wandered lonely through the wood, a human child.
chattering over their tasks in the high branches heard her, and came
leaping down to gather in the family bundles, each tangled into a lumpy
brown mass, like a Christmas pudding dotted with huge black raisin eyes.
They watched till she
passed and then, exploding into random fragments, bounded over and
under and past each other from branch to branch to cohere again in
front, until they reached the boundary of their allotted territory,
where another tribe waited patiently.
Then there was such a
dance, a splitting and spinning and bounding from forest floor to sky
ceiling, from the food trees to the sleep trees to the work-a-day dream
trees; such a singing, such a storm of whirling sounds that swept
together and then ripped apart, a shred of sadness left clinging to the
ragged edge of joy, a whole nugget of fear embedded in a matrix of awe.
A human child in the
wood alone, and a she-child too.
High, high above,
Falkenhyr hung balanced on the circling tide of the world wind. Lonely
in the distance sailed his brothers, one and one, and beyond them,
though he could not see, he knew that others lifted and sank on the
swell of the invisible ocean which was their element, knots in the
gossamer web stretched by the Shining Ones around Their world.
He saw the commotion
in the wood below, and reluctantly withdrew a small portion of his mind
from the tapestry of logic, spun thread by abstruse thread around its
premise, and being woven now in intricate inevitable designs, to form a
symbolic universe that would earn him honour among his peers at the
The Hybroxi were
unusually excited, yet this was no holiday. As he watched, the
disturbance spread from tribe to tribe and the pattern became clear.
Something was moving through the wood, a Hyrka perhaps. He pictured -
coldly, he had little emotion even for his own kind and none for the
earthbound - the gaudy terror rippling over the grass.
The Hyrka too were
part of the design - like the Hybroxi, like the Falkentribe, even the
Shining Ones themselves, who wove their own lives into the world's woof
- but the Hyrka pattern had a discordant element; there were too many
of them, and they were becoming too bold. It was of little personal
interest to him - he had already explored all the logical
possibilities of the real world - but it was his part to watch and
record. He let himself swing down in a great looping spiral till he was
gliding just above the topmost leaves, and his interest quickened. The
Hybroxi were not dancing fear this time; their excitement was linked to
a new creature on the world, one of those who had come from the stars.
His great shadow swam
before him over the foliage, heaving up over the crests and sliding
down in a spreading stain over the hollows, and where it passed the
dance ended and the families clung together in quivering, fascinated
bundles to find what the Watcher for the Shining Ones would do.
on the grass covered meadow (split by a stream and ringed by the
forest) where the colonists' ship had crashed, Emma's mother was being
comforted by a small group of the other women. Her hysterics had
quietened into moaning self-excuses for leaving the child alone.
John Hirst, the
nominal leader of the colony, keeping a tight grip on his jangling
nerves, turned away. It only needed this; they had been plagued by
misfortune. First in space, when most of the officers had died in the
same explosion that destroyed the instruments that should have led them
to join the established colony on Centaurus III. Then, when by a
miracle they had chanced on this Earth-like world, continual squabbles
had split them into sullen factions, whose hostility only grew more
bitter when an exploring party was torn to bloody shreds by something
in the forest.
His mind veered
hastily away from that nauseating memory, and he turned his eyes to the
fields, painfully cultivated, where the remains of their first crop
rotted. He would have to try again to make them see that they must
clear and replant them; maybe ditch around and divert the stream into
it, that might keep the monkey-creatures away, or a high fence.
"Come on, Hirst, stop dreaming. It'll be dark
soon. Let's go, boys." Some of the men started off with
Carter, but the majority hesitated, waiting for Hirst.
"Wait, men!" He knew his voice was
shrill and tried to control it. "Carter, you can't
just go barging into that forest without a plan. We'll have to split
into small parties, go around the edge and try to pick up her tracks,
then at dawn we'll organize a search party to follow her in."
"In the morning?" Carter looked at him
with contempt. "The kid's only seven years old.
Are you going to leave her alone in there all night? Have you forgotten
what happened to Evanson?" He turned to the others. "I'm going after her whether any of you are coming or not."
He started off without looking back, and this time all but a few of the
older men followed him.
slumped, and suddenly he felt old and helpless. What was the use, they
were none of them qualified to be the first explorers of a new world.
They were farmers, shopkeepers, schoolteachers like himself, not
specialists, and too high a proportion were women and children. This
world might look like Earth but it was not. Those huge birds, or
whatever they were, hardly moving in the sky; the monkey-things in the
trees with their continual chattering and sometimes that weird, broken
piping; the sparkling incandescence drifting over the hills at night,
which Lieutenant Evanson had started out to investigate; whatever
monstrosities had left him and his party a pitiable scrabble of torn
fragments; no, this was not Earth. He did not like to think what would
happen when their food supply ran out. They might be better off dying
now, at least Evanson had been killed quickly.
He broke through the
circle of women who had gathered around him, ignoring their complaining
questions, and walked heavily to his hut, a makeshift affair like the
others, thrown up as a token protection, without plan or pride.
"Late - late in
the evening Kilmeny came home,
For Kilmeny had been she could not tell where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare."
There was laughter
and an antiphonal chorus of comments from the humans spread at ease up
the cropped grass slopes of the meeting place. The quotation had been
delivered at every birthday celebration for Emma for the last nine
years, and they greeted it as an old friend.
Hirst beamed around
at them, and waited tolerantly for the Hybroxi gransers to scold the
childer back into the wait-watch-listen bundles on the branches
overhanging the hollow.
"Emma didn't know where she'd been either.
Remember, Carter, what she said when you found her asleep that next day
back at the edge of the forest?"
This was part of the
ritual too, and Carter looked up grinning with his arms still around
his mate. "Said she'd been carried off by the
stork to see fireworks." This year he varied the customary
response, and added as he patted his woman's swollen belly. "Stork's had a long holiday, but he's goin' to be kept
busy now, eh, Hirst?"
There was a shriek of
laughter - many of the younger women were in various stages of
pregnancy - which was joined by the deeper laughter of the men when,
very much on cue, one of the Falkentribe swooped grandly over the
clearing and away.
Hirst held out his
hand for quiet and they settled back again, the thick grass warm
against their flesh, ready to enjoy every minute of their holiday.
"Yes, this year we have many things to celebrate.
Emma's birthday, the child she had last month, the first to be born
here, all the other children soon to be born. But we should remember
also how we were when we first came home, how ignorant we were, how
They were listening
quietly now though none of them, even Hirst, really remembered. He was
using words which had become tradition and though essentially
meaningless were still respected. "That is why
Emma's birthday is kept as a holiday by all of us. From the time she
came back to us, even then, our luck changed. and later, who was it who
learned how to communicate with the Hybroxi, who persuaded them to help
He flung out his
hands to where she stood smiling with her mate's hand on her shoulder,
her naked brown body dappled by the late afternoon sun, striking
through the leaves and twinkling in her baby's eyes until he scrambled
higher up her back to avoid it.
Hirst was getting old
and beginning to feel the coolness as the sun went down. He shrugged
the cloak of Hyrka fur closer around him and went on. "It
has not been easy for us, many died before we learned how to deal with
the beasts." There was a low unconscious growl from the
younger men as they stiffened instinctively into the fighting crouch
and hands tightened on spears. "But it grows
easier every day, and when Emma's son is grown this will be his world,
a human world."
He stepped off the
tree stump and the clearing dissolved into a welter of spinning bodies,
as the young men in one ring, and the young girls not yet with child in
another, began the birthday dance, the words of their song blending
with the excited piping of the Hybroxi as they slowed the tempo of
their own dance to form a counterpoint through the human movements.
High, high above them
Falkenhyr hung balanced on the circling tide of the world wind. With a
small part of his mind he thought of the Humans and Hybroxi dancing
below, with detached admiration for the Shining Ones. They made
mistakes, as they had with the Hyrka, but they corrected them
ingeniously, with whatever material came most readily to hand, however
unpromising it might at first appear.
He wondered briefly -
now that the Hyrka were no longer a problem,what would the Shining Ones
use to control these new Humans? Ah, yes, of course. He felt a moment's
strong sardonic amusement before he turned his mind to more interesting