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Authors: Poul Anderson

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Orion Shall Rise

BOOK: Orion Shall Rise
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Orion Shall Rise
Poul Anderson

TO KAREN –

again, and always

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Those who remember other tales from the world of the Maurai will perhaps notice what appear to be inconsistencies with them in this book. However, consistency is not an either-or matter. New data and insights often cause us to revise our ideas about the past and even the present. Surely the future is not exempt.

Variations from present-day languages, including orthography, grammar, names, geographical identifications, etc., are due to changes wrought by intervening centuries – not necessarily to ignorance on my part.

Dr. Ernest Okress of the Franklin Institute very kindly sent me a wealth of material about the Solar Thermal Aerostat Research Station on whose design he and others have worked. (The tensegrity concept is Buckminster Fuller’s.) From a class in wilderness survival given by Tom Brown, Jr., I learned a great deal, a little of which I have attempted to describe here. For good counsel and friendly encouragement I am indebted to Karen Anderson (above all), Mildred Downey Broxon, Victor Fernández-Dávila, Larry J. Friesen, David G. Hartwell, Terry Hayes, Jerry Pournelle, and ‘Vladimir iz Livonii’ of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

No person named in these acknowledgements is in any way responsible for whatever errors and infelicities I may have perpetrated.

POUL ANDERSON

When you stand on the peak of time it is time to perish

— Robinson Jeffers,
‘The Broken Balance’

PROLOGUE

There was a man called Mael the Red who dwelt in Ar-Mor. That was the far western end of Brezh, which was itself the far western end of the Domain. Seen from those parts, Skyholm gleamed low in the east, often hidden by trees or hills or clouds, and showed little more than half the width of a full moon. Yet folk looked upon it with an awe that was sometimes lacking in those who saw it high and huge.

Yonder they had, after all, lived for many generations under its rule. The Clans were daily among them. The Breizheg peninsula had joined the Domain, through treaties, rather than conquest, less than a century before Mael’s birth. Outside its few towns of any size, a man of the Aerogens was still a rare sight, a woman well-nigh unknown. Common speech named such a person a saint, and common belief gave him the power to work miracles.

The home of the pysan Mael stood by itself on an upland where heather and gorse bloomed purple and gold in their season. Farther down was a forest, and in the valley which the house overlooked were meadows, grainfields, and cottages. Whatever of this earth that he could see from his gate was Mael’s, worked by him, his sons, his tenants, and their sons, with its horses, cattle, sheep, timber, crops, fish, game.

He was frequently gone from it, because as a man of substance he had public duties. The Mestromor, who reigned over Ar-Mor, had made him his bailli, to keep the peace and judge quarrels throughout this district. On visits to the city Kemper, Mael had then come to know the Coordinator, Talence Donal Ferlay, whom Skyholm kept there to advise the state government and make certain that the advice was followed.

They got along well, those two. Mael was bluff, Donal reserved; but Mael knew better than to suppose a member of the Thirty
Clans, the Aerogens, was a being more mysterious than any other mortal, while Donal knew better than to suppose a family whose roots were ancient in the land when Skyholm went aloft must needs be ignorant of the outside world. They could thus enjoy each other’s company. Besides, each felt himself under a duty to learn as much as might be. So they would talk at length when chance allowed, and now and then get a little drunk together.

After a few such years, one day a man came on horseback to the pysan’s dwelling, and it was Donal.

In early spring, snow patched the brown ground, water gurgled and glimmered, an orchard nearby had just begun to bud, cloud shadows scythed from horizon to horizon. Those clouds raced across a pale sky, before a wind that whooped and smelled of the dampness and streamed chillingly across face and hands. Rooks wheeled and cawed through it.

Such men as were present gathered outside the main gate to meet the visitor. Mael carried a spear. Not too long ago, everyone would have been ready for trouble, grasping their few precious firearms as well as edged metal. Nowadays Skyholm would send its lightnings against any pirates or invaders; thus it had freed the Mestromor, his baillis, and their deputies to put down what banditry remained. Besides, this newcomer rode alone. Mael simply intended to dip his spear in a traditional gesture of welcome. When he saw who reined in, he reversed it instead, and bowed, while his followers crossed themselves.

They had never met Donal before, but a Clansman was unmistakable. Even his clothes – loose-fitting shirt beneath a cowled jacket, tight-fitting trousers, low boots – were of different cut from their linen and woolen garb, and of finer material. At his ornate belt, next to a knife, hung a pistol; a rifle was sheathed at his saddlebow; and these were modern rapid-fire weapons. His coat bore silver insignia of rank on the shoulders, an emblem of a gold star in a blue field on the left sleeve. Before all else, his body proclaimed what he was. He sat tall and slender, with narrow head and countenance, long straight nose, large gray eyes, thin lips, fair complexion but dark hair that hung barely past his ears and was streaked with white. Though he went clean-shaven in the manner of his people, one could see that his beard would be sparse. He carried himself with pride rather than haughtiness, and smiled as he lifted an arm in greeting.

‘A saint,’ muttered the pysans in wonder, ‘a saint from Ileduciel – from
there
.’ Some pointed toward Skyholm. It showed only a faint crescent, for the sun was in the east and daylight always paled it in men’s vision. Nonetheless, many dwellers hereabouts, who had never been far from their birthplaces, still believed that Deu Himself had placed it in heaven, as an unmoving moon, to watch lest humans bring a new Judgment on the world.

‘Yonder is Talence Donal Ferlay,’ Mael explained. His words heightened respect, or outright reverence, for everybody knew that Clan Talence was the one from which the Seniors of the other twenty-nine always chose the Captain of Ileduciel.

Mael turned back to the rider. ‘Sir,’ he asked, ‘will you honor my home? I hope so, and for more than a single day.’ He was a sturdy man, though age was grizzling away the ruddiness of his mane and beard.

Donal nodded. ‘Many thanks,’ he said. ‘You have invited me enough times, and promised excellent hunting.’ They spoke in Francey, since the Clansman knew little Brezhoneg and the native less Angley. ‘A week, if that will not burden you overmuch. No longer. You see, I am on my way to Tournev.’ Mael recognized the name of that city in the Loi Valley which lay straight beneath Skyholm: with its hinterland, the sole part of the Domain that the Aerogens ruled directly. ‘My term of service here has ended, and I shall be taking on new duties elsewhere.’ He smiled. ‘However, first I think I have earned some rest and sport.’

‘Indeed you have, sir,’ Mael replied. He was no flatterer. Donal had in fact done considerable to bring outside commerce, and thus prosperity, to Ar-Mor, as well as to strengthen the lately founded Consvatoire in Kemper, where knowledge both ancient and new was preserved and where promising youngsters could study.

To his men, in their own language, Mael gave orders about Donal’s mount, pack mule, and baggage. The Clansman descended and accompanied his host on foot through the gate.

Buildings of stone and tile formed a tight, defensible square, with guardian towers at the corners, around a well-flagged courtyard where much of the life of the farm went on. In these peaceful days, livestock sheltered elsewhere; barns had been changed into workshops, storerooms, expanded living quarters. Women and children stood more or less ranked under the walls to offer salutation. They kept an awkward silence, not knowing quite what to do,
for manners in this countryside were boisterous but here was a saint come to them.

‘At ease, at ease,’ Mael boomed. ‘Get busy, break out our best stuff, make a feast ready for evening.’ That brought a relieved fluttering of curtsies, happy expressions, a few giggles. Dogs barked, cats scampered clear of suddenly fast-moving feet.

A handsome woman whose braids hung gray over her gown remained in place. Beside her stood a boy of ten and a girl of seventeen. ‘Talence Donal Ferlay,’ Mael said, ‘here is my wife Josse.’ Politely, the newcomer gave her a soft salute. ‘Our older sons and daughters have homes of their own – we’ll send for them – but these are my youngest son, Tadeg, and daughter, Catan.’

Donal’s glance reached the maiden and stayed. A slow flush spread across her cheeks and down her bosom. She lowered her lashes above dark-blue eyes. Her form was willowy, her features cleanly sculptured; that countenance might have passed for a Clanswoman’s. When her turn came to voice a welcome, the rest could barely hear. She spoke good Francey, though; most children of well-to-do Breizheg families learned it in chapel school, now that their land was part of the Domain.

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