JOURNEY AMONG THE DON
Copyright © 2005
Here it is, my long awaited Pal-ul-Don story which is one of the reasons I put so much work into the background of Pal-ul-Don. Burroughs used Tarzan the Terrible as an allegory to show the problems of church and state and I tried to continue with that idea. Though, as usual, I do tend to get bogged down with introspection.
Mature Themes and Language
The two of them sat in the tree staring at their captor. The Gryf had chased them for two days and finally had treed them a half kilometer from safety. They had arrived just within the morass that circled Pal-ul-Don and for the first day had walked SW, following the trail that Greystoke had described in his journal years ago. The walking was easy and they followed the river until they reached the mountain range which had forced them to turn NW. One encounter with a Ja, a local lion that retained the spots its outer relatives had lost in infancy, was of little trouble. They simply jumped into a tree and waited it out. Then hours later the Gryf had found them, forcing them into another tree. This beast had no desire to leave so the two jumped from tree to tree until they reached the nearby cliffs and left the Gryf behind. But the next day it had found them again and this time the tree in which they sought refuge was at least a half kilometer from any safe place, tree or cliff and they were trapped.
Fortunately, the adaptations that the demons had engineered in their race for space travel worked very well in an arboreal environment and feet that tail meant to hold projections in zero gravity also held branches just as easily.
The man watched the Gryf and talked to his companion, "You see, Barbara, how this animal is thrice the size of its triceratopsin ancestor. It seems to retain the ceratopsin belligerence but according to Greystoke, this Gryf is partially carnivorous. Also those spinal plates are not found in the Terran fossil record. All these millions of years of isolation have made fantastic changes. I hope you are taking good notes of all this."
"Barney…," said Barbara with not a little indignation, "Professor Holtzman, we are stuck in this tree while some refugee from the past is waiting for us to fall down like an apple so it can eat us and you are worrying about notes? Why don't you figure out how to get us out of here!"
"Patience girl. All in good time. But any historian remembers to take notes for even the smallest detail may prove valuable and a key to the puzzle."
"That's well and good for you but I'm tired. I'm tired of being chased up a tree every time something tries to eat us. I'm tired of the bugs. I'm tired of field rations and I miss my bed!"
Barney looked at her. He was older than she, he in his mid-thirties but she was barely 17. He had been a historian for as long as she was alive but this was her first field assignment, meant to make her or break her. Although Barney's ancestry was pure Western European, Barbara's' features showed her Chinese and European ancestry. "I wonder what it would be like," he thought, "to visit Chinatown in San Francisco or Victoria where the Chinese immigrants had retained their cultural identity and not lost it in this forced homogeny that Drakonis imposes upon it's colonists? We loose our ancestral culture but prevent racial wars." An odd thought considering the situation but sometimes the oddest thoughts lead to solutions.
"You can always call for the shuttle to pick you up." He stated.
She looked at him in horror. "What! And go home in disgrace? I'd never get another assignment and be forced to sit in an office for the next 500 years and write the papers for people like you who do the real work." She sighed, "I'm sorry, I'm just not used to this. I grew up in a city and even when my parents took me into the field, we lived well. I just need some time to bitch and adjust."
He smiled at her, "I don't think our beamers will penetrate its hide or skull so we're stuck here for the night anyway. Lets get some sleep and see how things are in the morning." And so until it was too dark to see, they updated their notes, made drawings of the Gryf and the tree then laid their hammocks between the branches.
It was close to morning when Barbara woke him up. "Shhh, I think it's gone. I can't see or hear it."
Barney looked at her, glowing in the dark and then looked down. Nothing. No movement, no heat signature. The Demons had engineered his race to see in the Infra-Red and Ultra-Violet so living beings glowed in the dark and thus were easy to find. But he couldn't see the Gryf. Anything that large, 25 meters long with a head thrice the length of a mans' height and weighing at least 30 tonnes, should be lit like a bonfire. "Pack up quietly, tie your gear down. We'll try to slip away while it's away," he whispered.
Unfortunately, as they moved to the lower branches, a shadow raised up and almost horned him, forcing them both to rush to the top of the tree again. Both looked down and could see the shadow move but no heat glow? Wait! The eyes and tongue were glowing. Then the tongue vanished leaving just two eyes in the darkness. "The Gryf is a Dinosaur. They were endothermic and so should be radiating a constant body temperature. Why can't we see it?" Asked Barbara.
Barney watched the shadow for a moment then offered, "That skull must be at least 15 centimeters thick. And its hide at least 10. They probably block the body heat. Well, it was a good idea, too bad Mother Nature had other thoughts."
Rather than re-hanging his hammock, Barney settled into a crook in the branches and went back to sleep. Years in the field had taught him to take whatever sleep he could whenever he could wherever he was. And thus he passed the remainder of the night until the sunrise woke him.
Looking down, he saw the Gryf still watching. "Maybe we can beam his eyes and nose and run for it. Those trees near the cliffs are only a half-kilometer away. How fast can you run that?" he asked.
"I do the kilometer in 2:30, maybe 3 minutes with this pack," she replied.
He calculated, "so we need 90 seconds minimum, preferably 2 minutes to reach the next tree and get to a safe height. The Gryf needs time to move his mass but when he does, he can easily reach 45 kph. Damn! We need to be almost underneath that tree before he even starts. And that's assuming that we can blind him and force him to track us by only hearing and smell." He didn't want to call for the shuttle either. Partially because it was busy tracking down and collecting future colonists and wouldn't like to be interrupted but mainly he feared the stigma of failure so early in the assignment. Star fleet didn't want Earth to know that they existed. It would complicate matters on a planet that was rushing headlong into a major world war so Colonial snuck around in cloaked ships and carefully chose those they wanted to add to the Barony's population. If he called now, he could disrupt a pick-up and reveal their existence to the Earthers and admit to the Devil and his own Class that he couldn't outwit a stupid dinosaur.
The Gods, however, have a way of evening the game board and suddenly the Gryf took off after an antelope. Barney watched it until it was far enough away and said, "Now!" and both jumped from their tree and ran for safety. They were almost there when a bellow revealed that the Gryf had abandoned the antelope for easier prey and the ground vibration told them that it was fast approaching. "Don't look back," he managed to gasp out. "Just run!" If necessary, he'd turn and beam its knees to slow it down and give Barbara a chance to escape.
Fortunately, they both made it in time. Barely. He jumped, grabbed a branch, swung his feet up and grabbed another branch with tarsials and tail then used this grip to pull himself up seconds before the Gryf reared up, his horns snapping thick branches like twigs.
He sat on a branch high in the tree catching his breath while Barbara settled down next to him. "Now what?" she asked.
He looked at her and pointed towards the cliff. "We travel through the trees." And he set out with her following. Eventually they made the foothills where the trees became smaller but the ground rougher and so the Gryf was forced to give up before they were forced to the ground again. "Maybe we should avoid Greystokes' path and cross the mountain ridge to loose the Gryf!" he said.
It was hours later while they were discussing the Pastar-ul-Ved, the snow-topped mountain they could see in the distance when a form leapt from the trees and attacked Barney. He managed to avoid the initial blow from the club but then the attacker closed with him and Barney discovered that his enhanced strength barely managed to equal that of his attacker. They rolled around gripping each other with hands, feet and tail, each seeking an advantage when Barbara managed to hit the attacker with a heavy branch. That blow enabled Barney to free a hand and punch his enemy in the throat and break free and when the Waz-Don attacked again, Barney side kicked him in his stomach, then back-fisted him across the forehead. Dazed, the Waz-Don attacked again but Barney managed to get him into a wrist-lock and forced the man down. Frantically searching for the right word, "damn Greystoke for giving such a limited vocabulary", he finally remembered, "Yo!"
"Yo!" he said again hoping that the Waz-Don could understand the word for ‘friend' through his Spanglic accent. When the Waz-don said nothing, Barney increased the pressure until he was certain that the mans' wrist would snap then finally, the man replied, "Yo".
Carefully, Barney let him go then placed his left hand upon his own heart and reached out with his right to the Waz-Dons' heart. This would be the test. The Waz-don looked at him, then repeated the gesture and relaxed. "At least Greystoke gave some useful customs," thought the professor.
The Waz-Don touched himself and said, "### In-Un!" then looked at Barney and Barbara.
Looking at Barbara and hoping that their cloak was working to disguise their eyes, ears, antennae and extra thumb, Barney touched himself and said, "Ho-Sat!" then looked at Barbara who said, "El-Bal-Ro," as she smiled. She thought it was funny that Barney had chosen Greystokes' Mangani name translated into Donian as a cover identity.
The Waz-Don broke into a talk until Barney interrupted and made it clear that he didn't understand the language. In-Un looked at him like he was demented and just stood there wondering what to do next when Barbara picked up a rock and said, "Dan" then pointed to a tree and said, "Den" then her tail and said, "At" then to her hand and looked at him with a questioning look.
In-Un then understood that they wanted to learn his language so he raised his own hand and said, "Bang" and proceeded to name everything that he could find. And so they passed their time learning the language as they walked along the ridge.
It was towards dark when In-Un suddenly threw his club into the bushes and ran after it, returning a moment later with a small dead deer that he called ‘etbar'. In-Un then led them to a nearby shallow cave where he built a fire and proceeded to skin and cook the animal. Barbara and Barney, Ho-Sat and El-Bal-Ro, gathered some fruits and nuts and enjoyed their repast as they discussed the situation. "Look at his facial structure. Greystoke referred to the Don as ‘pithecanthropi' which is plainly wrong. Pithecanthropus was but one of many forms of Homo Erectus and was characterized by a small brain, low forehead and heavy brow-ridges, none of which In-Un have. His features are decidedly Homo Sapiens. Probably Homo Sapiens Arborealis? If we must give them a name. Also see how his tail is designed like ours, prehensile which is a New World development and not an Old World member. Plus he has an extra joint in his thumb for some unknown reason. And aside from four toes where we have three, our feet all have the same tarsial thumb. I wonder if the Demons knew about the Don when they engineered us? Also notice his skin. It's black but unlike the Negro race, his cranial hair is straight and even his fur is straight and soft. I wonder if his pubic hair is curly?"
In-Un listened to them chatter on in their strange language. He had heard that the Tor-o-Don had a language that was similar but different from what the Don spoke but these were far different than they appeared. He saw how they used their little finger differently. They tried to use it like a normal finger but sometimes they forgot and wrapped it around something as if it were a thumb. Plus when they thought he wasn't listening, he called her ‘Bar-Bar-Ah' and she called him ‘Bar-Nay', neither of which were Ho-Don names. Then there was their clothing. They didn't wear fur and leather but some other material he couldn't identify that covered their entire bodies. His had tubes that went to his knees and elbows and her tubes went to her wrists and ankles and were bigger or looser. She didn't wear breastplates like a decently clad woman and he didn't own a club though he did have some fighting tricks that worked. Then there was her always writing in that book. The Ho-Don had books but nothing that graceful and small. Plus the pen she used never ran out of ink and the characters weren't real writing but some scratching like a bird would make. Obviously, these were not the Ho-Don that they pretended to be but they did have some tools and skills that were beyond normal Don possession. He would have to watch them and see if they could be useful to him. But for now, he decided to see if they could read and write like a decent person.
In-Un picked up a burning brand from the fire and called for them to follow into the cave. He pointed the writing on the walls and read them to the strangers, "Ad-Den, Yo-Un, Om-Tor, Go-Lot, Guru-Den," and so on. Then he took his own knife and scratched his name into the wall then looked at them.
Barney asked Barbara, "It looks like a hotel register. Did you get all this because he expects us to be able to write our names." He then took his knife and scratched ‘Professor Barney Holtzman' in Latin letters. Barbara followed suit and then Barbara began to copy the names and symbols into her book, occasionally asking Barney if he remembered the names that went with them.
"These Jar-D'don will bear careful watching," In-Un thought.
Eventually all lay out their sleeping beds, In-Un using a fur that he untied and lay in the cave behind the fire, Barney and Barbara doing the same with their sleeping bags and quickly fell asleep to rest up for the morning travels. A couple hours later In-Un was awakened by the sounds of love-making and while pretending to remain asleep, watched Barney and Barbara. "If they are mates, why sleep in different beddings and if they are not, why sex?" Eventually, Barbara and Barney fell asleep then In-Un crept to their backpacks and looked over the belongings carefully. He then repacked the bags and returned to sleep wondering how he could use these people or if he should kill them now and avoid trouble.
The next sunrise they had breakfast of the smoked etabar and left over fruits then they cleared the fire, stacked the remaining wood in the cave and continued on. Fortunately, the two Weir rarely forgot a word and by noon they possessed a vocabulary of hundreds of words though both feigned unintelligibility when In-Un asked them a question.
About that time, they stopped at a mountain stream. It was a feeder stream that fed the rains into a north-bound river but there was a waterfall and a pool so In-Un, after looking around, stripped and began to bathe. Barbara wasn't slow to follow but screamed when she plunged into the cold water. Barney took it slower, carrying some soap that he used to wash himself then he handed the bar to Barbara for her use. She looked at In-Un and commented to Barney, "Notice how he does have curly pubic hair and even a foreskin like the humans do. Decent size and shape too. Hmmm, I wonder how he uses that and what all that fur would feel like?"
For his part, In-Un noticed that Ho-Sat was missing a vital part of his genitals though he couldn't tell if it had been lost in an accident or he was born that way. Fortunately for his nose, these Jar-D'don understood cleanliness as they were beginning to stink. They even washed those strange clothes that they wore. Later he made another fire and they ate the rest of their meal as their clothing dried and the language lessons continued. The lack of declension aided their learning though the lack of conjugations hindered the same. Fortunately, the word order decreed declension which was similar to English and Spanglic, both of which the Weir could speak so it wasn't long before Barney and Barbara felt ready to talk with In-Un.
"We come from a place across the morass and back home we are teachers. We wanted to see your homeland and learn about it and its people so, here we are." Explained Barney.
In-Un thought about this for a moment then gave his own explanation. "I come from the Kor-ul-Sad on the far south mountains across the Valley of Jad-Ben-Otho. It was while there that I challenged An-At for Gund of the kor. I lost and was driven out. So I have wandered Pal-ul-Don seeking fame and a way to return home, defeat An-At and take my rightful place as Gund. Perhaps you two have means to help me."
Both Barbara and Barney looked at each other. They knew that this would be a violation of the Non-Interference Policy but they couldn't tell In-Un that. Hopefully something would come up and prevent them from that action. "We will gladly accompany you thought I don't know what we can do. We are both teachers, not warriors."
"Perhaps," added Barbara, "If we dressed more like and knew more about your people we wouldn't attract attention and can then look the situation over better and find a way to solve the problem."
Over the next few days they slowly traveled southward, following the mountain range he called the Ta-Ved for their lush forests. During that time, they made clothing from the skins of the animals they hunted and learned as much as In-Un would tell them of the customs of his people, of the Ho-Don and their cities and the changes that had happened since the Dor-ul-Otho had cast down the false god and forced peace between the Ho-Don cities and the Kor-ul-Ja. With so few being killed upon the altars of the Ho-Don or in war, the population was growing and all knew that something had to happen before they grew too numerous and ate all the food in Pal-ul-Don and starved. Some of the Ho-Don had suggested building roads trough the morass and moving their excess population outside Pal-ul-Don but the Waz-Don knew that nothing existed past the swamps but the realms of the gods who would not take kindly to having their realms invaded by still-living mortals. But meeting the Weir had forced In-Un to decide if there WAS inhabitable land beyond the morass or if Ho-Sat and El-Bal-Ro were demons or gods from the land of the gods and if the latter, did they serve Jad-Ben-Otho or the false Otho?
Barney knew that Greystoke had no ethical problems with pretending divinity if it suited his immediate needs, but Greystoke didn't have the broad-range view of a historian and didn't care what results the tsunamis of his actions created. And besides, the Gods had a habit of keeping a list of these transgressions and taking revenge at the worst possible time. So he decided to not pretend to any form of divinity just in case the Gods were watching. The Priests back home have a saying, "Sometimes even the Goddess has PMS and when that happens, it is wise to stop praying, offer Her chocolate and hope that She forgets you exist." However, if they were caught using their communicators or beamers or other technological devices, it would be difficult to convince these people that it wasn't divine or magickal.
For the most part their days were the same. The three would travel over or beside the mountains or through a forest always watching for predators like the Ja, Jato or Gryf. The number of herbivours was amazing and Barney understood why Greystoke mentioned that a man who couldn't eat in Pal-ul-Don would starve in a supermarket. In-Un would teach Barney how to fight with a club and Barney would repay this by teaching In-Un Aikido and Ju-Jitsu. Each night they would find a cave or a platform in a strong tree, one of the many Don ‘hotels' that dotted the countryside and each night they would carve their names into the walls. In-Un would read the names and often tell stories about some of the more famous guests. It was clear that he wanted someday to have people tell stories about his fame. Then until it became too dark to see, Barney and Barbara would update their notes, question In-Un on some detail that they didn't understand at the time and then sleep until the sun rose. Often either Barney or Barbara would sneak into the others' bedroll for an hour or so then return to their own bedding just before sunrise. In-Un understood that they wanted their physical relations to be secret but he couldn't understand why. Maybe one was mated at their home and this was forbidden.
After crossing a low part where two mountain chains merged, In-Un informed them, "We must be careful here. To the west is the Kor-ul-Gryf which was taken by one of the monsters which killed or drove away the inhabitants. On this side is a Kor-ul-Dan which are our enemies. Just north is Kor-ul-Lul which are the hereditary enemies of the Kor-ul-Ja which lies beyond the Kor-ul-Lul. But on the other side of the pass is Kor-ul-Jato which are friendly to my people. For the first league down the Kor-ul-Gryf the water is shallow enough to allow the Gryf to cross but after than, it widens and we will be safe if we remain on the other side. Then about 3 leagues downstream, is the river that connects Jad-Ben-Lul and Jad-Bal-Lul and A-Lur is two leagues up the Lake. This river is too broad and fast to cross by swimming so we must go around or find a canoe at A-Lur."
"How did you cross while heading north?" asked Barney. He could see much of the Valley from their viewpoint and the land was beautiful, mostly a chain of lakes in the center, forests and plains. Barbara had been secretly taking dozens of vids but nothing could compare with a decent sketch or pastel.
"I didn't," he responded. I followed the mountains to the west where the streams are shallow enough to swim. I had to pass a number of Kors and the city of Ja-Lur but I wasn't at war nor as I seeking to steal a bride so had no trouble."
Barbara asked then, "I thought you wanted to make a name for yourself. I'd think fighting all those people and winning would do just that?"
In-Un responded tartly, "I wanted fame, not a war that my kor would have to fight in my absence. If I started a war, my chances of becoming gund would be impossible. Come, I think we should try to sneak past the Kor-ul-Lul and reach Kor-ul-Ja. Then we can travel downstream to A-Lur." And with that he started north along the ridge, always keeping to the underbrush. After about three kilometers, he slowed drastically and searched the brush and trees carefully before moving to another hidden position. Barney had made himself a club and had been taking lessons from In-Un but had little respect for his chances if they met a war-party. If that happened, they would need their beamers just to survive.
Finally, by careful night travel they were able to reach Kor-ul-Ja before morning where In-Un called out to attract the sentries attention. They were immediately surrounded and questioned then taken to the gund who, it turned out, was the son of Om-At and Pan-at-Lee, Om-Tan.
Barney bowed and Barbara curtseyed to Om-Tan as Barney explained, "Noble Gund, El-Bal-Ro and I, Ho-Sat, are scholars from beyond the morass. We have come here to study the ways of Pal-ul-Don and wish only to learn what you would teach us that we may return to our people and make their lives all the richer for your wisdom. We have nothing to pay for our stay save stories to tell of lands far away."
Om-Tan thought for a moment then answered, "My parents knew The Terrible before I was born and though some called him the Dor-ul-Otho, others said that he was but a strange man from another land beyond the morass. If so, perhaps you know of him?"
Barney answered this as honestly as he could. "I have studied his journals and it was these that made me seek out your land. I never knew the man myself who was known by another name in his own country. I understand that he was a great warrior, a noble of high birth and a greatest of explorers. Some of the things he said of your land made me ask questions that I wished answered so I asked my gund to allow me to come here to seek answers. El-Bal-Ro, here is young but a willing student who will some day be a teacher in her own right and so accompanies me to assist in my quest.
Om-Tan stood and paced as he talked, "I knew it! My parents never believed that he was a god, but only a strange looking man from another land. And you, In-Un, why are you here?"
"Gund," said In-Un, "I sought a way to better my kor by seeking new lands to live in beyond the morass. To do so I must, myself, become gund but I lost my gund-bar and was driven out. I now seek fame and glory to replace that which I lost and to return home in triumph and take the leadership of my kor and lead them to prosperity. If I succeed, I would have peace with your Kor for war, though profitable to the victor, does leave widows and orphans that must be cared for."
Om-Tam looked at In-Un and even Barney stared at him with new respect. Here was a mind that he had kept hidden. "I see the wisdom of your words for long have I seen the numbers of our people grow. Since peace with the Ho-Don was decreed, few other Kor dared to attack us and with the lack of deaths due to war and the Ho-Don sacrifices, we have grown to the point where our Kor can no longer support us. Last year we sent half our number across the mountains to form a new Kor as do many others, but Pal-ul-Don isn't as huge as we need. Eventually we will grow to populous and then must needs war to kill each other off or starve. Our only solution is to find new lands to inhabit and the only lands I can think of are across the Morass.
"Now, he continued, looking at the Weir, "We have visitors who, unburdened by a quest or war, can give us the information we need. All three of you are welcome to stay as long as you wish. You will be given a pal that was used before the family moved out. Remain and let us share knowledge." And with that he decreed that the three be shown to an empty cave where they were made to feel welcome.
Barbara exclaimed at the beautiful architecture of the place. "Notice how they carved the natural limestone into rooms and halls. They leveled the floors, built support beams and even hung coverings against the walls to keep the cold out. I can't believe that any primitive race could do this." The walls were hung with grass mats woven in intricate patterns and the floor carpeted with thicker and stronger grass woven mats, all adding to the beauty and comfort of the cave.
Barney suggested that "the ability to build so many caves in such a small space without undermining the entire mountain required a form of mathematics that went far beyond ‘1, 2, many'. At least some of this required simple geometry and trigonometry and maybe even algebra."
Each chose a separate room, Barney and Barbara's being close to each other in the rear with In-Un's near the opening to the cave and they then settled in, laying their sleeping bags and furs onto the beds and their few possessions on the shelves of the rooms. Their wrist bracelets that contained their cloaking device, communicator-recorder and beamer they never took off simply because they had been welded around their arm.
Then Barbara screamed in delight, "They have running water here. And look, vents to circulate air! I'll bet the architects back home would do anything for a chance to study this place. What about a bath? Is there one?"
The first day was spent exploring their new home and getting used to the idea that a cave need not be cold and unhealthy. No pithecanthropus with a 900cc brain could begin to imagine such a place, much less built it and finally after dinner, they sat around the communal areas and told stories. Barbara told some from the Arabian Nights, Barney explained that the world was big but also inhabited by people who wouldn't be pushed aside easily. And the next few days were a repeat of this. They relaxed, talked, listened and learned which was a joy to their lives and the purpose for their being there.
One night as they rested after another bout of love-making, Barney asked, "Barbara, I've seen you looking at some of the men. I know you are curious but have you approached any yet?"
She looked at him and replied, "Not yet. Is it forbidden to enjoy the pleasures of our hosts?"
"No," he answered. "Your body is your own to share with whomever you wish. The Gods gave us mind and body and soul to enjoy life and the Demons gave us this insatiable sex drive. But though not forbidden, it may be unwise. We don't know the sexual customs of the Don. Greystoke was … prudish by any standards and never mentioned sex save an occasional attempted rape. So we don't know if these people consider women to be virgin or whore or free.
"Humans are strange about sex. Some cultures, like the Arabs, expect a woman to be virgin when they marry and stone to death those who are not. British marry virgins but sleep with whores. Comanche and Yuma Indians gang rape lesbians. Americans hang black men who marry white women and rape the white women who marry black men. So, Barbara, before you seek to explore the sexual side of these people, be discrete and learn if it is safe or will be tolerated."
Later they fell asleep and no one noticed the man climbing down the cliff from the plateau above.
The man, black and invisible, hesitated before their cave, hanging from a rope tied above for the Waz-Don remove their climbing pegs at night, and when no sound exited the cave save the breathing of the sleepers, he entered then drew a knife. He approached each room in turn, pulling aide wood frame and grass woven doors where they existed and peering inside then moving on to the next. He paused for a long time at the room of In-Un, fingering the knife he carried then moved on to the next. Eventually he reached Barbara's room and crept inside. It was dark there so he had to move carefully lest he make noise in the darkness but his probing tail found the bed and he lightly felt the occupant until he was satisfied that he found the heart of his victim.
Just as he was about to thrust the steel blade home, Barbara stirred and rolled over to be closer to Barney. He moved away slightly and this movement, small as it was, woke her enough to cause her to open her eyes slightly.
What she saw was a man glowing in infra-red standing over her with a raised arm. She couldn't see the knife as it was cold and invisible in the gloom but her mind, slow as it was by sleep, recognized that no one enters a bedroom unannounced save for planned games or murder so she tossed the furs up and at the intruder, screamed and shoved Barney off the bed into the intruder's legs.
Barney woke with the scream and by the time the intruder had fallen over him, he was awake and struggling. Barbara continued to scream with all her might and In-Un quickly entered armed and ready but unable to determine what was happening. "Assassin!" she cried. "He fights with Ho-Sat!" And with this In-Un dove into the fray seeking to capture as he couldn't tell who was who and feared killing the wrong man.
Finally the attacker broke free and rushed from the room with In-Un in close pursuit and Barbara and Barney following after. The attacker leapt for his rope and began to rush up when someone above looked out his own cave and then cut the rope causing the assassin to fall to his death below.
All three stood naked in the entrance looking down as Waz-Don looked out and climbed down to see the body. "What Waz-Don would wish you dead?" asked In-Un.
"I felt no fur as we grappled," commented Barney then Barbara reached up, rubbed his chest with her fingers and showed them the inky soot on her finger tips. "Who would need to darken their skin and why seek to kill us?" she asked.
In-Un looked at her naked body, then at Barney and said, "We should dress and seek answers of the dead." And with this he returned to his room, making a show of closing the door.
Barney dressed quickly and was out the door and climbing down the cliff before Barbara was dressed or could say anything. Dressing in Waz-Don clothing always was a chore. Adjusting the breastplates which were made of heavy gold, and the breasts they held was always a chore. Especially when the metal was cold. She had to admit though that she looked sexy and rich in them. Good thing the Devil let them take souvenirs home because these would be aboard that ram-ship when this job was over. Plus she always wore her cotton underpants under the fur loin-cloth.
Barney and In-Un were at the body when the others from the kor were climbing down to see the fuss, all male and all armed. Barney looked up and saw the IR glows of dozens of heads and torsos seemingly floating in the blackness then he saw Barbara exit their cave and climb down. Despite the distance, he was certain it was her as without fur to dampen body heat, she glowed brighter than any Waz-Don could.
Finally she was ready and climbed down to the crowd below. Om-Tan had recently arrived himself and was turning the body over, its head and back crushed by the fall. Barbara took one look at her assailant then turned and emptied her stomach. The Waz-Don looked at her then politely pretended that all was well as they looked the body over. Om-Tan rubbed the inky soot off the body with some leaves and, turning to Barney, asked "What have you done to make a Ho-Don do this? Who have you angered and will this damage our peace with A-Lur?"
Barney could only stare with incomprehension, "Gund, I've never even been to A-Lur nor have I met a Ho-Don. We only arrived in Pal-ul-Don a couple days before we met In-Un and he has been out constant companion the entire time. I'm at a loss as to why this man would wish us dead."
In-Un added, "Gund, what he says is true. Unless they met with anyone before me, there is nothing he has done that would anger anyone other than the trees and J'ja."
Motioning them to follow, he climbed back up the cliff to their cave where Om-Tan carefully looked over the apartments. "Here, you can see where he touched the walls of each room looking inside. In-Un, you heard nothing as he peered at you?"
"Nothing, Gund," answered the Waz-Don.
"Then," he continued, he entered the room of El-Bal-Ro. See his knife where he dropped it in the struggle. Tell me what happened."
Barbara thought quickly, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to tell them that she and Barney often slept together. "I was awakened by his breathing and in terror, I threw my furs at him and screamed. Ho-Sat ran in and they grappled until In-Un joined the fight, then the assassin broke away and fled. We three were at the opening when we heard a scream and he fell past our doorway. Perhaps the rope he was climbing broke?"
Om-Tan then turned to Barney and asked for his story. "I was partially awake and seeking a drink of water when I heard El-Bal-Ro scream. I entered her room and tripped over the dead man and we fought until he broke away and fled. You know the rest."
When he looked at In-Un, the man said, "I was awakened by El-Bal-Ro's scream and entered her apartment, I was knocked aside by the assassin who ran out, grasped a rope and climbed up. I looked out intending to follow but then he fell past, screaming. I know nothing more, gund."
Om-Tan thought a moment and announced that all involved in this incident were to meet with him in the council cave in an hour then he sent some of his warriors to investigate the cliffs above and left.
After he left, Barbara went to Barney's arms and sobbed, "I've never seen a dead man before. It was horrible. I don't know if I can continue. That first deer In-Un killed was even a shock. I knew that meat came from an animal but never KNEW that! I always saw it already butchered and packaged in a store. How do you deal with this?"
He held her for a moment and then tried to comfort her. "Field work isn't easy. We study martial arts to defend ourselves but are never as good or as hardened to death as is a Warrior for the dojo is controlled to prevent injury. We learn more than we know but never as much as we need but all the book-learning in the Liberatory cannot prepare you for the harsh reality so we just do the best we can. People die. People suffer. That's just the way things are. That's why you are here. It's like jumping into a pool and realizing that the water is cold. You scream and suffer but you swim anyway and get used to the water or you drown. What you are seeing is harsh but it is what people really are. All their lives and loves and injuries are a part of life. We historians spend our early lives in the Liberatory reading and studying and learning but such an environment is overly protective and even visiting a nearby farm is a shock to us.
"My first field study was China. About a week into that job I witnessed an execution. It was horrible and I emptied my stomach immediately and had nightmares for days after. You adapt and deal with it or you remain in the Liberatory writing the reports for those who go into the field. It's up to you." And he held her until she calmed down and could control herself.
Barney and Barbara waited in the main audience chamber and though they had been there twice before, this was the first time they had a chance to really look it over. Barney whispered to Barbara, "Look at this place. It's a natural cavern and must have been the original cave home of these people. See how they walled up the opening for protection leaving only a single door and how the outside is disguised to look like the cliff face? They took the rubble and leveled the floor of the cavern, cutting stalactites and stalagmites as needed. Then as their culture and technology grew, they expanded into the smaller caves and carved more as their population grew. Can you imagine the thought it took to prevent someone adding a new bedroom to their cave from accidentally cutting into this cavern? And the ability to divert the streams into each apartment cave plus the air-shafts required more ability that you would expect. And they never invented cloth or the wheel."
Barbara added, "And look at the writing on the walls. There must be the entire history of these people carved there. I'd love to read it all and see how the language evolved. Over there, it is pure simple pictographs but there, more recently, similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphs and the modern writing that In-Un uses shows some simplified words that resemble Chinese. I'll bet that in a few more centuries, their language will be purely ideographic."
"And look at the weavings," continued Barney. "Can you imagine weaving grass into such patterns. I've seen pictures of woven pots that had this style. But the Waz-Don have woven patterns into their mats that are unbelievable. See how the thinner mats are complex and line the walls to keep the chill away but ones on the floors are thicker, more rugged and the decorations are simple geometric. Notice the different colours of the grasses. I wonder what dyes they used to get those colours?"
He didn't get a chance to comment on the variety of metalwork on the women's breastplates or the buckles each wore because at that time Om-Tan called the meeting to order by banging his club on a convenient stalagmite and yelled for silence. He had no throne but walked among his people who sat before him and listened attentively.
"A short time ago, a Ho-Don darkened his skin with soot and fat and managed to pass through our guard posts. He tied a rope to the trees above the cliff, slid down to the cave of our guests and sought to assassinate our Ho-Don guests. " He then pulled a mat off and revealed the body of the attempted killer.
Barbara looked away as Om-Tan continued. "What do we know?" Then he looked to one of his warriors.
"Gund, we searched the cliff and cannot tell how he managed to pass our guards. We will search more carefully when the sun rises and we can see. But we did see where he tied a rope to a tree and slid down the cliff face. He probably did this as there were no climbing pegs that he could use. The rope was cut by Yo-At who lived directly above the cave given to In-Un, Ho-Sat and El-Bal-Ro. There were closer trees to the cliff so it was obvious that the assassin knew exactly where to tie off to climb directly into that specific cave which implies that the Ho-Don had spent some time watching the Kor in the daylight and planning this attack."
The next one that Om-Tan looked at approached the body and continued, "The man is a Ho-Don but we do not know who he is or even what city he came from as he wears only a simple loin-cloth and harness. His knife was made in our forges but could be a dozen years old or even from the time when the Ho-Don captured us for sacrifice and slaves so this is no clue. His body is covered with fat mixed with soot and ashes to hide his colour that he may pass in the darkness without being seen. Further than this, I can tell you nothing more."
Yo-At then was next, "Gund, I was making water in my chamber-pot when I heard a scream. I took my knife and rushed to my opening and saw a rope hanging past. I looked up then down and saw that man leave In-Uns' cave and climb rapidly up. Believing that he had no good intentions, I cut the rope and he fell to the ground."
When he looked at the three, In-Un, Barney and Barbara repeated their stories as before. Then Om-Tan questioned them repeatedly about who would wish them ill, what Ho-Don they knew and such to no avail. The event was a complete mystery to all until the man by the corpse removed the dead-man's loincloth and called attention to what he found. "Gund, I was hoping to find something hidden away that would identify at least the city, perhaps some personal item but this is interesting. Look all!"
We all gathered around and Barbara exclaimed, "He has no balls!" Is he androgen or hermaphrodite?"
"No", said Om-Tan, "he is a priest of Jad-Ben-Otho. Before the overthrow of Lu-Don and the corrupt priests of A-Lur, they would castrate young boys to make them better priests for with marriage denied them, their loyalties would ever be to the temple. This practice was ended with the acceptance of women into the priesthood and the ending of human sacrifice 25 years ago. But there are some who cling to outdated beliefs and ways and there were always those who would bring back the power of the priesthood. This man must be one of those.
"Ho-Sat and El-Bal-Ro, your path now lies in A-Lur. If you cannot tell why the priests of the false god hate you, then you must leave us and seek the answers in the City of light." And with that, he dismissed all and sat to think as the body was removed and everyone left the chamber.
As soon as Barbara entered her room, she began to yell in Spanglic and throw things around, "WHAT THE DAMN IS GOING ON HERE! I'm a historian, not an adventurer or a police officer! I don't know how to investigate anything! All I want to do is to sit around, ask questions and write my papers and now because of some idiot that I don't even know, we are being thrown out and have to start investigating a murder attempt that neither of us is trained to do. I am so ready to call for the shuttle and end this job right NOW!"
Barney tried to translate some of what she said for the benefit of In-Un and let her wind down. She was young and passionate and still too inexperienced to take these things in stride. Finally when she sat down on her bed and glared, he spoke to her quietly and in Donian, "El-Bal-Ro, all history is a mystery that is written by those with an agenda to make themselves look good and the rest look bad. It is our job to collect evidence and present the truth. This is but one more investigation, only instead of reading books and diaries, we ask questions that paper cannot answer. So we leave Kor-ul-Ja for awhile. We are still young and can return to finish our task but for now, we go to A-Lur and record what we see there. Isn't that our original task, to see how the outlawing of human sacrifice and how peace changed the face of Pal-ul-Don? Where better than to seek these answers in the city that started it all? And as religion is central to both our task and this assassination attempt, we can easily seek the answers to both questions by asking the same questions of the same people. Two papers with one research! What a time saver. Life should be this easy in the Liberatory."
Barbara began to giggle at that. "Bar… Ho-Sat, I could easily fall in love with you were I not under-age and you not already married. Ok, I need some sleep then we can leave tomorrow or today, whatever the time is." And so she dismissed them both and bade them take the lamp with them BUT to sleep lightly.
As soon as they were in the hall, In-Un grabbed Barney and stared, "You are married! But I've heard you two together. What of your wife? Tell me…"
Barney sighed then led In-Un to his room and picked up a large flask of the beer that the Waz-Don brewed then led in-Un to the opening of their cave. Sitting down, he took a long pull from the bottle, handed it to his friend and leaned out to look into the darkness. Weir never suffered vertigo as when clinging to the hull of a starship by tail alone, every direction is infinitely down.
"We are not like your people," Barney began. "We come from a long way beyond the morass and have certain … needs that are stronger than yours. Among your people, every male is a warrior. Among ours, only the Lanai are warriors save a very few of us who choose that path. But El-Bal-Ro and I are Historians, teachers. We study life and people and teach this to others that all may make not the mistakes of the past and strive to better our lives and our nations. But there is so much to learn that those who choose one task rarely find the time to do much else.
"When our leader sent a … canoe to this area to find people who would move to our lands and live among us, I was asked to go along and seek the answers to some questions that could save us trouble in the future. When Greystoke, he whom you call The Terrible and the Ho-Don call the Dor-ul-Otho left Pal-ul-Don, he outlawed human sacrifice and imposed peace of a sort between the Ho-Don and the Waz-Don. Now when this happens, all those people slated to die upon the altar and the battlefields live, they produce babies that also live and the population grows. But the population grows faster than the food can be grown so eventually there are too many people to feed and those people are packed into too small of a place to live. This point is called the Malthusian Point after a famous scholar who first proposed the idea and always results in massive war, cannibalism, crime, suicide and riots. In many lands, there are ways to delay this point such as learning to grow more food faster or moving excess population to new places but these do not solve the problem, they simply delay the Point and this delay creates bigger wars, more crime and greater starvation.
"You and Om-Tan see this well as you are moving your excess people to new Kors but both you and he realize that eventually Pal-ul-Don will be filled and something must be done. You think that by moving past the morasses seeking mythical lands you will solve the population problems but all that means is that you meet others with the same idea of moving here.
"What I am here to do is to see how you deal with the Malthusian point and use that knowledge to prevent my nation from suffering. I've been studying this for more than 20 years and El-Bal-Ro is just beginning to seek the same answers so she assists me in my studies."
"But you are married and she is so much younger than you and you two…" In-Un couldn't continue.
Barney sighed, "Our ways are not like yours. You Waz-Don generally take but one wife but it wasn't always so. Back when war and slave raids and sacrifice were common, so many men died that there were two or three or more women for every man. So many widows had to raise her children alone and so many girls remained unmarried that it was common for one man to marry a number of women. It was felt that sharing a husband with another wife was better than no husband at all for at least the children would have a father to feed them.
"With us, we allow any possible combination. One woman will marry many husbands, one man will marry many wives, women marry women and men marry men and whole groups marry each other for we accept that the heart cares little for law and custom. But we also realize that sex is important and my people need it greatly and have strong drives for the physical.
"Yes, I am married and I love my wife very much. We even have three children who I miss. But here, away from my wife, I suffer from lack of sex and so as El-Bal-Ro suffers the same, we seek relief in each other's arms. But we are not in love and each of us is free to bed whom we will." He laughed here, "Neither of us have had a chance to figure out if approaching your men or women will be accepted or result in our being stoned yet so despite the fact that we both have found some of your men and women desirable, we hesitate to ask.
"Back home, I know that my wife is finding release in the arms of other men too. One is my best friend who has consented to fuck her in my absence. Oh, I see you don't understand the word. We make love to the person we love but we fuck for release. I don't love El-Bal-Ro, we are co-workers on this task and use each other's bodies as the need arises. I know my wife doesn't love the men she beds in my absence, it is just sex. It's the way our people are and works for us as your ways work for you.
"I know it sounds shocking to you but frankly, we see women as free and not as possessions. We see women as equals and not as something to protect. And El-Bal-Ro does find you attractive in case you are interested. So she and I seek answers to the problem of the Malthusian Point and live our lives as we wish."
"What does she mean ‘she is underage'?" He asked.
Barney tried to explain biology to a people who had been changed by nature, not the Demons. "We are different from you in many ways. Your people reach puberty by 13 and can have children immediately after. My people reach puberty at 15 or later but cannot have children until we are 25 or later. El-Bal-Ro is 17. Legally old enough to bed but too young to marry and have babies. I know I look only a few years older than she but I am already 35 years as we age slowly. I married at 25 and had my first son soon after, my last child, a daughter, was born just before I left home. Goddess I wish I could hold her in my arms now!"
Barney finished the bottle then staggered back to his room where he finished another unsent letter to his wife and children and passed into slumber. His last thoughts were that after the initial ‘return sex', she would have a lot to read as he re-acquainted himself with his children.
In-Un sat there holding the empty beer bottle and thought. These people were so different from him, both in the physical and in their ways. They didn't realize that he knew that they could see in the dark or that they had other abilities that they tried to hide. Did this mean that they were gods or demons who were pretending that the lands beyond the morass was inhabitable? If so, why? To torment people? To cause them to die or to live? It made no sense yet. But he also knew that if what they said was true, they were seeking the same answers to the same problems he was and that made it even more important that he do what must be done to keep them alive and question them carefully.
Then he stood up and made his way not to his own room but to the room of El-Bal-Ro.
The next morning Barney was up and in the council chambers talking to Om-Tan about A-Lur and the priesthood when Barbara arrived, followed shortly after by In-Un. Om-Tan had filled a basket with food, drink and other such things as he felt would be useful on the short journey and long stay in A-Lur. And so, with many regrets on every side, the three left the Kor-ul-Ja and walked towards A-Lur. The going was easy for a stream meandered to that city and when the stream turned into a river, they moved away from the water where the underbrush was thinner or took to the trees. With this, they were at the walls of A-Lur easily before dark.
The city was beautiful from a distance but amazing close up. Everything was white and so bright as it reflected the sun. The original city was carved from a limestone hill where the river met the lake and the rubble was used to fill in the roads and build the boat docks. As the population expanded, blocks were brought in from the mountains, bricks made and baked and more buildings built. There were houses for city blocks before they even reached the main walls though the houses always faced inward and their outer walls were linked to provide a sort of barrier to attacking predators or armies.
Everywhere was the press of people. Many entering the city with baskets of fruits and vegetables grown outside the city or on the roofs of the houses themselves for every spare space that was flat or terraced seemed to hold a garden in this city where famine was but a dry season away. Barney remembered that central Africa was one of the wettest places on Earth and in fact, one German scientist was proposing that when Germany won the current war, they dam the Congo river and allow the natural rains to flood central Africa to give more room for boating and fishing.
In-Un attracted little attention as in the 20 years since peace was declared, more and more Waz-Don had visited the city for one reason or another, though none had remained feeling that cities were prisons but that caves and forests were free. Barney wondered if Bu-Lur, the city down river near the morass where both Ho-Don and Waz-Don had lived together in peace was different.
Eventually they reached the palace where they asked for an audience with the Ben-Gund who ruled over all the Ho-Don cities in Pal-ul-Don. At first they were denied entrance but upon seeing the letter from Om-Tan, Gund of Kor-ul-Ja and son of the friends of the Ben-Gund, they were brought in and bade to wait.
Barbara was busy taking notes, sketching the building and contents and commenting on how the Ho-Don had solved the problem of large rooms using wide arches, keystones and very heavy oak timbers when they were brought before the ruler of much of Pal-ul-Don.
"Greetings," said Ja-Don, old but still strong in mind and body. "Om-Tan writes that you have something of importance to tell me. Approach and speak now."
The three visitors approached the small pyramid upon which Ja-Don sat and Barney bowed while Barbara curtseyed to the king. In-Un kneeled to him and then Barney began, "Noble Ben-Gund of A-Lur and the Ho-Don of Pal-ul-Don. I know not what Om-Tan, Gund of Kor-ul-Ja writes so must speak the truth as I see it without his wise counsel. I am Ho-Sat, historian of Cyprian-Lur of the Pal-ul-Weir in Drakonis. My companion here is El-Bal-Ro, a student of history. Our lands will eventually face the problems of over-population and so we have journeyed here to see how others have faced that same problem in the hopes that their experiences and wisdoms may assist us to avoid the trials of too many people in too small a land.
"It was just last night when … My Lord, may we approach and speak in confidence for I have no knowledge if this next part should be well-known or not yet?"
Ja-Don's voice boomed out, "Approach if you would but speak loud for all here are my trusted advisors."
Barney looked around and saw none of the androgynous features of an eunuch and then laughed and said, "As you will, for as my own Baron says, ‘what is the use of hiring trusted advisors if you don't trust them or value their advice.'" And the three approached and spoke out.
"My lord, as I said we are historians, scholars seeking knowledge. We have been in Pal-ul-Don for only a week or so, living among the Waz-Don and it was only an hour ago that we saw the first of your Ho-Don subjects. However, last night an incident occurred that was curious and disturbing. As we slept, a Ho-Don entered our cave in the Kor-ul-Ja and attempted to murder El-Bal-Ro here. He was covered with grease and ashes to be invisible in the dark and it was only by luck that we all survived his death.
"But, investigation revealed," and Barney looked around to emphasize the words, "that the assassin had been castrated. Probably one of the olden Priests of Jad-Be-Otho when such was the kind who served the Temple."
Ja-Don looked at his advisors and yelled, "Out!" then to the three, "Come with me!" and he led the visitors and a few of his older advisors to a private room where he bade them sit.
"When Lu-Don was killed by the son of the Dor-ul-Otho all those years ago, we thought the terror of the priests was over. No more would we watch our friends and children die upon the altars. So when women were included into the priesthood and sacrifice was outlawed and peace enforced, it seemed that we had finally reached that paradise that the priests taught awaited the faithful.
"But the population exploded. With no more wars to kill the men and no more sacrifices to kill the prisoners and murder the children, there was suddenly too many people and problems ensued. You know these problems for you are here to solve them yourself.
"So… Unknown to us, those priests who were tossed out upon the overthrow of the false Otho, soon plotted revenge. They hid in secret, kidnapping infants and people and performing the outlawed human sacrifices in secret temples. The poor, the desperate returned to this worship out of desperation for the security of the old ways, even if it meant the deaths of their own children. We have been fighting this plague for years and they have fought back by murdering the families of those who would remain faithful to the new ways.
"But why seek your deaths? Who are you and why are you so important that they would murder strangers?" asked the king.
Barbara offered a thought, "My Lord, it occurs to me that if the old ways say that all beyond the morass is the realms of the gods alone. And if the Dor-ul-Otho is considered to be a god himself and came from and returned to that realm, then we, who are but people from that land would be a threat to their beliefs. If our very existence proves that paradise isn't beyond the morass but more lands are, then a foundation of their power crumbles. They require war and sacrifice to keep the population and people under control. If the people can move elsewhere, then why return to the old ways?"
"The wisdom of the young who have not yet learned the value of silence." Said Ja-Don. "I believe that you are right. They fear you not for what you do but what you represent. And so you must die to keep that knowledge from the people. Come, we must make plans to seek out these scorpions and crush them before they overwhelm us by weight of numbers."
Barbara took Barney aside, "Damn, is every field trip like this? Conspiracies after conspiracy? It's like an adventure vid where the only thing missing is romance with a big-name actor."
Barney laughed and mentioned, "Look at it like you are learning things about this culture that will be written in no history book. Instead of reading of history, you can write it first-hand." What he thought was that Star Fleet was going to have his hide if telling the Don that life existed beyond the morass violated the Non-Interference Policy. They may as well turn their cloaks off, reveal themselves as Weir and tell them about the stars.
Later Ja-Don had them shown to apartments in the Palace where Barney told Barbara, "Let this be a lesson, the witches of earth have a saying, ‘The last time religion and politics mixed, they burned people at the stake'." Then he left her alone to seek his own thoughts.
"Damn, damn, damn!" he swore to himself. "The first rule of the historian was to NEVER interfere with history. We record and study history, we do not make it." And now here he was, adventuring and changing history instead of silently standing in the shadows watching. But even the hardest Star Fleet officer wouldn't stand by and watch a child die, she'd ignore the Non-Interference Policy to save that child and worry about the consequences later. Can I be any better? But what will happen? This is the past. For these people the time is now but for me and Barbara, they have all been dead a hundred years. My own grandfather isn't even born yet so what will my actions do to change history?
The Ram-Jet the devil used for Colonial had the advantage that it took a year to reach Drakonis which was long enough to teach the colonists the language and customs of their new home and to break bad habits and to weed out those who don't belong, but with near-Relativity speeds, you never could be certain what time you would arrive at when you reached Earth. The compensators would ensure that when the Ram-Jet returned to Gaea, he'd be gone only a few months despite the time spent here and in transit and his 500 year lifespan wouldn't miss those years much but…. When the Baron is born in a few years in Ireland, what world will he be born into? And would it matter?" These were the thoughts that he considered as he walked along the roof and walls so he didn't notice the man approach from behind.
Barbara managed to forget the problems as she studied the building of the palace. The architects must have been geniuses to carve and construct such a building. The walls were painted with murals that told the history of the city and the grass mats were so soft it was like walking on a carpet back home. They even had a real bed and there were fountains everywhere. Where did they get that water pressure? The people were mostly Ho-Don. Barefoot and wearing animal skin loin-cloths and leather straps with the women wearing breastplates of bronze and gold. You'd think a fur bra would be more comfortable though not as attractive. She was busy sketching the scene below when the priest entered and approached.
In-Un was disturbed. He KNEW without doubt that Jad-Ben-Otho had a tail and that the Ho-Don where completely wrong when they insisted that The Great God was tailless. Admittedly, the arrival of Jad-Guru whom the Ho-Don insisted was the Dor-ul-Otho caused some problems but these were nothing that a rational man with a liberal view of religion couldn't handle. What if these two were from the paradise beyond the morass? Wouldn't their being tailed be evidence of their divinity? Of course, their hairless nature was a problem but their devices were evidence. Too many problems to consider. And he was so lost in thought that he never saw the priest approach him.
The woman was old and past menopause and cranky for she had seen much in her 60 years of life. She had lived through the rise and fall of kings and of gods, the change from one religion to another and through it all, she had not only managed to survive, but to thrive. She attributed this to her intelligence and absolute vision as to her own importance… but also the knowledge that even the gods die so can she.
One of the priestesses entered, knelt and said, "They are here mistress."
She took her time sitting in her chair. Unlike the one Lu-Don used, this one was comfortable. "Send them in," she commanded assuming a regal poise. She was the second most powerful person in the world and wanted these people to know that one simple and vitally important fact.
The three entered, the Waz-Don kneeling before her, the Ho-Don man bowing as his female companion did some form of squat that somehow seemed respectful. She stared at the wall seeing them out of the corner of her eyes, ignoring them as was her station when she began to realize that what she saw wasn't right. She turned her head and looked at them and saw them as normal Ho-Don which made no sense. So she turned away and tried to ignore them again but somehow, what she saw from the corner of her eye was wrong. It was almost as if they weren't .. human but were pretending to be. Maybe they were divine as the rumors said?
Startled, she looked directly at them and tried to regain her composure. "Do you know why I asked you here?"
The Waz-Don showed no real respect for her or her position as would be expected of those kind but at least he feared her power. The Ho-don, or whatever they were didn't fear her but the respect they showed was simply politeness. For the first time since she took power she wasn't in control and that scared her.
"No, my Lady," answered the male Ho-Don speaking for them all. "Your messenger asked us to come and talk with you so we came. Beyond that we know nothing." Barney saw that the High Priestess was old. Possibly fifty or sixty years in human terms and by these people, long past her prime. Her hair was gray and wrinkles lined her face. Barney doubted that her shrunken breasts could fill the golden plates that covered them. Here was a woman who had managed to live long past her time and did so by force of will and pure stubbornness.
She looked into the man's eyes and saw that they were different. Almost like a cat and she wondered if he could see into her mind as could a cat. He was calm but the woman with him was not, her tail was twitching in nervousness. She was young and inexperienced and that showed in her demeanor. She was taking her que from her companion though and so long as he was calm, she wasn't afraid.
Finally she broke and demanded, "WHO ARE YOU! What are you! Where do you come from and why are you here? Why now!" She was so upset that she almost stood.
The Ho-Don simply looked at her pretending that they didn't understand so she turned her attention to the Waz-Don who had a glimmer of understanding in his eyes. "You, Waz-Don, you have been with these from the beginning. You KNOW! You know that they aren't real don yet you follow them. Why?" This time she asked, afraid of the answer.
"Priestess," he said carefully. "I know that these are not don but I don't know what they are. They are different. From their clothing to their ink-pen that never needs ink, to their curiosity about things that the youngest child knows well to their personal morals to even their hands which move differently. But I believe them when they say that they come from across the morass and seek answers. But are they don or god I know not. I do know that they may be able to help us and for that I will fight for them with my life."
She saw the male fiddle nervously with his bracelet and that gave her some confidence until she noticed that he had been tapping his companions tail with his own and she was touching her own bracelet in exactly the same manner and pattern. She began to be afraid, very afraid and that was a feeling she hadn't felt since Lu-Don had decreed the deaths of every witch in A-Lur. She was one of the few who escaped and now she was the one who could make such a decree but these two who had no knowledge of her or her power and didn't care. But they were important. She didn't know why or how but she knew down deep in her soul that they were. Even the outlawed castrated priests knew this and had decreed that they die. And anything that scared the castrated priests that badly scared her.
So she decided to try something that she rarely did, it was a last resort but once she made the decision, she slumped in her chair and went with her decision.
"When Ko-Tan was king and Lu-Don was High Priest life was certain. It was uncomfortable but at least people knew what to expect. Ko-Tan was a drunk and a lecher--and if you had a beautiful daughter he would take her for his harem, and if she was lucky he'd be too drunk to do much to her. But he left the land alone. People could go about their business, legal or not, and be assured that they would be able to do as they wished.
"Lu-Dan was different. He had power and never failed to use it. If you attracted the notice of Lu-Don, your baby would end on his sunrise altar or your wife or adult son would be on his sunset Altar. And if you really made him angry, you would vanish in the night and be fed to his pet gryf. Life was uncomfortable and dangerous but at least you knew that you were on your own.
"Then the son of the Dor-ul-Otho arrived and killed Lu-Don, Ko-Tan and the false god with thunder and lightening and all changed. We knew that the Dor-ul-Otho had only pretended to be a mortal to test us and we had failed that test. We were lucky, the Gods ignored most of us and killed the rest but those who were struck by the divine lightening suffered the most for it was only their body that they wore as we wear a loincloth that ended, their souls were taken on that gryf back to the land of the gods beyond the morass. And even I shudder to think of what the gods are doing to their souls.
"When Lu-Don decreed the deaths of all the witches in Pal-ul-Don I was one of the few to survive. And now I am High Priestess of all Pal-ul-Don because I possess The Sight and the wisdom to use it well."
"Child," she turned to Barbara, "The Dor-ul-Otho decreed that the priesthood be turned over to the women because we are gentler and nicer than men. What do you think?"
Barbara looked into her eyes and replied with absolute confidence, "My Lady, I am a historian and I have found that women are neither better nor worse than men. But when a woman who lives in a man's world reaches power, it is usually over the bodies of any who oppose her."
Yo-Ta-Lee, the High Priestess, laughed and said, "It has been decades since anyone has spoken so bluntly to me. I find it disturbing, but refreshing." She stood and paced as she continued, "Regardless of the moral fitness of a man or woman, I am different in one main area, unlike Lu-Don, I know that the Gods punish those whose ambition exceeds the bounds of the gods. I try to make certain to never give Jad-Ben-Otho a reason to return his son to Pal-ul-Don.
"But these Priests are a problem. They seek to return us to the ways of human sacrifice, which must not be! They see your existence as a threat to this goal and by killing you, they remove a potential obstacle. But Ja-Don and I have a plan. We will use you to bring the false priests out of hiding so we can destroy them and eliminate their threat to peace. I hope that you will aid us willingly but aid us you will for as long as you are here, they will seek you out. If you aid us, it will be easier for us to protect you. But they WILL come for you and we will try to stop them unless you avoid us in which case they will still come for you but we may not be able to protect you."
Barney looked to Barbara and then told the Priestess, "I see that we have no choice. What do you wish us to do?"
"Just do what you do best. Walk among the people, ask your questions, draw your pictures and we will follow. When the priests seek to take you, just make noise so we can find and rescue you. If you are taken, try to mark the way so we can follow to their temple and stop them all."
And with that she walked away leaving a lesser priestess to escort them back to the palace.
Once alone, Barney told Barbara to reset her shield. He had expected to be attacked with a knife in the back and wanted their shields at full power. But now they could return them to stand-by and save the power drain. The cloaks that made them look like a Ho-Don required little power but it was clear that the High Priestess could see through the cloaking field with little difficulty. Fortunately for them, she needed their cooperation more than she wanted answers or power. What he feared was being forced to use their beamer in public for the power drain of one burst would kill their attacker but it would also drain their shields and cloaks and reveal them as aliens until it recharged. Also the local witches and psychics could see through their cloaks and possibly read their minds. He wondered if the Waz-Don witches had noticed and kept quiet as did In-Un. Their lives and task had now become far more complicated and dangerous than expected.
What could they do? Call for pick-up or finish the job? Barney talked it over with Barbara who commented, "What can we do if we call for pick-up? Sit around the starship and redo our notes then admit that we learned nothing so they will send another team next time? I think we should remain and do what we can to finish the assignment. If we can help stop the castrati, then we should."
"Agreed," added Barney, "But keep your shield on stand-by when you are out and alone. It'll drain power faster but will stop a knife thrust and may save you if they toss you off a building. Mainly rely on your observational skills and martial arts training to survive. Keep aware of where you are and who is around and call me if you need help. I can follow your tracker as easily as the Fleet can."
The next couple days were as usual. They traveled around the city making sketches, taking discreet photos and recordings and questioning everything and everyone. It is an axon of life that if you ask a person how they do their job and are truly interested, they will talk your ears off. So they learned a lot about A-Lur both before and after the Priest-War as it was called. Most people agreed that things were much better now though they admitted that getting used to Waz-Don wandering the city was difficult to accept. None that they met wanted to return to the days of sacrifice save a very few in the poorer sections who never seemed to understand that if children would be sacrificed, it would be their children on the altar. People always thought that the priests would kill the Kings' grandchildren or the children of their neighbors. It was like people who encouraged war never believed that their own children would die, always someone else.
There was a sharp line between the old city where the walls were high and strong and the newer city which was forced to be made beyond that wall. The sudden and rapid growth in population forced new homes outside the walls to avoid overcrowding and these were often as small enclaves, each with it's own wall and gate system, though none were as grand as the original city walls. As the historians moved father and farther way from the old city, the houses became flimsier and poorer as they were tossed together quickly then as the years passed, torn down (or fell down) and rebuilt better. Most children were naked and rarely wore clothing until they approached ten years or so. But children were children wherever you go and Barbara mentioned that she recognized many of their games as the ones she had played on Gaea.
Some of their best recordings were from the older people who were so glad to have someone listen to them that they would talk all day as they did what jobs that they were still able to accomplish for their families. It was from these that they learned the most complete and inaccurate (age alters the memory) information of the days before the arrival of the Dor-ul-Otho.
Their nights were equally busy. They ate mostly with Ja-Don in the Pal-e-don-so but would often accept invitations to meals from the people in the city who were anxious to hear stories of other lands, so long as these lands weren't beyond the morass. The weir found that the city had two ideas about this. The more religious believed that only paradise lay beyond the swamps and that the Great God had placed the morass and its denizens to keep people inside Pal-ul-Don. The less religious were willing to consider that paradise lay beyond the morass but farther than expected and that there may be other lands between the morass and paradise. The arguments between the two were often heated and violent.
One thing that made both happy was that by the second day, they began to realize that an occasional Ho-Don man or woman would be willing to share their bed. There weren't many and those who made the offer were often looked down by their neighbors as loose people. Barney explained to Barbara that the Waz-Don weren't more moral, but more prudish simply because in the smaller Kor community, everyone knew the business of everyone else so hiding your indiscretions was more difficult than in a city where you could go a few blocks and be unknown. Thus both were able to investigate Ho-Don mating habits all the more easily though with the two of them being followed by the warriors of Ja-Don and the Priestesses of Yo-Ta-Lee they had to be especially discrete to prevent their lover being killed as they entered or exited a window in the early morning.
It was the third day when Barbara mentioned to Barney that she saw what appeared to be a castrati following them. "Pretend ignorance but be aware," ordered Barney. "Our body guards may have seen them but they may interfere only if we are assassinated, not kidnapped."
Later as the sun set, Barney, Barbara and In-Un were watching the Sunset from the old walls when a woman approached and asked to speak to El-Bal-Ro. "My Mistress, Yo-Ta-Lee, requests your presence to discuss matters that do not include men. Will you come with me please?"
Barbara looked at the men and said, "I'll see you at dinner," then she left following the messenger.
As they left, Barney said to In-Un, "That woman was telling a lie. I could see the blood flush her face as she spoke. I think that El-Bal-Ro is about to be kidnapped so we should casually follow, all the time being aware that we are being watched."
They hadn't gone far when a fight broke out blocking the street. As the walls were smooth, there was nothing for the two to grasp and climb and so by the time they had managed to push through, those who they followed had vanished in the crowd. Barney and In-Un looked around but saw no one acting suspiciously save a warrior who they recognized from Ja-Don's palace and he looked angry as if he had been blocked as well. But of triumphant looks or someone skulking in the shadows, nothing could be found.
In-Un was angry and began to yell and draw attention to himself and would not be calmed by Barney or anyone. Then as a crowd formed with clubs drawn, he pulled Barney close and whispered, "I'll draw attention, you follow the priestess." Then he pushed Barney away screaming, "You strangers have caused all this trouble. Why did I ever follow you! You stupid Ho-Don and your tailless god sicken me!" and suddenly he was attacked by the crowd. In-Un slowly ran back the way he came drawing the crowd with him and as soon as the way was free, Barney crawled from the corner where he had been pushed and ran off after Barbara.
Barbara knew that something was wrong almost immediately. The Palace and the Temple were both on the waterfront and they were heading parallel to the lake. She hoped that Barney had noticed this too but just in case, she casually touched her bracelet to ensure that the tracking device was operating. She didn't think that she was about to be killed as a simple knife in the back as they watched the sunset would do the job far easier than this subterfuge. So she pretended to be led and followed meekly the messenger who led her farther from her friends. Although as strong as the woman she followed, she knew that any of the men could easily overpower her so her hope was that her Karate, Ju-jitsu and Aikido training would give her a needed edge if it came to a fight.
After a few minutes, she heard a commotion behind and turning, the messenger took her arm and said, "That isn't important, your meeting is, come!" so she knew that now she was on her own. The commotion was probably designed to hinder pursuit by her friends or the forces of Ja-Don and Yo-Ta-Lee. She should have expected that. It is difficult for an honest person to think deviously enough to outwit a criminal. Back home any police or military officer who could outwit a criminal was immediately suspect and watched carefully. But here, she looked at the walls and noticed that she was being taken down a street with few doors or windows and no way to climb to the roofs. Escape, therefore, would be on foot and a quick glance back revealed two men who seemed to be castrati. She noted another two ahead so she was now surrounded by rogue priests who seemed to be content to simply lead and follow. For a moment she considered touching the recall button but it would take at least an hour or more for the shuttle to reach her from orbit and longer if it was picking up colonists. And the beamer was also a last resort for the same reason that she stayed in that tree over that Gryf… in the fifty years that Historians had been accompanying Colonial, not one historian who had called for rescue or used hi-tech equipment to get out of a dangerous situation was ever allowed back into the field. Their careers were effectively ruined by that one act of fear. The Liberatory felt that if you weren't smart enough to think your way out of trouble, you weren't smart enough to be in the field in the first place. So she casually turned the shield and beamer off to prevent temptation.
She slowed down and removed her journal from her satchel and began to sketch one of the buildings. Her captor was a good half-dozen steps ahead before she noticed and turned around.
"Why are you stopping?" the woman asked with concern.
"A moment please, I want to sketch this before the last of the light fades." Barbara noticed that the two following had also stopped and were pretending to discuss something. The two ahead were doing the same. Damn! She was hoping that they'd keep walking then she could break past them and escape but with that distance, they'd be ready and catch her.
Her captor was now next to her and ready so Barbara finished the drawing, replaced her book and continued on trying to plan her next move. The woman, though, took her hand and hurried on. Barbara could easily break the grip and run but could she get past those who followed? They were castrati and so not trained warriors but neither was she. And despite the Hong Kong Kung-Fu vids that were brought to Gaea, no 17 year old 105 pound girl could defeat four 200 pound men without a lot of luck and a good scriptwriter.
Finally they slowed at another building. It was now or never so she broke free, pushed the woman and ran hoping to somehow get past the followers but they were ready for her. They spread out blocking the alley and before she could reach them, a net fell over her from the roof. Immediately they were on her and tied her up and rushed her into the room before anyone could see the event. It was apparent that they had done this many times before and had their system down.
She was carried kicking and screaming and scratching down a stairway until they were so far below ground that she wasn't certain if she was still in the city or under the forest or even the lake. Although she continued to fight, she saved her voice until they dropped her, put a knife to her throat and said, "keep fighting and we'll sever the ligaments in your arms and legs. The High priest wants you alive, not necessarily intact."
Barbara immediately stopped fighting and they then tied a short rope to her ankles so she could walk but not run and made her walk with them, still wrapped in the net.
Eventually, they reached a room which had the ceiling painted, half in sunlit sky, the other half in stars. One wall had a Sunrise painted on it, the opposite wall a sunset. Near each wall was an altar on a small pyramid, a large flat one in the west, a basin in the east. It was obvious that these castrati were trying to replicate their lost glory in miniature and in secret.
Approaching the west altar, the two held her arms tight and used their feet to hold her ankles and tails to hold hers. Then another priest approached and placed gold-plated manacles around her ankles and tail. He then carefully raised the net until he could attach more manacles to her wrists. Only then did the two relax. Barbara watched the Altar in horror for this was their sacrificial chamber and it was obvious that she was next in line for the sacrifice.
Before she could struggle, they had thrown her to the altar and while two held her wrist and ankle chains, the third stripped her naked of everything but her bracelet that he could not remove. Barbara began to scream again, not caring that no one would hear when a priest wearing the headdress of a Gryf approached with a dagger, caked brown with dried human blood. He ignored her screams and ran the point from navel to neck then used it to turn her face so he could see into her eyes.
He then patiently waited until she ceased her cries and laughed. "Thus is proof that you are no more divine that the false Dor-ul-Otho for as he didn't realize the needs of Jad-Ben-Otho for a child every morning, neither do you realize that we sacrifice an adult only at sunset and that time is long past." Then he laughed and her captors pulled her from the altar and chained her wrist manacles to a ring that was attached to another chain that they pulled to raise her arms high above her head. She tried to kick but they simply stepped on her ankle chain and attached that to a ring in the floor and within moments she was stretched naked against the wall.
The High Priest then approached and said, "I am Pan-Lot, true High Priest of Jad-Ben-Otho. Within a few days, you will be sacrificed to him and thus prove that your claims are false. Your companions seek you even now and they, too will join you here." And he motioned to other rings and chains nearby. "But for now, we will enjoy your misery."
Barbara was terrified for although these priests had been castrated, that only removed their testicles to prevent male hormone production. They could still achieve an erection and without the ‘disadvantages' of orgasm, could easily rape her for hours if they chose. Also the earlier priests had told her that they needed her alive, not intact so torture was also an option that she didn't want to think of, but, being a historian, could not avoid. Barbara wasn't a virgin and hadn't been one for a couple years and she had her share of partners but they were all gentle and caring lovers, not an angry castrati who saw her pain as revenge for heresy. And her studies of the various religious inquisitions on Earth filled her head with horrors that even the liberal attitudes of Gaea refused to show on the vids. Unfortunately, her only hope was now Professor Holtzman and In-Un or possibly the agents of Ja-Don or Yo-Ta-Lee, and she wasn't certain that any of them could find her in time.
Pan-Lot took her face and stared into her eyes from centimeters away, "You think that your friends will save you. Loose that thought now for we have existed in these tunnels for 20 years since the murder of Lu-Don and never has a sacrificial victim escaped. Never have we been caught and daily our numbers grow. Soon, perhaps with your deaths, we will be strong enough to take the palace and temples and return Pal-ul-Don to its rightful and holy glory! No more must we hide like rats. Soon will we once again stride the streets in the sunlight and make our sacrifices to the cheering thongs of Ho-Don. Once again will our warriors take the Waz-Don from their caves and we will drench the altars with their blood to the glory of Jad-Ben-Otho. …"
Barbara considered that this guy had spent too much time in the dark and needed some sunlight to bring him back to sanity. He was obviously insane but how to deal with it? To pretend to agree may get her some limited freedom or it may make him angrier. However, it was obvious that Pan-Lot was only beginning his rant and that he had done this speech so often that it was like a recording that couldn't be stopped until it ran down. And so she hung there, the manacle biting into her wrists as she considered her very limited options.
Barney ran down the now deserted street seeking Barbara and her captors but soon was lost in the maze. He tried following the tracking device but it would only point in the right direction and now was pointing towards a building that he knew she hadn't entered. Who knew how many streets and buildings were between the two? She could be in the next street over or across the city for without a computer to analyze the signal, he had no idea of how far away she was. He noted his position as best he could then the direction the signal led then ran off down the street as fast as he could to put some distance and so triangulate the signal.
Almost immediately, he was stopped by a warrior who grabbed Barney. The Weir started to fight back when the warrior said, "I serve Ja-Don in your quest. We too, have lost El-Bal-Ro but hope is not lost. Come, we must report to Ja-Don." And the warrior tried to led Barney back to the palace. "NO!" argued the professor. "I must keep looking until I find her!"
But the warrior said, "And if you find them, how many can you, a scholar untrained in war, kill before you are taken as well? They sacrifice at sundown which was past by the time they took her. She is safe until the morrow."
Barney almost wished that this man was a castrati for then he would be led to Barbara and then, together, they could escape but the man was exactly who he said he was and Barney realized that his beamer would kill only a few and then he would be without power for shield, cloak or weapon so he gave in, and by full dark, they were back in the palace with Yo-Ta-Lee and In-Un.
Barney knew that anger would do nothing for these people had been fighting the castrati for 20 years and to them, Barbara and he were pawns to be used as needed. If he argued, they would simply find a way to have him captured and hope that they could follow. Obviously, they had done this before with no success so his best chance was cooperation.
Ja-Don looked at a map of the city. It resembled the medieval maps more than a modern for the streets were marked but buildings were drawn in as well. The map was also covered with circles and lines, most of which were in the neighborhood where he had lost Barbara.
"These circles represent the places were someone was taken. The lines show the paths we were able to follow until they were lost. We are using this information to narrow the search to this neighborhood where we believe the main temple to be. However, searching the entire area is impossible so we need to learn more. I suggest that you, Ho-Sat, search this area yourself. I will have my warriors in that area watching and when they try to take you, we will pounce and take them instead. Failing that, try to leave a trail that El-Bal-Ro could not."
Barney wanted to argue about the cold-bloodedness of Ja-Don but he realized that the king was desperate. If the castrati returned to power, the first sacrifices would be not only the priestesses but Ja-Don's children and grandchildren so Barney pretended to agree.
Yo-Ta-Lee interrupted then, "Your pardon Ben-Gund, but I believe that this man has a way to find El-Bal-Ro. You know that I was chosen as High Priestess because I possess ‘The Sight' and can use this to our advantage. It was my vision that revealed the castrati to us and I believe that this man may possess something similar." She looked directly to Barney and dared him to argue but he realized that he did have a chance now.
"My Lord, when I was… here," he touched the map at the place where he had taken the reading, "I felt that El-Bal-Ro was in this direction." And he lay his dagger on the map pointing in the right direction. While all were looking at the map, he checked his finder again and saw that the High Priestess was watching him instead of the map. No matter, he would deal with that later. "And now I feel that she is in this direction," and he took In-Un's knife and lay it on the palace pointing away. She may be where these two lines cross." And he placed his finger on that spot which was within the suspected area. "But I need to move around and … feel more to be certain. I suggest that you place your men in this area. I will go here, and here, and here and see where my feelings point. Then we can take that building and capture them all."
The High Priestess added, "I believe that she won't be killed yet. As much as they may wish to, they need her dead before witnesses so I think that they will call together as many as they can to see the sacrifice. They will also try to take you before then to add to the impact. And as the next High Holiday is in three days, I believe that she will be safe until then. THAT is when we must strike. When all priests are together and when most of their followers are united. We save El-Bal-Ro in such a manner as to discredit the castrati and allow some of the followers to escape with that news to dishearten the rest. Thus we sever the head and stinger and many legs of the scorpion and let the remaining legs drag the body away to die."
As a historian, Barney had been trained to look at the big picture and approved of the plan but as a pawn and the one who would have to explain to Barbara's family how she died, he wanted to fight the idea and simply storm every house until he found the girl. But he knew that this was impossible and was forced to concede that their plan was the best possible.
That night both Ja-Don and Yo-Ta-Lee sent their warriors secretly into the suspected area to homes that they knew were loyal to the new ways. Barney and In-Un followed a circular route around the area with Barney taking reading at regular intervals, pointing the direction to his companions who would mark a map and rush a copy to the Palace. As he got closer, he noticed that the readings pointed down and he informed the last messenger that he believed that they who were sought had an underground fortress. "That makes it harder," commented In-Un. "The opening to a cave is rarely near the main cavern so the door to the place we seek could be a league away. Have you any ideas?"
"None," admitted Barney. "Just keep looking."
It was near sunrise when they got careless from lack of sleep. They had sent their last messenger off with the latest reading and Barney was leaning against a wall, almost dozing, when In-Un slumped at his feet. Before Barney could react, the man who had clubbed the Waz-Don raised his club against Barney who woke up instantly and prepared to block the blow. Then stars appeared with a sharp pain behind him and the first man laughed as Barney slid into unconsciousness.
When he awoke, he was naked and hanging next to Barbara. His head felt like a rundi had charged him and he immediately vomited. He could hear a woman's voice crying something but sank back into unconsciousness again.
Finally, he was awakened by a dash of cold water in his face. He looked up to see a castrati holding an empty bucket and water was running down Barney's face and chest. "If you vomit again, warn me so I can catch it here," commanded the priest.
Barney looked to his right and saw Barbara, also naked and chained who immediately asked, "How do you feel? You've been raving for days. You stopped vomiting the first day only because there was nothing left in your stomach."
"I can see you but you are a bit blurry. I must have a concussion. How long have we been here?
"Two days for you, more for me." She answered. "I was afraid that you'd die. They tired to feed you but you couldn't eat. I knew that if you could live, you'd heal fast but there were times when I worried if you would live or not. They fed me by hand and let me pee down my legs. Then they rinsed me down with buckets of cold water. It was only a few moments ago that they came in and scrubbed us clean. I guess that they got tired of the smell."
Barney looked at her, thinner than she was and her wrists were covered with bloody bandages where the manacles had worn the skin from her wrists. He figured that he wasn't in better shape. Then a thought struck, "How long have we been here?" he asked again.
Barbara thought then answered, "It's hard to tell underground but I think I've been here three days and you two. People have been cleaning all day so I think that something important is about to happen."
"Yes," suggested Barney. "The main event is about to happen and we are the center stage. But don't worry, the heroes always show up at the last minute and we have hours to go."
"In the vids they do but in history they usually don't show up at all." Snapped Barbara. Then she softened, "How did you find me?"
Barney switched to Spanglic, "Your locator was operating so we wandered around the city until we could triangulate your signal. All the readings were passed onto Ja-Don and Yo-Ta-Lee who should be breaking the door down shortly. Then we can get back to work. In the meantime, notice how the castrati have attempted to…"
"ENOUGH!" yelled Barbara. I'm tired of taking notes and listening to lectures. I haven't been able to sit or lie down in three days. The only food I've had was spoon-fed to me and I pee and shit down my legs." She signed and softened. "I'm sorry. I know that you are trying to relax my mind but right now I'd rather be free. What's your plan?"
"I was hoping that we could beam our way out of here but I forgot to turn mine on. So we wait and see. I believe that tonight at sunset this place will be full of the castrati and their followers to watch us be sacrificed to prove that the new order is wrong. Then when the castrati have their followers fired to a pitch of religious fervor, they will attack the palace and temple. When they release us to take us to the altar, that's when we start our shields and beamers and get out of here and damn our careers."
Barbara knew he wasn't being honest because although he would ruin his own career to save her, he wouldn't ruin hers. So he must have a plan that required her to remain ignorant. Possibly one that needed her to show fear and resignation? So she tried to relax and told her professor all that she had seen over the past few days.
Neither were fed though both were given small amounts of water to drink. Barney feared it was drugged but couldn't smell or taste anything and his captors showed no thermal changes to indicate duplicity so he drank what he could.
After some hours, people began to enter the room. They were mostly poor and he could see how these were the kind to follow any belief out of desperation. Finally, the lesser priests entered, wearing animal masks and these began a series of prayers and chants to which the people gave occasional answers. This litany seemed to go on for hours before the High Priest, Pan-Lot, entered wearing his gryf-headdress. He then spoke to the crowd telling them that their time was neigh and that the sacrifice of these heretics who claimed to come from beyond the morass would bring the favour of Jad-Ben-Otho upon them and give them the strength to take the palace and bring back the holy ways. When Pan-Lot had the crowd at a fever pitch, he commanded, "And to bring the blessings of Jad-Ben-Otho down upon us, we offer to him the lives of these unbelievers. Bring them forward that their blood may please he who rules us all!"
Two of the castrati rushed to free Barbara and drag her to the altar. Barney yelled at them to no avail and so they pulled her across the altar, giving her no time or opportunity to activate her beamer or shield and thus, she lay, held by the castrati as Pan-Lot raised his dagger above her naked form.
"Ben-Otho, accept this life that we may be blessed by thy presence," and he drove the dagger towards her heaving breast.
Without warning a sound rang out like the sound of thunder and Pan-Sat jerked and fell back, the dagger falling harmlessly from his lifeless hands. The people froze in horror as a man appeared, huge and regal in bearing and tailless! "Thus do I punish those who would blaspheme against my will." And he pointed to the dead priest. "Thus to, shall my wrath fall upon all who oppose me." And he turned his arm upon the mass which broke in terror and fled the building.
The priests tried to run too but suddenly there was a warrior before them with drawn knives and each was cut down where they stood or fled. Within moments it was all over. The people were gone, the priests dead and only a few warriors stood around carrying bloody knives.
Barney and Barbara were frozen in shock then Ja-Don entered the room, looked around and ordered the prisoners freed. As they were, they both collapsed for lack of circulation and warriors began to minister to their needs, rubbing their feet and hands, replacing bandages on their wrists and offering food and drink.
Barney looked at Ja-Don and asked, "How?"
Ja-Don laughed and said, "Sometimes it is better for a priest to not be involved in matters of religion. It simplifies matters somewhat. In-Un was only dazed but one of my warriors who remained in hiding followed you to this place then he reported back to me. I then carefully snuck my warriors into this temple among the faithful and waited the right moment.
"And here is the key," he laughed and motioned to the ‘god' who had killed Pan-Lot. The man loosened his loin-cloth and untied his tail that had been wrapped around his body and hidden. He also peeled off the fake skin that had hidden his tarsial toes. In the gloom of the temple, and under the influence of religious awe, he made a passable god.
Another warrior came from the gloom with a bronze drum that he tapped, making another booming sound, then Ja-Don rolled the body of the High Priest over to reveal a knife in his back.
"Timing was crucial," he explained. "Too soon and they would have seen through our ruse. But with the right amount of passion and the right gloom, people will see what I want them to see. Now, I have my warriors who fled with the faithful telling all that they saw lightening flow from the fingers of Jad-Ben-Otho to strike down not only Pan-Lot but the rest of his priests. Within a few days, everyone will believe what I wish them to believe. Thank you for your unwilling assistance." And with that he turned and strode off.
One of the warriors appeared with their clothing that had been found in a side chamber and as they dressed, the remaining warriors began to destroy the temple in such a manner that any who entered would believe that it had been destroyed by a vengeful god.
They were half-carried to the palace by warriors loyal to Ja-Don and expected to attend the dinner after being cleaned up. So they bathed and washed and their wrists were repacked with more moldy bread then covered with leaves and tied in place with grass cords. Then, they dressed in new and clean loincloths and harnesses and, for Barbara, much more elaborate breastplates and jewelry, courtesy of a grateful Ja-Don.
The dinner was obviously staged. The Weir had trouble cutting their meat and resorted to using their tails as an aid and occasionally someone would help them. But it was the conversation that was important… "I saw him, it was Jad-Ben-Otho himself." "I saw him shoot lightening from his fingers and burn a dozen of the false priests to ashes before my eyes." "He was thrice the height of a man." "I saw him smash the false altar by stepping on it." And so on. Yo-Ta-Lee listened but ate quietly with her head down. She knew everyone was telling lies but it furthered her position and would weaken the castrati so she endured them in silence. She may not have liked it but she recognized their value.
Even In-Un was tolerable. After waking from his injury, he wanted to help rescue his friends but Ja-Don fearing a riot had him restrained in the palace until it was all over.
Finally, Barbara and Barney were allowed to leave and they sought the privacy of their room to talk but were interrupted by both Ja-Don and Yo-Ta-Lee and even In-Un followed. The former explained, "You are welcome to remain but I think that it would be best for all if you were to continue your studies in another city for I fear you are too honest to assist in our … events."
The Priestess then continued, "I do have one question, you said that you wished knowledge to help avoid overpopulation and starvation. Have you learned anything that will help us?"
Barney took a deep breath, then answered, "My Lord, my Lady, I have an answer but it may not be the one you wish to hear. In every case that this has happened, there has only been one answer. Limit your births.
"I know that this seems impossible but consider that during the time of the castrati, so many men died upon the altars and in war and in the slave raids that there were many more women than men alive. So it was common for one man to have many wives for the women felt that sharing a man was better than no man at all. Now, there are enough men so that one man and one woman are common and one man and many wives are rare. Your ways changed with the needs.
"Back then, you needed many births to offset the many deaths but now fewer are being killed so you need fewer births. In this way society must change as well."
He looked at the Priestess and continued, "When Yo-Ta-Lee was a witch in the back streets, I am certain that she knew ways to prevent conception. Ways that she can easily remember. Perhaps you should encourage these ways and lead by example for the people will follow what the nobles do. If need be I can ask my…" there was no word in Donian for queen nor for Devil which was the Spanglic word for ‘elected constitutional dictator' so he continued, "she-who-rules to send our own witches and healers to help you if you wish. Unfortunately, the choice is yours alone."
The king and priestess thought about this for a moment then bade them all good night and Barbara left for her own quarters. All with their own thoughts.
The next morning Barney was woken by a servant bringing him breakfast. A plate covered with the usual fruits, nuts and dried meats from the night before and a bottle of beer. He unwrapped his wrists and between the penicillin the Ho-Don used and his natural healing abilities, all he had this morning were scars that would be gone tomorrow.
He was washing against the wall when Barbara arrived and plopped herself onto this bed. She was in an obviously good mood and lay there on her belly as she played with his loincloth with her tail, "Well, professor, we did it! We observed history without changing it or being a part of it… much. AND, we never had to resort to revealing our technology. I think that our job is a success.
"In-Un has already left for his home and says that when he wins the gund-bar, we must come and stay for as long as we wish. I think we should.
"What do you think about Bu-Lur? Think about it, Professor, Ho-Don and Waz-Don living in peace for generations. Will A-Lur be like that in a few generations? I think it's worth looking into. We still have a few weeks left before pick-up and it's only about 40… maybe 50 kilometers south of here. Why not go?"
Barney dressed in the loincloth she had tossed to him with her tail and as he was adjusting his belts commented, "A very good idea. I was hoping to study the Ho-Don trade system. Think of it, they have canoes 10 meters long designed for cargo and bringing in food from all over the Valley. We can study both at the same time, what a savings in time and energy! I'll go ask Ja-Don if he will give us passage down river." And he took the sandwich that Barbara had made him out the door.
Barbara rolled over onto her back and waved her arms, legs and tail in the air, "I am going to be FAMOUS!" and her squeals of joy followed the man down the hall.