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1 The Shadow Line

Old Nails Jensen was right about the Reaping Scythe. Ragnarok, the Doomsday dreaded by the ancient Minnepaulians, was just around the corner for his entire world. A major broker in world politics, the Confederated States of Amerika would not wait for the sagging Northeast state of Georgia to catch up, if they ever could, with the thriving western side and, of course, the hub of it all, the world-dominating queen city of Kingston. Having achieved nuclear technology and nuclear-bomb capability before some of its neighbors, the C.S.A. was now a prowling lion, a superpower determined to seek advantage before anyone could demonstrate parity. Easy expansion toward the Deep South was not likely.

Ratna-Heruka and Poseidonia held Atlantis, and though weaker than the C.S.A. at the moment they would strongly oppose any conventional forces sent on Confederate warships south to carve up the beribboned and blustering, militarily weak, Panamian and Argentine “empires” of South Amerika for wheat, beef cattle, rare hardwoods, collectable artifacts, tropical animals, gold, diamonds, and dirt-cheap labor force.

Reports had reached Kingston that R-H, despite chronic problems in cash flow, had “the Bomb” too, so any war to open the road south would be hard-fought and possibly "compromising" to C.S.A. territory. The rival Publicatexa, stuck like a cat’s hairball up the craw of the C.S.A?

Always playing the chary, maverick loner, never an ally in any league of states, and yet too strong to be overcome without too much bloodshed, the Publicatexa continued on its contankerous way, searching with gimlet eyes for every opportunity to thwart the wishes of powerful neighbors such as Azteka, the Mexican "empire" that was so weak enonomically and sunk in corruption and tradition-opppressed culture, nobody wanted to devour its resources and heartland (though the Publicatexa was always nibbling at the edges!).

No, clearly, a better road for C.S.A. expansion lay northward, where the opposition, though formidable, was at least manageable, since there was only one power to crush--Kolumbia’s.

The sole surviving Ismanic country in the two North Amerikas after a long series of conflicts with native tribes allied initially with the rising C.S.A, Kumbayahanistan, better known to the outside world as Kolumbia, held to independence like a clawed, dying giant sloth to its tree despite a jaguar pulling on its viscera in the shadow of a king of mountains, a monster volcano whose vast caldera contained a fresh-water lake as large as any sea, at thirty-thousand feet the highest body of fresh water in the world, but impossible to get to and of no use to humanity.

Warm as it was, the slumbering volcano had forced the northward retreat of the Pacific Cordilleran Glaciers. But even with this great advantage,

Kolumbia’s Pacific Coast was uninhabited, a barrier of miles-high lava cliffs hostile to traders by sea and land dwellers alike.

The nation’s rivers, too, were equally mighty and untameable, swooping down through gorges cut miles deep through lava flows.

The Kumbaya, which had given the country its name and raced thunderously east from the slopes of the volcano and formed a great delta on which the country’s main port, Spokanderun, was located, was navigable only as far as Sealtown, and then it was difficult for ships because of the treacherous sand bars, shoals of rocks, and swift currents. Everything about the country was outsized and stoutly resisting human development.

There was, beside impregnable geography, a religious reason why the land was not incorporated into the voracious C.S.A. and steadily resisted encroachment by its more powerful neighbor.

Though the orthodox Isman faith held the allegiance of millions on both sides of the straits, in the C.S.A. the schismatic Reorganized movement had dampened the fervor considerably and helped to placate the much put-upon Indian populations who to the death resisted conversion and held to ancient Jewish and Christian beliefs.

Just as staunch in holding to rigid orthodoxy, Kolumbians viewed their land as holy especially since the last kaliph of the line of Qoph had resided in the capital, “Qoph’s Magnificence of Sobriety Before the Faces of the Golden Tablets,” known more commonly as “Sealtown” because of the many seals in the river that ran through the city.

The city lived up to both names. In the popular imagination looking like fabled, long-lost New Amsterdam, Reno, and New Antwerp of bygone the Dutch Second Golden Age, crowned with the domes and multiple spires of the Ismani temples and shrines and seminary colleges (medresse), it held no polluting tanneries and cement works, iron foundries and other unsightly industrial developments and remained a beautifully gardened royal administrative center.

What an austere contrast to the murkily splendid metropolis of Tan-mul Tan, or Multan, far to the south, which in its day had also been the holiest city of Isman, the chosen residence of the glorious tenth kaliphate called the Grand Porte.

No longer able to boast it was the holiest since a secularized government took power, Multan yet was graced with the world’s largest domes and the tallest specimens of green-tiled prayer towers erected during the heyday of the Ismani faith as well as the factories and railroad yards and iron foundries of a fast developing world trade center.

A most beautiful, pristine capital came at a terrible price, however. Deep-seated decay from the ancient regime of the progress-stifling, luxury-loving kaliph, if a visitor looked beyond the city limits, was much in evidence in land and village-based Kolumbian society. Except for Spokanderun and Sealtown, there were few cities of note, and the ports did little trade since the insular Kolumbians took virtually no interest in the sea and the main river, the men in a million little village cafes setting their thread-bare backs to any visible bodies of water as they commonly gathered for politics and cigarettes. The farmers were proud, fiercely independent, running little flocks of sheep and goats for cash, but poverty-stricken, scratching subsistence from eroded fields with primitive methods, and huddling on the windswept plains in many, small villages with no conveniences but a public well and perhaps an hour or two of electricity a day supplied to them from few ill-equipped, poorly-maintained government plants scattered about the country.

Despite a large, standing army that fought like a jungle tiger for Kolumbian sovereignty, Kolumbia could boast few tanks, planes, and artillery that did not predate the last major defeat, followed by the overthrow and assassination of the kaliph and the setting up of a king whose name was. drawn by lots from the provincial Kolumbian chieftain list.

Relations between the more powerful secularized C.S.A. and the intensely religious Kolumbia had always been uneasy at best. Kolumbia sat squarely in the path of the C.S.A’s drive for living space in the north. The Publicatexa, congenitally hostile to the C.S.A,. held ninety percent of the best farmland in the northern Amerikas,leaving the C.S.A. and Kolumbia to divide the rest. What was so precious in the far north that the glaciers hadn’t claimed?

Buried soil, a black, peaty earth sometimes hundeds of feet deep possessing incredible fertility. Scraped off a continent and deposited there by long deceased glaciers, no trees had ever grown on it, and though covered with ice, it was now reclaimable with modern methods. Kolumbia would never develop it, since its technology was primitive, and capital too scarce.

But the C.S.A., thwarted from turning south, its chief agricultural provinces of Lousia and, Georgia, thanks to the cooling of the weather and regrowth of the Laurentide Ice Sheet glaciers, turning increasingly into White Pine forest, saw Kolumbia as no major hazard, not when the Confederacy controlled a monopoly of nuclear power. With arable farmland at a premium, the gamble was worth risk a war going sour.

The war, fought as a pretext for northern development, came despite initial Kolumbian reluctance to contest a border territory on which no one, C.S.A. or Kolumbian, had ever lived because it was basaltic scabland, fit only for mustangs and feral goats.

But when the secularized state of the C.S.A. declared that the Orthodox Ismani religion was to be proscribed in the disputed territory, then the Kolumbians rose up as a man to fight to the death against the self-declared infidel who drank liquor, smoked, gambled, ate off wrong utensils, and let women go unveiled and unrobed.

In fact, the issue was put quite differently than it was described to the people in the political papers that everyone, no matter how small the village, read from cover to cover.

The Kolumbian king was, via a C.S.A. ambassador, given notice that the C.S.A’s consortium of several leading bank cartels and industrial combines planned to build a line of nuclear plants for generating an electric glacier-shield across the Northwest, employing the cheap labor force provided by Kolumbia, of course. Technicians would all come from C.S.A., of course, along with the heavy equipment and most supplies for the construction.

None of this the king could assent to, naturally, which both sides knew in advance, since it broke the law of the land that proscribed any foreigner of the Schismatic Church--considered worse than those of no faith at all-- from employing Kolumbians and also treading on “sacred Kolumbian soil” with heresy-defiled feet (for adherents of the Reorganized branch no longer practiced daily ceremonial cleansing of the feet, an elaborate, time-consuming process, which had been followed since the Founder’s time as an unofficial but mandatory adjunct to the Five Pillars of Isman).

The project mean a rise in living standards for millions of Kolumbians, and the king was well aware of the boost it would give his treasury when tax-collecting turned to reaping part of the windfall. Nevertheless, his hands were bound by sacred law, and the holy men of the temples and medresse, champions of orthodoxy, would never allow a change. Sniffed out, the project would incite the holy men to lead mass riots, and the king might lose his throne in a day.

Undaunted, the C.S.A. proceeded with the means to get its way--a limited war over the border territory no one really wanted or could use, since it was impossibly tough terrain of basaltic scabland, fit for only wild horses and feral goats.

With the C.S.A’s overwhelming firepower, it began and was going heavily in favor of the aggressor, after assurances were given to Ratna-Heruka that no territorial expansion was really intended by the C.S.A. and the allied R-H withdrew the promise of military aid to its more orthodox Ismani “Brethren of the North.” Kolumbian resistance collapsing without help of R-H’s greatly superior war machine, R-H was the chosen mediator.

Unable to match tanks and artillery with pitchforks and antique rifles, the powerful Publicatexa far too socialistic and secular to be considered a possible help in a tight situation (actually, Kolumbia was just too proud to ask aid from such a country, which it detested as a kennel of infidel dogs), Kolumbia signed a humiliating treaty, guaranteeing C.S.A. free passage of personnel and material over new rail links to the site of its northern project.

Also, Kolumbia was forced to furnish the major part of the work force.

So, with the gate wide open, the C.S.A. rolled north, laying track at a phenomenal speed. Soon vast shipments poured northward to the new rail and industrial center of Kaku, and hundreds of thousands of Kolumbians slaved in all hours and weathers to rear the titanic-sized reactors, electric generators of a Nuclear Glacier Shield strung across the northern wastes that C.S.A. economic planners had chosen to make the world’s greatest breadbasket, elminating C.S.A.’s growing dependence on the hated Publicatexa’s overflowing granaries.

Ten years passed. The Shield was operational, vast stretches of West Bear’s arable land freed from the icesheets and warmed, and settlers by the million poured northward to carve out a stake.

Defeated in war, betrayed at the conference table to the C.S.A’s secularists and Reorganized schismatics by so-called orthodox brethren of the Holy Motherland, Kolumbia was barred from settling its own people in the new lands conquered from nature. Loyalty to Orthodoxy had gained Kolumbia nothing on in the world arena but her neighbor’s contempt.

She was called “The Sick Man of the North” despite all her efforts to remain ceremonially correct and pure. With all the sanctity of strict, religious observance, Kolumbia could do nothing more than watch in utmost frustration and rage as she found herself encircled by the enemy and weaker than before, furious but helpless to stem both the land rush to the northern lands and the tide of change sweeping Orthodox Isman into insignificance and subservience.

Far removed from major events in the world of big business and, international politics, life on the east side of C.S.A. continued much as it had before--but even in Old Dixie winds of change would soon challenge cherished, long-held ways and traditions.

Not more than a stone’s throw from Rainy Lake, in the same fine, white, tall-pillared house where a bewildered girl had signed away her coming child to her elder sister and her husband, the lake where now a storm was casting a darkening line across the water as it moved toward the shore, the child of an impossible union, seeing the storm’s shadow line coming, a sure sign of the turn toward winter, hurried from the house to beat the rain and wind as he went to open up Bean’s Trading Post and Outfitters.

Although his mother had been weak-witted, Homer proved very bright. The Trading Post took on a new life as Homer turned, like his grandmother before him, to the well-lined pockets out-of-state clientele. He still supplied trappers and fishermen, but Homer’s ads is city papers far off drew impressive results.

Villas were being built along the lake at the edge of town by people drawn to the unspoiled wilderness life he had pictured to them.

Buying the chicken factory with his grandmother’s permission, he closed it down and ended the worst pollution in the area forever.

Makon rapidly became a resort lodestone, drawing tourists with money to throw away on fancy monofilament lines, damascened reels, and bottled bait, as well as the lastest bush hats from Publicatexa. There was even serious talk in Kingston of banks financing a restored rail link to Makon and its “scenic wonderland of lake and virgin forest.”

Manager for only three years, he ought to have been well satisfied with the upsurge in business ands the changes he had brought single-handedly to his hometown. But, even as success was shining like a seminary graduate’s boutinere in his lapel, something was bothering him. He’d sit in the back of the now thriving store, in his new office over-looking the ground floor, and make out orders at his "ordering desk," his grandfather's, which Homer refused to move out and replace with something new from Baton Roo. Then after a while he’d discover, with a jolting sensation, that his mind had been wandering again.

No visible father. No visible mother. A very visible “grandmother” who had, it was said, plucked him off the streets of Baton Roo while on vacation. Despite an old, blind man’s best efforts, it was beginning to be a problem--a real one invading both days and nights.

Homer. Who really was he? Every time he ate a bowl of Mawmaw Higgins’ Nine-Bean Soup, it mocked him. There was a Pinto, a Navy, a Red, and a Black Bean, but a Homer Bean? Minny’s funny, old song wouldn’t stretch that far.

Increasingly, when he looked in the mirror he saw someone familiar he should know but really didn’t. The image mocked him, the eyes always darkening with unfathomed meaning along with a gleam of challenge. “You don’t know who you are, do you?” it seemed to hurl at him time after time. “You don’t know--” “You don’t know--”

Trying to keep his mind on business, Homer picked up a letter forwarded from the state capital, from a noted Kingston travel agency called “Dreamland Tours,” which occasionally did tours in the northeast Korinth-Makon triangle, where two southernmost arms of the Laurentide Ice Sheet of the East Bear divided but were always threatening to come smashing together in a deadly hug. Politely, it informed him that there had been some mistake--on his part, to be precise.

They had requested reservations for a party of fourteen important government and society people, and he had arranged for only four, it seems. Time was of the essence! A party of four was coming anyway, and the others had cancelled and taken another firm to service them. Moreover, they were very sorry but Dreamland Tours would have to do business in the future with his nearest competitor, Pipestone Outfitters of Korinth, Sparta, and Argos.

Any expenses for his mistake must necessarily be paid by him, not Dreamland Tours, Inc.

So that explained why a party of four took the entire barge for the night--it was his own stupid mistake! Now Pipestone his rival had got the advantage over him and--if they thought as he did--set up an office in Makon to run him out of business! This caused a surge of emotion that surprised Homer. His nostrils flared, his chest expanded, his fists clenched while a sense of world-dominating superiority flooded his being, and he saw himself suddenly shorn of glory and his rightful inheritance by mere insects of crawling humanity. Indeed, offended as he was, he felt like taking his chair and bringing it down full force on his desk, but instead he mastered the worst of his impulses and instead crumpled the letter and send it out the glassless window, where it flew and landed somewhere amongst the customers below.

Shocked at his own violent reaction, Homer ran his hands over his face and rubbed until some of his lava-shooting vehemence died away.

Whatever the emotion was, it did not go easily.

It was like master and slave relations, only the one regarded as the slave must somehow control the master in the situation in which he found himself.

How had it happened? he wondered as he exerted his entire will to push down the gigantic arrogance, superiority, and the urges that went with the master in him.

Determined to act like he had everything under control, he went to the file, avoiding his assistant’s stare, and discovered it really was his mistake. He had signed the shipping order himself that day. He found the original letter of request and it plainly said fourteen people.

He’d only get the nonrefundable fee of fifty confederates and whatever the four guests spent at the barge’s lounge and cafe, but, on second thought, he decided to return all their expenses anyway. Word got around quickly. He had to treat his patrons well, or expect the whole crowd to turn elsewhere.

Monied people were like that. They went where they knew everything could be counted on, with hardly a finger of theirs involved, except the ones, that is, that signed the cheque.

Four? Fourteen? Couldn’t he tell the difference? He ought to have been suspicious when he found himself outfitting so small a party on the barge. But he hadn’t given it a second thought, apparently.

Homer shook his head. He had cost the store hundreds of confederates in the near future as well by losing the Kingston agency’s confidence. How could he have been so absent-minded? He wasn’t used to losing clientele, with money being so scarce. The news of this lost contact would soon get around, he knew. The area was a small pond, where bad news was concerned. A ripple went pretty far. He knew there was nothing to do but write the agency an apology, enclosing their fee in full. Maybe that would make them think kinder of him. Eventually, Pipestone might slip up too, and he’d get Dreamland Tours back again. After lousing up their tour schedule, that was all he could hope.

Putting on what he thought was a bland businessman’s expression instead of the arch haughtiness he still felt, Homer slipped a sheet of paper into the typewriter. It was store stationery. The letterhead was a pine tree log and a fishing pole propped against it, with a boat tied up--a good business hook of an illustration he had devised. Along with the props, it read “Bean and Son’s Trading Post and Outfitters, Proudly Serving Makon, Korinth, Athens, Spartah, Rome, and Adjacent Scenic Wonderlands of the Great Northeast.”

Homer would have liked to have dropped the “--and Son’s” since Judge Bean was not his father, even though he had performed in the adoption. His grandmother would not hear of tampering with family tradition, however, when he approached her with his objection. Whenever Homer saw the letterhead, he was forced to wonder about his real father. And his mother? Was she alive? Dead?

Everyone, except old Nails Jensen, had kept quiet around him. And hearing that his mother might be his grandmother’s baby sister--that only muddied the waters for him.

What could the family have done with his mother?

Why would they lie, saying they had plucked him off the streets in Baton Roo when he really was the son of a Sognstad? That should have been honor enough, being a Sognstad, since his grandmother prided herself on that name, saying they were from an old, distinguished ambassador’s family in Baton Roo. But who was his father? Someone called “Kal” by old Mr. Jensen?

A man who had run a mine on his ranch before vanishing somewhere to the south? His grandmother, when he ventured to ask, refused to talk about it. She looked furious, and then shortly after that old Jensen was packed up and on his way via the White Angel to Korinth.

Consequently, with so little to go on, he had supposed himself to be a Bean, mostly because he had lived as one all his life in Judge Bean’s house. But even here the ground did not lie firm.

There was a cloud over his grandmother as well. She had married into the Bean fortune, holding to the cherished Sognstad name in private correspondence with friends and family relations in Baton Roo and elsewhere. Why did she insist on his being called a Bean when the Judge was not his real father?

Homer, after the rebuff, had given the matter increasing thought. His “grandmother” was all he had of known “family,” and the Judge was a big, gilt-framed portrait in the library of the Bean mansion, the picture of someone he had never known but could only see portrayed by his grandmother and people in town who were old enough to have known him.

Those same oldsters might have told him about “Kal,” but, strangely, they always hurried off on an errand when he got nerve enough to ask.

How and where exactly did the Judge die? Was it a heart problem or a plane crash? He heard the Judge had a plane, flying in and out of what had been the town parade ground for local army battalions and was now cow pasture with a lot of white pine springing up.

The Judge, as his grandmother related it, had flown southward, and never returned. Wreckage of the type of plane he was flying was discovered scattered on the C.S.A. seacoast opposite Ratna-Heruka. That much he dug out of an old newspaper he found in his grandfather’s study, folded up and stuck, of all places, in a big vase that the Judge used to keep choice Kingston cigars after he was married. Why had he flown down there if he knew he was not well? No one would answer that question either.

Was it a business trip? Or just a social trip? His grandmother would not say either way.

Even for the manager of an outfitting company, Homer was hazy on geography that was more than two hundred miles distant. It hadn’t been his best subject at school.

The extreme south and south east meant places like Ratna-Heruka, Poseidonia, Venez, Panamania, Argentina, and other unspellable areas and cities he reckoned he would never see.

Everything across the straits, north and south, even the closest country of Publicatexa, he reckoned he would probably never go and see, so he had the foggiest notion of what lay over the water.

Just the same he asked his grandmother what business “Grandfather Bean” might have had in such places, as Ratna-Heruka and Poseidonia since it seemed he was flying over that way when he crashed.

His grandmother stiffened immediately when he put the question to her.

She was helping Minny with a special layered cake she had planned to serve at a coming ladies’ luncheon and sale the next day called to help raise money for new tile on the church.

Minny was whipping batter for one layer, while his grandmother was assembling ingredients for the next.

She paused to look at him quickly, then went back to her work. At least she made the attempt, for Homer saw she was actually looking down at her rigid hands.

“Homer, we are really too busy to talk about things like that!” she protested gently. “Some other time would be better.”

Homer couldn’t forget later how strange his grandmother had looked, her face gone white around her mouth and eyes, while Minny stared at them both, her hands on her aproned hips.

He now glanced up from the typewriter. His mind had been wandering again! At that rate his letter would not get finished before closing time! “Dear Effendi-”--using the most formal address reserved for aristocrats and high government people, whereas “Abi” served an ordinary “Sir” or “Mister”--was as far as he had gotten with writing something he hated to do, a letter of apology.

Angry at himself, he stood up to stretch his legs. He had been at his desk since opening, and it was now past noon. What did he have to show for all that time? From where he stood he could take in the whole store, and his impatient, though somewhat hazy dark brown eyes flickered up and down the aisles below until they stopped abruptly at the counter where tourist knick-knacks and trifles of feminine apparel were displayed.

There stood a city girl trying on earrings, the specialty kind decorated with Indian beadwork.

She leaned close to the mirror.

“Indian Summer” sun shining in from the outdoors touched her with a murky bronze from her feet to her tight white shorts. With her long legs and figure she was attracting attention. News can get passed around in a small town pretty fast, particularly in the saloons, and Lame Horse and A Man's Best Friend Tavern (the former old "Funky Dawg" after the latest makeover) had heard about the pretty woman and her party on the barge, and now they started coming in, all trying to look sober and casual like customers but noticing only the one item he didn’t have for sale!

Meanwhile, as he and a dozen pairs of male eyes watched her every move, she chose a pair she liked that complemented her color scheme. To see them better, her hand swept back her thick hair from around her ears. Pleased with what she saw, she turned her head and caught Homer looking down at her. Their eyes met, hers inquiringly, his surprised, and then, with a shrug, she whirled away to the back counter to settle up with his assistant at the register.

Red-gold hair and green eyes? He had never seen that combination, and it was unforgettable. He went back to his desk, the green eyes still shining in his mind.

A moment later Homer heard his assistant, Dreng Haugen, call up the stairs, in an odd, choked voice. Homer said something softly under his breath. He had instructed Dreng before, that his signature wasn’t needed, and he should use his own discretion. But he went anyway, just to get away from the unpleasant Dreamland Tours business for a few moments.

Without a glance at the girl or the crowd of boozy “customers” standing around gawking, he stamped the Baton Roo National Bank cheque while her eyes, with the cool appraisal of a safecracker, went up and down him, stopping at his silver belt buckle.

“Why didn't you come out to the barge party last night, darling?” she commented. “It wouldn’t have been such a crashing bore with you and that--ah-- buckle along.”

Her voice and the discovery of who she was stunned Homer. At a loss how best to deal with the group he had short-changed with his mistaken arrangements, he stared at her. What had she said? Had she called him, “darling”? Homer couldn’t believe his ears. Nice Makon girls didn’t talk that way. They'd lose their reputations! Half the crowd heard it, though, and sniggered, and a couple oafs hooted. Homer’s face suddenly went red as Dreng beside him was audibly gasping.

Her eyes narrowed as she examined his stamped name just as he realized her name was familiar--too familiar, since he now remembered it was listed with others on the Dreamland Tour letter. Before he could think of what to do, she looked at him again.

“Say, darling, are you?--yes--I believe you are! There was supposed to be fourteen in this party, most of them contest judges, but you reserved a table for only four of us, and it was too late for the travel agency to come up with something other, so we came anyway, just my manager and three of judges I wasn’t so sure of!”

Then she put her hands down on his counter, staring into his face determinedly. “Can’t you read in this hick town? I suppose, darling, you don’t realize whom you’re dealing with. Well, you’ll soon know, because all the papers will be full of my bathing suit strut for the judges!”

With Baton Roo’s papers announcing the Miss Northeast C.S.A. regional contest still on the way to Makon, Homer was at a loss just what she meant, but he realized she was waiting for an apology for a goof he could not deny. In front of everyone! His pride already ruffled by the Dreamland Tours rebuke, Homer stiffened. But, nevertheless, before he could stop him his assistant bowed and came out with, “We’re very sorry, it won’t happen again, Miss Coldbank. Is there anything else we may do--?”

“I’m not dealing with you, darling, ” she said icily, not even glancing at Dreng. She blew her bangs off her forehead, then resumed her stance before Homer. “And I’m not budging an inch from here until Mr. Bean here gives Miss Coldbank a full apology. It’s his mistake I had to do a party without ten important guests I wanted to repay in some, ah, small measure for all their--ah--all their most generous support and encouragement.”

Homer still could not believe he was dealing with her likes, but something about her reminded him of another female, and he decided to let the fire burn itself out without heaping on further fuel.

He began writing out a cheque for the fee and, after a quick look in the ledger, what her group had spent on the barge.

“What are you doing?” Miss Coldbank interrupted him.

He eyed her as he stamped his name. “It’s a full refund, Miss Coldbank, for the party you threw last night on the ‘Song of Dixie.’” The crowd broke out in surprised murmur. Someone yelled out. “Oh, don’t give her the money back, Effendi! Don't you recognize this hussey, this piece of trash? She’s the one that’s hired a thug down to kick po’ Miss Louisia in the shins so she couldn't go on with a big bruise in the bathing suit contest!” an imitation-alligator bag salesman from Baton Roo called out from behind the crowd. “Read it yourself in the latest issue--she outa be kicked out of the country for that, ‘stead of counting herself the legit queen and kicking up her heels with her crooked judge friends all night!” Everyone turned to see who it was, and he ducked out of sight.

It was Miss Coldbank’s turn to stiffen. Her green eyes, which had been full of fire, burnt even more fiercely. “I don’t need my money back, darling!” she said, tearing it slowly in half, then quarters, then eighths, and then, when it was impossible to tear it down any further, throwing the pieces on the counter. “But you might find it handy to pay bills after all my friends pull their patronage out of this poorly managed, backward operation of yours.” For a moment, it looked like she was going to slap Homer’s startled face for what someone else had said, but letting four or five volunteers light her cigarette at the end of a long, platinum holder, she took a deep drag, blew it leisurely toward her audience, and laughed. Turning to look for the fellow who dared question her chances at the title, she called out, “You got one thing right, darling. I am a winner, a very big winner, and no one’s going to push me out of first place! Nobody! Kingston, here I come! And I'm going to be Miss Teen World-CSA if it's the last thing I ever do!”

She held out long, expertly manicured nails, and smiled. “It’s a lie that I hurt anyone to get where I am, for unlike the others I can win on my own merits, as you can plainly see!” Then, walking right ahead without minding what was in her path, she swung out of the store, leaving the whole crowd gazing after her. She was wearing beaded Indian moccasins as well, and could obviously afford much better, for not only did she step off the curb into a limoisine but she did so with the style of someone who had learned all the graces of a ballet school while not forgetting for one moment she had the C.S.A’s finest pair of legs.

Since the driver hadn’t kept up the head of steam, thinking his boss’s girlfriend might be longer at her shopping, there was still time to take a look. Homer found himself at the window with the others, while maintaining an expression he would use casually checking the window display. Baton Roo gold license plates, customized to look like royalty plates to say, “TALULAH” in front and “MISS TEEN WORLD-C.S.A.” in back, even though she had yet to win the Miss C.S.A. contest in Kingston in a week’s time. Chauffeured, with streamers and signs proclaiming a sure win, the limo and a second car like it carrying her manager and two judges pulled away, the sensation of the week hidden by a tinted window. The crowd in Bean’s poured out on the sidewalk, ogling without shame until she was completely out of sight.

By this time the storm off the lake, and its shadow line, had passed. Or had it? He had just been called a “darling”--never mind she called every man that. She seemed, beyond all possible rivals, the most female he had ever met. He could still feel the practiced eyes that seemed to slice through him like deadly rays.

It was the end of the work week, a day of chill wind and bated sun--so characteristic of summer’s end. Crested Swallows, sure sign of what was brewing up north on the Laurentide, flew in the thousands together, massed for the southward migration to the Holy Lands. Following close on their flightpath hundreds of snowbirds, tourists from the south who came north to cool off a bit, then flew away with the first growl of East Bear/Turtle’s glacial winter.

Homer had just finished lunch with his grandmother, in the same, tradition-heavy, Minnepaul-decorated parlor with the over-sweet, jasmine-scented oil lamps where they had dined together since he was big enough to sit up in a high-backed oak chair. Now as he hurried back to the trading post, his face set against the cutting wind, he stepped off the curb without looking and a large blur suddenly confronted him and then swept past in a swerve that spattered himwith ice and leaves. “Hey!” he called after the out-of-town van as it careened out of sight round the block.

What had his grandmother meant? he wondered, forgetting the incident already as he crossed the street to the trading post. He paused on the opposite curb, leaned on an antique hitching post and stared at a sideswiped Gypsy’s camper truck that also was speeding away on the road to Alantah with an angrily blaring horn. “You used the same expression as K--!” his grandmother had blurted out at the table. Then she had gone out quickly to the kitchen, supposedly to see what was keeping Homer’s second roast beef sandwich.

But wasn’t that her way? he thought as he went in the store and shut the door against the wind. She could always find some excuse to leave whenever he thought of a question concerning his “original family.”

Homer looked around the store and didn’t bother to turn back on the lights. Summer season over, everyone else gone for the weekend on hunting trips, the post was empty and remained so. It had been that way for several days now. Stirred with his own thoughts and mental turmoil, he wanted some time alone to think. So he had let Dreng have the afternoon off so he could go hunting with friends.

His head began to nod where he sat at his grandfather's old desk.

Homer Bean

He awoke with a star. He checked his watch. Ten minutes he had been out, he discovered. How could he drop off like that? he wondered. Yet the post seemed too dead. Smells of leather, oiled metal and nylon line, and dried foods in plastic bags normally had a soothing effect on his constitution, but now they met his nose with a sour, musty odor like leaves left over the winter in an old rain barrel. Also, some lutefisk had gone bad in a lye barrel, and he wasn’t about to deal with it now, so he just held his breath and headed out.

He felt he needed some fresh air badly. For some reason the old, familiar smells of the business felt suffocating to him, though they never bothered him much before.

Why not? he decided, as he turned back to the door. He stepped out and locked up. He had finished his orders for three months in advance, and he knew his regular customers were all out of town. As for more exotic, monied clientele, running down for a weekend party on the barge, they too had all flown back to Baton Roo and Alantah--the van and camper truck no doubt the rag-tag end of the summer caravan to Makon. Perhaps he should have gone too, he thought as he stooped down and trailed his fingers in maple leaves. Makon’s business district, except for him, had closed days ago and taken a hunting holiday. Both crowds at Dawg and Lame Horse had invited him since he brought boxes of unsold shells and distributed them among the frequenters.

The leaves had frost that stung fingers, he found. He stood, recalling how conveniently his grandmother took ill with a common Songstad affliction, a fluttery, breathless, female nervousness that she and her sister called “Songstad lung, ” coming upon them whenever he so much as mentioned guns and hunting. But he was a man, and how he ached to go even though his grandmother said it would be the death of her!

He grabbed a handful of leaves and released them into the wind which snatched and threw them down the street. Then he started walking down toward the lake, while his hand that had held the leaves remained cold. Simple leaves made him recall a long-forgotten incident. Was he eight? Nine? In any case, the cold, icy beer the woman handed him from a cooler in the back of the wagon had stung his fingers and needled the inside of his throat with bits of ice as it went down--his first acquaintance with the raw, biting Rainy Lake lager that everyone favored at the old Dawg that now sported a respectable name for the tourists.

When the ice turned to fire he handed the bottle back quickly, and the woman laughed and ruffled his hair with a dirty, beringed hand. Of course, she and her man were Gypsies and tramps, considered low-down and no-good in Makon. That was what his grandmother and Minny called them, warning him never to speak to them or take any candy they offered. Everyone knew, they said, Gypsies were kidnappers, stealing children like so many apples or chickens out of people’s yards and hencoops. But Homer liked the woman’s laugh from the start, her bright, ruffled gown and sparkling rings pleasing to his eye. She told him her people had once ruled the world, and he had laughed and didn’t believe her. When she invited him for a ride, he jumped in the old wagon beside her, and her man gave a slap of the reins on the back of the horse and they were off, lurching and rattling down the road from town. The woman put her arm around him as he leaned against her in the bumpy places, stroking his cheek, and he smelled something wonderful and spicy coming from her clothes. He could only think how wonderful it felt to be kidnapped. He had never felt so free before--nor had he since.

Homer paused, surprised as he looked around. He had turned, somehow, and was not at the lakeshore but was headed up the highest point in the area, Mount Infidel, or Infidel Head--its full name. That was the name given after the first wars of Isman on the east side of the Floyda Straits, events he knew about chiefly from the mullah’s teachings.

Ever since he was let go by is grandmother, he had climbed up to see the spot where the wagons were unloaded and all the infidels’ heads were tossed over the cliff. Cutting pagan, Minnepaulian-ruled Old Georgia in two, the Kaliph’s general, Akbar Shur-Iman, burned and pillaged his way from the Straits to the Eastern Sea, passing right through Makon with fire and sword. Leading pagans of the old town when it was captured, he had been instructed, were given the choice of converting immediately to the Five Pillars of Isman or suffer a quick beheading, and quite a few--8,000, or half the city’s population--had stubbornly elected not to be reformed.

The captains, merchants, the money lenders the master shipbuilders, the priests and tradesmen, were nearly all wiped out after that, leaving mainly just farmers, landless farm laborers, and the share-cropping poor. As for captured women and children who were not given the choice out of compassion for their sex and age, they were shipped off to huge slave marts in Kingston, Baton Roo, and Multan. That left Makon pretty much as it had been ever since. The splendid port rotted--all the warehouses, high-gabled merchant houses, boat sheds--no one had any further use for them, so they stood empty, finally collapsing into the mud and water. As for the rest of the town, most of that had burned down already, leaving only the land walls, which were stone and not so easily leveled.

Shots echoed in the woods. But they weren’t close. Infidel Head was considered haunted, with infidel spirits turned to trolls and man-eating ogres, so hunting parties normally stayed clear, making it something of a game refuge.

“I don’t have time for this,” he thought, feeling childlish, but he kept climbing. In twenty minutes he stood on the summit, with a view of Makon directly below.

The view, which he had not seen for years, was a fresh experience. He was again amazed by the transformation that, from a distance, made Makon look like it did in ancient times. In the blue mist the many-pillared bridge that swept by the city only to end, abruptly, in the middle of Rainy Lake, and the city walls, broken down with huge gaps, now seemed completely intact, and he couldn’t see the squat, dull-colored modern buildings, which shrank down out of sight.

Instead the stone walls looked as they must have to the dragon-ship people of the old pagan city, which was ruled by Minnepaul princes and kinglets who staged weeks of epic feasts and drinking bouts in their tall, multigabled mead halls of carved, red and green painted pine logs. The flourishing riverport back then boasted a war fleet of its own, seventy dragon ships to fight with other cities up and down the rivers and even raid the opulent Golden Coast cities along the far Straits of Qoph the Deputy of the Five Pillars, joining with other war fleets to attack and sack East Bear’s queen city on her hundred isles, Baton Roo, which yielded boatloads of gold trinkets and thousands of beautiful concubines before they burned all to the water line.

Shining with the golden light of a fast-fading summer, the walls looked restored to thirty-feet-thick and one hundred feet high with towers set every four hundred feet. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? he wondered.

No, he had seen this happen before, when the light was just right, and there was just enough mist to obscure the reality. Only the pale green church towers spoiled the effect somewhat, reminding him it was modern times.

In another moment he would have turned to go, but something shuddered in him. It overwhelmed the present and stirred his depths. Suddenly, with a wrenching of his mind out of the life and time and people he had known, he found himself in a royal mead hall filled with smoke and clamor of banqueters and strolling scops with harps.

He was standing beneath a dragon-ship hung from the rafters with huge chains and emblazoned with captured shields of rival cities, his gold-studded boots on the lower step of a carved, gilded throne-like chair, holding out a huge, many-colored, gem-studded beaker to men raising all their smaller beakers to him in a toast. His manly breast, beneath the gold-studded leather cape covering his naked upper torso, flooded with immense pride and joy.

He pushed back from his forehead a gold diadem, booty from the recent sack of Korinth, that was always slipping forwards. “Lords and warriors! Men of Makongard the City-Smasher! Hear my words! I will tell you how many daring and wonderful things I have done by my own hand, a hunded times more cunning than Ole Torgesson my chief magician and jester! Did I not find a way to slip with my ship through the blockade ringing Korinth’s outer defenses while the rest of you held back with woman’s fear and trepidation? Who else would have dared plunge through their belt of battleships to attack the proud city herself? I caught their sea-gate open and sailed right in to the king’s private port! What mayhem I caused, setting fire to his palace before the main forces could turn back and try to stop me! Thus I led you into the fray, and when you followed they gave way and broke and fled before us! The city was ours, and soon all was put to the torch after we took the gold and the best women. Indeed, haven’t I proven myself a thousand times more brave than any captain of you here? Say now, is there someone present who is man enough to fight me for my crown and cape? How about you, Magnus, son of Magnus? You think you’re mighty, don’t you? I’ve watched you in battle, acting like you are our greatest general, an Effendi like me! Or you, Haakon, son of Anders the Blood-Ax? Ha! Just as I thought! You too are too smart to risk all the gold and women you have won fighting under my all-conquering dragon--”

A roar of laughter and cheering went up, deafening the gold-ringed ears in the hall.

Prince Homer, dragon-lord of the dragon-ships of Rainy Lake and its chief robber-city, drank his beaker down at one swallow! Clapping and cheering greeted his feat. He staggered a bit, then climbed up on his throne, waving the empty beaker for a refill from Sven Svenson his Chief Cupbearer, who stood ready at the huge gilded pot kept heated on an open fire in the hall.

He turned to the minstrel-poets. “Sing! Charm my ears with tales of my glorious deeds in the battle of Korinthgard, while the rest of you drink to my immortality and resounding fame among the sea-kings of the realm!”

This scene held his mind’s eye for only a moment, and then another flashed into view. With hundreds of his men pushing, swearing, pulling on ropes and chains, and whipping at slaves to pull a little harder, he, as sea-king of Makongard, was viewing his carved and gilded image raised up on a towering column when it too vanished and he was looking at successive scenes, each lasting but a moment, and far more strange to his eye--things that might have seen in Multan in its better days, when she ruled all the known world from the Kaliph’s Grand Porte.

One thing remained constant though--the pillar with his golden statute on top. Whenever it appeared, it was taller, more glorious and heroic, and the crowds beneath were bigger. It was if he were being shown all he could be, if only wished it!

Modern Dixie, with the Laurentide glacier pack sprinting a mile a day and breathing down her neck, could be cruel to fantasies, however glittering and golden. Sleet from a passing stormcloud, flung in the daydreamer’s face, woke him from his romantic dreams of Makon’s past. Holding up his hand to shield his face, he climbed back down and gained the partial, welcome shelter of thick pine just as the bald crest of Infidel Head vanished in a swirling black cloud.

Hurrying, he kept just ahead of the storm, which rolled down from the summit toward the little town below. Somehow the unplanned excursion, the strange thoughts it stirred, made him feel as if life had opened a new door to him, and he was about to burst through.

It was getting very cold, and he could feel it though dressed in thick, warm mackinaw, sweater, jeans and boots--his usual fall and winter garb. He walked faster. That would warm him up, he thought. Get his blood moving. The experience with the Gypsies in his childhood came back to mind. Blood, too, had a deep association with the past. He could almost smell the imaginary blood that gushed out when the man described how to slit a chicken’s neck and hold it while all the blood drained out, because they, the Romanichals, as they called themselves--could never let a fat gorgio chicken run and squawk until it dropped since some gorgio farmer or his missus would be sure to hear and come running with a shotgun.

How he had laughed as the man acted the parts of the expiring chicken and the huffing and puffling old farmer. The pretty woman laughed with him, flouncing her petticoats with her beringed hands, and the deserted farmhouse where they stopped filled with their laughter, as well as the stompings and snortings of the imaginary farmer who stood, just after the Romanichals scampered away, gazing stupidly at a pile of chicken feathers and gnawed bones.

This and other jokes and impersonations of local people struck Homer as even funnier. Though strangers, they seemed to know everyone in Makon, even the mullah who taught church school in the one-room school-house. That hour they had spent in the abandoned farmstead outside town, playing cards and drinking Makon lager, lying comfortably on an old mattress in the front parlor, had so thrilled him he was hoping at the time it would never end. They had treated him just like a grown-up, especially when he said he was the Judge’s son!

“How come you steal from us town folks?” he challenged them. “It makes folks real mad at you and want to shoot you dead.”

“Naw, it ain’t really stealin’, Effendi, ” the Gypsy blade said, smiling with all his gold teeth showing and bowing elaborately as before a Multanese nobleman. “Once we owned every inch of this country and there was thousands of us. Why, we traded everywhere we pleased, and people welcomed us and gave us the best they had! So a little red hen now and then--that’s not too much to ask for all we have given these people of yours--is it, boy? After all, we let them crop this land for free, and all what they got living on it is ours by right! So what’s a chicken for our pot now and then, Effendi?”

Homer agreed, shaking his head. “Tak’em all, fur all I care--I--I hate chickuns anywayz!” he said, with slurred tongue, and the man and woman laughed at him, and he was laughing too, and couldn’t seem to stop. Then the hiccoughs started, and next thing he knew he was lying in his bed at home, all the town was in an uproar over the “Gypsy kidnapping,” and a posse out chasing the two Gypsies who had laid him on a blanket, a bouquet of wild flowers under his head for a pillow, on the town limits and skedaddled.

Homer stoped walking to look out over the lake. The storm was coming across as usual. Black clouds were moving fast over the water to meet the rest of the storm coming down from Infidel Head. There was no wind from the lake at the moment. Far out rippled a dark blue that quickly swept toward him. As the shadowline approached wind started and blew his hair back from his forehead. Icy rain pelted down, and he continued into town.

Temperature plummeting, any standing water froze in minutes, and as Homer ran for home, he got to the house just in time as the first big storm of winter clamped down on the town. Stinging-cold rain had drenched his clothes, then frozen. Going up the steps in stiff clothes, another second and he would have been safe and snug, but the steps and the porch had been wet, and now they were sheer black ice which he didn’t see. Groping for support with his numb, wet hand, his foot slipped. He slipped even worse, and trying to keep his balance his head slammed against a pillar.

A few moments later Minny Higgins opened the door a crack against the blowing wind, thinking she must have heard a branch hit the porch. Her eyes bulged, and she screamed, “Oh, Lord, have mercy!” when she saw Homer lying outstretched, a gash spouting blood from his forehead.

In the morning Faye his nurse was the first to enter his room at the Makon hospital. Kept awake all night again by a headache, he was waiting for her. With an eye shut, the other slightly cracked, he lay still so he could feel her touch him momentarily as she bent over, loosening the covers. Then he opened his mouth wide to yawn and choked on a toothbrush.

He pulled it out and started to protest, but she paid him no attention, going about her usual morning routine. She handed him a glass of water for the toothbrushing, and a comb and an electric shaver whe he was ready. He couldn’t really complain, he mused, even with no sleep, as he watched her deft, cool movements. Doc Marshall had trained her well! “Imagine that!” he marvelled. “Old Marshall had taken a savage and dressed her up and made her act like a regular Makon City girl!”

He looked in the mirror she held out. Except for the hair, which was unmanageable because of the curl and would never lay flat, he thought, he looked a little sleepy, but otherwise well and able to be up from bed. The discovery made him immediately impatient to see the doctor and tell him he was recovered, and he could get dressed and return home. But where was the doc?

“He’s not on your case,” Faye said, intercepting his line of thought. “I answer to Dr. Graham, and he’s not letting you up from this bed until the test results come back from Baton Roo--which should be coming any moment now with the White Angel..”

That was bad news. The White Angel had been known to be ambushed and held up between Baton Roo and Makon. Was it going to be another day of lying in bed?

Homer groaned, and turned his face to the wall. A few moments later she came with a tray breakfast. He took an angry swipe at a pale, poached egg which broke and spattered his bed sheet.

Wiping up with a cloth, Faye stared at him but said nothing.

Homer attacked the muffin and the bacon, but wasn’t liking them. He swore under his breath as he kicked at the sheets for more foot room. The breakfast tray nearly fell to the floor, but Faye reached out and set it straight. When it got knocked again, she took it and set it on the cart by the bed.

“I feel just fine without breakfast,” he grumbled, thinking his loss of appetite over hospital food might cover most of his bad mood over not being let out when he wanted. She reached to tidy his bedspread, but this time he was not so preoccupied. He caught her wrist.

Their eyes met fully for the first time and locked on. He watched, breath-bated, her blue eys darkening to the color of his, as she pulled at her own hand and he wouldn’t let go.

She wouldn’t give in, and he wouldn’t give up. Her wrist must have felt the squeeze, for her eyebrows began to pinch together in pain.

“I’m through with you on a personal basis, didn’t you know?” she finally said, then added, “--not that there was all that much ‘personal’ lately.”

Letting her irony go over his head, it was his first real victory in bridging her inscrutable, Indian silence, so he let her go and could not help smiling. “That’s no way to talk to your superior, who shouldn’t, by rights, even look at your kind.”

Suddenly, her face flushed. All the professionalism and caring manner vanished. With the savage fury of her race, she stomped away and went out slamming the door.

There’d be another chance, he thought as he lay back on the pillow. It was, after all, his town, and he could do what he pleased there. Faye was now in his kingdom, within reach of his throne, and she had to give in to him. It took more than the usual to humble her sort, but she would be humbled if she knew what was good for her. Didn’t her whole wretched tribe depend on whatever money she sent home? That’s how poor and resourceless and bound in barbaric, old customs those people were!

On the other hand, it was true, he decided generously as the victor, that she had a right to act a little stiff with him. He had to admit he hand’t paid her much attention the last few months since she moved to town, and he wasn’t seeing her and giving her attention he had given her when she was still living out in the trees and bushes. But the business demanded his full attention, if he was going to drive his competitors completely out of the territory. Why couldn’t she just wait until that was accomplished? Why the hurry to “get personal,” or whatever she called it?

Yet, even in anger, she was--he had nearly forgotten how desirable she was. He was amazed at himself! For an Indian and a Christian she was--could he use the word?--’beautiful’! Even the fire-breathing vamp from Baton Roo was eclipsed beside Faye’s fresh vitality. When she was gone the room seemed lifeless, a shell dry as dust and cobwebs at the bottom of an empty cracker barrel.

Startling then disappointing him, the door opened and Dr. Graham peered in. He took a chair by the bed. A large, dim, virtually characterless man, the doctor’s dark suit, though not a proper physician’s, smelled to Homer of antiseptic and mothballs as he leaned forward to smooth out a wrinkle in the bedspread with a large, hairless hand. Why exactly his grandmother preferred him over Doc Marshall, there was nothing Homer could tell by the looks of him--but, then, he was from out of town and might better keep private family information to himself.

“Now Homer,” the Korinth doctor began amiably, still smoothing the invisible wrinkle. “I understand why an active young man like you don’t like having to stay so long in bed, but we had to make absolutely sure of any complications regarding this, ah, concussion, and since you’ve shown so much improvement you’ll only need to take something to thin the blood a little before you’re moved to Alantah for further diagnosis and treatment. Baton Roo thinks that would be sufficient, since their test shows--well--a stitch in time saves--”

Homer’s eyes had enlarged to saucers as the doctor got to mentioning the part of being “moved” to Alantah.

Glancing quickly at Homer’s face, the doctor sprang up uncharacteristically fast and went to the window. He shut it so hard the glass nearly shattered.

Dismayed and angry at the news, Homer shut his eyes and lay back on the pillow since he couldn’t very well take out his frustration on the doctor. It was useless, he thought, to argue with Dr. Graham his family physician. His grandmother listened to Dr. Graham as though he were the Judge.

Satisfied with Homer’s resignation to the course of his treatment, Dr. Graham went out, quietly shutting the door.

The moment the door closed, Homer’s eyes bolted open. His chest rose and fell, and his fists clenched on the bedspread. The door opened, and Homer threw himself on his side so Faye couldn’t see his rage.

Suddenly, an overwhelming reek of rancid possum fat, chewing tobacco, and flea-ridden animal air washed over Homer, and he turned quickly, discovering a long-haired stranger in a coonskin cap bending over him. A squirming, furry varmint was plopped on his chest, and Homer reared up.

“Hi yah, Effendi!” the woodsman roared, his mouth half full of teeth and a plug of tobacco. “I got ya a little present! Nobody else would take her at the Dawg. She needs a home--”

Homer was so surprised that he didn’t notice anything but the baby ferret kit seeking a warm place under his covers. About to leap off the bed, the logger snatched at it, and held it out again to Homer. “She’s not gwan to hurt ya, Effendi!” the fellow laughed. “Her peepers ain’t open yit, so when they does you’re her mawmaw!” Then it thrust it into Homer’s hands. Without another word, the backwoodsman headed slouched toward the door, leaving clouds of evil odor swirling over the figure in bed, strong enough to make him gag.

The man had no more than left the room then Faye, Graham and Marshall crowded in the door at the same time, staring at Homer and the struggling creature in his hands.

“I guess he meant it’s a gift?” Homer ventured, bewildered.

Doc Marshall strode toward the bed, his hand out. “Get that dirty thing out of here! I’ll dispose of it outside myself.” But Homer, now that he had a moment to recover from surprise, held the baby ferret

and knew that it was going to be a dead specimen in a few more moments, probably from a knock in the head by being swung against the building or the railing on the steps.

“No,” he said, wincing from the fresh memory of his own mishap. “Never mind, doc, it’s not going to hurt anything here. I’m keepin’ it for awhile.”

Faye gave the amazed physicians a look that she could handle this patient, and they went out, shaking there heads.

She stood, arms crossed, against the door and simply looked at him.

Homer, in turn, stroked the ferret possessively. “See how she likes me?” he laughed. The ferret was poking its nose into his hand, looking for something. He almost lost her, and put her down on his chest, and she kept poking away. Faye’s face broke, and she laughed. “She’s looking for her mother! She’s hungry!”

Going out, she returned in a few moments, holding an eye dropper. They soon were feeding her Homer’s glass of milk, and soon after that, with a bulging belly, the ferret turned round several times, then fell to sleep in a nest they made in the bedclothes.

That done, Faye went out and left Homer lying back on his pillow, his face looking resigned and almost happy.

“He’ll be just fine now that he’s got a little friend to take his thoughts off himself,” she explained to the waiting doctors. “Those tests he hates--he’ll go along with them too--just to get this whole thing over with.”

Then she returned to Homer for some delayed procedures. He tried to catch her eyes when she began to rub his arm with a piece of alcohol-soaked cotton. But her glance when he caught it was again blankly inscrutable and Indian.

“Look,” he said as he watched the needle sink into his flesh. “Why can’t we be at least friendly?”

She said nothing. He noticed, however, how long she took with the need. He winced as she gave it an unnecessary turn in the wound. The reason, he realized was her hand. It was trembling. And her eyes were shut. She wasn’t even looking at what she was doing! Suddenly, she awoke and pulled the needle out, dropped it, and began rubbing her wrists as they stared at each other, Homer with surprised, Faye with an emotion he could not interpret.

A long moment passed that way. Then Faye threw a glance toward the door, before sinking on the edge of the chair. “You’re crazy as a loon,” she retorted in a hard, controlled voice. “people are already talking about us. “They’ll never let us go on seeing each other. Your grandmother even objected to my nursing you, and except for Dr. Graham’s word--” Homer’s mouth droped open. He knew somehow by the feeling in the air. She didn’t have to say it. But how could it be otherwise? He was a voting, full-blood citizen, a son of the True Way of Isma, and she was renegade Indian and--though a degree less than infidel--hopelessly primitive Christian.

“Do you know God?” she asked him abruptly, startling him. “What do you mean--’know God’? Why should I? How could anybody know Him? That would be sacrilege!” Faye leaned toward him, her eyes glowing. “But you can know Him, talk to Him just like I’m talking to you, and become His child!” Homer showed his surprise and doubt. “But I was born a son of Isma. And I am a good man, so I will go to heaven.” Faye’s eyes turned very grave. “Homer! That’s not enough, just being born and acting ‘good’, to make you God’s son. There has to be a change in your heart and spirit, and a new spirit from God put within you. Hasn’t anybody ever told you that? A child can talk to God. That’s what you must become inside, don’t you see?”

Homer shifted in the bed. “This is Christian talk--infidel heresy!” he blurted out. “I was born what I am, and that’s enough! Everybody knows that! And you’re born outside the Family of Sacred Law, so you’re forever outside the holy brethren and--” Faye stood. “Makon’s a small world,” she continued, as if to agree with his thoughts. “I must go to my own people for a husband, particularly since you refuse to consider what I’ve said.” Her lower lip, which had trembled, tightened, and her voice became again solid, impenetrable stone like her face. “I’m glad I’m not your Missus Homer Bean. Everybody knows--” “What does everybody know?” he shot back. “Who your mother and your father really are!”

This question and challenge had come up often enough, and he was prepared. Homer’s face turned to a rigid mask. “Well, so what about it?”

Faye swung away and laughed scornfully. “So what, you say?” she shook her head almost loose of its stiff, white cap, which held on to her with pins. She turned back and faced him, looking pityingly. “They’ve obviously kept the truth from you all these years, and you say, ‘So what?’!”

“Who said they’ve--” he protested, but he couldn’t find the words. The nurse gve him a last look that took his breath away, and he instantly saw how useless it was trying to explain things to an Indian. Besides, he thought quickly, she was right. Fooling around was one thing, but her own tribe would be out lynch him if he married her. All he had to do was step outside town into the woods and they would be there waiting. How then could she have been so foolish as to have continued the relationship by moving to town to work? he wondered, amazed. Now that she said she wouldn’t marry him, would she quit her job, the only one her tribe could claim in town?

He turned his face to the window as she went out, trying to push back the questions that kept coming, while a heavy, dark, sleety rain slushed down outside the window.

Back home from Alantah, with no complications that time couldn’t mend, Homer answered the door one afternoon and found a bespectled, slightly-framed female of no particular age standing on the porch holding a wooden suitcase.

“I’m the book restorer Mrs. Bean sent for,” she explained, eyeing him steadily through very thick lenses. “Is she in? I’m on my way to the hotel to find a room, but I thought I might let her know I am in town and can begin work as soon as she likes.”

“My grandmother’s out,” he replied, showing her in. “Excuse my robe, I had an accident, and I’ve got to rest a bit more. Doctors orders."

Homer looked up the stairs, frowning. No sign of Higgins when he needed her! Must have got a “tetch” in her knees again--the old malady the housekeeper-cook used as her best excuse to keep to her room and skylark.

He led the visitor to the parlor. “Please sit here. My grandmother will be back in a few minutes. I can get you some coffee.”

The woman’s face brightened, for it looked pinched with cold. “Yes, I think I could use some--if it’s no trouble for you!”

Homer smiled. He knew all the ways of hospitality in the house. “None at all! Just a minute, and I’ll bring it to you.”

A pot of coffee was always brewing in his grandmother’s kitchen. In a few moments, he had a tray prepared and was serving the book lady.

She removed her gloves, but left on her coat and hat. Sipping the coffee, she eyed Homer a moment, then glanced round. Her manner seemed to be all business.

“Now where are the books I’ll be working on?”

Homer turned toward the door to the library. “In there, I believe. The Judge has all his collection in there, except for--” Homer, though he hadn’t seen them in years, remembered there were some shelves up in the attic.

“Oh?” she murmured, drinking the last of her cup.

She stood before he could offer her another, her eye on his robe and then, just as quickly, at her man-sized watch.

“I must be going! Please inform Mrs. Bean I’ll be coming by again at 8 a.m. sharp. I have to start every day, wherever I am, in a businesslike way, you know, or my work suffers."

Homer went out with her, and watched her turn, thank him for the refreshment, and then pick her way carefully down the the steps to the shoveled but frosty walkway leading to the street.

He shut the door, a frown on his face. Glancing upwards, he went to the stairs.

2 The Lacquered Wardrobe

How many minutes Homer was in the attic looking through the old wardrobe, lacquered with incredible, exotic scenes, he had no idea. Hearing feet on the steps, he was wrenched out of his reverie and back to reality.

His grandmother started to say something as she saw him and their eyes met, but something in his eyes stopped her short, and she looked where he turned back to look.

He stared at the elaborate, long-tailed coat. His best guess was it would be an an opera singer’s or even ambassador’s from some gala masque ball , by the elaborate gilding and flowery pattern laid over the brocade. No military man, or even a government official, would wear anything so ornate and gaudy as a coat of golden poppies.

Finally, he turned to her. “Where did it come from?”

His grandmother looked down. She let each word go as if it pained her greatly. “From his--Kal’s--trunk, which this is. Your grandfather wrote up a proper warrant and made a raid on Kal’s ranch, found the trunk just then being loaded by some men, and ordered it taken as evidence. Fortunately, they gave it up without a fight, or it would have gone badly for your grandfather was armed and would not have gone away empty-handed. He was always a good one for demanding proof, circumstantial evidence of wrong-doing.”

"Where were they taking it when he stopped them?”

“I asked that too. But he could not hold them, having no warrant, and they guessed it and took off with what they had, what looked like some mining equipment and bags of ore. Your grandfather, after a quick look in the ranch house and at the other buildings rund the mine, raced back to town to the flying field, dropped off the trunk to be sent to the house, then flew off to see if he could follow them from the air. It was, he thought, the only way to catch them. Well, he never returned. Weeks later, I was informed by the state police and coast guard that a wreckage of a light plane of the type he flew was found scattered ont he shore. They could not be sure if it had been blown up or had simply run out of fuel and crashed. There was nothing left of your grandfather to identify. That left it all a mystery. But when he never returned, I realized this was how he must have ended, tracking the men.”

Homer was thinking faster than she related the account. He could not believe her words. “But he was flying, and they were driving a truck, you said. That’s impossible. He couldn’t have followed them all the way to the coast, unless he stopped at least once and refueled, and then he would have to circle again and again or he’d overshoot them.”

“Yes, that is so, I suppose. But maybe they weren’t driving all the way. Maybe there was another plane that met them. I don’t know! Please, no more questions. What difference does it make now, if they drove or flew?”

Homer stopped for the moment, his thoughts flying furiously but unable to find anything solid.

At a loss he fingered the coat. Without thinking he turned it in his hands and the tailor’s mark showed. It was gold, like the exterior decoration. But along with a name that meant nothing to him, it showed a city’s skyline--a city that had so many golden domes that it could only be Multan, a fabled place to his imagination, not a real place where human beings actually lived. On impulse, he did something strange. He stood up and slipped on the coat.

His grandmother looked at him and gasped.

Wondering why her face had blanched white, he moved over to an antique mirror for a look, and he was rather pleased with the image. The coat fit him perfectly, only he looked like a royal Multanite prince or king. Did they have princes and kings anymore in Heruka-Ratna? He didn’t think so.

“What’s wrong?” he said, turning back to his grandmother with concern. Her reaction was beginning to worry him, making him think she was having trouble with her heart. “Aren’t you feeling well?”

She rose, half-crouched, from her chair. She pointed a finger at him, shaking like a leaf. "No, Take it off! Take it off!”

Homer, alarmed, swept off the coat and flung it away. “Grandmother! What did I do?”

The old woman turned away, bent double with some terrible pain. “Oh, it’s not you! It’s just that you look so much like him! Oh, I can’t--”

She clutched at her mouth, and stumbled and tried to get away, and Homer had to follow, thinking she might fall down the steps in her condition.

He was going to help her, when he himself blacked out. When he opened his eyes, his grandmother was saying something, and tugging him. Slowly, he descended the steps, his feet moving strangely and drunkenly. He collapsed on a chair, and then Higgins came, and then the doctor came, and he was put to bed.

The next day he was ordered to stay there all day, and the doctor checked him closely, and then spoke, out of earshot, with his grandmother.

When the doctor had gone, she came to him, and gently broke the doctor’s plan.

“You need a change of scene, a rest somewhere south, and the doctor suggest a tour, which would take you from business here and give your mind and body time for restoration. How about a trip, dear? You’re not taken a real vacation for a long, long time. If that’s the only way to see you mend and be yourself again, then I guess I’ll have to let you go. Higgins and I will have to manage--”

Homer’s mind spun. “What?” he blurted out. “A trip where? What does he have in mind anyway?”

His grandmother faced him. “What’s so wrong about a vacation and a trip to somewhere nice, such as Multain? It has the best hotels and there are beaches where you can lie in the sun and soak up the warmth. All my friends used to--”

She broke off abruptly. And Homer, used to her ways, understood. But because he resented being ordered about, he pressed her. “What friends? And where exactly did they go for the winter?”

His grandmother shook her head. “It’s all so long ago. I’ve forgotten it all!”

She went to the door, then paused to look back. “Please consider going. I will miss you terribly here, but you need to get your mind off things for a while. It’ll be the best way to mend, the doctor said.”

The next day his grandmother came with tickets for a Holy Land Tour. He didn’t ask her how she had managed to get them, he was so angry. But he kept his mouth shut, and when she had left him in peace he slowly calmed down to think about it. The tickets lay on the bed, and he stared at the names of cities, so exotic, they sounded fabulous like places only seen in stories--Multan, Poseidonia...

All he had known was Georgia, he considered. There was a larger world beyond Makon, he realized, and why shouldn’t he see if while he was young? He began to think more kindly of the doctor and his advice. When his grandmother sent in Higgins with some coffee and rolls, Homer treated her with unusual kindness. He even thanked her for the service, which really prevoked her.

“What’s got ina you, sir? I doun take no mockin’ from inybody!”

“No, that’s not what I meant!” he protested. He waved the fares in his hand. “It’s just that I’ll be taking a long trip, and I want you to think kindly of me, and maybe even pray for me.”

Higgins exploded. “Now you are sick! Askin’ the likes of me for prayer! Well, I never!”

She went out, exclaiming the young master had really lost his head this time, and a moment later his grandmother hurried in, her eyes large with alarm.

When she saw his cheerful face, she sighed. “Oh, that Higgins! She’s always stirring me up about something or other. And I see you are much better today, thank God!”

Homer, about to say something, began to think more soberly. He had decided to go, and now the reality was setting in--the reality he had brushed against when he swung open the doors of the old, lacquered wardrobe and discovered a mystery that somehow connected, he sensed beyond doubt, with his own, a thick cloud of the Unknown that was both vast and painfully personal.

3 A Pilgrim’s Heart

The film crew director, seeing a flat stretch up ahead, had his driver pull over, and the rest of the caravan followed. Time for lunch! Everybody out! There were no motels with pools along this stretch of desert, and they would have to make do with the sack lunches and whatever else they had brought.

Chairs with names on them for the director and producer and the costumer and other leading people were set up in the shade of an awning that pulled out from the side of the bus. A huge basket was brought out for the director containing his lunch.

“Wretched rump of a flea-bitten country!” Hitchcock, the quixotic film genius of the century, remarked as he settled his large bulk into the chair. Everyone near him could agree looking around. Hitchcock’s fat-buried but normally keen eyes, swollen and almost blinded by the heat, could scarcely make out the natural features. A distance away were some rock formations, standing like pillars, and just beyond that was a crevasse with a warning sign and attempts at a fence barrier against which tumbleweeds had rolled in a big heap.

“Yeah, a chap run outta gas or water would croak in a couple hours for sure!” someone remarked. The director shifted in his chair, and his famous, button-nose profile stiffened a degree. “I’d appreciate it if uncouth expressions such as “yeah” and “for sure” were not uttered in my hearing,” the director responded, without turning to the miscreant. “That is talk for barbarians and local hayseeds, and here I made a special effort on this film to see we hired only the best, most cultivated people, but--but I see someone didn’t follow my directive and one slipped through!”

There was some nervous tittering and smirking around the director. Seeing he had given the great director offense, the stuntman slunk off. Hitchcock, who missed nothing though he seldom looked at anything directly, turned to the producer. “Sack him as soon as you can. He lowers the tone. What if one of my financial backers from Kingston dropped in on the set and saw him hanging around. I'd maybe lose his loans!”

The producer smiled beautifully, showing fine dental work. “But surely not here, Alfredo. It’s way too hot. He couldn’t get a ride to town either. But as soon as we get to the next place, if I can replace him, I will. I don't want to be responsible for him getting heat stroke!” “Heat stroke, indeed! Lizards like him love the heat. No, turn him out immediately! Pay him off and send him packing!” The producer’s eyes turned heavenwards, but he shrugged and walked away toward the crew buses.

“I simply can’t have anyone lowering the tone,” the director chatted to no one in particular. He glanced about with interest and finally turned to the basket. “Well, now, on to better things!” The little nuisance of the day clarified, the director ate the contents, layer by layer, followed by glass after glass of a special, imported cider. The enormous lunch consumed, the director, feeling the heat too much, climbed back on board the air-conditioned bus for a time of meditation alone. The rest were directed to walk about a bit for exercise, for they had been given another twenty minutes whether they wanted it or not--and most did not, since the heat was so unbearable. Several of the more curious and energetic rambled out toward the stone pillars. One was the fired stuntman, Manfredo Gebal, who had talked himself into a ride to the next town from the driver of a bus further down from his. Trevor Black (his cinematic name, for he was an aspiring actor), a technician good at lighting huge monuments or fakes in the studio, was standing by one pillar as the stuntman came up to bum a cigarette.

Minkus petros

“Looks like a man in the stone, donut?” the stuntman observed, blowing the smoke in Mink’s face. He went closer, prodding the stone with his fingers. “You’d think this had been carved, I can see a lotta detail. Whadda you think, bubba?” The light technician, more than several grades above stuntmen, frowned. He was looking at it differently, from the angle of lighting for a scene only Hitchcock could imagine. How he could make it seem to come alive. Without answering a virtual nobody in the film business, he walked off. His girl was waving to him from the shade of their bus. Scratching his head, the stuntman followed. He glanced back once or twice at the stone figure. Was he only imagining it? The stone around the face had crumbled somewhat even in that short space of time! But there was no time to go back. Everybody was boarding. He had to run for it or be left behind with the tumbleweeds, snakes, scorpions, and the stone man!

Mink lay on the ground where he fell when the stone pillar suddenly crumbled and released him. He had been petrified so long he could not grasp at first that he was living flesh. Just as two hands of a prison cuffed together for a long time move in tandem for a while after being uncuffed, Mink’s body still thought of itself imprisoned in unmoving stone. Yet Mink had dreamed a dream. He was not in stone but dark, swirling, white-capped water! He had slipped off the bank and fallen into the midst of a vast, flooding river, so broad and turbulent there was no hope of swimming to the shore. As he despaired and thought for sure he would be swept under and drowned he found himself suddenly floating to the opposite shore, and all he had to do was climb out on the riverbank.

Moving his hands slowly, he touched the ground, and then knew he was safe. Opening his eyes, he looked out on the world bursting with colors and shapes that told him he was alive. Never had he seen red sandstone mountains and towers so rose red, the yellow earth so sunflower yellow, the blue heaven so sapphire blue. Alive! Restored to life from stone! He had been released and he was free. But free and alive for what?

The past rushed back into his mind and he relived the course of it. Groaning now with shame and remorse for what he had done, he turned over without realizing it, and his fists pounded the orichalc. A strange substance when touched, it responded, sending colors racing this way and that where he struck it. His eyes were swimming with tears, and the colors filled them so brightly that he lunged to his knees, walking on them for feet before he realized what he was doing. Knowing now that he could walk if he put his mind to it, he slowly, very slowly planted one foot on the ground, steadied himself, then planted the other foot. With two feet for a base, he decided it was time to rise. Standing, he nearly fell over on his face, he was still so stiff and unwieldly but he caught himself. Staggering forward he maintained enough balance to start moving. As he continued his balance and mobility improved. He found he could walk!

This brought more tears, the second deluge of the day, only this time it was not painful self-revelation but joy. Life had been given back to him, he knew beyond doubt. He circled the area where he had been held prisoner by the hand of Destiny. He passed a pillar that bore signs of a human form, but it was now so eroded that he could make nothing out that he recognized and he passed it and continued walking. Was he mad? he wondered. Had he only imagined flying a blue horse-man? The monster they had attacked, was it a madman’s nightmare or a real thing? Somehow, mad as such things seemed, he knew they had existed, and he had done exactly as his memories said he had done.

He stopped only when forced by thirst to drink, and finally weakness forced him to go to a ranch to ask for work, so he might get something to eat. The rancher eyed him warily when he came staggering up to the house, and the wife looked out, wagging her head in disapproval. “I don’t want no thievin’, dirty Gypsies workin’ on my flocks,” said the man, for he was a sheep-herder, as he motioned to Mink with his rifle to keep going. Mink backed away, then two sheepdogs sprang at him, and sank teeth in his legs. The man called out, and the dogs obeyed instantly, leaping away. “Hey! Hey!” the man shouted. “They won’t hurt ya!” Yet he took a club after the dogs, which yelped as he swung at them, and curled their tails and slunk off. Mink bent over, and pulled up his leggings to look at his wounds, and the blood poured down both legs.

Seeing it, the wife came out on the porch, her apron in her hand. The sheepman motioned to Mink to keep going. “No, you can’t turn a young fella out like that? Here, let me fix him up something for those bites!” she called out. She hurried inside, then returned with a basin of water, a towel, and some rags, and soon had the wounds washed and dressed.

“I got some bacon from our last done-out breeder sow you can have, and some bread, and coffee--will that help you?” she said, looking him in the eye. She was talking with a strange accent, using words he could scarcely understand, but he realized she was offering him food. Mink almost fainted, but steadied himself. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “What he say?” the rancher said, but his wife wasn’t listening, and hurried off. She returned and motioned to him to come sit on the porch. There she handed him a wooden tray, and on it she had piled some pork and bread, and then handed him a big mug of coffee. Mink consumed the meal like a wolf, then sat, staring down at his feet and bandages, exhausted for a moment.

By this time several ranch hands had come out from a shed and were staring at the newcomer. They didn’t like his strange looks, and were discussing what he might be. “Injun savage of some kind,” the rancher concluded, and the others nodded. The wife shook her head, her duty done, and went back into her kitchen domain, leaving the men with their decisions about the stranger. Mink felt his arm prodded, and looked up into the rancher’s face. “Go now, boy, you’ve had your belly filled. Now go on back down where you came from--before you git the idea of stealin’ something off my place!” Mink understood, and got to his feet. He was shaking, but he felt stronger, and his footsteps steadied as he began walking away. Mink walked and walked. He grew very hungry again, but he could forage even without his bow and arrows and knife, and he managed to reach an Indian camp. They were his people. No, they weren’t, not by their speach! He was confused, when he heard how they talk, the little boys running about, screaming this and that about him, and the young warriers giving him an examination, whether he really was of their people or not. He was taken to the chief elder, and the questions came.

Mink’s speech made everyone laugh, so it was hard for people to hear him. What was he saying? he wondered. Why were they all laughing? The chief elder motioned for quiet. “He is our guest!” he admonished the camp. “You must laugh at his strange speech!” He turned to Mink. “You use words no longer used among us. You talk like the ones who went to the sky-lodges maybe. Even I have not heard such words and speech as yours, and I am the oldest here. How is it you speak so quaintly? As for myself, I like your speech, but all the people would laugh if I went on like you, speaking so beautifully, like your mouth is full of --of--flowers.” Mink stared at the old man in despair. How on earth could he explain? His mouth was full of flowers? What had happened to him?

Finally, for they waited for his word however long it took, he had to say something, and he began speaking, trying hard not to use the longer expressions and keeping his speech as plain as possible. “I have lost my heart-song country, my beloved brethren of the victorious Eagle, and I wandered in strange places for a long time, and slept a long time like the bear mother with her cubs. When I awoke to myself and the Younger Brother Moon and the lizard-skin country where I was, I was a stranger to everyone. What caused me to sleep so long, I do not know. Help me remember, my brethren! I am faint with grief and loneliness. “ Everyone fell into a hush hearing him say these things. They showed they believed him by their pitying expressions. “You have a good heart in your odd speech, strange one,” the elder observed, and all nodded. “We will try to help you. Please stay with us until you find your way back to your family. For we believe you came from us,but where your arm-to-arm blood family is, or where they may have gone, we cannot tell. You will have to find that out yourself, though some here may want to go with you.”

So Mink remained at that camp for several days, but he grew restless as soon as he felt better. He kept looking out toward the horizons. The chief elder called to him. “What are you seeking? Your arm-to-arm family?” Mink nodded. “I must go again. I will look until I find my mother and uncles and grandfathers. You are of my people too, I can tell, but I must know if they are all dead, and I am the only one left.” No one could dispute the rightness of his desire, and he was given provisions and a horse and he left the camp. When everyone saw him dressed in fine clothes, he looked so fine that they forgot the bedraggled stranger and saw that they had been mistaken--and many wanted to keep him if possible. Besides, the earnestness of his heart-quest had touched them deeply, and the women’s eyes were all turned to him as either a son-in-law or a possible husband.

“You can return here anytime, and marry one of us and have children, “ the old one called to him. His eyes shone with sudden floods of silent tears. “I will adopt you as my youngest son, if you come back before I die. But don’t tarry too long!” Mink waved to his generous hosts, who all gathered at the camp’s edge to watch him go, and he mounted the grule and slowly went off down the path between the buttes. What the world had become, who lived in it besides these few people, and the rancher he had met back down the road, he had no idea. He would have to go and find out. He had become a stranger to the earth. But he could see he was a stranger to himself too. He nolonger knew his own ways--he was acting so differently. He had memories of his former self, and this person he was now seemed the complete opposite! With no one to stare at him, he wept whenever he recalled the cruel things he had said and done to people in the past. He thought he must have been mad, crazed by some evil weed he had eaten, to have acted that badly.

As he made his way slowly toward the cities, he encountered more settled areas with ranches, farms, then villages. He began to doubt he should continue. “They may arrest me, if they think I am strange. I could be put in prison.” Yet he continued, for he had to find out what he had become, and where he now was. Far-off tall towers glimmered like the slender stalks of certain herbs, and smoke poured out from the city ahead, and he saw many roads converging upon it. Joining the road traffic, he saw that the common people wore shabby clothes and looked poor though they carried goods with them, and they didn’t seem to mind him, for there were many different kinds of clothing worn, and his seemed no stranger than many others. An important with large flocks and many cattle being taken market was having some difficulty, and drove off one of his hired men with his own staff. Swearing and shaking his fists, he turned back to his own caravan, then happened to glance at Mink who was looking at the incident.

The man gestured for him to come over, and Mink went to him. “You will work in his place!” he commanded, and then turned Mink without any further ado over to his chief drover. The drover led Mink to the rear of the caravan, where he turned to Mink to do as he showed him. Whenever animals bolted, they were to drive them back, and that was all. It was dirty work, the worst, eating the dust of the huge flocks and cattle all the day long, but it was work, and Mink realized it would bring him money, and money was something he would need in the city ahead.

Despite that it was visible, the city took them days to reach. It lay many miles away on the waterfront, stretching along the coasts of a great river flowing down from the mountains to the southern sea, and the land between was difficult, even with roads, and the flocks and cattled had to graze along the way, and be watered and watched at night, and so the going was slow and only after a week did they reach the suburbs.

When finally the marketplace for cattle and small cattle like sheep and goats was reached, the head drover gave Mink a piece of money, and he was now free to go and look for amusement or some new work. Looking at the coin, Mink wondered what it would bring him as he began walking through the crowded streets, his grule in hand. Finally, he couldn't take the horse any further, for his mount was limping on the cobblestones. Mink stopped and tethered it to a tree in a wooded area enclosed by low stone walls, and there was grass too for its feed--then he went walking, and when he turned back to the same spot, the horse was gone! He ran first one direction, then another, thinking it had wandered off after pulling free from the tree--but there was no sign of it--his grule was gone!

Mink stood, not knowing what to do without a horse. He looked around, noticing that people were staring at him, so he started walking. Very soon, by a gate, he came upon the most wretched poor and maimed men he had ever seen, and all were holding out their bowls, even the blind ones with the empty sockets. Mink put his week’s wages in the first bowl and passed on.

He had no idea where to go, or what to do. The city’s size bewildered him, and though many of the streets had only people on foot, there were others with wagons of a type he had never seen in his life--they were most fearsome things, that roared with an incredible noise and raced through the streets without anything propelling them. He had idea they were not anything but monsters of some kind until he saw that they carried living poeple inside. Still, there were sheep and horses too, all blending with the crowds, and so this helped him think that not everything had changed in the world, they still had need of animals.

But as the continued the city changed, and there were fewer animals, until he reached parts where the he saw nothing but horseless wagons pushing and roaring about. Suddenly, eagles screamed across the sky, and Mink was almost run down as he stopped dead in the street to look up amazed. The eagles left long white streaks as well, and then booms struck his ears and shook the windows around him. A warrior pushed him toward the curb. “Get moving at once!” the man shouted. “You’re blocking traffic, you idiot!”

Mink had idea what was said, but he understood by the looks of the irate passers-by that he was in the people's way, and he tried to keep to the side of the buildings, but here the crowds of pedestrians were very thick, and they hated having to make way for his horse. And how strangely they treated each other--each man avoiding the eyes of the other man he passed! They pushed together but they refused to look at one another except with the most fleeing, cold glances. Despite how quickly they all moved, how dead, how inhuman they seemed compared to village people of his own country! He was amazed and intrigued. They did not see the sky, feel the winds, laugh--they merely pushed through the canyons of the city like big, muddy streams carrying all manner of trees and branches torn from the slopes. And the smells! Not the good smells of the earth and the trees and the grass--none of those. Foul clouds poured out from the big, black wagons, and some of the towers also belched smoke, and there remained no fresh air to breathe. He could smell the people, for their clothes were strange-smelling, and they carried small burning worm-like things in their mouths and fingers. Sweet smells of breads and cakes came to him too, but mostly the smells were very bad, making his eyes water and his nose burn.

Finally, after trudging about for miles, he came out into a huge park, and didn’t know it was an emperor’s race track that had been turned into a park. Stone tipis the height of the sky and blankets attached to towering poles stood in the center, and the traffic moved around the edges where horses and chariots once made their runs and turns. Here Mink was able to rest, as he watched the people and saw how they did things. Several more eagles screamed across the sky, then vanished, leaving the same white scratches on the heavens. He saw many strange things. The mounted warriors parading and bands attending them, then a big shiney black wagon carrying somebody, and people standing and cheering along the route until the wagon left the area. There were many very large lodges, with crowds going in and out continually. Growing curious, he went to see what was inside one. When he saw it was like the sky, only covered with stonework and glass, a huge dome that rose up all round the kneeling and praying thousands gathered beneath, he was impressed, but he knew that the true heavens were much greater in size and beauty, and he returned outdoors.

He next passed through beautiful tipis, all silent, but then he came to a startling sight: a man and woman hanging up together, dead! What could be the reason? Who had killed them and left them like that?

Still no sign was no sign of his lost grule after all his wanderings in the city!

That night he slept in the park like he saw others doing, but in the morning warriors came through and he was forced to get up and move back to the street. He wandered about, and eventually found himself down by the water, and was watching what men were doing there among the docks and big canoes, and he thought he could do what they were doing, so he went to join them. One man pushed him away, swearing something at him, and then he tried to join another group unloading a great canoe of heavy engine parts, though Mink had no idea what the cargo was. Here he was welcome, and a crushing load was put on his back, after a pad was put on his back tied to him with a strap. Following the other porters, he climbed up from the dock, and after nearly falling he reached the warehouse where the parts were unloaded. He went back to get his pay, but the man in charge swore him, and gestured toward the line making its way back into the canoe’s hold. Mink, not wanting to lose his wage, followed, and again he was made a beast of burden.

Late in the day, when he could no longer stand upright, he was handed two coins, and given a slap on his sore back. The porters split off, some toward the nearby bars, and others to homes if they were better off. Resting, Mink considered what he should do with his hard-won money. He had to get something to eat. He could sleep in the park again, he knew.

Going in one of the restaurants, he was laughed at when he showed his money. A man with a broom pushed him back into the street. Fortunately for him, there were many venders, selling all sorts of breads and seafood, and with his two coins he got himself a meal. This was enough to fill the gaping cavity inside, and he knew he could sleep. For water he drank from one of the many fountains in the public squares, and no one tried to stop him, since children were alway doing the same thing.

He climbed back to the great park and slept beneath the trees in the gardens, and again was driven out in early morning with the other homeless men, and he went immediately to the docks and by waiting around found his opportunity after a time to unload yet another iron-skinned canoe. The goods were always diferent, but no lighter. If the goods were light, the men in charge made sure he carried a mountain of them, stacked impossibly high on his back.

So the first days passed, and Mink found enough employment as a porter to keep himself alive, but his back could not stand the constant strains, and he began to notice all the broken porters, reduced to begging, who sat in the gates of the city. Some flopped along the pavement, unable to keep their backs erect, and it was horrible to see.

“This city’s heart is very hard and cruel, for the city devours men’s flesh and heart,” he realized. He tried to listen hard to the talk, so that he might learn it quickly. “I must find other work soon,” he vowed. But the long hours kept him from seeking other work. And afterwards he was so exhausted, all he could do was find something to eat and then he would go and sink down to rest and sleep, his back aching terribly.

By listening to the other porters, he learned several words, and kept adding to his stock by talking to the venders he met, as well as the homeless men in the parks. For long hours no one could sleep anyway, and the bored men were willing to talk to an inarticulate stranger who gestured at them so comically, pointing at this and that to get the word it was called.

One old porter, who took Mink to be his son’s age, a son who had died from disease caught from the imprisoned compound women, grew friendly, and invited him to house. It was the slums where he lived, but the ancient, creaking wooden houses held many apartments and thousands of people. The old man’s wife served them fried fish and some bread and tea, and it was wonderful to Mink, and he showed his thankfulness, saying the word for his gratitude again and again, the same that these people used--”Tishe-chariderim!” He said it so often that the old couple laughed, and nicknamed him “Tisha.” This name caught on immediately at the docks, and Mink was Tisha from that time on to the other porters.

Being the sound of the wind in the grass in his own language, Mink didn’t mind. He felt he had found a link between them and his own people in the name, and it pleased him. Besides, the old man who had taken him under his wing--though he wasn’t so old really, he was just being worn-out before his time by the portering--treated him more and more like the lost son. He brought out clothes his son had won, and pressed them on Mink. He also gave him his son’s bed, which was tiny but just big enough to sleep on. And the old woman’s eyes filled with tears when she saw Mink put on her son’s coat.

But Mink’s soul grew restless as his circumstances improved. “I must find out who I am, and where I am,” he kept thinking during the long, hard days and even in the sleepless nights he often had. The old couple’s snores in the next room reminded him that he wasn’t in his own tent, or in his people’s lodges. Living in wooden houses didn’t suit him. The roofs shut out the sky, and the stars were hidden, and the air was foul. He wanted to leave the city and return to the open country. This was no proper life for a man, he felt. He couldn’t breathe the air, and it was so dirty it made his eyes sting. And how it hurt his ears--the ceaseless roaring! The tramp of millions of feet, the rolling of wheels on hard road, the horns, the clanging of bells, the screams of alarms--it went on day and night--and there could be no real rest. When he did sleep, he dreamed of a very strange youth, who was lying asleep, with five star-like glows in his long, thick hair.

Pilgrim, Bluebird, Starboy

What did the dream and vision mean? He had no idea. One day it happened that there was no work for his crew, and the men loitered about the docks, hoping to be hired on by some other dock man and shipping agent. Mink didn’t care if he worked again in that trade. He wasn’t afraid he would starve to death, so he began walking. He climbed up into the city and reached a part, after passing over a crowded bridge, he had not yet seen, and paused in a square with the usual fountains and trees, the domes of the religious orders and sanctuaries looming over the scene.

A puppet show was in progress as he came up, the kind showing the various exploits of “Abdullah the Magnificent” . Much beloved, the shows drew crowds of mostly children, and the performances were so popular that the performers had only to show a hat and coins flew by the dozens to fill it. This they did between the acts so that the audience would give to see the remaining portion. Just as intrigued as the children, Mink-Tisha watched along with them, and because his country-trained eyes were sharp to catch anything happening at the edges, he saw that one puppeteer standing inside the tall tipi was holding a rifle, only much shorter, and pointing it at one of the spectators, a young man like himself except he was dressed like the people who went riding in the shiney black wagons through the city.

Mink realized that he had to do something, and he pushed the young man out of the way, and then something popped, popped several times, and then Mink fell down, together with several other people, his blood pouring out on the pavement stones, causing everyone to shout and scatter and warriors came running, for people were screaming and Mink on the ground could make no sense of it at all except that the puppeteer had taken off running, after throwing down his short-nosed rifle.

Since there was nothing to be done for Mink, he was left in peace where while the warriors dealt with other matters for a while, and it was there, in his last moments, he dreamed. He saw himself walking away.

Mink continued walking, hoping he was taking the right roads that would lead him back out of the city. His desire was next to impossible, however, to fulfill. The city was a gigantic maze, hills covered with uncountable buildings and squares, and roads, with waterways and bays, so that Mink found himself hopelessly lost once again. He couldn’t even find the docks where he had worked when he tried it. Finally, he stopped to rest where he found more cool, green, shading trees along the street, and was sitting by small, wooden gate in the wall where he saw people going through. It was, despite most narrow. Only one man could pass through it at a time. The crowds went by, to use other gates far broader and easier to pass through. One man dressed in white, shining blankets, turned and waved to him to follow him through the narrow gate. Tired of wandering, thinking he might find work and a place to sleep, he followed him in.

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