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Volume 6080

Chapter 16: QUESTIONS
 Narrative Transmission 16

      JER’OK WAS SORELY disappointed not only for himself but also on behalf of Guy Locke when he found the place of the Jer’anda lairs completely deserted.  It is true the beast-man had hoped to see his Amber once again, but his more immediate need had been to find help for the wounded Jer'anda buck, whose injury might prove unresponsive to the ways of Aranda healing.

      Somehow the leaf-like object that bore Amber’s delicate scent had meant something to both of them, but Jer’ok had no clue to its meaning.  All he knew was that both he and the Jer’anda had been deserted.  Now the stranger threatened to enter long sleep, and Jer’ok alone must find a way to prevent him from doing so.

      The beast-man lifted the exhausted buck one more time and carried him to the nearest watering place of the beasts.  There was still time before first twilight.  Predators were unlikely to be roaming before the coming of the brief darkness. Nevertheless, Jer’ok scanned the surrounding jungle with all his acute senses before setting about the task of healing.  He hardly dared leave the Jer’anda to collect the plant stuffs he required.

      Within a day or two Jer’ok was as certain as his instincts allowed that his ministrations had delivered Guy Locke from immediate danger.  It was safe to carry the buck to the mysterious and wonderful lair of his childhood.  There, Jer’ok
suspected, the other might recognise something which would hasten the return of his strength.

      Jer’ok, it must in all candor be confessed, also nursed a hope deep in his lonely heart that through Guy Locke his cherished lair would somehow provide answers to the countless mysteries that had so long been burning in his ever-questing mind:  mysteries of the identity of the Jer’anda, mysteries of his own origins.  Perhaps upon his recovery this Jer’anda would be able to contrive a way to communicate with the son of the Aranda.  If so, what better setting than the lair with its intriguing
shadows of other starfolk?

      JER’OK’S INSTINCTS WERE well founded as always.  When Lieutenant Guy Locke returned to his senses to find the devastating pain in retreat and his head clearer than it had been since he was wounded and taken prisoner, he thought he must somehow have passed through warps in both time and space.  He had lost consciousness in the deserted campsite of the late Mentor Laxton.  He regained consciousness in what appeared to be a flyer of an era a generation past.  The craft, too,
was deserted.

      Locke sat up to examine his unexpected surroundings, only to dislodge a rude compress on his shoulder.  He picked it up to find that it had been constructed from mud and leaves.  Instead of deepening the mystery, Locke’s simple action and resultant discovery served to clear away his confusion.  Gradually Locke’s memory returned of the jungle man who had saved his life many times over.

      The Diyalan called out for Jer’ok, but the silence of the flyer was broken only by the faint sounds of the jungle beyond.  Locke tried his strength and made his way to the entry hatch where he found the surrounding shelter built with loving care
by the late Lord Charwick.

      Locke stared at the handiwork with renewed curiosity.  Wherever in this unpredictable world of unfathomable mystery could he be?

      Before he could yield to his curiosity and explore further, the heavy wooden door opened and Jer'ok, burdened with the carcass of a small antelope, entered the shelter.  When the beast-man saw the recovered Diyalan his stern countenance
relaxed into a wide smile.

      That evening while Jer’ok tore into his raw meat with obvious relish and Locke tended his over an open flame, the Diyalan commenced the extraordinary task of teaching a fellow adult the language of Chimur in the form of his own Diyalan dialect.  From the very beginning he was impressed by the keen intelligence of his avid student.  Jer’ok-ta was always a quick study.

      As the uncounted days passed, Jer’ok learned Tae with incredible speed.  It was not long before the two men could carry on a simple conversation.  With time the jungle man’s grasp of language permitted increasingly sophisticated exchanges.  Soon Locke began to teach him the intricacies of the written word.  If Jer’ok’s mastery of the spoken word was a surprise, the speed with which he accomplished the ability to read and write was nothing short of miraculous.  At first Locke was at a loss to explain the jungle man’s incredible abilities – beyond Jer’ok’s obvious desire to overcome the awful deprivation of his circumstances.

      When left to his own devices on the frequent occasions when Jer’ok was in the jungle, Locke took advantage of his increasing strength to pursue his deferred investigation of the flyer, its surrounding shelter, and the contents of both.  He quickly discovered the source of the speed with which Jer’ok learned.

      The jungle man had the advantage of a superb collection, obviously intended for the early education of a Tuathan child.  Eventually Guy Locke made the multiple discoveries that proved to him beyond any doubt that Jer’ok, the primitive wild man, was in actuality the son of Leede and Sabratha Southerly, who had died in this place.

      “So,” the Diyalan mused under his breath, “the Rune Silentio was correct all along.”  His present mission for that service to the throne was not for nought after all.  Rand Southall was a usurper.  Jer’ok of Ashtar was the true Lord Charwick.

      The force of the blow with which this knowledge struck Locke would reverberate throughout Chimur to affect Gemini and even the Confederation itself.  Charged with considerable discretion in this investigation, Guy Locke mused on how he should next proceed.  Rand Southall was proving himself a worthy baron of Charwick.  Noble or not, this savage would be devastatingly naive in civilised ways and naiveté could do much as much damage as treason . . . .

      Quite deliberately, Locke withdrew from that line of thinking.  Questions remained unanswered.  Principal among them were how the late Lord and Lady Charwick had died and how they had come to be marooned here.  The only report of their loss suggested they had gone down in the ocean many kilometers from where Southerly was to have initiated his studies.  Thus, every trace of them had been given up as forever lost.  But it was Southerly's brother – Rand's father – who had conducted the investigation and prepared that report.

      Armed with this devastatingly contradictory evidence, Locke opted for a determined effort to establish what had caused the uncontrolled landfall.  The log and Southerly's personal diary were badly mildewed and chewed by small rodents. Whatever the man had entered of relevance had been obliterated over the years.

      Locke made a slow circuit around the outside of the craft to gain a better impression of the orientation of the forced landing.  Satisfied that he had learned all he could without the aid of the Rune's sophisticated forensic technology, the Diyalan
returned to the interior of the flyer and passed through to the bridge.  He studied the settings and frozen displays at some length.  Then he removed certain panels to examine elements of the flyer’s readily accessible mechanisms.   Eventually he had the
proof he sought:  Lord and Lady Charwick's flyer had been skillfully sabotaged in such a way that the threat was virtually undetectable before the rigged explosion hurtled the craft out of control.  The laserfuse mechanism had been timed for a
detonation while orbiting in preparation for landfall.

      Locke was impressed.  Somehow the Southerlys had succeeded in making landfall, but the ship had been damaged beyond repair.  For some reason, no longer apparent due to the ravages of Ashtar's climate, no mayday had ever been transmitted.

      The Chimurian had no intention of revealing any of these startling revelations to the new Heir Presumptive to Charwick.  Locke was too well trained to make any mistake as to where this evidence would take the court at Meridum.  Instead he subtly altered the course of instruction upon which he had embarked.  There was far too much at stake to chance any mistakes in deciding the fate of this literally noble savage.

      And so it was that the long conversations between the two of them also proceeded along an altered course.  The Diyalan began to reveal much of the civilisation that was Jer’ok’s true heritage.  At the same time he explored with the unlikely son of Tuathan nobility what the jungle man could remember of his childhood and youth.  Both men learned things they found almost impossible to believe.  Jer’ok was constantly at a loss over some new mystery of Guy's world – a world he could not
yet accept as his own.

      Guy in turn was equally amazed by the obvious intelligence of the hunterfolk – Jer’ok’s Aranda.  He began to compile a glossary of hunterfolk – Aranda – terms.  Who would have believed these pro-hominids capable of language?  And yet Jer’ok was living proof of this stunning accomplishment.  Locke regretted anew the loss of Mentor Laxton.  Jer’ok would have been a revelation to the man, whose advanced theories this son of Aranda would confirm to Gemini – and the galaxy.

      ONE NIGHT THE two friends were lazily following the threads of conversation in a tangle of shifting directions.  Out of nowhere in particular Guy asked Jer’ok how he came to be so named.  It took the remainder of the night to complete the answer, for Locke drew Jer’ok out with a series of seemingly unrelated questions.  The result was as near complete an understanding of Jer’ok’s wholly unique nature as any humankind would ever achieve.

      Toward morning Guy asked curiously, “You mean you can actually see mood in an animal or another man?  You perceive attitude as colour?”

      Jer’ok pondered the unexpected question, searching his mind for a grasp of the new terms and underlying concepts that were slowly becoming his.

      “No,” he answered uncertainly.  He considered the faint something that surrounds each – lifeform, that was the word Guy had taught him – and alters with fear, anger, love.  He thought of colour and intensity as Guy had labouriously described them.  He considered the greens of the jungle vegetation, the blues of the sky and waters, the white of the sun, even the fearsome mix of vivid hues that is Jera – fire.  None of those was that which informed him of mood or attitude.

      “I cannot describe it,” he admitted at last.  “But I see when a Jer’anda buck hates or fears Jer’ok.  I see when a she is angry with her mate.”  The beast-man hesitated.  “I see that Amber loves Jer’ok just as he loves her.”

      There was a long interval when neither man spoke.  “Why does she refuse Jer'ok's love?”  The beast-man regarded the Diyalan with sad perplexity.

      Guy Locke could not answer Jer’ok’s question.  All the philosophers and all the poets of a hundred worlds had failed to provide a satisfactory answer to that deceptively simple question.

      “I do not know, my friend.  I wish I could tell you.”

      The next night when their meal was completed, Guy handed Jer’ok Amber’s letter, but only after first reading it himself.  He mentally forgave his own breach of the other man's privacy on the basis of protecting the one very human vulnerability from which Jer’ok of the Aranda suffered.

      Jer’ok accepted the envelope with a look Guy Locke would never forget.  He had clearly forgotten its existence since that distant day when Guy had first shown it to him.  With a murmured apology Jer’ok read through it swiftly.  Then he looked up to Guy before reading it a second time, savouring each word.

      When Jer’ok finished the letter, he looked at Locke hopelessly, “How can I ever find her again?”

      The Diyalan shook his head.  For a long moment he studied the other.  The beast-man endured the provocative regard in silence.

      Then Lieutenant Guy Locke told Jer’ok who he was.

      For the remainder of that night Guy explained to Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick Presumptive of Tuatha, what he was.  With dawn both men fell into a contemplative silence.  Finally Jer’ok asked another of his simple questions which, in fact, demanded an answer that was nothing less than a full lecture on one aspect of Chimurian culture or another.

      “What can I do?  What should I do?”

      This time, Guy chuckled to himself, the answer was as simple as the question.  He shuddered at the sight of the gnawed bones on the ground before Jer’ok.

      “The first thing you have to do is learn to cook your meat!”


From the Journals of the Terran
[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Days 72-73]

      “He never did, you know.”

      I must admit to my confusion when the Admiral made that statement.

      “Never did what?” I asked stupidly.

      “He never learned to cook his meat,” the Admiral actually laughed aloud.

      Tonight I have been intrigued by something I consider more important than Jer’ok’s gustatory proclivities.  I am getting it all down here, quoting from my recording to ensure its preservation – and my own
unexpected empathy.

      “I wonder what was in the letter,” I mused aloud to no one in particular.  My question was so obviously rhetorical I almost missed the beginning of it as the Admiral recited:

      My Dear Jerrock:
            I write this in unseemly haste and with little hope you will ever receive it or, on receiving it, be able to read my farewell words to you.  But, perhaps, Jerrock, Fate will be kind and permit my friend, Guy Locke, to someday read it to you.  By that time I suppose I shall be the very proper Lady Charwick and embarrassed to think I ever held you as dear as I do at this moment.  It seems too cruel (and impossible,my friend) that I will never see you again.  But, enough of this.  Time grows short as the captain insists upon reminding me with irritating frequency.
            Jerrock, I cannot leave your beautiful and terrible Ashtar without expressing my gratitude for all the kindnesses you have shown me and my friends.  Gratitude is so easily expressed and yet it does so little justice to my true feelings.  Thanks to you the man I love and I are both alive to follow our hearts and make our life together.
            Why am I so sad at that prospect?  Is melancholia an emotion of every young woman about to embark on life with the man she loves?
            Love!  Another word that slips easily from the tongue.  Why is it that love is a word that so easily reminds me of a certain "noble savage" of the Primaeval Planet?
            The captain is becoming quite stern with me, my dear Jerrock, and so I must close.  Please remember that Amber Laxton will never forget Jerrock of Ashtar and hopes that we may someday meet again.
            You will always be my friend.  I will always remember you.
                    /s/ Amber Laxton

      I must admit my first reaction is that the Admiral has a phenomenal memory for detail.  But as I ponder these childlike confidences it is obvious to me that the mentor's daughter was leaving her true love rather than preparing to wed him.

      The Admiral is in one of his somber moods.  Any reaction to the legend of Jer’ok, including asking why the foolish child was so blissfully unaware of her passion for her “noble savage,” is meeting with stony silence.  I know his frame of mind will eventually improve, and we will get back to the narrative.

                                                              * * *
      The Admiral's mood has improved since we completed our monotonous meal and cleared away the slight debris.  I am bored and eager to learn what became of Jer’ok after he discovered he was of another planet and “born to the purple” as they once said at home on Terra.  The Admiral shows no inclination to resume his narrative, but he is at least responsive to my questions.

Day 75

      Whether Amber or, more likely, her fianc?, Lord Charwick, refused to be silenced or whether Lieutenant Guy Locke was sufficiently important to the  affairs of the great houses of Chimur or to Rune Silentio, it was not all that long before the promised search party was dispatched to Ashtar.

      That is, searchers actually set foot on the planet within a few short weeks of the evacuation of the ill-fated Laxton expedition.  The meteor shower cleared Ashtarian space in a matter of days, but the bureaucratic morass of Diyalan, Tuathan and Arene politics took longer to be cleared away.

      In all fairness to the authorities, even the most advanced Gemini interplanetary ship could not have sent a fully equipped search and rescue mission to a dangerously primitive planet without some preparation.  The right personnel for the mission had to be transferred from Chimur or interstellar ships.  Plans had to be made and duties assigned.

      It all takes time, lots of time.  How well I know!

      Once in orbit around Ashtar, the party was, of course, landed at the Laxton site.  From there they were faced with a major search.  They knew, or at least hoped, the Diyalan officer had survived to return to the camp, because the contents of the canister Amber Laxton had insisted upon sending had been removed by someone with knowledge of the mechanisms.  Though there was no immediate clue to Locke’s present whereabouts, the sophisticated search devices provided the needed assistance.  In a matter of days, where once it might have taken weeks or even months _ assuming the lost could have been found at all, the searchers had made their way to Lieutenant Guy Locke.

      No one advised them that the second humankind they found with Locke was no illiterate savage but the son of the late Leede and Sabratha Southerly of Charwick.

      To reveal his identity would have been premature and dangerous to young Southerly until he could formally establish his identity and his claim to the Charwick title and had been tendered to the Council of Lords. The Diyalan revealed to the rescuers only that the savage had saved his life.

      The rescuers, being of human stock, were extremely curious about the wrecked flyer and shelter.  The latter was far too weatherbeaten to have been constructed by the lieutenant and his unusual companion.  Most suspected, however, some association between both objects and the savage.  The conjectures about his origins would have been limited only by the imagination of the individual observer.

      The lieutenant could hardly have pulled much rank, so it must have been some suggestion of the interest of the Rune Silentio that succeeded in having the whole area, including the two graves, one old and one fresh, declared closed pending inquiry by the High King.  No doubt the party was more than a little disappointed, but any who did not respect a mere lieutenant did hold the utmost respect for the orders issued under the High King's own intimidating seal.

      When the flyer brought them to the ship, Lieutenant Locke insisted that the man he referred to simply as Jer'ok accompany him all the way to his home.  Before boarding the flyer the Diyalan selected certain items from among the belongings of the late Lord and Lady Charwick.  Once on board ship, clothes were produced for both men, neither of whom could walk the ship's passages in his present state of sartorial splendor, even in this enlightened day and age, without attracting stares of amusement, amazement, or just plain shock.

      Jer’ok was as uncomfortable in clothing as Locke had been in the loincloth the beast-man had provided for him while on Ashtar.  But he accepted this ridiculous impediment to agility with good grace.  Locke quite seriously assured the disgusted beast-man that he would be provided meals and would encounter no enemies, at least on board ship.

      No doubt both Jer’ok and Guy Locke wondered if the same could be said of the surface of Chimur.  Just in case Jer’ok kept thews and sinews in nearly perfect condition by frequenting the ship's synthetic jungle at times when it was deserted by the crew.  He never discovered or had need for the fully equipped gymnasium.

      Somehow the ship managed to convey the hunterfolk buck to Chimur without untoward incident. That feat was a tribute not so much to ship's discipline as to the watchful care of Locke and the inherent integrity that distinguished the character of the son of two peoples.

      The beast-man would have gone quietly mad in the confinement of the ship but for the fine library to which he was granted unlimited access at Locke's insistence.

      Locke noticed that the deep copper of Jer’ok’s skin faded to the duller Tuathan red in the course of their shipboard journey.  But aside from the brief tutoring sessions with Jer’ok, Locke was spending the greater part of his time in earnest conversation with the captain and with those portions of the admiralty some have associated with the Rune Silentio.  The topic was, of course, the future of the giant savage, and unlikely prot??of the worldly Lieutenant Locke.  In any event, the Diyalan did not think to pursue what seemed a simple fading to the pigmentation of Jer’ok’s true people.

      Once on Chimur Lieutenant Locke, under orders, took Jer’ok directly to his family estates in the beautiful forest country of Diyala.  They would proceed to no city, including the capital city of Tuatha, before Jer'ok could be better prepared for what he faced.

      Even with Locke’s friendship and good judgment, the experimental trips to Locke’s apartments in Faxon and finally to Meridum nearly proved to be the death of the intrepid creature of the forest.  While the two cosmopolitan centers are deemed by many to be jungles, Jer’ok of Ashtar had much to learn of their unique ways.  The methods that served to maintain his good health in his own jungle home were more likely to earn him a lengthy prison sentence in these unfamiliar lands.  Fortunately, Locke was always there to prevent Jer’ok’s worst mistakes or to intercede on his behalf when it was too late for preventative action.

      Jer’ok was ignorant of the ways of humankind, but he was not stupid.  And he was a man of noble character (itself a dangerous trait among certain Chimurians).  It was not long before Jer’ok of Ashtar was every inch a gentleman, so long as no one was so foolish as to strip away the veneer of gentility which was even thinner than the copper cast to his skin, which had been restored while on Chimur. 

[Log, Gemini Wanderer, Day 76]
Narrative Transmission 17

      WHEN THE DIYALAN Lieutenant Guy Locke brought Jer’ok to Meridum the second time, it was to sponsor his suit before the Council of Lords and then before the Princes of the Hua.  In a matter of hours, thanks to both the Diyalan’s meticulous preparation of the evidence and Jer’ok’s cool responses to all the intense cross-examination, Jer’ok-ta of Ashtar emerged from the Hua’s stifling chambre as Leede Southerly of Tuatha-on-Chimur.

      The two men next proceeded to the audience chambre of Strahm Thurston Albritton, High King of Chimur.

      “My lord, may I present Leede Southerly, formerly of Ashtar, the son of the late Leede and Sabratha Hyland Southerly, once your majesty's Lord of Charwick and his Lady of Tuatha.”

      Leede stood straight and tall before the leader of Chimur.  Making eye contact, the beast-man inclined his head in acknowledgment of this san-k’aranda’s high position.  The high king rose from the throne and descended to meet his countryman from Ashtar and clasp his arm in a hearty welcome.

      With that formality concluded with its strong hint of congeniality to follow, Locke bowed and, at a signal from Albritton, withdrew a few paces to observe the interaction between the two Tuathans.  As he did so, the Diyalan was suddenly struck by the similarity in the two men.  Both were tall and well formed with striking Tuathan features, but there was some mutuality about the bearing of the two that went beyond mere cultural commonality.  But the perception faded as the Diyalan became involved in keen observation of the interaction between the two.

      The high king interviewed Leede Southerly at some length. Locke was soon convinced that his majesty was favourably impressed with both Lee’s bearing and his responses to yet another barrage of questions.  As the interview progressed, Albritton allowed the formality to relax.  Then, as evening approached and dismissal seemed imminent, Strahm Thurston invited the two to join him for a decidedly informal supper in his private apartments.

      Over the simple meal, the interview continued with Guy’s participation now tacitly invited.  Before the evening drew to a close, Guy became aware that the high king had passed some point of decision.  The Diyalan caught his breath, his tension masked as he sipped at the splendid seri from the well stocked cellars of the palace.

      For a long moment Strahm Thurston Albritton held Leede Southerly in his steady regard.  Locke shifted nervously in his chair, but Leede tolerated the provocation without stirring.  Somehow Guy knew that this was an entirely intentional test of Southerly’s mettle – and that Lee was also aware of the intent.  Lee remained unruffled, neither yielding to the other man nor allowing the challenge to arouse his ire.  Guy Locke was proud on behalf of his protégé.

      At last Albritton was satisfied in whatever he was seeking.  He broke the contact and allowed the informality to return.  Presently, he said quietly, “You know, of course, that you are the proper Lord of Charwick?”

      It was more assertion than question, and this time the high king did not release Leede Southerly from his intense regard.  Leede inclined his head in acquiescence but remained silent, waiting for whatever the alata of Chimur would divulge.

      “Have you been told that your father and mother were murdered?  That they were the victims of treason?  That you are the victim of that treason as well?”

      Guy was pleased to observe that Lee’s countenance remained completely open at these tersely proffered revelations.

      “I have not been told this, your majesty.  May I assume there is a reason your majesty is informing me now?”

      Guy breathed a sigh of relief.  Lee’s tone was as neutral as his words.  And, to his credit, Lee never so much as glanced in his direction in either query or accusation.  Leede accepted that Guy would have had a reason for withholding this crucial portion of the personal history he had been relating on Ashtar and later in Diyala.

      “Lieutenant Locke and I have conferred on your situation on numerous occasions in preparation for your first audience.  The throne has concluded you should be made fully aware of all the circumstances regarding your place in Tuatha and here in Meridum.”

      The high king relented to exhibit the charm for which he was justly renowned.  “And so does Strahm Thurston Albritton, who would be your friend, Leede Southerly of Charwick.”

      Strahm Thurston smiled broadly, and Leede returned the smile with no sign of discomfiture or any emotion.

      “It would please Jer’ok to become the atna of the san-k’aranda alata,” was the sly reply.

      Albritton looked from Leede to Guy and back again.  All three men chuckled, and Locke translated.

      “So you see, Strahm,” he added, “the hunterfolk are as advanced as Mentor Laxton urged.  And Jer’ok-ta of the Aranda has proven himself to be a good friend.”

      “Grand,” the high king laughed gently.  But then his countenance clouded.  “You need to know, Leede, that your father’s brother has now been proven to be the traitor responsible for the deaths of your parents and for your unfortunate exile on Ashtar.  Your cousin,”  Albritton glanced at Locke for confirmation that the kinship was familiar to Leede, “your cousin, Rand Southall, is a usurper.

      “In fact, I believe he has long entertained his own suspicions.  But he is understandably loyal to the father he loved.  On the other hand, whatever Rand may believe, he has never sought investiture, even now when he is to be wed.

      “It is with sadness, . . . ” the high king turned the subject, and only Guy saw the expression that flickered ever so briefly in Lee’s eyes upon learning – what?  That Amber was almost certainly Rand’s intended bride?  That Rand and Amber were not already husband and wife?  Guy realized he had missed a portion of Strahm's recitation.

      “ . . . Your father and my father were friends from childhood.  In fact, I grew up on tales of Lord Charwick.  He was a hero of mine.”  Albritton studied Leede anew.  “I think you are much like your father, Leede Southerly.

      “As the Stars would have it, your father came to be in the service of mine when he ascended to the Chimurian throne.  And, Leede, your father and your mother both died in service to the high king.”

      The evening turned into night and became the first of the new day as the high king, the lieutenant, and the heir presumptive to Charwick engaged in their lengthy discourse.  The high king lost himself more than once in reminiscences of his own family and childhood as he elicited from Leede Southerly tales of his life as hunterfolk on Ashtar.

      As the men grew tired and the conversation began to lag, Strahm Thurston Albritton resumed the air of his station.  He turned to Leede Southerly with renewed formality.

      “Your parents died at the hand of your father’s brother.  Your cousin is a usurper to the Charwick title, although he does not as yet know that for certain.

      “It was I who initiated the investigations when I came of age and later took my place among the Princes of the Hua.  Guy Locke has been our trusted aide in the last stages of the investigation.  We concur in the conclusion that the boy Rand was wholly innocent of any role in or knowledge of this treason.  Moreover, he is proving to be the kind of man your father was.  He would carry on the lineage proudly.  Oh, he may lack that spark of pure genius your father was known for, but he is a worthy successor.

      “But I think you, Leede Southerly, are also a good man and worthy successor.  I think you may share in your father's genius.”

      And the conversations continued well into the afternoon.  Succession to the Charwick estate is no small matter in the history and the future of Gemini.

      WHEN AT LAST the lengthy session with Chimur’s high king was concluded, Leede Southerly, at his own request, emerged as nothing more than Leede Southerly.  By his own request, the Charwick title was to be indefinitely held in abeyance.  His right to the barony was unimpeachable, but Jer’ok had already learned that human relationships are more than simple matters of right and wrong.  The title would place him in line to rule if he chose to prove his worth, but Jer’ok had once ruled among the hunterfolk and was disinclined to undertake that chore a second time.  But even that reluctance was not young Southerly’s primary consideration.

      OF COURSE, IT would not have been possible for Locke and Jer’ok to arrive in Meridum on two occasions without contacting Charwick Manor at Battersea.  Under ordinary circumstances the unavoidable renewal of friendships would have been a source of joy for all concerned.  But Jer’ok’s circumstances would have been deemed ordinary by no one.

      This Tuathan born of Ashtar had been completely at ease before the venerable assemblages of lords and of princes and had made a considerable impression on Chimur’s high king.  This same Tuathan born of Ashtar was wholly discomfited when faced with the company of Rand Southall and Amber Laxton.

      Following the initial glow of reunion with those for whom he had done so much on Ashtar, a plethora of explanations followed, mostly through Locke.  For the most part Jer’ok kept his silence, preferring to allow the Diyalan to speak of all that had transpired following Southall's rescue.  At the conclusion of the history, which Locke terminated prior to the informal portion of the audience with the high king, a shocked silence fell.

      It was young Southall himself who broke it when he rose to clasp Jer’ok’s hand and to welcome Leede Southerly as his cousin.  Southall knew what the incredible revelation meant to him and to Amber, but his, too, was the noble spirit of Charwick, as the high king had observed.  He was truly pleased for the good fortune that had befallen their once-nameless benefactor.  What Rand was never to comprehend was the fact that Jer’ok also was fully aware of what his claim to the title meant.

      Amber was frightened and shy in the presence of the articulate, impeccably dressed Tuathan gentleman who had emerged from her speechless jungle companion.  Jer’ok, on his part, was completely miserable.

      Amber had not yet taken Rand as her mate.  They were still promised, but she was, in the beast-man’s still untutored mind, free.  Where his instinct was to do battle with Rand and slay him in order to claim Amber as his own, he was instead expected to indulge in light conversation and the latest pleasantries of Faxon and Meridum.  To make a bad situation all but intolerable, Amber still loved Jer’ok.

      It was not long before Leede was forced to confide in Guy Locke.  They met among the rocks high over the sea, where once another Leede and his lady-wife had shared their distress over the prospect of Ashtar.

      “I will certainly kill – or be killed, if I remain in Tuatha,” Jer’ok concluded.

      The Diyalan listened with patient understanding.  He had been expecting just such a revelation upon observing Lee in the presence of Rand and Amber.

      “Diyala is hardly much safer,” Leede anticipated Locke’s suggestion with a rueful shrug.  “I long to return to my life on Ashtar,” he admitted.

      Locke heard the beast-man out before proposing a compromise.  Leede agreed readily enough, but the final decision required a visit to Locke's offices in Faxon.  Consultations over several more days resulted in enthusiastic approval by all – especially Diyalan officialdom.  Jer’ok would return to Ashtar on a mission for Faxon.  But first he would say his farewells to the Arene woman.

      ONLY WHEN SHE was informed that the young gentleman had come to bid her a final farewell did Amber consent to receive him unchaperoned in the ancient library of Charwick Manor.  Rand was away and for once Lieutenant Locke was not as close by Leede’s side as a third shadow.

      While she waited for the man now known as Leede Southerly in the comfortable security of the familiar room, Amber's wandering mind focused on the rich scent of the low fire mingled with that of fine leather bindings.  How remote the exotic fragrances of Jer’ok’s home now seemed.  Amber resolutely forced her mind to retreat from the dangerous path along which it so easily strayed.

      She stared at the exquisite ring Rand had presented to her on the very day of their arrival at his ancestral home – the home that was in truth Leede Southerly’s.  For once the lovely bauble, given and accepted as a token of true love, did little to lift the depression that had fallen heavily across her days at Battersea.  It was a depression Amber thought she had at last escaped.  Instead her mind went to the delicate phial, now empty and secreted among her treasured belongings, most of them mementos of her mother.

      From the beginning Jer’ok had not been certain Amber would speak to him, but he could not leave Chimur without attempting to secure a moment alone with her.  Not when he knew it was Jer’ok she loved and not his rival.  That love was obvious from the first moment of their bittersweet reunion, even though the Arene woman contrived never to be alone with him.

      Jer’ok knew that Southall’s love for her was unfeigned, but he could not comprehend Amber's attitude.  It could not be a matter of deception on her part.  Jer’ok was certain it was a matter of moral principle, a concept that had at first seemed quite simple.  Among humankind the theory of a thing, Jer’ok was learning for the first time, is often quite a different matter from its actual practice.

      He was pleasantly surprised when he was shown into the library and found Amber waiting alone.  He entered quietly and heard the heavy doors close discreetly behind him.  For once he did not sense that a trap had closed about him.  These doors held all of Chimur at bay, for a while.

      At such a moment the good intentions of the most civilised man are placed in serious jeopardy.  Jer’ok-ta of the Aranda was far from being civilised, for all the surface polish Guy Locke had succeeded in producing.  Alone in the presence of the woman Jer’ok loved, the beast-man found his newly acquired manners fading like second shadow with the coming of a storm.  His unselfish decision to bid her a final farewell was forgotten in an instant.

      The man and the woman stared at each other across the darkened room.  Jer’ok could find no words to serve him at such a time.  Amber did nothing to break the spell that had failed to dissipate despite the intervening months since first these
two had met.

      Then as if drawn by the force of an invisible magnet attuned to human emotion the two were brought together.  Jer’ok found Amber in his arms.  Their eyes met and held as they had before.  There was no need to ask.  Jer’ok bent his dark head and claimed his woman’s mouth with a passion that was shared without hint of rejection.

      Time came to a complete halt.

      It was Amber who pulled away countless heartbeats later.  Before their eyes could meet again, she turned away from him.  Jer’ok waited for her to speak, but she walked toward the fire as if suddenly taken with a chill.  Jer’ok had to plead his case, then, though it was not in his wild nature to bow thus to another.  Nor was it the reason he had come to her.

      He spoke quietly in the accented Tae unique to him, “You love me.  It is wrong for you to pretend you do not.”

      Amber was too honest to attempt any denial.  But she dared not speak.  Instead the Arene woman spread her hands to catch the warmth of the fire.

      Jer’ok, too, felt a chill that was not entirely the unseasonable weather.  A jewel that had not been there when they met on Ashtar sparkled on Amber’s hand.  Jer’ok moved to his she and enclosed her tenderly in his arms.  He kissed her golden hair lightly but did not presume to call back her earlier passion.

      “You wrong all three of us, Amber.”  He hesitated over the unfamiliar phrases: “Come to me and be my wife.”

      All his deep longing was somehow conveyed in those simple words, for Amber already shared in his emotion without need for words.  Together they stared into the fire.  Jer’ok imposed no further but waited patiently for his she’s answer.

      “I cannot,” she said at last in a voice so low it hardly reached the sensitive ears of the beast-man.  “I cannot betray Rand's love, not even for you.  Especially not for you.”  Her voice broke and she bowed her head.  Jer’ok did not move.  “It would be a wrong we could never make right.”

      She turned then to meet his eyes, in better control.  The blue eyes glistened with unshed tears.  “You are a man of great honour, whether you know it by that name or some other.  You can understand.”

      Though it was not a question, Jer’ok nodded without speaking.  Guy Locke had spoken often of the high esteem held by this “honour” on Chimur, especially among the noble houses.  Though frequently breached rather than practised, honour was a trait Jer’ok embraced.  He would have been surprised had Amber done less.  But he had also clung to the remote hope she might submit to that unknown force which had united their souls before ever they had met.

      Yet Jer’ok had to admit in his heart that Amber had promised him nothing.  Perhaps the bond between them was nought but a hopeless figment of his imagination.

      Bitterness rose in Jer’ok’s throat.  How could he have expected such a woman to promise her life to a creature she must always have deemed no more than the object of scientific curiosity?  To her he had always been pro-hominid:  almost but not quite human.

      He was unforgivably stupid to have come to her as a man comes to the woman he would take for his wife.  It was only with an effort of his tremendous will that Jer’ok shook off his bitterness as unworthy of them both.

      As chance would have it, Amber retreated from his arms at the precise moment the bitterness arose.  But now she placed her hands lightly on his arms.  Her eyes met his steadily as she attempted to explain the inexplicable.

      “For you I would accept the shame, because you are right.  I know now that I have loved you from the first moment on Ashtar”

      For the briefest of moments Jer’ok’s hopes were given new life.  But it was cruelly extinguished with her next words.

      “I am selfish enough to dishonour Rand as well, though I know he loves me.  But, Leede Southerly, among our people the greatest dishonour would fall upon you, and I will not do that to you.

      “You have only now been returned to your rightful heritage.  You have a whole new life to discover and to make your own.”  She hesitated before continuing, “And I am the first woman you ever encountered.  Neither of us can dare believe what passed between us on Ashtar to be any more profound than a momentary infatuation.”

      Her blue eyes seemed to be focused far away as she remembered what had been theirs if only for a moment in time.  “For me it was like a fantasy come to life.

      “Leede, I will only love once.”  Her voice caught, but she concluded as she must: “Rand is the man I will marry.”

      Jer’ok, for all his remarkable assimilation of the ways of Tuatha, was unable to grasp the subtle nuance of what his chosen she was saying to him.  Had he been more accustomed to the use of humankind language he might have prevented much heartache for himself, for Amber – and for others as well.

      The bitterness he was then ill-equipped to meet had not yet fully receded.  All Amber’s declaration conveyed was that she would give herself to his rival.  According to Aranda ways he must accept her choice.  Oh, there was the rare buck who would have fought Rand Southall to the death, thus stealing the right to carry her off as his mate whether she willed it or no.  But that behaviour was as forbidden among the Aranda as it was on Chimur.

      Among humankind the slaying of another under these circumstances was murder; worse than unacceptable to them and, more importantly, to Amber.  Certainly this woman would never accept him if his kinsman died at his hands, even if Jer’ok should somehow avoid the punishment demanded by her people.

          Jer'ok knew there were men who allowed themselves to die for their loved ones.  Though the beast-man would have willingly yielded his life for this woman, he was not prepared to allow the man she had chosen to slay him.  So he would not take Southall’s life, nor would he yield his own to this, his kinsman.

      Retreat was the only course open to him.

      Leede Southerly bowed his head, only in part to break the dangerous contact between them.  “As you will,” he promised in a voice husky with suppressed emotion.  “You will never again see Jer’ok of the Aranda, if that is what you ask.”  She shook her head but refused to look at him.  “I am returning to Ashtar.  I will not return.”

      Amber had turned back to the dying fire.  He touched the gold of the she’s hair for the last time.

      “Look at me, Amber; Jer’ok will not harm you, nor will he take advantage of your frailty.”

      She looked up, at first striving to avoid his green eyes shimmering with gold in the fading light of the fire.  She attempted a smile and received one in return.

      “I do not fear Jer’ok of the Hunterfolk and never will,” she assured him.  For the first time the woman fully accepted what her heart had known from the very beginning.  But the acceptance came too late.

      “I have come because I wished to say goodbye as is your custom when friends are parting forever.”  Southerly found it easier than he had hoped, now that the final decision had been reached.  “I will not return from Ashtar, but before I leave I want to wish Amber Laxton all the happiness she so richly deserves.”

      He stopped one of her unnoticed tears with his fingertips.  She turned back to the embers of the fire, and Southerly let her go.

      “I have been told it is the custom among humankind to give the bride a gift to honour the occasion of her marriage.  Amber, I want you to know I have not accepted the Charwick title.  It is my gift to you.  Charwick is Rand’s – and yours, to hold and pass on to your young ones when the time comes.

      Before Amber could respond, Leede Southerly strode to the library doors.  The new veneer of civilisation would not hold the Aranda-ta at bay forever.  But before he reached the closed doors Amber asked quietly, “What will become of you?”  He stopped but dared not face her.

      “I will return to my own people, the Aranda.”

      He heard her light step behind him.  There was shock in Amber's voice.

      “Leede, you cannot.  You have come so far.  You must not . . . ”

      The beast-man never learned what Amber thought he must not do, for as she entreated him to reconsider she reached out to him.  Her touch obliterated Leede Southerly of Chimur and stripped Jer’ok of Ashtar of the last vestiges of his shallow domestication.

      It was an Aranda buck who caught up his she and strained her lithe young body close to his.  It was no charming gentleman of Tuatha who held Amber Laxton pinioned helplessly in one strong arm while his other hand tangled in the long locks of spun gold to pull her head back that he might cover her face, her throat, her breast with his hot kisses.

      Amber struggled furiously but was shocked anew by the ache in her heart.  It was neither fear nor anger.  It was the ache of primaeval need.  Her whole body was responding to Jer’ok’s demands.  It was as if it would betray her very will and yield itself to the savage no matter the consequences.

      Suddenly Amber was meeting Jer’ok’s kisses with a fire that burned with no less heat than his own.  Thus encouraged, Jer’ok’s long-slumbering instincts overwhelmed him.

      The beast-man lifted his beautiful she in his strong arms.  As their mouths met in timeless recognition of shared love he bore her downward to the rich carpeting before the glowing embers.  His great strength pinned the she beneath him.

      Because she no longer was fighting him but was seeking his body with her own, his bestial lust was gradually displaced by something closer to the mutual love humankind women have come to anticipate where the hunterfolk she knows only force.

      When love replaces sheer, unthinking lust, the minds and souls of the lovers are allowed to participate in their mating.  Leede gently cradled Amber’s head in both his hands and tenderly brushed first one and then the other closed eye with his lips.

      Her langorous blue eyes opened to regard his steadily.  Her bosom rose and fell beneath his massive chest.  Their hearts raced together.  Jer’ok knew Amber was truly his.  And so his uncaring demand for surrender to the superior strength at his command was transformed.

      “Let Jer’ok be your first man, Amber Laxton of Ares,” the beast-man whispered to her.  “Jer'ok and Amber will then be mated for both our lifetimes though we be separated from each other, whether it be by or against our will.  It is the way of my people.  If you call to me, my Amber, Jer’ok will come to you, to serve you or those you love.  Is it so much to ask of you, Amber, my heart?”

      Amber sighed as she pressed her lips against his hand, “There are many who already believe you are my first man.”

      She stared beyond his sheltering arm into the embers.  The unforgettable passion of the moment had waned.  Reality intruded upon the lovers.  For all her youthful flights of fancy there was a depth to Amber that Jer’ok would have found in no other woman of her time and world.

      “I cannot,” she whispered softly.  “You would be forever branded an outcast.  None would believe . . . .”  She stopped as he silenced her protest with a kiss of remarkable tenderness.

      “As you will.  You must live among these people according to their ways.  Jer’ok cannot.”

      The beast-man eased his weight from Amber before he lifted her to her feet.  He savoured her beauty for the last time.  His final embrace was as tender as his final kiss.  He looked into her eyes for a long time.

      Neither of them spoke again.  Presently he returned to the library doors.  Amber watched him go, her eyes large and dark in her pale face.

      At the doorway Leede Southerly looked back to the woman for whom he had surrendered the heritage of not one but two worlds.

      “Jer'ok is already an outcast.”

      That night from the cliffs of Battersea an eerie cry never before heard in that place carried on the wild wind.  Any who heard it shuddered and wished for greater warmth.  There was none in Battersea who knew its portent, but there was none who was not shaken by the intensity of its emotion.  It was the hunterfolk cry of desolate aloneness, and it would never ring out over Battersea again.


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