He climbed back out, glad of the storm because he was so anxious to wash off the filth of the bats from his hair and body. Clean once again, he was standing drenched and forlorn when the sky canoe burst upon the sodden scene. It avoided the gaping hole in the side of the mountain, burned away a new landing place, and only then came to earth.
Shouting, waving his fiery jaguar-cape over his head, Brun forgot all his pride and anger as he ran down toward the sky canoe.
But the sky canoe was not coming back for him. Instead, out tumbled a woman!
Kicking and screaming against an invisible net that no longer held her, she was still fighting when he came and looked down at her.
Cut and battered as he was, his jaguar-cape tied round his shoulders, Brun’s eyes filled with amazement. This woman had jet-black hair, green eyes, and a face and body beautiful beyond any on Seri-i-i! But who was she? What was she doing here with him?
“Yes, dear,” said Brun, rising from his workbench where he worked on new planting tools and furniture to fetch a heavy loom and set it under the awning, so his wife could work in the shade.
Much had changed in a short time. Brun had learned her Romany language, and things went better, as long as she thought they were going better, that is.
The slayer of the jaguar-man was himself tamed! But his heart was ravished by her, and he did not mind being remade, though sometimes he had a feeling he wanted to run off and search for his lost homeland. But questions always stopped him. What would she think of that? Would she let him come back? Would she be angry? He had no desire to make her angry. A warning flash from her green eyes and his heart stopped cold within him. Besides, her belly was beginning to swell out. He knew a royal son worthy of Brun the First was on the way.
Days and events rapidly brought the pregnancy to its conclusion, and yet another golden-skinned
O’Kele saw the light of day.
The father, at the sight of his fine son, was almost content to remain in a foreign land with his beloved wife, Andromeda by name. She said she too was royal in blood, but he was too insular in his thinking to admit to two royal lines, so he let her say it but kept his opinion to himself. The baby quickly grew and became a child, and Brun labored to make his household as happy as possible in a place of unpredictable, most violent storms, floods, and no other human beings--if you didn’t count the barbaric monkey-tailed people who now and then crept out of the mountain to till small gardens.
Andromeda, a year later, produced twins. Now Brun’s household numbered four, and he worked harder. The twins may have started something, for Andromeda, a year later, trotted out triplets, all girls.
Brun was overwhelmed at their birth, but Andromeda took it as quite an ordinary event. She told him her people were used to such multiple births. Showing him her fingers, she introduced him to some elementary mathematics. He soon understood what was in store for him, and stumbled away, almost in a daze. At the rate they were going, he would soon have a hundred mouths to feed! Then a thousand!
How would he do it? He worked the forests and the gardens every hour of the working day, and that was enough to keep the children fed and his wife’s milk flowing continuously. But there was a limit to what he could make the jungle produce. The pinkish, jungle soil was soon exhausted. He had to clear new plots, plant them in briefly nourishing ash of burnt vegetation, and move immediately to yet new clearings. The area around their hut was enlarged already to a large extent, but most of it was no longer tillable and the Day Moon had baked it hard as rock. He had no seaweed to restore the exhausted soil. All he had was his planting stick and fire to earn a living. As for hunting, that took time he no longer had. He had soon hunted all the large animals out of the area. And his wife refused to be left alone with the children.
He had to find the answer, so he questioned her. “How do your people feed so many mouths and not starve?”
She laughed at him as she gave her breasts to one infant after another. “Didn’t your father and mother teach you anything where you came from? We don’t grow our food, like you do here. We are civilized people. We make beautiful, amusing things, then trade them to our Masters, who then give us food they make in their cities. I can’t imagine what they do with our goods. They have other allies, and perhaps they get our goods in trade. At any rate, they take our fine wares--slaves, woven stuffs, jewelry, carved marble, gamesets, trinkets of all sorts--and give us much food, gold, and the craft we use to fly with.”
Brun was thunderstruck. “Your people fly? You have sky canoes?”
“Of course! We’ve always had them! But we use them only in our own lands, lest
they be taken away by our Great Masters.”
Another thought hit him like a bolt of fire from the sky. His wife had told him some things about her people, how they lived in great cities, were divided into East Rom and West Rom, and had chieftains called “Basilieus” and very elaborate courts, but her account was scanty at best, like his Romany vocabulary, so she had not got very far in her description of her people’s ways and their civilization.
“Was it your people, then, who stole me from my fatherland and threw me down here in this strange land? Was it?”
He had leaped to his feet, his fists clenched with rage, but she shook her head, glancing at him in such a way that he felt he was acting childishly, not at all like a man. Deflated, he waited for her answer without breathing, which came like a slap of cold water in his face.
“How could that be? You are mad! I know nothing about how you got here. It had nothing to do with us! Our Masters forbid our flying to barbaric, foreign places such as this. If we did so, we would all be in trouble, having broken our treaties with our Great Masters and Allies.”
For the first time, the repetition of “Masters” gave Brun a sick feeling in his stomach.
“‘Masters’? Tell me, who are these ‘great masters’ and ‘allies’ of yours.”
Andromeda, however, was quick to resent being pumped for information. Quite resigned now to living in a savage country, free at last of constantly prying eyes that had made her feel so claustrophobic, she really was a royal princess, accustomed to life in a huge palace and having dozens of servants wait on her every whim. It was her rather daring habit of taking long solitary walks at night in the palace gardens and zoos that had made her abduction so easy. If she had stayed with her maidservants and not ordered them away from her royal presence, the Atlanteans would have been obliged to find Brun someone else, but none so spirited and beautiful. Annoyed, she rebuffed his prodding, and it was many days before he found out, and then it was from an entirely unexpected source.
With less and less time for his wants, Andromeda tended to her ever growing brood; taxed beyond
his strength to provide, Brun labored in the gardens, working in the worst heat of the day, then into the dusk and after nightfall by lighting fires for needed light. The boys were yet too young to provide any help. They carried some produce to their mother, and did a little weeding, but mostly it was up to him. Andromeda, busy being a mother to a growing nation of O’Keles, refused to do any manual labor anyway.
She stood on her position of being a royal daughter of the Basilieus. “Born in the purple,” no one of her high birth, she told him, had ever been asked to do work. It was, to her, unthinkable. She took his idea as an insult.
Driven to despair by his prolific wife, Brun went back to his clearing and planting, clearing and planting. By his own efforts he had cleared the forest entirely away from the Crystal Mountain, all the way down to the lakeshore. He had to walk a long way now to get to his new fields. The path was getting longer and longer, and soon they would have to move the pa to be close to the gardens.
“We shall have to move,” he informed her one day before rising to his day’s labors.
His wife was always quick in wit and her reply was sharp and to the point.
“YOU will move, you mean. I have my babies to care for.”
How could he argue with that? It would put him back in what he needed to do with the gardens, but he had to do all the heavy work in transporting his household to the new site. But in preparation he first had to built a larger hut, which was no longer one room but many rooms, nearly a palace in extent, though half-walled in the southern fashion and grass-roofed.
By the time he had the new “hut” completed and everything ready to be moved, he felt utterly exhausted. He had to find help. But where was he to find it? It occurred to him one night as he lay sleepless, too tired to sleep, that he might call upon his people’s gods.
Maui the Trickster? Oh, the god had once, long-ago, thrown a black net around the Day Moon and
made it serve humanity, but that was about all the good he had done people. From then on he played tricks on everybody. When a cocoanut was opened and it was spoiled, people shrugged and said Maui had done it. When the pot boiled over, again Maui the trickster was involved. When a child fell on a sharp stone or stick, it was bad, bad Maui who was blamed! When some beast in the night got into the gardens and cut a wide swath, it was none other than Maui! People laughed to themselves each time they blamed him, but who else could they blame when things went wrong? Yes, he had done the people some good things,but that was long, long ago, and ever since he had amused himself at humanity’s expense--or so they thought.
Brun groaned to himself. He thought if he prayed to Maui for help, would the god send him a Minnehune to cast a spell on him, turning him into a monkey or one of those little armored, digging beasts with the pointed snouts that ruined his gardens? That would be just like Maui to do something like that!
No, he couldn’t pray to Maui. Who then?
He thought of one god after another--gods of the sky, the Day Moon, the trees, the pa, the sea, the clouds. There were many, many gods, most harking all the way back to ancestral days in Lost Helani. But either the gods he thought of did not possess the power needed, or they simply lacked any motivation to help a mortal in the trouble he found himself in. He certainly saw no benefit in calling on the god of procreation. That was the god that had given him his present misery! Thanks to that god, he had produced a tribe, only he was obliged to feed the tribe, instead of the tribe feeding him!
Finally, out of desperation, he thought of something to do. “I need an Unknown God, one that is greater than any of my people’s, who can really help me. I don’t know Who he is, but I will go and sacrifice to him and call to him. Certainly, that is better than remaining in this situation, which will only grow worse. I have nothing to lose!”
Indeed, he was right about that. The good wife was trotting out even more offspring, though he couldn’t remember the last time he touched her, it had been so long. At this rate, he was undone, if there was no change in the way things were going.
As he had done on the sacred Mount Spear, he climbed up to a lofty height and prepared a small altar with stones, lit a fire, and presented an offering as he called on the “Unknown God.”
His thoughts filled with dim ideas of what the Unknown God might be like. If He were greater than his people’s divinities, then he must be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present.
He kept thinking in this fashion, driven to it by his compelling need, and his idea of the Unknown God expanded with the passing moments as the smoke of his fire and sacrifice of his best produce ascended from the altar.
Suddenly, a gust of wind nearly blew him off his perch, and it sent the altar stones tumbling down the slope, together with the sacrifice.
Words coursed through his being:
I do not require sacrifice from a man. The sacrifice pleasing to me is
a contrite heart and a meek spirit. Call upon Me in spirit and in truth
and I will answer you and be your God.
Brun knew he was not imagining the words or what had happened. He nearly fell off the
mountain. At the same time he felt such joy he almost leaped off. The Unknown God existed and had answered him!
At the same time, what was he to do next? The Unknown God had not been exactly pleased with his sacrifice. What, then, did the Unknown God require of a man? If not garden produce, a fine chicken, or a beautiful, woven tapa mat, or jewels and worked gold? What?
The answer to Brun’s unspoken questions was not long in coming:
Innocent Blood has already been shed, a Complete Sacrifice has already
been made for all your sins, whereby the gulf between Me and you has been
bridged. You cannot do anything for My forgiveness and blessing, lest this
Blood and Sacrifice of My only Son be made of no value.
Naturally, in the remaining hours of that day, and through the trouble and toil of the next weeks, Brun was continually bringing questions to the Unknown God and being taught by Him. Without theology or a human mediator or even a holy Book, Brun communicated via his heart and mind with the Unknown God, who really was not unknown by now. Brun had even learned His Name.
By this time, his wife had noted a change in her husband and had become curious as to the cause. He was no longer so anxious, nervous, and fearful of his prospects. He seemed to be regaining his former strength and confidence.
“What is the matter with you?” she asked pointedly. “You moped around for many days, then you went up on the mountain, and when you came back your face was glowing. I saw it, so don’t deny it. Now even your eyes glow.”
Unable to help himself, Brun told her everything.
For sometime she say, saying nothing. He tried to get her response, but she signed for silence, turned away, and began weeping in her hand. When she turned back to him, her face was rigidly composed and her voice icy.
“Don’t speak of this strange god to me ever again! You are mad. There couldn’t be a god of this nature! It is impossible!”
His face burning, Brun went out of the hut, and he obeyed her wish, though his heart was broken with her refusal to join him in his new-found faith.
His God continued to mentor him as he rose early each day, climbed the mountain, and spent quiet moments in prayer.
Yet, faithful as he was, his wife continued obdurately opposed to his God; he couldn’t speak one word about Him and His wonderful promises. But there was one thing she had to hear.
“I must leave you for a time. My God summons me to a task of war. It will take me far from here. He will show me the way, and enable me to get there. There is a country that will need deliverance from a monster that will destroy it if something isn’t done.”
Not suspecting the country might be her own homeland, his good wife was outraged. “How dare He steal my husband and support from me and the children! How dare He! And I forbid you to go! You will not go! Do you hear?”
His eyes sorrowful, it was all the harder to resist her will, but he had found someone greater than his beautiful, temperamental spouse. He risked everything to obey the greater Call.
Andromeda, when she saw her threats would not stop him this time, knew fear for the first time. She could not defend her children, if they were attacked by any of the jungle beasts.
But Brun had thought of a way they could be safe. “I will dig a trench around your hut, fill it with leaves and brush, and you can burn it and be safe. I will also put planting sticks in place all around the hut, so warn the children. They will help protect you. Finally, I will pray, and my God will put his warriors around you and the children. They are guarding us now, only you cannot see them, for they are not as we are, flesh and blood, but they are spirit.”
His wife was too dignified and royal a person to object any further. To cry publicly would demean herself. To nag a husband was nearly as bad, to her mind. So she kept silent, freezing him with her indifference, and that was, for him, a worse punishment. Yet he had his calling made clear to him, and he set to work to make the compound as safe as he humanly could.
Amazing, the crops produced a hundredfold that season, and he had heaps of food to lay up in the store hut for the family’s use. The store hut, too, was protected by planting sticks to keep out animals.
After many trials and errors, he had found ways to protect most of the things they grew from vermin and various animals that roamed at night looking such food as they had.
The day chosen for his leave-taking was not at all joyous or glorious. His wife snubbed his overtures and he had to leave her unhappy and cross. He climbed up on the mountain and waited for God to tell him what to do next.
His troubled heart, burdened with his wife’s condition, was suddenly touched by God.
You will be able to tell her a good thing on your return. It will change her
heart from stone to flesh, just as I will change yours. She will cling to you once
again when she hears it. And she will know Me as her Lord and God, just as
you know Me.
Brun’s heart leaped. No other words could have touched him so wonderfully. He began to
weep, overcome with the burden of all his work, all his laboring without her love. In former days, he would have been self-righteous and angry. He might have tried to beat her into submission, since he was, physically at least, surpassing in strength. But acting like that was unthinkable now. He loved her. And because he loved her, he suffered and grieved.
In most ancient Greek accounts a hero was given a god’s sandals so that he might scale the heavens, and a magic helmet that rendered him invisible so that he could creep up on the Gorgons without being
apprehended. Brun, expecting no such things, had no idea how he was going to get to the far country and save it from a monster. He had his javelin still, but it was blunt and dented from too much use. No, his God would have to furnish him new weapons if He expected him to fight a ferocious beast.
Again, as countless times in the past, God spoke, right to the question uppermost in Brun’s
Wait here, My son. You are not ready to go and fight. I will send a man
like you to help you. He will show you My Book and teach you from it, until
you are equipped to wage war. Listen to My words and counsel from the
Book. Write them on your heart and spirit and they will be made new. A
mighty commander is here, his feet on this very mountain. He will come to
you at once, most speedily, and will not tarry. He is like a roebuck on the
mountains and will fly to you on the swift wings of your prayers, so he can
teach you how to fight the foe, and its wicked spirit, the star of fire and stone.
Brun waited, knowing that God would be true to His promise. Hours passed. It seemed that
maybe he had heard wrong. He began to doubt his own ears. He was strongly tempted to go back to the pa, admit his mistake and take up where he left off. But he knew he had heard God! He knew God had called him to a battle. He could not deny God’s own words to him, said on a number of occasions, both sleeping and awake. No, he could not leave off his vigil. He must wait as long as it took for God to fulfil his promise. God had promised him a teacher in warfare, and said his teacher’s feet was on the mountain. But if that was so, why was he taking so long? It took only a short time to climb up to his place of prayer and vigil. The path was well-trod and unable to mistake. Anyone could find their way up to him. Why wasn it taking his teacher so long?
A night, then a morning, then a day, and yet another night came and passed. Brun was very hungry by this time. He was very thirsty too. His unprotected site chilled him at night and scorched him during the day. By the time of the third night he was growing most desperate. His physical strength was exhausted. His spiritual strength was also exhausted. He prayed and prayed, but the heavens seemed to be made of brass. He extracted not the least divine word of assurance for all his praying and outright tears. Finally, reduced to lying on his face, he was calling on God through cracked lips, with a hoarse, almost unintelligible voice, when a shadow fell across him.
Slowly, Brun turned over, and his eyes could not take in what it was that shaded him. But a man’s voice spoke, and Brun leaped up.
“My parents long ago called me Daniyel. My masters--may their heathen souls have found God and not be roasting in Abaddon!--called me some other name I now forget. Some others called me yet another name. I forget that too. But God has sent me to teach you from His Book. He says there are seven he has chosen to serve him this way, but I see only six forms in the mist. One was very small, but mighty. He has finished his course. One is large and also mighty, but greater. One is beast, but he will be made a man. One is half what he should be and will wound me and a beast will train him. One is two legged but he stumbles until his eyes open. One is one-legged but he stands with two, and that is enough. I also see that you will surpass me if you persevere to the end. If you do that, then the Highest will make you the father of many generations, since you trusted him like Noah of old. Oh, my! I’ve had a long walk here, with much difficulty in finding you, the Most High God be praised! Thank you for your prayers, my son. They refreshed my spirit exceedingly! Exceedingly! They sped me on my way, night and day. Do you have water, a place for me to lie down perhaps? No, do not bother yourself. My spirit has been mightily refreshed by your earnest intercession! An angel carried me most of the way, carried me over the sea, in truth, but I still had to climb this mountain and find you. It’s taken me several days at least, for I’ve had to stop many times and rest. I seem to have gone round this mountain a number of times, I cannot say for sure. God be praised! But for your faithful prayers, I would have given up, perhaps. But now I feel refreshed as a young eagle, able to mount up into the heavens! Now as for your letter, I believe you are going to make a B! Yes, a most excellent B when I’m through with you, my boy! The moment I looked at you, I saw a most magnificent, golden, complete B!”
Brun’s eyes adjusted and he saw a most astounding figure: an old, old man, dressed in tattered clothes but caped in a curiously tasseled, blue and black striped cloth, his beard white and a strangely-blinking bracelet on his wrist as he leaned forward on a stick, leaned too far, in fact, and was in imminent danger of toppling over down the mountainside to a certain death. Brun stared at his teacher, was about to reach out for him, and then he fainted.
When Brun revived he found himself lying in the pa, under a cooling roof, with his wife’s fingers dipped in water applied to his forehead and eyelids. How he got there he never did find out, since his wife would not speak a word about the incident afterwards. But the old man was there, nodding off to sleep in the best chair, a Book and a smaller alphabetic, pictured manual clutched to his breast with a gnarled hand.
The following days provided a revelation to both Brun and Andromeda. They learned from the Old One that a flying being from heaven named Palmoni had brought him most of the way. Yet Daniyel had told the angelic Numberer of Secrets, “Put me down. I can walk the rest of the way.” That meant he could walk on the waters of the sea!
They did not know quite what to think about their guest, but the next incident settled it. Daniyel was teaching them out of the Book, that they must have faith in God to accomplish any good deed. Even a little faith would suffice, and he said an amount as small as a seed could move mountains. How did he know that? they challenged him. He pointed to the Book, for it said so.
“I think I may have faith as large as a mustard seed.”
Then Daniyel stepped outside the hut and gazed upwards at the Crystal Mountain. He said, “Come!”
Observing from inside, Brun and Andromeda felt the earth give a violent heave. Then another. They struggled to their feet and reached the doorway. It appeared the mountain was lurching toward them while sending avalanches down its slopes.
“Oh oh!” cried Andromeda, beside herself. “The children!”
“That’s enough!” joined in Brun. “We believe you! We believe! Tell the mountain to stop coming!”
Immediately, the violent, forward heaving ceased. Dust was everywhere, choking them, and the children were crying, but at least they were safe.
From then on Brun and Andromeda were very careful about challenging the Old One concerning the Book. They also had a private conference as soon as it could be arranged.
Andromeda’s eyes had a different look in them.
“Why, he moved the mountain! He really moved it with his words.”
Brun said nothing, all he could do was nod, he was still in such shock.
“I want you to stop this training at once!” the wife commanded. “You saw how he frightened the children! After that, what will he do next? No, this must stop, and we must send him away as soon as I think how best it can be done.”
Brun shook off his dazed look. He had heard what she said, and his eyes widened. “What? Send him away? We cannot do that! He was sent by Almighty God!”
Andromeda’s eyes filled with a merry madness, her desperation making her playful. “He will get us all killed! You saw him, husband! I will think of a way. I am clever at such things. Trust me, and we shall be in peace again, soon as he is gone from here.”
Brun was mortified. “Didn’t you hear my words? The Almighty sent him. We cannot go against God. I will not permit him to be sent away.”
Andromeda’s face suddenly grew icy cold, her lips pinched into a cruel slit. She stood, regarding him, then spoke very slowly with the majestic aloofness her people cultivated since the time they alone, of the peoples of the earth, had won rich concessions from the invading aliens. “You will not cross me in this. I’ll have you taken and whipped like a common slave! He must go! I have decided!”
Brun shook, the last of his domestic shackles falling away. His eyes gleamed with fire. “He WILL remain with us as long as he wishes.”
Then he turned and walked off.
Andromeda, her royal mouth hanging open, stared after him.
Rising early, even before Daniyel customarily rose to pray, Brun worked in the gardens. He had to provide daily food, or the food he had put away for feeding everyone during his trip would be used. Breaking off when he saw the Day Moon rise to a certain height, he hurried back to the pa to pray with Daniyel and then receive instruction. To Brun, without Daniyel’s help, the Book and the Children’s Reader were incomprehensible. Once he had glanced at the first page of the Book. He saw,
“NTHBGNNNGGDCRTDTHHVNNDTHRTHNDTHRTHWSWTHTFRMNDVDNDDRKNSSWSPNTHFCFTHDP”! Giving up, he asked the Old One what it could possibly mean, the letters that began the Book.
Daniyel knew the entire consonantal text by heart. He did not have to look. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” he quoted. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Days passed, and gradually Brun grasped the principles of reading, progressing to the point where he could stumble through the text, stopping for help whenever necessary. In this manner he finished the
Genesis writings up to the death and burial of Joseph. But in themselves the writings would not have meant much to this warrior from the Island of the Kings if Daniyel had not taught him with supplementary “Obstacles,” tests of his strength and knowledge.
The first obstacle was to be thrown into a deep hole with snakes, jaguars, and scorpions. The second was to be thrown into the same pit, only it was filled with a roaring, hot fire that Daniyel had stoked with logs to make many coals with intensely hot heat. The third was to throw himself off a cliff into a spot where the piranha swarmed in the water (deliberately gathered to the site by chunks of tapir cast into the water). The fourth and on to the seventh dealt with temptations, which in their kind proved to be as fearsome and man-devouring as the first three. Perhaps the seventh was the most difficult. It was to wait for food and drink to be brought to him in an isolated cave. All he had to sustain him was the Book. Hew was there forty days, and because he had been shown how to turn rocks into bread he was very tempted to release himself from his agony. But he endured, given hope and strength from the Word of God. When he was at the point of death, Daniyel stepped into the cave with water and nourishment and nursed him back to life.
Since the entire family helped to prepare these terrible obstacles, they all know the details and developments, and thus learned how Brun overcame them and survived solely by the power of the Word of God.
When Brun had remained steadfast in the Word and had overcome the entire series, then everyone wanted to know the Almighty God as Daniyel knew Him. Daniyel was called upon to explain many things. Andromeda, too, came to listen, with many of the oldest children. It became a class, held daily under Daniyel’s roof (for he slept in a small guest annex attached to the main hut). “What is the Covenant that God made with Abram?” “Who is the Seed that will crush the Serpent’s head?” “How will the Serpent bruise His heel?”
More time passed in this manner. Brun, laboring before dawn, was one day joined by his royal wife. She helped him do the necessary work and gather in the produce. Amazed, Brun said nothing, but his eyes were full of gratitude, for the work was lighter that morning than it had ever been. Together, they hurried to the training session, their oldest boys and girls rising without being prodded out of bed. Even the smallest children insisted on coming to the long sessions, so that they might learn what the others were so excited about.
Later, by the time that Daniyel had walked Brun and his wife and family through the Old Testament, the life of the family was transformed. Brun now had more help than he needed. In fact, he did not have to go to the fields. The oldest boys insisted on doing the work so that he could be freed up for morning prayer. His wife, too, was hard to recognize. Convicted by the teachings in the Old Testament concerning the Law and fallen human nature, she treated him as if he were lord of Ahpikondia, with love, deference, and respect that bordered on awe.
It was, Brun realized, the awesomeness of the Word of God that had changed all their hearts and lives forever. They saw everything differently. Love of God had seized upon the pa and could not be driven out.
Finally, they began on the New Testament, learning of the Mystery and Majesty of Grace. It went so swiftly that soon Daniyel was wrapping up the events of St. John’s Revelation, along with showing them
the writings of Dr. Pikkard and others (which an angel brought in the night and gave to Daniyel) concerning their own times. Some of the babies, showing an inquiring, Berean nobility of mind, asked the most challenging questions of Daniyel. Even his great wisdom was insufficient, and he found he could not answer them all.
The Old Man rose half-way through a last session. He took Brun aside, showed him the Reader, and Brun took it and glanced through the letters and the accompanying pictures and scriptures.
“You are the great warrior B, my son! Remember your verses when you go against the Enemy. They will defeat him. Go now solely in God’s strength. I cannot teach you anything more. It is time I go too. I feel I have others to train, and they are waiting for me. You can keep this little book and the other writings. I have their words inscribed on my mind! As for God’s Book, an angel will come for it later. It’s too big for me to carry, and as for you, by now its verses are in your heart, and the Holy Spirit will bring them to mind as you need them.”
Andromeda rushed out, sensing what was happening, and she clung to the Old One’s robe so violently she tore off a piece of his talith, and it had the name of Almighty God tied into the knotted thread. He kept walking, however, and had soon disappeared in the forest, leaving as he had come. Some of the children ran after him. They would straggle back later with a strange tale, how the earth had opened up and swallowed the old man, then closed back over and sealed itself perfectly without a trace he had ever passed that way.
Brun’s wife stood, the torn cloth in her fingers, weeping broken-heartedly. Brun and the children were dismayed, but they all knew it had to happen one day. The wonderful things the Old One had taught them were now in their hearts, however. They lived them, and God gave their endeavors success and favor.
While Brun read and committed the verses in the Reader to heart, he made ready to depart on his war mission.
As this was happening events were taking place deep beneath and far beyond the Crystal Mountain, in a facility that predated Ahpikondia by tens of thousands of years. It was into these depths that Daniyel had plummeted, through an access tunnel not this wisest of living men could have known about.
Having finished his prayer, Brun recited his verse: “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” Then he waited for the Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, to cause him to mount up into the sky like an eagle, just as he was promised in the holy Book of War and the little Reader.
Suddenly, B felt divine power in his arms and limbs. They began jetting feathery violet, green-tinged flames, but he felt nothing, only a cooling sensation, and the Earth and sky was treated to the spectacle of what appeared to be a great, green Bird of Paradise. As the flames became more intense and formed a giant B, he felt his jaguar-caped body lifted. Grasping his javelin tight in his hand, he tried his powers of flight and quickly discovered how to direct the flames. As he flew the flames became so powerful that he shot upwards to a great height, and the earth beneath trembled, and the skies shook in reply with thunder. Choosing direction by moving his flaming hands, he rocketed forward, reaching such great speed he looked like a flaming arrow of green fire shot from the all-powerful bow of Almighty God.
Andromeda herself saw it. Suddenly, before dawn, a bright light shot from the place on the mountainside where he had once awaited Daniyel’s coming. It formed a splendid, brilliant “B,” then lengthened into a speeding arrow. Brun did not descend from the mountain that morning, and Andromeda knew he had gone to war and might never return.
Brun’s wife was determined to follow him, but how?
The question was answered one day for her when a plasma-harvester ship appeared over the pa. The children ran screaming, but the Atlantean guards sent out rounded up about ten of them and dragged them into the ship. Brun’s wife was not going to let the aliens take her children without a struggle. She seized a planting stick and ran after the aliens. Into the ship she went before they could stop her, and she attacked the aliens holding her children, killing one of them.
This was unprecedented. More guards were sent to subdue the savage human plasma source, and hapless, struggling Andromeda was bound in the same invisible, pythonlike-net that had been used to subdue her when she was first abducted from her homeland.
Brun did not proceed directly to his target as directed. As he soared aloft his homesickness tugged at his heart. He knew perfectly well his course lay to the northeast, but he turned northwest, skirting the coastlands. In minutes he had found of what was anciently known as the Gulf of Panama. Passing low over the water he was soon in sight his home island, Isle of the Kings of Bethlehem. Yet a strange thing happened to him when he sighted it. He lost all sense of direction. He felt God was no longer speaking to him, and he was dismayed. Moreover, his powers of flight rapidly diminished. He found himself dropping, scarcely clearing the water as he neared the shore. Some feet from the breaking waves he tumbled into the water with a big splash. He began swimming as soon as he found his bearings. The waters were full of sharks and sea snakes like cobras. He had to make good time to escape them.
When he finally climbed out on the sand safe, he thought himself very fortunate. But he was furious with himself! He had lost his divine powers! He could no longer fly!
But at least he was home, he comforted himself. He got up and stumbled quickly off the burning sand and into the shade of the palms. He headed for the village, for the island was small and had only a few people still.
He ran toward the hut of his father and mother, then stopped. It was so quiet in the village. It had never been so quiet! Not even a baby playing in the sand! Holding his breath, he peered into the hut, and everything was thrown about topsy-turvy as if his parents and the family had left in a big hurry. He went into the next huts, and they were the same, all vacant and left in disorder. Crying out names, he stood in the center of the village, but only a few half-starved dogs crept out, snarling then running to him after recognizing his scent. Ignoring them, his eyes blurred with tears, Brun dashed about, but he could find no one alive in the village nor any sign they had been there for a long time.
“Who has done this to us? Who?”
He ransacked his memory for possible enemies that had struck the village and carried everyone off.
The only enemy that could have done it was the same that had carried him off! he decided.
Grinding his teeth with the realization, he stood wondering how he could avenge his people. Where they dead? Or held as slaves somewhere? Would he ever see them again?
Alternately weeping and cursing, he spent some time before he realized he was behaving like a fool. He was wasting his time bemoaning them like this. He remembered his new God, the Almighty Invisible One, the Most High God. He remembered and felt very ashamed. This God of his had sought to shield him from the discovery, but he had returned home instead of going to the battleground. Perhaps there he would have met the same foes that had taken his family.
Brun felt very ashamed, indeed, for he realized then that God had intended that very thing. He fell to his knees, calling on God and acknowledging his sin. Suddenly, he felt God speaking, and he listened.
You have done your own will, and now you cannot save your own wife
and family, for they have been taken just as these were taken. I knew you
would do this thing, but you need to learn from your tears.
It was true! Brun could not deny it. Stripped powerless by his own act, he wept again.
“Forgive me, O Lord!” he cried. “How can I get my father and mother, and the rest of the people here, and my wife and little ones, how can I save them? For their sake, have mercy on me, for I have done wrong!”
Your earthly master Daniyel prayed for you, that when you were tempted you
would do My will only, but when I told him you would not, he prayed again,
saying that I should punish him for your sake, so that you would be granted
mercy. Yet I took full punishment upon Myself on the Hill of the Skull,
and I won you full pardon. Rise!
Trembling, blinded with his own remorse, the once mighty warrior got to feet. He felt the
presence of God so strongly he shook like a leaf in a gale.
“Lead me, O God! I will follow You! Restore Thy strength!”
Instantly, Brun felt a return of great unstoppable power. His limbs surged with energy, and once again flames burst from his hands and feet. Glorifying Almighty God, he soared upwards, surveying the whole gulf, then turned northeast, toward the chief of mankind’s many foes, the dread, numberless Algol. He had no weapon, he had no idea how he would wage war except to recite the verses given him, but he felt assured everything would be in God’s hands, now that he was back on his chosen path.
And his wife and kin? He could only trust God to bring them back safe from bondage to the enemy.
Fortunately for Brun O’Kele, his rigorous training in the Word of the Most High God stood him in good stead. He flew completely across the giant continent that filled the Eastern Sea from the white wilderness in the south to the cloud-capped, floating ice mountains in the north. Yet no Voice stopped him, and he flew on until he reached the extreme northwestern coastlands. Looking down he saw the two empires of the Romany for the first time. A few rumors had reached him in the time of his youth that such places existed, but there was no trade with them, the Isle of the Kings being too isolated from the trade routes, and so he was astonished to see how splendid they were. Mankind, he thought, was only a furtive creeper on the skin of the world, with only a few villages here and there hiding out from the all-powerful Algol locust-swarms and the great monsters. But now he saw great cities, rising like a golden dream from the edges of the seacoasts, each more glorious than the other until one great city stood before his wondering gaze.
Even now the Voice did not stop him, and he obeyed and flew over the great city until the waves of the open sea carpeted the earth beneath him.
In the distance he glimpsed small islands, however, and he began to feel a tugging at his heart, as if he were soon going to hear a word of direction at last. He was not mistaken.
Here is the lair of the Peninah, the daughter of Rahab that has entered the
world, to lay waste the works and the habitations of mankind’s remnant. You
will fight her and slay her with the sword and fire of My Word. But you must
not go to war until I tell you. She sleeps after making forays against the
coastlands, taking captives and destroying whatever she can reach from the
waters. When she awakens she will be given a new sacrifice, sent from the Great
City to this island to placate her wrath for a time. The sacrifice will be a royal
princess. When you see the ship carrying her to the island cast adrift, you are to
rescue her and carry her back to the land. But you must stop fighting. You must
go and slay the enemy who are gathered against you in their towers. They will also
send many ships against you in the air. Be careful to hear what Words I give
you at that time, for the enemy in the air are strong as the enemy on
the land. They will seek to throw you down to the depths. But fear not, I will be
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